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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.
IN these words are four things worthy of our consideration.
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.”
Secondly, What we know of it in general; that it shall consist in the perfect knowledge and enjoyment of God; both which are comprehended in that expression: “We shall see him as he is.”
Thirdly, Wherein our likeness and conformity to God shall consist; “This we know, that, when, he shall appear, we shall be like him.”
Fourthly, The necessary connexion between our likeness and conformity to God, and our sight and enjoyment of him. The two first of these I have spoken to. I shall now proceed to the
Third; namely, Wherein our likeness and conformity to God shall consist, “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him:” in these two, things—in the immortality of our nature, and in the purity of our souls.
I. In the immortality of our nature. In this mortal state, we are not capable of that happiness 165which consists in the vision of God; that is, in the perfect knowledge and perpetual enjoyment of him. The imperfection of our state, and the weakness of our faculties, cannot bear the sight of so glorious and resplendent an object, as the Divine nature and perfections are: we cannot see God and live. The frailty of our mortal condition is unequal to sustain so great a weight of glory; to be sure it is incapable of eternal felicity; nothing but an immortal nature can be happy for ever. And therefore the Scripture tells us, that, when our bodies shall be raised, the quality and condition of them shall be quite altered, and that our blessed Saviour shall, by his almighty power, make a mighty change in them, from what they were in this mortal state: (Phil. iii. 20, 21.) “Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working where by he is able even to subdue all things to himself.” And the apostle tells us, more particularly, wherein this change doth consist: (1 Cor. xv. 42.) “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” These corruptible, and vile, and weak, and gross bodies, which we wear and carry about us for a while, and at last put off, and lay down in the grave, shall, by the power of God at the resurrection, be refined and advanced into spiritual and vigorous, glorious and immortal bodies. Our bodies are now but a tabernacle, a temporary and moveable dwelling, that shall shortly be taken down; but, at the resurrection, 166they shall become a fixed and settled habitation, a house that shall never decay, nor come to ruin. So the apostle tells us: (2 Cor. v. 1.) “We know, 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.” And when this blessed change shall be made, “mortality shall be swallowed up of life; for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” And there is a necessity of this, in order to our perfect happiness. For that is not a perfect happiness, which shall expire and have an end; which it must have, if we were still liable to mortality. And therefore the apostle is peremptory, that there must be such a change, because our bodies, as they are now constituted and framed, are utterly incapable of the happiness of the next life. (Ver. 50.) “For this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Where, by “flesh and blood,” the apostle does not mean, as many have imagined, our sinful and impure nature; but our frail and mortal nature, consisting of such gross materials as flesh and blood are, for the maintenance and support of which, there is continual need of new recruits, and fresh supplies of nourishment by meat and drink. Such a nature as this, which is necessarily mortal, “cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” which is a state of perpetual and endless happiness. And that the apostle means this, by the phrase of “flesh and blood,” is evident, beyond all doubt, from the next words, which he adds by way of explication of what he had said, “This, I say, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” That which is 167liable to death and corruption, is not capable of immortal glory and happiness. And therefore our nature must be made immortal; and immortality makes us like to God, and is an evident testimony and declaration that we are the sons of God. “We are now the children of God,” in respect of our title to a future inheritance; but this is hid from the world: but at the resurrection, when we shall bear the image of his immortality, this will be an evident mark of our being the sons of God. As our blessed Saviour was “mightily declared to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead;” so likewise shall his members be declared to be “the children of God,” by that glorious change that shall be made in them at the resurrection, when “this mortal shall put on immortality.” Then we are the sons of God, indeed, in an eminent manner, when “we can die no more.”
And therefore it is worth our observation, that the Scripture gives us the title of “the children of God,” more especially upon this account: (Luke xx. 35, 36.) “But they which shall be counted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, can die no more, but are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” And (Rom. viii. 19.) the resurrection is called, “the manifestation of the sons of God.” And (ver. 21.) “Our being delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” And (ver. 23.) it is called our “adoption or sonship; we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, viz. the redemption of our bodies.” This is the first thing, wherein our likeness and resemblance to God in our future state of happiness shall consist, the immortality of 168our nature; without which we could not be capable of the blessed vision of God, and the everlasting enjoyment of him.
