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OF THE HAPPINESS OF GOOD MEN, IN THE FUTURE STATE.
It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.—1 John iii. 2.
THE great design of this Epistle is to persuade men to purity and holiness of life, without which we can lay no claim to the promises and privileges of the gospel. Christians are called “the children of God;” and this is a great privilege indeed, a mighty argument of God’s love and favour to us, to own us for his children. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” This is the happiness of our present condition: “now we are the sons of God; and if sons, then heirs; this gives a title to a future inheritance. “And it does not yet appear what we shall be;” the circumstances of our future happiness and glory are not perfectly revealed to us, only thus much in general is discovered to us, that we shall be very happy, because we shall be admitted to the immediate sight and enjoyment of God; and we cannot see him and enjoy him, unless we be like him: and to be like God is to be happy. “We know that when he shall appear,” ἐὰν φανερωθῆ, that is, “when it shall appear.” “It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but when it shall appear,” that is, when our future happiness shall be revealed 150to us: it is not yet particularly discovered to us, but thus much in general we know of it beforehand, that “we shall be like God, for we shall see him as he is.” In which words there are these four things worthy of our consideration:
First, The present security of our future state, as to the particular circumstances of that happiness which good men shall enjoy in another world: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.”
Secondly, That thus much we certainly know of it in general, that it shall consist in the sight and enjoyment of God; “We know that, when it shall appear, we shall see him as he is.”
Thirdly, Wherein our likeness to God shall consist; “We shall be like him.”
Fourthly, The necessary connexion between our likeness to God, and our sight and enjoyment of him; “We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is:” that is, because “we shall see him as he is;” therefore it is certain “we shall be like him;” for unless we be like God, we are not capable of seeing and enjoying him.
First, The present obscurity of our future state, as to the particular circumstances of that happiness which good men shall enjoy in another world: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” The Scripture tells us, that it is a glory yet to be revealed: that there shall be such a state of happiness for good men in another world, though it was in a great measure obscure to the world before, both to Jews and gentiles, yet it is now clearly revealed to us by “the appearance of Jesus Christ, who hath brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.” But the particular circumstances of this happiness are still hid from us; and, as it is a needless, so it would be a 151faulty, curiosity in us to pry and inquire into them. It is enough that we certainly know there is such a state; the knowledge of this in general is enough to quicken our diligence, and excite our endeavours, for the obtaining and securing of it: it is enough to mortify all evil affections in us, and to baffle all temptations to sin, to know that it will rob us of so great a felicity as God hath promised to us; it is enough to support and comfort us under all the miseries and afflictions of this present time, to be fully assured that after a few days of sorrow and trouble are over, we shall be unspeakably and eternally happy. A firm persuasion of this, is argument enough to our obedience, and a sufficient support to our faith and patience, and we need inquire no farther. Thus much God hath revealed to us, for our comfort and encouragement, the rest he hath concealed from us; and it would be a bold intrusion into his secrets, to pry and search any farther; and, if we should, it would be to no purpose. For in things which depend upon Divine revelation, it is impossible for us to know any more, than God is pleased to reveal to us. In matters of pure revelation, we cannot go beyond the word of the Lord: “The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God, or he to whom the Spirit of God shall reveal them.” If one should come from a strange country, never known and discovered before, and should only tell us, in general, that it was a most pleasant and delightful place, and the inhabitants a brave, and generous, and wealthy people, under the government of a wise and great king, ruling by excellent laws; and that the particular delights and advantages of it were not to be imagined by any thing he knew in our own country, and should say 152no more of it: if we gave credit to the person that brought this relation, it would create in us a great admiration of the country described to us, and a mighty concern to see it, and live in it. But it would be a vain curiosity, to reason and conjecture about the particular conveniences of it; because it would be impossible, by any discourse, to arrive at the certain knowledge of any more, than he, who only knew it, was pleased to tell us. This is the case as to our heavenly country. Our blessed Saviour, who “came down from heaven,” from “the bosom of his Father,” hath revealed to us a state of happiness and glory in general, that there is such “a kingdom prepared for us;” and when he was leaving the world, he told us, that he was going thither by the way of the grave; and when he was risen again from the dead, and was ascended into heaven, he promised to come again at the end of the world, and to raise us out of the grave, and to carry us into those celestial mansions, “where we shall be for ever with the Lord.” And beyond this he hath made no particular discovery to us of the felicity of that place; he hath given us no punctual representation of the glory of it; he hath not declared to us, in a special manner, what our work and employment shall be, in what way God will communicate himself to us, nor what kind of conversation we shall have with the blessed angels, and with one another, and how far we shall know, or be known, to one another; or whether we shall stand affected in any peculiar manner to those who were our friends, and relations, and acquaintance in this world. These and perhaps a thousand things more, which may concern the glories of that state, and the happiness and employment of the “spirits of just 153men made perfect,” our Saviour hath told us nothing of, but only in general; and it is impossible for us with any certainty to make out the rest, any more than children can make a conjecture of the designs and reasonings of a wise man; not only because it would be of no great use to us, but because the imperfection of human nature, and of our faculties in this state of mortality, is not able to bear a full and clear representation of so great a glory.
