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PREACHED AT CHRIST CHURCH, OXON,
BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
OCTOBER 15, 1699.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
AS man is naturally a creature of great want and weakness, so he does as naturally carry a most intimate and inseparable sense of that want and weakness about him: and because a state of want must needs be also a state of uneasiness, there is nothing which nature puts a man with so much force and earnestness upon, as to attempt a supply and relief of the wants which he is so sensible of, and so incommoded by. Insomuch that the whole course of his actings, from first to last, proceeds in this method. First, that every action which a man does, is in order to his compassing or obtaining to himself some good thereby. And secondly, that he endeavours to compass or obtain this good, because he desires it. And thirdly and lastly, that he desires it, because he wants it; or at least thinks that he does so. So that the first spring, which sets all the wheels and faculties of the soul agoing, is a man’s apprehension of. some good wanting to complete the happiness of his condition.
But as every good is not in the same degree contributive to this happiness, so neither is it in the 349same degree desirable: and therefore, since want, as we have noted, is still the measure, as well as ground of desire, that which answers all the wants, and fills all the vacuities of a rational nature, must needs be the full and ultimate object of its desires. And this was called by the philosophers, man’s summum bonum; and here, by our Saviour, man’s treasure; both expressions importing a good, so comprehensively great, and equal to all the appetites of nature, that the presence and possession of this alone renders a man happy, and the want or absence of it miserable. Upon which account, though it be impossible that this prime or chief good should admit of any plurality, so as to be really more than one, yet in regard men take it in by their apprehensions, which are so exceedingly subject to error and deception, even in their highest concerns, and since error is various, and indeed infinite; hence it is, that this treasure, or summum bonum, falls under a very great multiplicity; this man proposing to himself one thing, and that man another, and a third some thing else for his chief good; and that, from which alone he expects all that happiness and satisfaction, which the condition of his nature renders him either capable or desirous of.
Now the words of the text may be considered two ways.
I. As they are an entire proposition in themselves. And,
II. As they are an argument relating to and enforcing of a foregoing precept, in the 19th and 20th verses: and accordingly, in the prosecution of them, we shall take in both considerations.350
And first, if we take them, as they are an entire proposition in themselves, so they offer us these two things.
1. Something supposed, which is, that every man has something or other which he accounts his treasure, or chief good. And,
2. Something expressly declared, namely, that whatsoever a man accounts his treasure, or chief good, upon that he places his heart, his whole desires and affections. And,
1. For the thing supposed or implied in the words; to wit, that every man has something or other which he accounts his treasure, or chief good. The truth and certainty of which proposition will appear founded upon these two things.
1 . The activity of man’s mind. And,
2. The method of his acting. And,
1. For the first of these. The mind of man is of that spirituous, stirring nature, that it is perpetually at work. Something it is still in pursuit of, either by contemplation or desire: the foundation of which latter, I shew, was want; and consequently, as man will be always wanting something or other, so he will be always sending forth his desires to hunt after, and bring that thing in, which he wants: which is so true, that some men having compassed the greatest and noblest objects of their desires, (so that desire could no longer ascend, as being already at the top,) they have betook themselves to inferior and ignoble exercises; so that amongst the Roman emperors, (then lords of a great part of the world,) we find Nero at his harp, Domitian killing flies, and Commodus playing the fencer; and all this only to 351busy themselves some way or other; nothing being so grievous and tedious to human nature as perfect idleness.
But now, there is not any thing (though never so mean and trivial) which a man does, but he antecedently designs himself some satisfaction by the doing of it; so that he advances to every action as to a degree of happiness, as to something which, according to its measure and proportion, will gratify or please him, and without which he would be in that degree uneasy and troublesome to himself. The spirit of a man, like a flame, being of such an operative, and withal of such a catching quality, that it is still closing in with some desirable, suit able good, as the food that nourishes, and the subject that supports it; so impossible is it, that desire should wholly lie still. For though the soul had actually all that it could enjoy, yet then desire would run out into the future, and from the present fruition project the continuance and preservation of its beloved object. In short, what blood is to the body, that desire is to the soul; and as the blood will circulate while the body lives, so desire will act and range about while the soul subsists; and no thing but the annihilation of one can supersede or stop the motion of the other.
