|« Prev||Sermon LII. Matthew v. 8.||Next »|
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
IT may at first seem something wonderful, especially since the times of the gospel, that there should be so few men in the world happy, when happiness is so freely offered and proposed by God, and withal so universally and eagerly desired by men. But the obviousness of the reason will quickly supersede the wonder, if we consider the perverse and preposterous way of men’s acting: who, at the same time, passionately pursue the end, and yet overlook the means; catch at the good proposed, but abhor the condition of the proposal. For all would enjoy the felicity of seeing God, but scarce any can brook so severe a duty as to maintain a pure heart; all would behold so entertaining and glorious a sight, but few are willing to crowd for it into the narrow way. Men would reconcile their future happiness with their present ease, pass to glory without submitting to the methods of grace. So that the grand reason that so many go to hell, is because they would go to heaven for nothing: the truth is, they would not go, but be caught up to heaven; they would (if I may use the expression) coach it to the other world, as Elias did; but to live as the same Elias did in this world, that they cannot bear. In 153fine, if we could peruse the black roll of all those who have perished eternally, we should find that the generality of men are lost, because they cannot eat, drink, sleep, and play themselves into salvation.
But this great sermon of our Saviour teaches us much other things; a sermon fraught with the most refined and elevated doctrine, the most sublime and absolute morality that ever was vented into the world: far before all the precepts and most applauded doctrine of the philosophers; yea, as far before them in perfection and purity, as they were before Christianity in time. For they only played upon the surface and outside of virtue, gilding the actions, and giving some little varnish to the external behaviour of men: but Christianity looks through all this, searches the reins, and pierces into the inmost recesses of the soul, never resting till it stabs sin, and places virtue in the very heart.
An eminent instance of which we have in these words; which being so very plain and easy in themselves, ought not to be encumbered with any superfluous explication: and therefore I shall pass immediately to the discussion of them; which I shall manage under these four following heads. As,
I. I shall shew what it is to be pure in heart.
II. What it is to see God.
III. How this purity of heart fits and qualifies the soul for the sight or vision of God.
IV. And lastly, make some brief use and application of the whole.
I. And for the first of these, we must know, that the nature of purity in general cannot be better explained, than by its opposition to these two things.
1. To mixture. 2. To pollution.154
1. And first of all, it excludes mixture; that is to say, all conjunction with any different or inferior nature; purity still infers simplicity: gold cannot be called pure, though never so great in bulk, if it has but the least alloy of a baser metal. Though there be in the heart seeds of virtue, principles of goodness and morality; yet if blended with a greater, or an equal degree of corruption, that heart cannot challenge the denomination of pure: for, as Solomon says, Eccles. x. 1, even so small a thing as a fly falling into the apothecary’s ointment will give it an offensive savour; and one grain of folly will taint all the honour of him who has a reputation for wisdom. In this sense also is purity ascribed to the word or law of God, in Psalm cxix. 140; Thy word is pure, therefore thy servant loveth it: which is an elogy that cannot be truly given to any other laws in the world, no not to those of the most renowned lawgivers, as of Lycurgus, Solon, or Plato in his Commonwealth, whose laws, though they enjoined many worthy, virtuous, and noble actions, yet still were debased by the addition of something vile and filthy, not only allowed, but sometimes also commended by them; still there was a vein of immorality running through them, that corrupted and defiled the whole channel, and the best of human laws have still some mixture of imperfection.
But now all mixture or composition is a kind of confusion; attempting unity, where nature has made variety and distinction. It raises a certain war or faction in the same compound; and the very cause of death, dissolution, and putrefaction, in all sublunary bodies, is from the contest and clashing of contrary qualities upon mixture; which never 155takes away the innate enmity of contraries, though it may compose their present quarrel. Christ states this matter fully in Matth. vi. 24, No man, says he, can serve two masters; for he will love the one, and hate the other. In like manner, it is impossible for two opposite principles so to unite and mix themselves in the same heart, as equally to command and share its obedience by such just proportions, that it should at the same time seriously intend the service of virtue and the gratification of a vice. Now to give things their due and exact appellations, I conceive, in the sense hitherto spoken of, a pure heart is properly the same with that which is called in scripture a single heart.