When our Saviour was transfigured upon the mount, and a little image of heaven was shewn to men, the disciples were strangely amazed, and knew not what they said. And St. Paul tells us, that when he was “taken up into the third heaven,” the things which he saw and heard there, “were not to be uttered.” So that well might the apostle say here in the text, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” Our future state is very obscure to us while we are in this world, as to any distinct and particular knowledge of it.
There are a sort of idle men in the world, I mean the schoolmen, who have been very busy and bold in their inquiries, very peremptory in their determinations of several things relating to it: but after all our search and study, it is impossible for us to advance one step farther in the knowledge of it, than God hath been pleased in his holy word to reveal it to us. And how much God hath revealed, I shall, in discoursing of the
Second particular, consider; namely, That thus much we know of it in general, that it shall consist in the blessed vision of God: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but when he shall appear, we shall see him as he is.” Thus much all Christians know, because our Saviour hath plainly 154revealed it to them, that the blessedness of the saints should consist in the vision of God. (Matt. v. 8.) “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” Which the apostle expresseth with a little variation; (Heb. xii. 14.) “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Here is a great thing expressed to us in a few words, “We shall see him as he is:” for the better understanding of which, it will be convenient to inquire into these three things:
I. What is meant here by seeing God.
II. What by seeing him as he is.
III. The fitness of this metaphor, to express to us the happiness of our future state.
I. What is meant by seeing God. The school men have spun out abundance of fine cobwebs about this, which in their language they call “the beatific vision of God,” and they generally describe and explain it so as to render it a very dry and sapless thing. They make it to consist in a perpetual gazing upon God, and contemplating the Divine essence and perfections, in which, as in a clearer mirror, they suppose men to see and know all other things. But this is a very jejune and insipid notion of happiness, but yet suitable enough to the gust and inclination of those that devised it. And, indeed, men are naturally apt to form such notions of God and heaven to themselves, as are most agreeable to their own appetites and inclinations. So the heathen world framed to themselves gods after their own image and likeness; of like passions, and inclinations, and lusts with themselves; and such a heaven as pleased themselves, and was most suitable to their own gross imaginations of pleasure and happiness; and therefore they described it by pleasant 155fields, and clear rivers, and shady walks. So likewise Mahomet framed such a paradise, as is most agreeable to our sensual appetites and lusts. In like manner the schoolmen, who addicted themselves wholly to contemplation, would have the happiness of heaven to consist in that which they themselves took most delight in. But surely the Scripture understands something more by the sight of God, than a bare contemplation of him. It is a known rule given by divines for the understanding of Scripture—“The words that signify sense and knowledge, are very often in Scripture to be so understood, as to comprehend in them those affections and effects, which sense and knowledge are apt to produce in us.” So our knowledge of God doth in Scripture many times import the sum of all religion, the whole duty of man: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar:” and God’s knowing of us, signifies the whole happiness of man; “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” So tasting and sight are in Scripture put for experience and enjoyment: (Psal. xxxiv. 8.) “Taste and see that the Lord is gracious.” (Lament. iii. 1.) “I am the man that hath seen affliction;” that is, that hath suffered it. (1 Pet. iii. 10.) “He that will love life, and see good days,” that is, enjoy them. And so we use the word in common speech. To see a friend, is to enjoy the pleasure of his company, and all the advantages of his conversation. So here, the sight of God doth comprehend and take in all the happiness of a future state. As to see the king includes the court, and all the glorious circumstances of his attendance; so to see God, does take in all that glory, and joy, and happiness, which flows from his presence.156
I grant, indeed, that this expression primarily and immediately denotes our perfect knowledge of God in the other life, in opposition to those obscure and more imperfect discoveries and apprehensions which we have of him in these earthly bodies: for I think we need make no doubt, but that sight is here taken in a spiritual and intellectual sense. We are not to dream that we shall see God with our bodily eyes; for being a pure spirit, he cannot be the object of any corporeal sense. But we shall have such a sight of him, as a pure spirit is capable of; we shall see him with the eyes of our minds and understanding. And in this sense, we do in some degree see God in this life, by faith and knowledge; but it is but darkly, and as it were through a glass that we see him, as the apostle expresseth it. But when we come to heaven, our understanding shall be raised and cleared to such a degree of strength and perfection, that we shall know God after a more perfect manner, than we are capable of in this state of mortality. And this perfect knowledge of him, together with the happy effects of it, those affections which it shall raise in us, and that blessed enjoyment of the chief good which we are not able to express, is that which is cabled the sight of God.