And the truth is, this innate restlessness of desire implanted in the soul of man, is the great engine by which God would draw it to himself: and if men would be so far true to themselves, and to the most ruling principles of their nature, as to keep desire still upon the advance, till it fixed upon something which would absolutely and fully satisfy it, it were impossible but that, in the issue, it should terminate 352in God. But that which makes this great principle so ineffective of any true happiness to man is, that he does not carry it constantly and directly forward, but often suffers it to recur, or turn aside to former false satisfactions; first tasting an object, and then, upon trial, leaving it for its emptiness; and yet afterwards returning to it again, from a vain hope to speed better than he had done before. So that by this means there is a continual restless circulation from one empty thing to another. The soul, in this case, being just like a sick man, still altering his postures in order to his ease; though, when he has tried all, he finds no more ease in one than in another; a certain demonstration, that the soul itself, in the present state of nature, is in a most deplorably sick and disordered condition. But,
Secondly, the second argument to prove, that every man has something or other which he accounts his treasure, his peculiar, or chief good, shall be taken from the method of his actings, which still proceeds by a direction of means to one great and last end. For as an infinite progress is exploded in all matters of ratiocination, as absurd and impossible, so it is equally absurd in matters of practice; it being not more necessary to assign and fix some first principle of discourse, than to state some last end of acting: all a man’s practicks hanging loose and uncertain, unless they are governed and knit together by the prospect of some certain end.
Now it is the same thing which sustains these several denominations of last end, chief good, or treasure; all and every one of them signifying neither more nor less than the grand and ultimate term, to which a rational agent directs all his actions 353and desires: every man naturally and necessarily intending some one principal thing; to the acquiring of which, all that he does, thinks, or desires, is subservient, and in which, as in a kind of centre, all his actions meet and unite.
For though a man has not continually and actually the prospect of that end in every one of his actions, yet he has it habitually and virtually; forasmuch as, being once designed by him, all his actions tend to and promote the compassing of it: as it is not necessary that a traveller should have his journey’s end in his thoughts every step that he takes; but it is enough that he first designs it, and in the strength of that design is by every step carried nearer and nearer to it: every man has some prime, paramount object, which employs his head, and fills his heart, rules his thoughts, and, as it were, lies in his bosom; and is to him above and instead of ail other enjoyments whatsoever. And thus much for the thing supposed or implied in the words, namely, that every man has some peculiarly valued thing, which he accounts his treasure, or chief good. But,
2. The other thing to be considered by us is that which is expressly declared in the text, namely, that whatsoever a man places his treasure or his chief good in, upon that he places his heart also. Where, according to the language of scripture, the word heart compendiously denotes to us all the powers and faculties of man’s soul, together with their respective motions and operations. And since the word treasure is a metaphorical term for a man’s prime or chief good, we are to take an account how a man prosecutes this good, from the analogy of 354those actions which he exerts with reference to a treasure; and which, I conceive, may be reduced to these four. As,
1. A restless and laborious endeavour to acquire and possess himself of it. There is no man, who heartily and in good earnest desires to be rich, or great, or learned, who can be idle. For desire is the spring of diligence, and the heart infallibly sets both head and hands, and every thing else on work. Great desire is like a great fire, and all difficulties before it are like stubble; it will certainly make its way through them, and devour them. From whence it is, that it generally proves so dangerous, and too often fatal, to stand between a man (especially if in place and power) and that which he most desires; and many innocent and brave persons have to their cost found it so. For dangers and death itself shall be nothing; conscience and religion nothing; nay, the very hopes of heaven and the fears of hell shall be accounted as nothing, when a furious, headstrong desire shall resolve to break through them all; and, like Hannibal in his march, cut through rocks and mountains, till it either finds or makes a way to its beloved object. What made Jacob think those seven years of hard service for Rachel but a few days, as it is said in Gen. xxix. 20, but the extraordinary and invincible love which he bore to her? And what makes the trader into foreign countries defy the winds and the seas, and hazard the safety which he actually has and loves, but the wealth which he loves more? All the stupendous instances of courage, patience, industry, and the like, which have so swelled the volumes of history, and amused the world, have been but the effects of great and 355victorious desire; they are all of them but the instruments of love, to compass the things which men have first set their hearts upon: so that when courage takes the field for battle, we may be sure that it is desire which leads it on; filling the mind with glorious ideas of the prize it contends for. All the noble violences done to nature have been resolvable into this cause; nay, the very restraints of appetite have been but the effects of an appetite more controlling and predominant.