2. Purity excludes also pollution, that is, all adherence of filth and outward contagion; as a fountain is said to be pure, when there is no dirt or soil cast into it, that may discolour or defile it. If the guilt of any gross sinful act cleaves to the conscience, that conscience presently loses its purity and virginity. Every such sin falls upon it like a blot of ink upon the finest linen or the cleanest paper. In this sense St. Paul enjoins purity to Timothy; 1 Tim. v. 22, Keep thyself pure, that is, free from the least taint of vice or scandal. In this sense also St. Paul declares himself, in Acts xx. 26, pure from the blood of all men; that is, clear from the guilt or charge of the murderous neglect of souls. So that a pure heart thus taken,, is properly the same with that which David calls a clean heart; Psalm li. 10, Create in me, O God, a clean heart. For so much of inherent sin, so much of filth and foulness. The very frame and make of man’s heart is but dust; but sin degrades it still lower, and turns it into dirt.156
Having thus shewn what purity is in the general notion of it, I shall now endeavour to shew wherein the purity of the heart consists. And that,
First, by way of negation. It does not consist in the external exercise of religion; the heart does not always write itself upon the outward actions. These may shine and glister, while that in the mean time may be noisome and impure. In a pool you may see the uppermost water clear, but if you cast your eye to the bottom, you shall see that to be dirt and mud. To rate a man’s internals by his externals, and what works in his breast by what appears in his face, is a rule very fallible. For we often see specious practices spread over vile and base principles; as a rotten, unwholesome body may be clothed and covered with the finest silks. There is often a μέγα χάσμα, many leagues distance between a man’s behaviour and his heart. In Isaiah xxix. 13, we have some drawing near to God with their mouth, and honouring him with their lips, of whom it is said in the very next words, that their heart was far from him. Lip-devotion signifies but little. Judas could afford our Saviour the lip, while he was actually betraying him to his mortal enemies. It is in this case with the soul as with the body, the inward vital state of it is not always known by the colour or complexion. For I suppose we are not now to learn, that the grand governing principle of the world is hypocrisy. And while it is so, in judging of men’s words and actions, it is but too often necessary to read them backwards. For though, naturally indeed, they are signs, and signs of the thoughts and affections of the mind; yet art may, and usually does make them much otherwise. And it is odds, but he 157 mistakes seldomest, who judges of men quite contrary to what they appear: so seldom do the inward and the outward man correspond with one another. And if this were not so, the prerogative of divine knowledge in judging of a man’s internals would not be much superior to the sagacity of an human inspection. For that can read all that is legible to the eye, all that can incur into the outward senses.
But still we must observe, that this assertion of not judging by the outward actions, is to be understood only of good actions, not of bad. For although an act materially and outwardly good may proceed from an heart which is stark naught; yet where the outward actions are bad, it is certain that the heart cannot be good. For the matter of the action, which is properly that which comes into the outward view, may be good, and yet the action itself, upon other accounts, be absolutely evil: but if the matter of the action be evil, (since evil is from any defect,) the whole action must be so too. And consequently, since a good tree cannot produce evil fruit, it is manifest that the heart which produces, and presides over those actions, is and must be evil.
