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THE BLESSEDNESS OF GOOD MEN AFTER DEATH.
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.—Rev. xiv. 13.
IN my explication of these words, I told you that they are, in the general sense and meaning of them, a solemn declaration of the blessed estate of good men after this life; but delivered upon a special occasion, as is signified by that expression, “from henceforth;” that is, from the time of that vision, in which was represented to St. John the last and extremest persecution of the faithful servants of Christ, and which should precede the fatal downfal of Babylon; from that time, “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;” that is, considering the extremity, and the cruel circumstances of this last and severest persecution, we may, from that time forward, reckon those who are already dead (sup posing that they died in the Lord) to be very happy; in that they do not live to see and suffer those grievous things, which then will befal the faithful servants of God.
In my former discourse, I considered the words according to the general intention of them, abstracting from the particular occasion upon which they were spoken endeavouring to set forth the happy 470estate of good men after this life, from the two reasons and grounds mentioned in the text, namely, they “rest from their labours,” and because “their works do follow,” or accompany and go along with them; which two particulars constitute the happiness of the future state.
That which farther remains, and to which I now proceed, is to make some inferences from what I have said upon this subject. And, in doing this, I shall have an eye on the special occasion of the words, as well as on their general intention. And the inference shall be these following:
First, If those that “die in the Lord” are at “rest from their labours” and pains; then the text concludes directly against the feigned purgatory of the church of Rome, which supposeth a great number of those that “die in the Lord,” and have obtained eternal redemption by him from hell, not to pass immediately into happiness: but to be detained in the suburbs of hell, in great pain and torment, till their souls be purged, and the debt of temporary punishment, to which they are liable, be some way or other paid off and discharged.
Secondly, Here is a mighty encouragement to piety and virtue to consider, that all the good we do in this world will accompany us into the other.
Thirdly, It is a gnat encouragement to patience under the sufferings and persecutions which attend good men in this world; that how heavy and grievous soever they are at present, they will end with this life, and we shall then rest from all our labours.
Fourthly, The consideration of the extreme sufferings of Christians in the last times, and which, perhaps, are not far from us, should render us very indifferent to life, and all the enjoyments of it, so as 471even to esteem it a particular grace and favour of God, to be “taken away from the evil to come,” and by death to prevent (if he sees it good) those extremities of sufferings, which seem to be hastening upon the world.
I. If those that “die in the Lord” are at rest from all their labours and pains, then this text concludes directly against the feigned purgatory of the church of Rome, which supposed) a great number, yea, the far greater part of those that “die in the Lord, “and have obtained eternal redemption by him from hell, not to pass immediately into happiness, but to be detained somewhere (they are not certain where. but most probably in the suburbs of hell) in great pain and torment, equal in degree to that of hell, and differing only in duration; 1 say, to be detained there till their souls be purged from the defilements they have contracted in this world, and the debt of temporary punishments, to which they are liable, be some way or other paid off and discharged.
They suppose, indeed, some very few holy men to be so perfect at their departure out of this life, that they do immediately, and without any stop, pass into heaven, because they need no purgation; and those likewise, who suffer martyrdom, because they discharge their debt of temporary punishments here; but the generality of Christians, “who die in the Lord,” they suppose so imperfect, as to stand in need of being purged by fire, and accordingly, that they are detained a longer or shorter time, as their debt of temporary punishments is greater or less.
And, indeed, they have a very considerable and substantial reason to exempt as few as possibly they can from going to purgatory; because the 472more they put in fear of going thither, the market of indulgences riseth the higher, and the profit thence accruing to the pope’s coffers; and the more and greater legacies will be left to the priests, to hire their saying of masses for the delivery of souls out of the place of torments: for, though the prayers of friends and relations will contribute something to this, yet nothing does the business so effectually as the masses and prayers of priests to that end.