What is it that a man more naturally affects than society and converse? (it being a kind of multiplication of himself into every person of the company he converses with.) And what, by consequence, can be more uneasy to this ζῶον πολιτικὸν, this sociable creature, than the dry, pensive retirements of solitude? Nevertheless, when a nobler thing shall have seized his imagination, and his desires have took a flight above the first inclinations of his nature, by inspiring him with the diviner love of knowledge, or being serviceable to his country; why then, he can with delight retreat into his cell, dwell with himself, and converse with his own thoughts, and, in those higher speculations, forget all his merry-meetings and companions; nay, and his very food and rest, and live not only above the pleasures, but almost above the wants of nature too. In Prov. xviii. 1, Solomon tells us, that, through desire, a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom. So that it is this mighty thing, desire, which makes a man break off, and sequester himself from all those jollities, those airy, empty diversions, which use to court and win the appetites of vulgar souls. Thus nature, we see, 356is forced to bend to art; art is the daughter and issue of necessity; and the standard and measure of this necessity is desire; desire, which nothing almost can withstand or set bounds to; which makes paths over the seas; turns the night into day; and, in a word, charges through hunger and poverty, and all those hardships which human nature is so apt to shrink under; but it will, at length, arrive at the satisfaction which it is in pursuit of.
What high and vast achievements does the apostle, in the 11th of the Hebrews, ascribe to faith! As the subduing of kingdoms, stopping the mouths of lions, quenching the violence of fire, out of weakness making men strong, and that to such a degree, as to endure tortures, cruel mockings, scourgings, bonds and imprisonments; nay, and to be stoned, sawn asunder, and slain with the sword. But how did faith do all this? Why, in the strength of love; faith being properly the eye of the soul, to spy out and represent to it those excellent, amiable things, the love and desire of which should be hotter than fire and stronger than death; bearing a man through and above all the terrors of both, for the obtaining of so transcendent a good. In short, faith shews the soul its treasure; which being once seen by it, naturally inflames the affections; and they as naturally engage all the faculties and powers of soul and body, in a restless, indefatigable endeavour after it. And thus, in all those heroic instances of passive fortitude, faith wrought by love, and therefore it wrought wonders.
2. Whatsoever a man accounts his treasure, that he places his whole delight in; it entertains his eye, refreshes his fancy, feeds his thoughts, and, next to 357his conscience, affords him a continual feast. It fills and answers all his capacities of pleasure; and to please, we know, is much more than barely to support. It is the utmost limit of enjoyment; the most refined part of living; and, in a word, the last and highest thing which nature looks for. It quenches a man’s thirst, not only as water, which just keeps nature alive, but as wine, which both sustains and gratifies it too; and adds a pleasure, as well as serves a necessity.
Nothing has so strong and fast an hold upon the nature and mind of man, as that which delights it: for whatsoever a man delights to do, by his good will he would be always doing: delight being that which perpetuates the union between the will and the object, and brings them together, by the surest, the most voluntary and constant returns. And from hence, by the way, we may affirm it as a certain, unfailing truth, that no man ever was or can be considerable in any art or profession whatsoever, which he does not take a particular delight in; for that otherwise he will never heartily and assiduously apply himself to it; nor is it morally possible that he should.
Men indeed, in the course of this world, are brought to do many things, mere necessity enforcing them, and the want and weakness of their condition creating that necessity. But still, in all such cases, the man goes one way, and his desires another; for he acts but as a slave under the eye of a severe master; the dread of some greater suffering making him submit to the disciplines of a less. But unshackle his nature, and turn his desires loose, and then you shall see what he will choose in order to 358his pleasure, and the free unrestrained enjoyment of himself. An epicure may be brought to confine himself to his chamber, and take physic, (as none generally need it more;) but will he look upon the potion with the same eye with which he uses to see the wine sparkle in the glass? or rejoice in the company of his physician as much as in that of his boon companions? No, the actions of pleasure carry quite differing signs and marks upon them from such as are forced; marks, above all the arts of dissimulation or the powers of compulsion. For so far as any thing pleases the heart, it commands it; and the command is absolute, and the obedience cheerful.