But to return to what we were before about: that the outward piety of a man’s behaviour cannot certainly argue a pious and a pure heart, is evident, because there may be assigned several other principles, short of real piety, and yet sufficient to produce such a behaviour. As,
1st, A virtuous and strict education. Many are born into the world, not only with the general taint of original sin, but also with such particular propensions, such predominant inclinations to vice, that they 158are as fruitful a soil for the Devil to plant in, and afford as much fuel for sin to flame out upon, as it is possible for the utmost corruption of human nature to supply them with. But God, who in his most wise providence restrains many whom he never renews, has many ways to prevent the outrageous eruption of this vicious principle. And one great one is this of a pious education; which may lay such strong fetters, such powerful restrictions upon the heart, that it shall not be able to lash out into those excesses and enormities, which the more licentious and debauched part of the world wallow in: yet still, though by this the unclean bird be caged up, the uncleanness of its nature is not hereby changed. For as no raking or harrowing can alter the nature of a barren ground, though it may smooth and level it to the eye; so neither can those early disciplines of parents and tutors extirpate the innate appetites of the soul, and turn a bad heart into a good: they may indeed draw some plausible lines of civility upon the outward carriage and conversation, but to conquer a natural inclination is the work of an higher power. Nevertheless it must be always looked upon as an high mercy, where God is pleased to do so much for a man as this comes to; and whosoever he is, who in his minority has been kept from those extravagances which his depraved nature would otherwise have carried him out to, and so has grown up under the eye of a careful and severe tuition, has cause with bended knees to acknowledge the mercy of being born of religious parents, and bred up under virtuous and discreet governors; and to bless God, without any danger of Pharisaical arrogance, that upon this account he is 159not as many other men are. But still (as I have noted) all this is but the sweeping and garnishing of the house; and though education may sometimes do that, yet it is grace only that can keep out the unclean spirit. And consequently such a person, notwithstanding all this outward flourish of behaviour, must yet know that his heart may be all this while as really unrenewed, and upon that score as impure, as the heart of those, who, not being hampered with such early preventions, break forth into the most open and flagitious practices.
2dly, The circumstances and occasions of a man’s life may be such as shall constrain him to appear in an outwardly pious dress. As when a man’s dependance is upon persons virtuous and religious, and the whole scene of his life cast under those eyes that shall both observe and hate his impiety, there it is not for his interest to uncase and discover himself, and to follow the lure and dictates of a voluptuous humour. While Judas was to associate himself with Christ and his disciples, it concerned him, though he was really a devil, yet to personate and act the saint.
Moreover, when Providence has put a man into a low, a mean, or an afflicted condition, the supplies and opportunities of many vices are thereby cut off, and the man is not able to shew himself, or to draw forth those base qualities which lie lurking in his breast. He neither drinks, nor whores, nor goes to plays, but he may thank his purse, not his heart for it. Want and poverty bind him to his good behaviour: and Providence thinks fit, in kindness to the world, to chain up the fury and violence of his passions by the straitness of his fortunes. For such is 160the boundless pride and insolence of some natures, that should they meet with estates equal to the grasp of their desires, and have the plenties of the world flow in with the full swing and career of their appetites, they would be intolerable. Society would even groan under them, and neither heaven nor earth would endure them; so that there is a necessity, that penury and scarcity should discipline, and, as it were, diet them into sober courses. But still, amidst all these restraints, the mind of such an one may be as base, as filthy, and as prone to all lewdness, as the mind of a thoroughpaced rebel may be to his old game, after an act of oblivion. For by all this, Providence only ties his hands, grace does not change his heart.
3dly, The care and tenderness a man has of his honour, may engage him to demean himself with some show of piety and religion. For there is scarce any one so vicious (some few monsters, some years since amongst us, excepted) as to desire or judge it for their credit, to be thought so. But generally, as every such person would gladly die the death of the righteous, so he would willingly live with the credit and reputation of the righteous too. The principle of honour (even with persons not styled honourable) will go a great way; and a man will be at the cost of a few seemingly virtuous actions to be reputed a virtuous person. Men use to go to church in their best clothes; and it is for their credit to put on the fairest appearance in a religious performance. We read how far this principle carried the pharisees; and what a glorious outside the love of glory put upon them. They prayed, they fasted, they gave alms, and in short had the very art of mortification; 161 and yet within were full of all fraud, extortion, and excess, and (in a word) of themselves. There were none, whose behaviour shined brighter in the eyes of men, nor whose heart was more loathsome in the eyes of God; for they did all to be seen and talked of; and (as it were) to ride in triumph upon the tongues of men; and, in fine, were the arrantest puritans in the world, those only of a later date excepted, who, it is confessed, have infinitely outdone their original. For all the religion of those pharisees flowed only from the beholder’s eye, and not from their own heart. They made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the borders of their garments, taking the measure of both by the breadth and largeness of their latitudinarian consciences; which were of such ample and capacious dimensions, that after they had breathed themselves into a stomach by a long prayer, they could easily swallow a thousand widows’ estates, lands, tenements and all, for the first course, and the revenues of a crown and church for the second, of which we can bring aprobatum est for a demonstration.