But how is it, then, that St. John says, that those that “die in the Lord” are happy, because “they rest from their labours;” if so be the far greater part of those, who “die in the Lord,” are so far from resting from their labours, that they enter into far greater pains and torments than ever they endured in this world? And therefore Bellarmine, that their doctrine of purgatory may receive no prejudice from this text, would have “from henceforth,” in the text, to be dated from the day of judgment, when he supposeth the pains of purgatory will be at an end. But why “from henceforth” should take date from the day of judgment, he can give no reason, but only to save purgatory from being condemned by this text. For St. John plainly speaks of the happiness of those that should die after that time (whatever it be) which he there describes; but that time cannot be the day of judgment, because none shall die after that time. Just thus Estius (one of their most learned commentators) deals with another text, which, by the generality of their writers, is urged as a plain proof of purgatory: “He shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Upon which he says, “It is sufficient that there is nothing in this text against purgatory.” Sufficient! for what? Not to prove purgatory, as they generally pretend from 473this text, but to save it harmless from it; as if we had pretended that this text makes against it.
But there are others that make against it with a witness. Not only the perpetual silence of Scripture about it, when there are so many fair occasions of speaking of it; as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, where the future state is so particularly described, and yet no mention made, nor the least intimation given, of this third state. But, besides the silence of Scripture about it, there are several passages utterly inconsistent with it; as, namely, St. Paul’s discourse in the beginning of the fifth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, where he plainly declares the assurance he had, that all sincere Christians, so soon as they quit the body, do pass into happiness: “For we know (says he) that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
The plain meaning of which is, that so soon as we quit the one, we shall pass into the other. And this consideration, he tells us, made Christians weary of this world, and willing to die. (Ver. 2.) “For in this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house, which is from heaven;” and, (ver. 4.) “For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened.” But had Christians believed that the greatest part of them, when they left the body, were to go into purgatory, to be terribly tormented there, they would not have been in such haste to die, but would have protracted the time as long as they could, and have contentedly borne the burden of this earthly tabernacle, rather than to quit it for a condition a thousand times more intolerable. But St Paul expressly says, that 474Christians knew the contrary; and that as soon as ever they went out of the body they should be happy, and with the Lord; and that this gave them courage against the fears of death: (ver. 6.) “Therefore we are always Confident,” θαῤῥοῦντες οὖν πάντοε, bono igitur animo sumus; “Therefore we are always of good courage, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” And, (ver. 8.) “We are of good courage, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” The plain sense of which is, that Christians were willing rather to die than to live; because they knew, that so soon as they left the body, and departed this life, they should be “present with the Lord.” But now if the doctrine of purgatory be true this whole reasoning of St. Paul proceeds upon a gross mistake; and therefore I am certain it is not true: and so does the “voice from heaven” here in the text: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, that they may rest from their labours;” for there is no reason to restrain this general expression, that “die in the Lord,” only to the martyrs; for though they are certainly included, and, perhaps primarily intended in it, yet this phrase comprehends all those who die in the faith of Christ, and is most frequently so used in the New Testament.
But let this suffice to have been spoken of this matter; especially, since Bishop Fisher, and several of their own learned writers, do so frankly acknowledge, that their doctrine of purgatory hath no sufficient ground in Scripture. Other reasons I grant they have for it, which makes them very loth to quit it: it is a very profitable doctrine, and therefore they have taken care to have it more abundantly confirmed, 475by apparitions of souls from the dead, than any other doctrine whatsoever. In short, how little soever they can say for it, it is in vain to go about to persuade them to part with it. Demetrius, the silversmith, argued as well as he could for his goddess Diana, from the universal consent of the world in the worship of her; “the great goddess Diana, whom all Asia, and the world worshippeth.” But his trusty argument to his workmen was, “Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth, and this our craft is in danger to be set at nought.”
II. Here is a mighty encouragement to piety and virtue, to consider that all the good we do in this world will accompany us into the other. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; for their works accompany them.”