3. Whatsoever a man accounts his treasure, from that he derives the last support of his mind in all his troubles. Let an ambitious man lose his friends, his health, or his estate; yet, if the darling of his thoughts, his honour and his fame, continue entire, his spirit will still bear up. And let a voluptuous man be stripped of his credit and good name, his pleasures and sensuality, in the midst of all his disgrace, shall relieve him. And lastly, to name no more, let a covetous miser have both pleasure and honour taken from him, yet so long as his bags are full, and the golden heaps glister in his eyes, his heart will be at ease, and other losses shall affect him little; they may possibly raze the surface, but they descend not into the vitals of his comforts.
The reason of all which is, because an ambitious person values honour, a voluptuous man pleasure, and a covetous wretch wealth, above any other enjoyment in the world; all other things being but tasteless and insipid to them, in comparison of that 359one which is the sole minion of their fancy, and the idol of their affections. And accordingly it would be found but a vain and fruitless attempt, to go about to move the heart of any of these persons, but by touching upon the proper string that ties and holds it; so that the way to humble and bring down an ambitious, aspiring man, is to disparage him, to expose and shew his blind-side, (which such kind of persons never fail to have;) and the most effectual course to make a covetous man miserable, in the right sense, is to impoverish him: and when such a change of condition once passes upon such persons, they become like men without either life or spirit, the most pitiful, forlorn, abject creatures under heaven, and full of that complaint of Micah, in Judges xviii. 24, Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more? For whatsoever a man accounts his chief good, so as to suffer it to engross and take up all his desires, that he makes his god, that he deifies and adores, whether he knows so much or no. For certain it is, that if he would lay out himself never so much in the acts of religion, he could do no more even to God himself than love him, trust in him, and rely upon him, and, in a word, give him his heart; nor indeed does God require any more; for it is a man’s all. Take the heart, and you have the man by consequence. Govern the spring, and you command the motion. The whole man (as I may so express it) is but the appendix of his own heart.
4thly and lastly, Whatsoever a man accounts his treasure, for the preservation of that he will part with all other things, if he cannot enjoy that and them together. See a merchant in a storm at sea, 360and what he values most he will be sure to throw overboard last; every man, when he is exposed to any great and imminent danger, marshals his enjoyments just as Jacob did his family, when he was to meet his brother Esau, whom he was in such fear of, Gen. xxxiii. 2; the handmaids and their children he put foremost; Leah and her children next; but Rachel and her children the hinder most of all. The reason of which was, because he had set his heart most upon her, and therefore would have her furthest from the danger, if it might be escaped, and last in the suffering, if it proved unavoidable. A father will be rather stripped .of his estate, than bereaved of his children; and if he cannot keep them all, he will (though with the loss of the rest) redeem the son of his affections.
It is possible indeed, that a man himself may not always perfectly know what he loves most, till some notable trial comes, which shall separate between him and what he has, and call for all his enjoyments one after another; and then presently his eyes shall be opened, and he shall plainly find, that the garment which sits nearest to him, shall by his good-will be last torn from him. Bring a man under persecution, and that shall tell him, whether the peace of his conscience, or the security of his fortune, be the thing which he prefers and values most. That shall tell him, whether he had rather be plundered or perjured; and whether the guilt of rebellion and sacrilege does not strike a greater horror into him, than all the miseries of an ejectment or sequestration. But if, at the critical time of trial, such an one shall surrender up his conscience, that he may continue 361warm in his house and his estate, let him no longer doubt what it is that is his treasure, and what lies deepest in his heart. For it is that which he can most hardly be without. But his conscience, it seems, he can easily shake hands with; and therefore, wheresoever he may place his religion, it is certain that he places his happiness somewhere else.