Machiavel himself, though no great friend to religion, yet affirms, and very frequently too, that the appearance and reputation of religion is advantageous; and that, we know, is not to be acquired without many instances of practice, which may affect and dazzle the spectators into admiration, and then make them vent that admiration in applause. But what is all this to the purity of the heart, to the sanctity of the inner man? It is all but the acting of a part, a piece of pageantry, a mere contrivance of ambition, nothing but dress and disguise, and 162 may possibly procure a man some glory in this world, but none, in the next.
Now in all these motives to a religious behaviour, we may observe this of them, that they are forced and preternatural, and raise a motion which they are not able to keep up. As when we see a stone thrown upwards, it moves only from the impression of an outward force, and not from the activity of an inward principle; and therefore it quickly sinks, and falls to the ground. In like manner, when there is not a stock or habit of purity in the heart, constantly and uniformly to diffuse the same into the outward actions, the appearance of piety will be found too thin and weak to support itself long. And let that man, whosoever he is, who acts in the ways of piety and virtue only upon the force and spring of external inducements, be warily observed and attended to, and it is a thousand to one but that some time or other his vice gives his hypocrisy the slip, and lays him open to the world, and convinces all about him, that how fair and specious soever the structure seemed to be which he had raised, yet the foundation of it was laid in the sand, or, which is worse, in the mud.
From all which I conclude, that purity of heart neither consists in, nor can certainly be proved by any external religious performances whatsoever. In the
Second place therefore, to shew positively wherein it does consist: it consists properly in an inward change and renovation of the heart, by the infusion of such a principle into it, as naturally suits and complies with whatsoever is pure, holy, and commanded 163by God. It is not a thing born, or brought into the world with us, nor yet reared upon the stock of nature by any art, industry, or cultivation of our own whatsoever. No, it is and must be the product of a new creation. Nor can all our sorrows and tears of themselves wash or purify the heart; but the Spirit of God must move upon the face of those waters, and form in it the new creature, or the heart will continue in its native filth, chaos, and confusion for ever. Now where such a principle of purity is, it will be like a strong bias, continually inclining and carrying out the soul, and that even in its most vigorous appetites, to what is pure. For as we rationally gather and learn the nature of a thing from the quality of those things which agree or disagree with it; so when the heart kindly and naturally closes with the purity and excellency of the divine precepts, but on the other side carries a certain aversion to, and loathing of the sordid, unclean suggestions of sin, it is an argument that it is advanced into new principles and inclinations, and purified from those foul habits which it was originally polluted with.
Now there are three things more especially (amongst many others that might be mentioned) in which this purity of the heart does certainly and infallibly manifest itself. As,
(1.) In the purity and untainted sanctity of the thoughts. The range of the thoughts is free, and may defy the inspection of the most curious and inquisitive mortal beholder: they walk in such a retirement as is open to no eye, but to that alone, to which nothing can be hid. Now when a man shall carry so strict an hand over these, as to admit of no 164parley with vice, no, not in his thoughts; when yet he knows, that if he should be never so free and familiar with it there, no man breathing could either observe or reproach him for it: this surely argues, that he loves virtue for itself, and that purity, instead of being his design, is become his nature. For what Solomon says of the dissembling churl in Prov. xxiii. 7, that as he thinketh in his heart, even so is he, the same may be said of every man living, in respect of that principle which sways and governs his mind, be it what it will.
For since the thoughts are so quick as to prevent all deliberation, and withal so unruly, as for the most part to admit of no control from reason, when it would either command or carry them out to, or remand, and take them off from any object; it follows, that whatsoever they run out freely and spontaneously upon, that the mind is full of, taken up and possessed with, so that it is, as it were, a mighty spring, incessantly and powerfully possessing and bending the thoughts that way. And therefore, let a man’s outward actions seem never so pure, never so unblameable; yet if the constant or main stream of his thoughts runs impure; if they take a liberty to rove over and delight in filthy, unclean objects; and if, where the practice of villainy is restrained, it is yet supplied by an active imagination; there a man may be said to be more cautious and reserved indeed, but not at all the more holy. For it is an undoubted argument, that his heart is of the same temper: since wheresoever the main haunt of the thoughts is, there must the heart be also.