When we come to die, we can call nothing our own but the good works which, by the grace of God, we have been enabled to do in this life. These will stick by us, and bear us company into the other world, when we shall be stripped of all other things, and forced to part from them, whether we will or no. Our riches and our honours, our sensual pleasures and delights, will all take their leave of us when we leave this world; nay, many times they do not accompany us so far as the grave, but leave us very unkindly and unseasonably, when we have the greatest need and use of them.
There is one way, indeed, whereby we may se cure our riches, and make sure friends to ourselves of them, by laying them out in charity. By this means we may send them before us, and consign them over to another world, to make way for our reception there. So our Lord assures us, (Luke xii. 33.) that by giving alms we provide ourselves “bags 476which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens which faileth not;” and (Luke xvi. 9.) that by this way we may “make to ourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when we fail, they may receive us into everlasting habitations.” “The mammon of unrighteousness,” What is that? It is what the Scripture elsewhere calls deceitful riches; because in other ways, in which men commonly lay them out, they turn to no certain account, but one way or other do deceive and frustrate our expectation: but by disposing of them in charity, to the relief of the poor and persecuted, we make sure friends of them, and consign the effects of them to our certain benefit and advantage in another world.
And as charity, so likewise all other graces and virtues are “that good part” which cannot be taken away from us. All the good actions that we do in this life will go with us to the grave, and bear us company into the other world, and will stand by us, when we come to appear before our Judge; and, through the merits of our blessed Saviour, will procure for us, at the hands of a gracious and merciful God, a most ample and eternal reward.
And what an encouragement is this to holiness and virtue, to consider that, it will be all our own another day, and turn to our unspeakable advantage at our great account! To be assured, that whoever serves God faithfully, lays up so much treasure for himself, which he may take along with him into the other world; and does provide for himself lasting comforts and faithful companions, which will never leave him nor forsake him; a happiness large as his desires, and durable and immortal as his soul!
Let us then do all the good that possibly we can, whilst we have opportunity: let us serve God industriously, 477and with all our might, knowing that no good action that we do shall be lost and fall to the ground, that no grace and virtue that we practise in this life, nor any degree of them, shall lose their reward. If we faithfully improve the talents, which are committed to us, to our Master’s advantage; when he comes to call us to an account, and finds that we have done so, we shall not fail to receive both his approbation and reward. And what a comfort will it be to any one of us, to hear those blessed words from the mouth of our Lord—“Well done thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful in a little, I will make thee ruler over much; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!” We shall not need to plead our services to him, and put him in mind of them: our Judge himself will celebrate our good deeds upon the theatre of the world, and commemorate them to our advantage; and interpret every good office we have done, to any of his poor and afflicted members, as if it had been a kindness immediately done to himself. So our Lord represents the proceedings of the great Judge and King of the world, in the great day of recompence. (Matth. xxv. 34.) “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee in any of these circumstances; hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and ministered unto thee? And the 478King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Who would not be ambitious and glad to serve such a Prince, who will so benignly interpret, and so bountifully reward, the least service we do to him?
III. The consideration of this should likewise be a great argument and support to our patience, under all those evils, and sufferings, and persecutions, which many times attend good men in this world. They are for the present perhaps very heavy and grievous; but there is a time shortly coming when we shall be at ease, and perfectly freed from them; when we shall find rest from our labours and sufferings; when we shall enter into peace and rest in our beds, every one walking in his uprightness; that is, reaping the comfort and enjoying the reward of his sincerity towards God, and constant suffering for his cause and truth. And therefore it was well said of a good man, “blessed be God that we are to die;” because to good men, that is a certain remedy of all the evils of this life, and will unquestionably put an end to them. The grave is a place of rest, and discharge from all trouble, as Job elegantly describes it: (chap. iii. 17, 18, 19.) “There the wicked cease from troubling: there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together, they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and the great are there, and the servant is free from his master.”