Skin for skin, and all that a man has will he give for his life, (commonly speaking;) but let a man love any thing better than his life, and life itself shall be given for it. And the world has seen the experiment; for some have loved their country better than their lives, and accordingly have died for it: and some their parents, some their honour, to that degree, as to sacrifice their dearest blood for the preservation of one, and vindication of the other. But still, this is the sure, infallible test of love, that the measure of its strength is to be taken by the fastness of its hold. Benjamin was apparently dearest to his father, because he was still kept with him, while the rest of his brethren were sent from him. He was to him as the apple of his eye; and therefore no wonder if he could not endure to have him out of it.
And thus I have done with the first consideration of the words; namely, as they are an entire proposition in themselves. I come now to the
Second; to wit, as they are an argument relating to, and enforcing of the foregoing precept in the 19th and 20th verses, Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust do corrupt, and thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust do corrupt, nor thieves break through 362and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The force of which argument is founded upon this clear and convincing ratiocination; to wit, that it is infinitely foolish, and below a rational creature, to place his heart upon that, which is by no means worth the placing of his heart upon; and therefore, since it is undeniably evident, that a man will place his heart upon that which he makes his treasure, it follows, that he cannot with out extreme folly make any thing his treasure, which can neither be secured from rapine nor preserved from corruption; as it is certain that nothing in this world can.
This, I say, is the sum and force of our Saviour’s argument: in pursuit of which, we are to observe, that there are two things which offer themselves to mankind, as rivals for their affections; to wit, God and the world; the things of this present life and of the future. And the whole strength of our Saviour’s discourse bears upon this supposition, that it is impossible for a man to fix his heart upon both. No man can make religion his business, and the world too: no man can have two chief goods. It is indeed more impossible than to serve two masters; forasmuch as the heart is more laid out upon what a man loves, than upon what he serves. Besides that the soul is but of a stinted operation; and cannot exert its full force and vigour upon two diverse, and much less contrary objects. For that one of them will be perpetually counterworking the other; and so far as the soul inclines to one, it must in proportion leave, and go off from the other; so that an equal adhesion to them both implies in it a perfect contradiction. For why else should the word of truth so 363positively tell us, that if we love the world, the love of the Father is not, cannot be in us? 1 John ii. 15. Men, I know, think to join both, but it is because they understand neither. For a man must first have two hearts, and two souls, and two selves, before he can give an heart to God and an heart to the world too. And therefore Christ does not state this mat ter upon a bare priority of acquisition, as if he had bid men first lay up treasures for themselves in heaven, and after that allowed them, with the same earnestness, to provide themselves treasures here on earth likewise, (and so by that means successively grasp the full happiness of both worlds:) for he knew that the very nature of the thing itself made this impracticable, and not to be effected; forasmuch as the acquisition of either world would certainly engage and take up the whole man, and consequently leave no thing of him to be employed about acquiring the other.
Whereupon Abraham speaking to the rich man in the gospel, who had flourished in his purple and fine linen, and fared deliciously every day, tells him, that he, in his lifetime, had received his good things. His they are called emphatically, his by peculiar choice. They were the things he chiefly valued and pitched upon, as the most likely to make him happy; and consequently, having actually enjoyed them, and thereby compassed the utmost of his desires, his happiness was at an end: he had his option; and there was no further provision for him in the other world: nor indeed was it possible that he should find any, where he had laid up none. Those words of our Saviour being most assuredly true, whether applied to men’s endeavours after the things 364of this life, or of another; that verily they have their reward. That is to say, the result and issue of their labours will still be suitable to the end which governed and directed them. For where men sow, there they must expect to reap; it being infinitely absurd to bury their seed in the earth, and to expect a crop in heaven. And accordingly, in the 11th of the Hebrews, we find, that at the same time the saints of old (there spoken of) declared themselves expectants of a land of promise hereafter, they also declared themselves strangers and pilgrims here. And therefore, let not men mock and deceive themselves, by thinking to compass heaven with one hand, and earth with the other; and so to reign as princes in both. For the wisdom of God has decreed it otherwise; and judged one world enough for one man, though it gives him his choice of two.