(2.) The purity of the heart is infallibly seen in a sanctified regulation of the desires. The first step 165and advance of the soul is into thought, the second into desire. Now the desires have the same privilege of secrecy and freedom with the thoughts; and if you would collect and argue the nature of the mind from either of them, the argument from these is as evident, and perhaps more forcible, than from the other. For the will is the great scene and subject of vice and virtue; and the desires are the immediate issues of that. No outward force or art whatsoever can stop the vent and passage of desire: but the whole soul flows forth in its inclinations; and therefore, wheresoever they may be discerned, they are the most true, proper, and unfailing interpreters of the heart. For what else means the Spirit of God by that noted expression in Prov. xxiii. 26, My son, give me thy heart; but that a man should give God the strongest and most forcible operations, and (as I may so express it) the firstborn of his heart, his desires.
There was nothing from which David gathered the sincerity and goodness of his heart so much as from the free and natural flow of his desires; in Psalm cxix. 20, My soul, says he, breaketh for the longing desire that it hath to thy judgments at all times. And in Psalm lxxiii. 25, There is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee. Also in Isaiah xxvi. 9 With my soul have I desired thee in the night-season, says the holy prophet. And again, in Psalm xxxviii. 9, David sums up his final appeal to God, concerning the integrity of his heart, in these words; Lord, all my desire is before thee.
So that if any man now would certainly know whether his heart be pure, he has here a compendious 166and sure way of trial: let him read over his desires, and strictly observe the motions of his will and affections. When he is upon the performance of any holy duty, let him see whether or no his desires keep him company in it; when the allurement of any sinful pleasure or profit plays itself before him, let him see whether his desires do not reach out after it, though perhaps his hand dares not. And this will give him faithful information, and such as will never deceive him; for desire is properly the pulse of the inner man, and as the heart is affected, so that beats.
(3.) The third, and that not the least argument of a pure heart, is a fearful and solicitous avoiding of every thing that may tend to sully or defile it. It perfectly hates sin, and therefore dreads the occasions of it: it makes a man know no other way of working out his salvation, but with fear and trembling. And in this great work, the trembling hand is still the steadiest, and the fearful heart the most likely to be victorious. For we must know, that there is nothing almost which we meet with, nothing which comes before us, but may be to us an occasion of sin: some things indeed are so directly, and others are so by accident. And therefore, whosoever he is, who would be wise unto salvation, must absolutely fly from the former, and warily observe himself in the use of the latter. For as the apostle says, that the wisdom from above is first pure; so we may with equal truth affirm convertibly, that the purity which is from above is first wise: that is to say, it considers and casts about for the best methods, how to guard and secure itself against the assaults and stratagems of 167 the grand enemy, who would destroy it. And for this cause, be a thing or practice never so lawful in itself, yet if, either through human frailty or the Devil’s subtilty, it is like to prove a snare to a man, and to engage him in some course or other which is not lawful; a principle of true genuine purity will be sure to keep aloof off from it; and by no means admit the enemy into the outworks, where it is careful to defend the main fort. A man of an heart so disposed will say within himself, “I will not venture into such a company, I will not use such a recreation, I will not go to this ball nor to that play, for I know not how my mind may serve me under such circumstances; God may leave me to myself, and my strength may fail me, and my own heart betray me. If I tempt God, God may commission the Devil to tempt me, and so the serpent slide into my bosom before I am aware.” No, such an one will carefully avoid those spiritual pest-houses, where scarce any thing is to be heard or seen, but what tends to the corruption of good manners; and from whence not one of a thousand returns, but infected with the love of vice, or at least with the hatred of it very much abated from what it was before. And that, I assure you, is no inconsiderable point gained by the tempter; as those who have any experience of their own hearts sufficiently know. He who has no mind to trade with the Devil, should be so wise as to keep away from his shop.