So soon as we enter into the other world, we are secure against the pursuit and danger of all those evils which afflicted us in this world; and nothing will remain but the joyful remembrance of our sufferings, and the plentiful reward of our constancy and patience under them. And the more our tribulations 479and persecutions have abounded, the greater will our comfort and happiness then be, which (saith St. Paul) is a manifest token, a clear demonstration, “of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be accounted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer; seeing it is a righteous thing with God, to recompense to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” (2 Thess. i. 5, 6,7.)
IV. The consideration of the extreme sufferings which are to fall upon the faithful servants of Christ in the last times, and which seem now to be begun in the world, should make us very contented to leave this world, and glad of any fair opportunity and excuse to take our leave of it, and to be out of the reach and danger of those violent and more than human temptations, with which our faith and constancy may be assailed; nay, to esteem it a particular grace and favour of God to us, to be “taken away from the evil to come,” and to prevent (if God sees it good) those extremities of sufferings which are coming upon the world.
These seem now to be begun in some part of it: they in our neighbour nation have a bitter cup put into their hands; a cup of astonishment to all those that hear of it. Whether this be that last and extreme persecution spoken of here by St. John, I shall not pretend positively to determine. It is plainly distinguished in the visions, from that under the first beast, described Rev. xiii. from verse the first to ver. 11, and chap. xvii. There is a description of the beast upon which the woman sitteth, “on whose forehead is a name written, MYSTERY! BABYLON THE GREAT!” and this beast is there said 480to have “seven heads and ten horns,” which are thus explained by St. John: (chap. xvii. 9, 10.) “And here is the mind which hath wisdom; the seven heads are seven mountains upon which the woman sitteth; and there are seven kings;” that is, (as is generally agreed by interpreters) a succession of seven governments: (and ver. 12, 13, 14.) “And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings which have received no kingdoms as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast; and shall make war with the Lamb.” (Ver. 18.) “And the woman, which thou sawest, is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
So that this beast is plainly the Roman empire; and the woman that sitteth upon her, is the great city, standing upon seven mountains, “which reign eth over the kings of the earth;” which can be no other than Rome, as is agreed by interpreters on all sides. Bellarmine (l. 2. c. 2. de Rom. Pontif.) confesseth, that St. John, in the Revelation, every where calleth Rome, Babylon, as Tertullian (saith he) hath noted; and as is plain from chap. xvii. where Babylon is said to be seated on “seven mountains,” and to have dominion “over the kings of the earth:” there being no other city than Rome, which, in the time of St. John, had dominion “over the kings of the earth;” and that Rome was built upon seven hills is famous.—Thus much Bellarmine acknowledgeth, constrained by the force of truth; and, for another small reason, namely, because St. Peter writes his First Epistle from Babylon, by which, if Rome be not meant, they have no proof from Scripture that St. Peter was ever there.481
Indeed they, of the church of Rome, would have it to be only Rome pagan. But that cannot be; because this beast, after his last head was wounded to death, and his deadly wound was healed, had power given him to continue two and forty months, or (as it is elsewhere expressed) twelve hundred and sixty days; that is, in the prophetic style, so many years; and, likewise, because it was not to begin till the ten kingdoms, into which the Roman empire upon its dissolution was divided, were set up; which was not till after the western empire was overthrown and destroyed by the Goths and Vandals. And, lastly, because this is that Rome, or Babylon, which should finally be destroyed, and cast as a millstone into the bottom of the sea, never to rise again; which is yet to come. And of this beast it is said, that he should “make war with the saints, and overcome them;” (chap. xiii. 7.) that is, that he should raise a long and great persecution against them, which should try their faith and patience: (ver. 10.) “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” The beast, then, with ten horns must be Rome, governing the ten kingdoms, into which the Roman empire was broken; and this can be nothing else but Rome papal, to which the ten kings are said to give their power, and to which they were in a most servile manner subject for several ages, as is plain from history.