It being clear therefore, that a man cannot set his heart both upon God and the world too, as his treasure, or chief good; let us, in the next place, see which of these two bids highest for this great prize, the heart of man. And since there are but these two, there cannot be a more expedite way to evince that it belongs to God, than by proving the absurdity of placing it upon the world. And that will appear upon a double account.
1. If we consider the world in comparison with the heart or mind of man. And,
2. If we consider it absolutely in itself. And,
1. If we consider it in comparison with the heart of man, we shall find that the heart has a superlative worth and excellency above any thing in this world besides; and therefore ought by no means to be bestowed or laid out upon things so vastly inferior to 365itself. For it is that noble part of man which God has drawn and imprinted a lively portraiture of his own divine nature upon; that part which he has designed for his own peculiar use. For God made the heart for no other purpose but that he might dwell in it; giving us understandings able to pierce into and look through the fairest and most specious offers of this world, together with affections large enough to swallow and take down all that the whole creation can set before them, and yet remain hungry and unsatisfied still. And are such faculties as these, think we, fit to be entertained only with froth and wind, emptiness and delusion? And those things can be no more, which are always promising satisfaction, but never give it. For surely such low enjoyments as meat, drink, and clothes, are not sufficient to satisfy or make a man happy; and yet all the necessities of the natural life are fully answered by these; and whatsoever, upon that account, is desired more, is but the result of a false appetite, founded in no real want, but only in fancy and opinion. Nevertheless, there are, I confess, spiritual wants, which nothing can satisfy but what is supernatural.
And therefore the great and good God, who gave us our very being, and so can need nothing that we either are or have, yet vouchsafes to solicit, and even court our affections; and sets no other price upon heaven, glory, and immortality, nay, and upon himself too, but our love; there being nothing truly great and glorious, which a creature is capable of enjoying, but God is ready to give it a man in exchange for his heart.
How high is reason, and how strong is love! and 366surely God never gave the soul two such wings, only that we might creep upon the ground, and place our heart and our foot upon the same level. Let the epicure therefore, or voluptuous man, from amongst all his pleasures, single out that one which he reckons the best, the fullest, and most refined of all the rest, and offer it to his reason and affections, and see whether it can so acquit itself to the searching impartial judgment of the one, and the unlimited ap petite of the other, that, when he shall have took his utmost fill of it, and gone off from the enjoyment, he shall be able to say, Here have I found all the satisfaction that could be thought of, or imagined; or his affections be able to tell him, Here have we had all the sweetness that could be wished for or desired. But, on the contrary, do they not rather depart thirsty and melancholy, and abashed with the present sense of their disappointment, and still casting about for something or other, to piece up the flaws and defects of such broken fruitions? So vast a difference is there in these matters between surfeit and satisfaction.
The heart of man is intimately conscious to itself of its own worth and prerogative; and therefore is never put to search for any thing of enjoyment here below, but it does it with a secret regret and disdain, scorn and indignation; like a prince imprisoned, and forced to be ruled and fed by his own subjects: for so it is with that divine being, the soul, while depressed by the body to a condition so much below itself.
But God sent not man into the world with such mighty endowments, so much to enjoy it, as to have the honour of despising it; and, upon a full experience 367of its woful vanity, to find cause in all his thoughts and desires to return and fly back to his Maker; like the dove to the ark, when it could rest no where else. But,
2. We are to consider the world absolutely in itself; and so we shall find the most valued enjoyments of it embased by these two qualifications. 1. That they are perishing. And, 2. That they are out of our power. One of them expressed by moths and rust corrupting them, and the other by thieves breaking through, and stealing them. The first representing them as subject to decay from a principle within; the second, as liable to be forced from us by a violence from without; and so upon both accounts utterly unable to make men happy, and consequently unworthy to take possession of their hearts.
1 . And first for the perishing state and quality of all these worldly enjoyments: a thing so evident, or rather obvious to common sense and experience, that no man in his right wits can really doubt of it, and yet so universally contradicted by men’s practice, that scarce any man seems to believe it. No, though the Spirit of God in scripture is as full and home in the character it gives of these things, as experience itself can be; sometimes expressing them by fashions, which, we know, are always changing; and sometimes by shadows, which no man can take any hold of; and sometimes by dreams, which are all mockery and delusion: thus degrading the most admired grandeurs of the world from realities to bare appearances, and from appearances to mere nothings.