In vain therefore does any one pretend to a pure heart, who puts himself into the tempter’s walk, into the very road and highway to sin and debauchery. For can any one really hate to be defiled, 168and yet handle and embrace pitch? abhor all impurity, and yet plant himself in the very neighbourhood and confines of it? A pure heart is a tender heart, and such an one as will smite the breast that holds it upon sight of the very garment that is spotted with the flesh; such an one as feels the least breath that may blow upon its innocence, and, in a word, dreads the very first approaches and remote dangers of that fatal contagion.
And thus much for the first general thing proposed; which was to shew, what this purity of the heart is, and wherein it does consist. I proceed now to the
Second, which is to explain, what it is to see God. The enjoyment which blessed spirits have of God in the other world is, both in the language of scripture and of the schools, generally expressed to us by their seeing God; as in Matt, xviii. 10, it is said of the angels, that they always behold the face of God in heaven: and in 1 Cor. xiii. 12 it is said, that hereafter we shall see God face to face; with several other places to the same purpose.
Now concerning a man’s thus seeing God, the schools raise several disputes, but the most considerable of them may come under these two heads.
1st, In regard every man shall be raised with a body as well as a soul, they question, whether this vision shall be wholly mental, and transacted within the soul; or whether the body shall be refined and sublimated to such a perfection, and nearness to the spiritual nature, as to be also made a sharer in it? And whether it be possible for a corporeal substance to see an incorporeal? To which, those who had 169rather be wise unto sobriety, than pronounce boldly of such things as their present condition renders them uncapable of judging of certainly, give these answers.
(1.) That the knowledge of this is mere curiosity, and consequently such as a man may be without, and yet know never the less of what he is really concerned to know. (2.) That there is no express scripture to decide it either way; and natural philosophy is an incompetent judge in matters which can be known only by revelation. But,
2dly, In the next place, they put the question, whether the soul shall enjoy God, its chief good, by an act of the understanding in its intuition of him, or by an act of the will in its adhesion to him. And there are those who fiercely dispute it on both sides.
But to this also it may be answered, that as the soul shall enjoy a perfect good, so it must enjoy it after a perfect manner, so as to diffuse the enjoyment into every faculty that is capable of it: that is to say, it must enjoy it agreeably to a rational nature; which first receives a good by the apprehensions of the intellect, and then transmits it to the adhesion and embraces of the will. For a rational soul cannot love any good heartily, but it must first understand it; nor can it understand an excellent good thoroughly, but it must also love it. And consequently, I conclude, that the soul’s fruition of God is neither precisely by an act of the understanding, nor yet of the will, but jointly and adequately of both. But I shall not run out any further into these controversies, as bearing no such necessary relation to the matter before us.
Briefly therefore, by our seeing God is meant, 170 and under it comprised, the whole enjoyment of the felicities of the other life; as by seeing the sun, is set forth the entire, total enjoyment of this life; as in Eccl. vii. 11, By wisdom, says the preacher, there is profit to those who see the sun; that is, to those who are alive in the world. The Greeks also use the same phrase, ἰδεῖν φάος ἠελίοιο being frequently used by Homer for the whole enjoyment of this life; and the Latins have the like expression, luce privari, to be deprived of the light, being with them an usual phrase for a man’s losing his life.
Now our enjoyment of God is expressed to us by our seeing him, rather than by any other way, I conceive, for these reasons.
(1.) Because the sense of seeing represents the object with greater clearness and evidence, than any of the other senses. Light, the great discoverer both of itself and of all things else, is apprehended only by seeing; and the eyewitness, we know, is still the most authentic. God will then shew himself to the soul so plainly and manifestly, he will so open and display his divine perfections to the understanding, that we shall know him as fully and clearly, as we do now those things which we actually see before our eyes; though still (as we must all along suppose) after much another way.