And, to confirm this, it is very observable, that the ancient fathers generally agree that that which hindered the revealing of the wicked one (spoken of by St. Paul, 2 Thess. ii. 7, 8.) was the Roman empire; and that being removed, the man of sin, or antichrist, was to succeed in its room. I shall produce a few testimonies to this purpose, but very 482remarkable ones. Tertullian, expounding what St. Paul means by him that withholdeth or letteth, hath these words: Quis nisi Romanus status, &c. Who is that but the Roman state, which being broken into ten kings, shall bring on antichrist? And then the “wicked one shall be revealed.” And in his Apology, he gives this reason, why the Christians should pray for the Roman emperors, and the whole state of the empire; because the greatest mischief hanging over the world is hindered by the continuance of it. St. Chrysostome speaking of that which hinders the revelation of the man of sin: This (says he) can be no other than the Roman empire: for as long as that stands, he dares not shew himself; but, upon the vacancy or ceasing of that, he shall assume to himself both the power of God and man. St. Augustine, in his book de civit. Dei, No man (says he) doubts, but that the successor of the Roman emperor in Rome shall be the man of sin; and we know who hath succeeded him.
But now, after this, another beast is represented “coming out of the earth;” not succeeding in the place of the first beast, but appearing during his continuance, (ver. 12.) and he hath these remarkable characters, by which he may be known.
1. He is said to have but two horns; by which, according to the interpretation of the ten horns, signifying the ten kingdoms, into which the Roman empire after its dissolution should be divided, we are in all reason to understand two of these kingdoms, of which this beast, whoever he be, shall be possessed.
2. He is said to be like a lamb, but to speak like a dragon; that is, to pretend and make a shew of 483great lenity and mildness in his proceedings, but that really he shall be very cruel. It shall be pretended that he does all without violence, and with out arms; but he shall speak as a dragon, that is, in truth shall exercise great force and cruelty; either alluding to the cruelty of the dragon, literally so called, or perhaps prophetically pointing at a particular sort of armed soldiers, called by that name of dragons, or, as we according to the French pronunciation call them, dragoons.
3. He shall rise during the continuance of the first beast, and engage in his cause; but the first beast shall only stand by and look on: (ver. 12.) “and he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth, and them that dwell therein, to worship the beast, whose deadly wound was healed;” plainly declaring, that this persecution should not immediately arise from the first beast, which is said to come out of the sea, which in this prophecy denotes the state ecclesiastical; but from the second beast, which comes out of the earth, and denotes the temporal power. But yet all this ought to be acted in the sight of the first beast, and in his behalf to compel men to worship him.
4. That he shall be remark able for causing fire to come down from heaven to earth, in a wonderful manner, to the great terror and amazement of men: (ver. 13.) “And he doth great wonders; so that he maketh fire to come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.”
5. That he should interdict all those, who would not worship the beast, all commerce with human society, the exercise of civil trades and professions: (ver. 17.) “And he causeth, that no man might 484buy or sell, save he that had the mark of the beast.”
6. And, lastly, (which seems to be the most peculiar and characteristical note of all the rest) that his number should be 666; that is, (as most of the ancients understand it) that the numeral letters of a certain word or name should, being computed, amount to that number. And it is expressly said to be the number of a man. (Ver. 18.) “Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man.” And, in the verse before, it is said to be the number of his name.
Now to whom all these characters do agree, and especially the last, concerning the number of his name, I shall not presume to conjecture; much less positively to determine, whether he be now in being; because it is said to require a particular wisdom and understanding to find it out. “Here is wisdom; let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.” However, the event, when the thing is fully accomplished, will clearly discover it. Thus much is certain, that this extreme persecution, whenever it shall be, will forerun the final destruction of Babylon, which will not then be far off. And concerning this it is that St. John speaks, (chap. xiv. 12.) when he says, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” And then he immediately adds, as it is in the text, “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do accompany them.” Thus much may suffice to have been spoken on this text.485
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