II. What is here meant by seeing God as he is: we shall see him as he is. Now this cloth farther and emphatically express our perfect knowledge and enjoyment of God.
1. Our perfect knowledge of him. Not that we are to imagine, that when we come to heaven, our understanding can, or shall be raised to such a pitch, as to be able perfectly to comprehend the infinite nature and perfections of God: for all created understanding being naturally finite, we cannot imagine 157that it can be stretched to the comprehension of what is infinite, as the Divine nature and perfections are. But our knowledge shall be advanced and raised to such degrees of perfection, as a finite and created understanding is capable of.
And we may very reasonably conceive (and in deed the Scripture leads us to it, without and be yond which it is not safe to speak of these things); I say, we may reasonably conceive the perfection of this knowledge to. consist in these three things: in a more immediate, and clear, and certain knowledge of the Divine nature and perfections, than we are capable of in this state of mortality.
(1.) We shall then have an immediate knowledge of God. In this world we see him by the means and help of his word and works; we see him as he hath manifested and revealed himself to us in the Holy Scriptures, as he hath represented himself to us in. the creatures, as the apostle tells us: (Rom. i. 20.) that “his eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen by the things that are made.” But thus we do not see God immediately and directly; but by a reflection of his perfections from the works of creation and providence. We see him by faith at a great distance, which the apostle calls, seeing him as it were “through a glass,” (1 Cor. xiii. 12.) Now faith in Scripture is most frequently opposed to sight, which is a more immediate view and nearer discovery of a thing. (2 Cor. v. 7.) “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” But in heaven we shall have an immediate and direct sight of God, that which the Scripture calls, seeing him? face to face;” not at a distance, as we do now by faith; not by reflection, as we do now see him in the creatures; but we shall have an immediate and direct view of him. Faith 158shall then cease, as the apostle tells us, and be perfected in sight, because of the nearness and evidence of the object.
(2.) We shall not only then have an immediate, but a far clearer knowledge of God, than we have now in this life: (1 Cor. xiii. 12.) “We now see him in a glass darkly,” ἀν αἰνίγματι, “in a riddle,” which is an obscure and involved declaration of a thing. We have now but very dark and confused apprehensions, and such as do not only represent him very imperfectly, but many times very falsely, to us. While our souls are muffled in these gross bodies, we are compassed about with clouds, which do in a great measure intercept the sight of him: but the light of glory will scatter all these clouds, “the veil shall then be taken away.” The resurrection will refine our bodies to that purity, that they shall be fit instruments for our souls. We shall have spiritual bodies, as the apostle tells us, (1 Cor. xv.) so purified from all these dregs which now incumber them, that they shall be fit to be united to a spirit, and to act with it; and then “we shall with open face behold the glory of God,” as the apostle expresseth it; (2 Cor. iii. 18.) or as it is here in the text, “we shall see him as he is.” We see him now many times as he is not; that is, we are liable to false and mistaken conceptions of him: but then we shall see him as he is. The clearness of our knowledge will free us from all error and mistake about him. We are now many times at a loss what conceptions to have of God; we are hard put to it to reconcile one perfection of God with another, and to make them consistent and agree together. We believe his providence; but we are puzzled many times how to make that accord with his goodness 159and justice: but in heaven we shall see the harmony of all these, and that it was nothing but our ignorance and darkness which made us imagine any discord and disagreement in them.
(3.) We shall then, likewise, have a certain knowledge of God, free from all doubts concerning him. There may be a certainty in faith; but not that high degree of evidence and assurance which is in sight. It is spoken by way of abating the certainty of faith, when it is called the evidence of things not seen; nay, many times the faith of good men is mixed with a great deal of fear and doubt of the contrary: but in the state of glory, we shall not be liable to any of these doublings and jealousies, which do so frequently possess the best of men in this world. Then “we shall know, as also we are known,” as the apostle expresseth it, (1 Cor. xiii. 12.) As God now knows us, so shall we then know him, as to the truth and certainty of our knowledge.