(2.) A second reason is, because the sense of seeing is of all the other senses the most universally exercised and employed. For as long as a man lives, every moment that he converses in the world, he is still looking upon something or other; except it be when he is asleep, during which time he can scarce be said to live. And therefore since our enjoyment of God hereafter shall be so continual and without 171interruption, as to leave no vacant minute which shall not be taken up and filled with that glorious fruition, it is upon this account most appositely and properly described to us, by our seeing him. For in sight and thought (if in any thing) we have the perpetual motion.
(3.) A third reason of this expression may be, because the sense of seeing is the sense of pleasure and delight; and that upon which the whole comfort of our life principally depends. For, says the wise man in Ecclesiast. xi. 7, the light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun. And we know that it is much a greater pleasure for a man to see his friend, than only to hear from him. Put out the eyes, shut but those windows, and the soul will presently be filled with sadness, and horror, and a dismal Egyptian darkness; which we know is to be reckoned amongst the greatest of the Egyptian plagues.
Since therefore the enjoyment of God is the highest bliss and pleasure, the most sublime and ravishing delight; for so the scripture speaks of it, in Matt. xxv. 23, Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord: and in Psalm xvi. 11, In thy presence there is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore:—I say, since the nature of this blessedness carries in it the height of joy and rational pleasure, by what could it be more livelily set forth to us than by the perceptions of that sense and faculty, which conveys the most quickening and exalting refreshments to the soul?
(4.) And lastly; our enjoyment of God is expressed to us by our seeing him, because the sight is of all the other senses the most comprehensive and insatiable. 172In Eccles. i. 8, The eye (says the wise man) is not satisfied with seeing. That is to say, let it take in never so much of its object, it never surfeits. It is neither subject to satiety nor lassitude. It could presently run over and drink in the beauties of one world, and in the strength of that repast travel fresh into another. For still the more it takes in, the greater is its capacity to take in more. And in a word, it is the only sense, to which satisfaction procures an appetite.
In this respect therefore it gives us the fittest representation of our enjoyment of God in glory: who is a good of that immense latitude, that inexhaustible fulness, as to satisfy, or rather satiate the greediest and most grasping appetites of the soul. It is he only who can fill the eye, and keep pace with desire; and, in a word, answer all those cravings and emptinesses of a rational nature, which the whole creation together could never yet do. There will then flow in such a torrent of delight upon all our apprehensive faculties, that the soul will be even overcome, and lost in the enjoyment. As when a vessel is thrown into a river, the river first fills it, and then swallows it up. This therefore is the sum of our happiness in the next world, that we shall see God, and experiment that which we never could in this world; namely, that we shall so see, as to be filled with seeing.
And thus I have despatched the second general head proposed from the words; which was to explain what is meant by our seeing God: I come now to the
Third, which is to shew, how this purity of heart fits and qualifies the soul for the sight or vision of 173God. And to give you a short state and account of this, it does it, in a word, by causing a suitableness between God and the soul, and by removing whatsoever may debar or hinder that intimate communion and intercourse, which ought to be, between such a creature and its Creator: now during the soul’s impurity, God is utterly unsuitable to it; and that in a double respect.
1. Of the great unlikeness; and, 2. Of the contrariety, which is between them.
1. And first, for the unlikeness. It is evident, from the clearest and most acknowledged principles of reason, that there can be no true enjoyment, but where there is a certain agreeableness or congruity between the object and the faculty; and if so, what pleasure can it be to a filthy polluted person to converse with those glories which shall both astonish and reproach him? What enjoyment can dirt have in the embraces of a sunbeam? God is infinitely pure, and till the soul has some degrees of purity too, it is no more fit nor able to behold him, than the black mire of the streets to reflect the orient colours of the rainbow upon the sun which shines upon it. God loves not to look upon any spiritual being, unless he can see his own image and likeness in it; and that cannot be seen, where the mirror is foul that should represent it.
2. The next ground of the unsuitableness between God and the soul, is that great contrariety which a state of impurity causes between them. For it is this which makes the soul look upon God as an enemy, as clothed with terror, and as a consuming fire; and upon itself as obnoxious, and fit fuel to be preyed upon and devoured by such a fire. The divine 174holiness is indeed in itself most amiable, but yet a dreadful and confounding sight to a guilty and defiled soul; as the very light itself, we know, though it be the glory of the creation, and the joy of the universe, is yet a frightful and an abhorred thing to thieves and robbers, and to such beasts of prey as lie only in caves and dens, and converse with nothing but filth and darkness under ground.