Nor do they fail only, and lose that little worth 368they have, but they do it also by the vilest and most contemptible things in nature; by rust and cankers, moths and vermin, things which grow out of the very subject they destroy, and so make the destruction of it inevitable. And how can any better be expected, when men will rather dig their treasure and comforts from beneath, than fetch them from above? For it is impossible for such mortals to put on immortality, or for things, in the very nature of them calculated but for a few days, to last for ever. All sublunary comforts imitate the changeableness, as well as feel the influence of the planet they are under. Time, like a river, carries them all away with a rapid course; they swim above the stream for a while, but are quickly swallowed up, and seen no more. The very monuments men raise to perpetuate their names, consume and moulder away themselves, and proclaim their own mortality, as well as testify that of others. In a word, all these earthly funds have deficiencies in them never to be made up.
But now, on the other side, the enjoyments above, and the treasures proposed to us by our Saviour, are indefectible in their nature, and endless in their du ration. They are still full, fresh, and entire, like the stars and orbs above, which shine with the same undiminished lustre, and move with the same unwearied motion, with which they did from the first date of their creation. Nay, the joys of heaven will abide when these lights of heaven shall be put out; and when sun and moon, and nature itself shall be discharged their stations, and be employed by Providence no more, the righteous shall then appear in their full glory; and, being fixed in the divine presence, 369enjoy one perpetual and everlasting day; a day commensurate to the unlimited eternity of God himself; the great Sun of righteousness, who is always rising, and never sets.
2. The other degrading qualification of these worldly enjoyments is, that they are out of our power. And surely that is very unfit for a man to account his treasure, which he cannot so much as call his own; nor extend his title to, so far as the very next minute; as having no command nor hold of it at all beyond the present actual possession; and the compass of the present, all know, is but one remove from nothing. A rich man to-day, and a beggar to-morrow, is neither new nor wonderful in the experience of the world: for he who is rich now, must ask the rapacity of thieves, pirates, and tyrants, how long he shall continue so; and rest content to be happy for just so much time as the pride and violence, the cruelty and avarice of the worst of men shall permit him to be so; a comfort able tenure, doubtless, for a man to hold his chief happiness by.
But now, on the contrary, nothing is so absolutely and essentially necessary to render any thing a man’s treasure or chief good, as that he have a property in it and a power over it; without which, it will be impossible for him to be sure of any relief from it when he shall most need it. For how can he be sure of that, of which he has no command? And how can he command that, which a greater force than his own shall lay claim to? For let those puny things, called law and right, say what they will to the contrary, if the matter comes once to a dispute, all the good things a man has of this world will be 370his, who has the strongest arm and the sharpest sword, or the corruptest judge on his side. They are the prey of the mighty, and the prize of victorious villainy; subject to be torn and ravished from him upon all occasions.
Nor has the providence of God thought it worth while to secure and protect the very best of men in their rights to any enjoyment under heaven; and all this to depress and vilify these things in their thoughts; that so they may every day find a necessity of placing them above, and of bestowing their pains upon that which, if they pursue, they shall certainly obtain; and if they obtain, they shall impregnably keep. My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, says our Saviour; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Why? What was the difference? He tells us in John xvi. 22, Your joy no man taketh from you. It was such a joy or peace as was to be above the reach of either fraud or force, artifice or assault; which can never be said of any earthly enjoyment whatsoever, either as to the acquisition or possession of it: God having made no man any promise, that, by all his virtue and innocence, all his skill and industry, he shall be able to continue in health, wealth, or honour; but that, after his utmost endeavour to preserve those desirable things, he may in the issue lose them all.
But God has promised and engaged to mankind, that whosoever shall faithfully and constantly persevere in the duties of a pious, Christian life, shall obtain an eternal crown of glory, and an inheritance that fadeth not away. A man cannot indeed by all his piety secure his estate, but he may make his calling and election sure; which is infinitely 371and unspeakably more valuable, than all the estates, pleasures, and greatness of the world. For all these are without him, and consequently may be taken from him, and, which is yet worse, may do him no good, even while they stay with him. But the conscience is a sure repository for a man to lodge and preserve his treasure in, and the chest of his own heart can never be forced open.