Now such an immediate, and clear, and certain knowledge of God, as hath been described, doth necessarily suppose a very great elevation of our understandings, above what this state of mortality can bear. We cannot now have a clear and immediate sight of God, because the weakness and imperfection of our present state will not admit of it. In this life, our understandings are easily overborne by the lustre and excellency of an object. Hence it was that God said to Moses, when he so earnestly desired to see his face, “Thou canst not see my face, and live,” (Exod. xxxiii. 20.) So transcendent and glorious a sight would quite overwhelm and overcome our faculties; as the light of the sun, if we look steadfastly and directly upon it, will dazzle and blind the strongest eye. The sight of so glorious a 160being as God is, of so much excellency, and happiness, and perfection, as concentre in him, would fill us with joy and wonder, too great for frail mortality to bear: but in the state of glory, the eye of the soul, that is, our understanding faculty, shall be enlarged unto that capacity, and purified to that clearness, and elevated to that strength, as to be able to receive and bear so much of the lustre and glory of the Divine nature and perfection, as is consistent with the finiteness of a human under standing, and suitable to the perfection of a glorified soul; and our understandings shall then be raised and advanced to such a strength, that they shall be so far from being oppressed and burdened with the presence of God, and from sinking under the weight of his glory, that they shall be infinitely ravished and delighted with it.
2. To see God “as he is,” does imply our perfect enjoyment of him. We shall not only perfectly know him, but we shall take infinite pleasure in him, in beholding his glory, in praising and admiring his goodness, in doing his will with all imaginable readiness and cheerfulness. I do not pretend to describe to you the particularities of that state, and all the blessed comforts and enjoyments of it: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” God hath not told us, and none but he, who is the author and fountain of this happiness, can discover it to us. Let it suffice us, that God hath assured us of it, and hath prepared it for us; and it can be no mean thing, which the infinite wisdom, and goodness, and power of God hath designed for the final reward of those who love him, and of those whom he loves. If we know thus much of it, that it is certain be yond all doubt, and vast beyond all imagination, 161we have nothing more to wish, but that God would fit us for it, and, as soon as he pleaseth, bring us to the enjoyment of it,
III. We will consider the fitness of this metaphor, to express to us the happiness of our future state. And that the Scripture doth very much delight to set forth to us the blessedness of heaven, by this metaphor of seeing, is evident from the frequent use of it in Scripture. (Matt. v. 8.) “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” (1 Cor. xiii. 12.) “We shall see him face to face.” (Heb. xii. 14.) “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” And here in the text, “we shall see him as he is.” And indeed God is pleased, in Scripture, to make sensible descriptions of the happiness and misery of another world, and, by way of accommodation to our understandings, and condescension to the weakness and imperfections of this state, to set forth heaven and hell to us by such things as are sensible; and that, not only to help our under standings to a more easy conception of things, but likewise to move and rouse our affections, which, while we are in the body, and immersed in sense, are commonly most powerfully wrought upon, by sensible representations of things. And therefore hell is described to us by such things as affect the sense of feeling, because that is capable of the greatest and sharpest pain; and the enjoyments of heaven, by the sense of sight, because that is the noblest of all our senses; and the primary and proper object of it is most delightful, and of the most spiritual nature of any corporeal thing.
1. Sight is the noblest and most excellent of all our senses: and therefore the frame of the eye is the most curious of all other parts of the body, and 162the dearest to us, and that which we preserve with the greatest tenderness. When the apostle would set forth the mighty affection which the Galatians bore to him, he says, “they would have plucked out their very eyes for him.” It is the most comprehensive sense, hath the largest sphere, takes in the most objects, and discerns them at the greatest distance. It can in a moment pass from earth to heaven, and survey innumerable objects. It is the most pure, and spiritual, and quickest in its operations, and approacheth nearest to the nature of a spiritual faculty. Of all our senses, it carries the greatest evidence and certainty along with it, and the reports of it are the most certain and unquestionable. Hence we use to say, that one eye-witness is more than ten ear-witnesses. When Job would express to us the most perfect knowledge of God, he does it by sight: (Job xlii. 5.) “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eyes see thee:” that is, he had a more perfect and clear discovery of God and his perfections, than ever he had before. And to mention but one thing more; it is that sense which is more apt to work upon our affections:
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures,
Quam quæ sunt oculis commissa fidelibus;
“The things which we hear reported, are not so apt to move our pity, or anger, or love, as the things which we see with our eyes.” So that in all these respects, of the dignity and excellency, the largeness and comprehensiveness, the spirituality and quickness, the evidence and certainty of this sense, and the power it hath to raise our affections, it is the fittest to represent to us the noblest employment 163and operation of our souls in the state of glory.
2. The primary and proper object of this sense, is the most delightful and of the most spiritual nature of any corporeal thing, and that is light. “The light of the eye rejoiceth the heart,” (Prov. xv. 30.) “Light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eye to behold the sun,” (Eccles. xi. 7.) It is the purest and most spiritual of all corporeal things, and therefore God chooseth to represent himself by it: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
And thus I have done with the second thing I propounded to speak to; namely, that thus much, in general, we certainly know of the happiness of our future state—that it shall consist in the sight of God. I should now proceed to the third thing, namely, wherein our likeness to God shall consist; but this I shall defer to another opportunity.164
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