Heaven is set forth to us as the great mansion of happiness and pleasure, but it is so only to the soul which is prepared for it, and by the renovation of its qualities made congenial to it. But to a soul possessed with the power and guilt of sin, it can be no more a delight, than the openest and the sweetest air can be to the fish; which perishes in the region and element which preserves its proper inhabitants, and dies by that which keeps us alive.
And thus we have seen how want of purity utterly incapacitates the soul to enjoy God; namely, by rendering it both unlike him and contrary to him. God’s infinite holiness, and his transcendent, amazing brightness, meeting with an impure nature, both shames and consumes it; as the day not only discommends, but also expels and drives away the night. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, says the prophet Habakkuk, i. 13. In a word, God is too pure either to see it, or to be seen by it; and therefore none but the pure in heart can behold him. And so I pass to the
Fourth and last thing proposed; which was to make some brief use and application of the foregoing particulars. And what better use can be made of them, than to correct our too great easiness and credulity, in judging of the spiritual estate either of ourselves 175or others. To judge indeed too favourably of others is an error on the right hand: for charity is to pass sentence there, which is a virtue of a benign nature, and whose office is still to think, as well as speak the best of things and persons. Nevertheless, it is one thing to believe charitably, and another to pronounce confidently; and more than the former we cannot do, where the knowledge of the heart is locked up from us; as it is of all men’s hearts, besides our own. And in judging of ourselves, I am sure it is charity to suspect the worst, and for every man to probe and descend into his own heart by a strict, accurate, and impartial examination of it. For, from the heart are the issues of life and death, and from the same must be fetched the evidences of our title to either.
We see many frequent our churches, hear sermons, and attend upon prayers; they are civil in their carriage, upright in their dealings, and there is no great blot or blemish visible upon their conversation; and God forbid, but a due value should be put upon such excellent preparatives to religion: but after all, will these qualifications certainly prove and place us amongst the pure in heart? Will men set up for heaven and eternity upon this stock? and venture their salvation upon this bottom? If they do, it may chance to prove a venture indeed. For do not our Saviour’s own words convince us, that the outside of the platter may be clean, and bright too, and yet in the inside remain full of all filth and nastiness? So that while one entertains the eye, the other may turn the stomach.
If we would prevent the judgment of God, we must imitate it; and judge of ourselves, as he will 176judge of us: that is, by the heart, and by the principles which rule there. And for this, let every man be but true to the resolves of his own conscience, and he will seldom need any other casuist. As for those late specious professions of religion amongst us, and those high strains of purity above the rest of the world, together with boastings of a more intimate converse with God, and acquaintance with the mystery of godliness, and the like; they are generally nothing else but terms of art, and tricks used by spiritual mountebanks, to impose upon the credulous and unwary; and signify but little to that all-searching Judge, who judges neither by fine words nor fair pretences. For let men say, or pray, or pretend what they will, he who has a covetous heart, is in the sight of God a covetous wretch. And he who has a proud, a lustful, or a revengeful heart, passes in the accounts of heaven for a proud, a lustful, and a revengeful person. And he who can harbour schism or faction, sacrilege or rebellion, either in principle or design, though he prays never so devoutly, never so loud, and long, with all the postures of a solemn hypocrisy, as a sad look and a doleful tone; yet let him take it from the word of truth itself, that he has nothing either pure or pious in his heart: for the main spring, the heart, is out of order; and therefore the motion of the wheels must needs be so. too.
Briefly, and in a word, and with that to conclude: he who has nothing to entitle him to this blessedness of seeing God, but a civil, inoffensive smoothness of behaviour, a demure face, and a formal, customary attendance upon a few religious duties, without a thorough renovation of the great 177 principle within him, and a sanctified disposition of heart, may indeed hereafter see God, but then he is like to see him only as his judge.
To which God be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.178
|« Prev||Sermon LII. Matthew v. 8.||Next »|