Now the use and improvement of the foregoing particulars shall be briefly to convince us of the extreme vanity of most men’s pretences to religion. A man’s religion is all the claim he has to the felicities of another world. But can we think it possible in nature, for a man to place his greatest happiness where he does not place his strongest affections? How little is the other world in most men’s thoughts, and yet they can have the confidence to pretend it to be the grand object of their desires. But why should men, in their greatest concern, be so false to their own experience, and those constant observations which they make of themselves in other matters? For let any man consult and ask his own heart, whether, having once fixed his love upon any thing or person, his thoughts are not always running after it? Strong love is a bias upon the thoughts; and for a man to love earnestly, and not to think almost continually of what he loves, is as impossible, as for him to live, and not to breathe.
But besides this, we have shewn several other marks and properties, by which men may infallibly judge of the truth and firmness of their love to God and to religion; as for instance, can they affirm religion to be that which has got such hold of their hearts, that no time, cost, or labour, shall be thought 372too much to be laid out upon it? Is it the prize they run for? Is it the thing they delight in? the thing with which, in all their distresses, they support and keep up their sinking spirits? And lastly, is it that which they value to such a degree, as to be willing to part with all the world rather than lose or renounce it? These are great things, I confess; and yet nothing less will reach the measures of Christianity.
But the lives of men (unanswerable arguments in this case) are a sad demonstration how few they are who come up to these terms. Men may indeed now and then bestow some scattering thoughts upon their souls and their future estate, provided they be at full leisure from their business and their sports, (which they seldom or never are;) and if at any time they should be so, this could amount to no more than their being religious when they have nothing else to do. Likewise, when the solemn returns of God’s public worship, and the law and custom of the nation shall call them off from their daily employments to better things, they may perhaps, by a few devout looks and words, put on something of an holy day dress for the present; which yet, like their Sunday clothes, they are sure to lay aside again for the whole week after. All which, and a great deal more, is far short of making religion a man’s business, though yet, if it be not so, it is in effect nothing.
And this men know well enough, when they are to deal in matters of this world; in which no pains nor importunity shall be thought too great, no attendance too servile, nothing (in a word) too hard to be done or suffered, either to recruit a broken for tune, or to regain a disgusted friend; though, after 373all, should a man chance to recover both, he cannot be sure of keeping either. In like manner, let the trading person suffer any considerable damage in the stock with which he trades; what care, what parsimony, what art shall be used to make up the breach, and keep the shop still open? And the reason of all this is, because the man is in earnest in what he does, and accordingly acts as one who is so. Where as, in men’s spiritual affairs, look all the world over, and you shall every day see, that the sins which wound and waste, and make havock of the conscience, which divide and cut it off from God, are committed easily, and passed over lightly, and owned confidently; with a bold front and a brazen face, able to look the pillory itself out of countenance; nor does any one almost think himself so mortally struck, even by the foulest guilt, as to need the balsam of an immediate repentance, and a present suing out of pardon at the throne of grace. And yet if a man dies, as to his temporal condition, poor and bankrupt, he is not at all the worse; but if he goes out of the world unreconciled to God, it had been good for him that he had never come into it. For what can it avail a man to pass from misery to misery, and to make one wretched life only a preparative to another?
In fine, this we may with great boldness venture to affirm, that if men would be at half the pains to provide themselves treasures in heaven, which they are generally at to get estates here on earth, it were impossible for any man to be damned. But when we come to earthly matters, we do; when to heavenly, we only discourse: heaven has our tongue and talk; but the earth our whole man besides.374
Nevertheless, let men rest assured of this, that God has so ordered the great business of their eternal happiness, that their affections must still be the fore runners of their persons, the constant harbingers ap pointed by God to go and take possession of those glorious mansions for them; and consequently, that no man shall ever come to heaven himself, who has not sent his heart thither before him. For where this leads the way, the other will be sure to follow.
Now to him who alone is the great Judge of hearts, and Rewarder of persons, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever more. Amen.375
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