II. It shall consist in the purity of our souls. Now purity is a freedom from sin, which is the great stain and defilement of the soul. Before we can be admitted into heaven, we must be quit of all those vicious and corrupt inclinations, of all those inordinate desires and passions, which defile our souls, and render us unlike to God. In this world, every good man does “mortify his earthly and corrupt affections,” and in some measure “bring them into obedience and subjection to the law of God.” But still there are some relics of sin, some spots and imperfections in the holiness of the best men. But upon our entrance into the other world, we shall quite “put off the old man with the affections and lusts thereof;” we shall be perfectly “delivered from this body of sin and death,” and, together with this mortal nature, part with all the remainders of sin and corruption, which cleave to this mortal state. For till “our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved,” we shall never be wholly cleansed from the leprosy of sin. While we are in this world, we must be continually “cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,” and “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” But we shall never be wholly cleansed, we shall never be perfectly holy, in this life: but in the other state, all sin and imperfection shall be done away, and we shall be “presented to God, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” And perfect holiness is the image of God, and the very nearest resemblance of the Divine nature, that creatures are capable of.
But how our souls shall be purified from those 169remainders of sin and dregs of corruption, which are in the best men, while they are in this world, it is not necessary that we should be able perfectly to explain. It ought to be sufficient to us/ that he who hath promised it, is able to do it one way or other; only I am confident, and have great reason to be so, that this purification will not be wrought by the fire of purgatory. For if there be any such thing, as there is not the least spark of Divine revelation for it (and how any body should come to know it otherwise, is not easy to imagine), it is granted to be a material fire; and if it be so, it is no ways fitted, either for the punishment or purgation of impure souls. Indeed, if men carried their bodies into purgatory, the fire of it might be a cruel torment and vexation to them: but how a fire should scorch a spirit, is, I believe, beyond the subtilty of a schoolman to make out; much less is it fitted to purge and take away sin. And, if the truth were known, it was never seriously intended for this purpose, to do any good to the dead, but to drain the purses of the living, by deluding them with a vain hope of getting their friends delivered out of that imaginary torment.
But we, who take our faith from the word of God, and not from the fictions of men, do believe, that the souls of good men do immediately pass out of this world into a state of happiness; and that he who does bestow this happiness upon them, does qualify them for it, before he admits them into it. And if we consider the matter well, we shall find, that a man who hath truly repented of his sins, and through the mercy of God, in Jesus Christ, hath obtained of God the pardon and forgiveness of them, and is firmly resolved against sin, and doth truly 170endeavour to mortify his lusts, and to lead a holy life, and by the grace of God does “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and “lives soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world;” I say, we shall find that such a man is “not far from the kingdom of God,” but very nearly qualified and disposed for it; and that there hardly wants any thing to make such a man perfectly good, but only to remove out of his way those obstacles and impediments to virtue, and to free him from those circumstances of infirmity and temptation, which do unavoidably encompass us in this world; such as are ignorance, and the instigations of our bodily temper to irregular appetites and passions, that which the apostle calls, “the law in our members warring against the law of our minds;” the necessities of this life, the temptations of the devil and of bad company, and the like; all which do appertain to this state, and which we shall be quit of so soon as we leave this world, and put off these frail and mortal bodies: and when these are removed, we are free from the bondage of sin, and have nothing to hinder and divert that strong bent and inclination of mind, which is in every good man, to do the will of God. So that our very translation into another state does of itself assert us into this “glorious liberty of the sons of God.” And if, besides this, any thing more be necessary to cleanse us from sin, and perfect the holiness and purity of our souls, we need not be solicitous about the way and manner of it, but may rest confident, that “he who hath begun a good work in us, will perfect it in the day of Christ;” and that what is wanting in our love to God, or charity to men, in goodness, and meekness, and purity, or any grace or virtue whatsoever, 171shall then be added to them, that “so an entrance may be administered to us abundantly in to the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”—“This we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him;” like him in the immortality of our nature, and in the purity of our souls, which are the very image of God, and the most express character of the Divine nature. The
Fourth and last thing remains, which is to shew the necessary connexion which is between our likeness and conformity to God, and our sight and enjoyment of him; “We know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Which implies, that, unless we be like God, we are in no capacity of the blessed sight and enjoyment of him.
I. Likeness to God in the immortality of our nature, is necessary to make us capable of the happiness of the next life; which consists in the blessed and perpetual vision and enjoyment of God. If our natures were mortal, we were incapable of seeing God. What was said of Moses, is equally true of all mankind, in this state of mortality: we cannot see the face of God and live. Nothing that is frail and dying can endure the splendour of so great a glory: nothing that stands in need of continual reparation, as flesh and blood does, can “inherit the kingdom of God;” nothing but a fixed and immutable nature, which can never decay, is capable of everlasting happiness.
But this part of likeness and conformity to God, though it be necessary to make us capable of the felicity of another world, yet it is no part of our duty and care: if we endeavour after the other, which consists in holiness and purity, God will work this in us, and for us, without any concurrence 172of ours. All that he requires of us, is, that we firmly believe it, and patiently expect it, and fervently pray for it, and aspire after it. And, indeed, our likeness to God in this respect, depends upon our conformity to him in purity and holiness. For as “by sin death entered into the world, and so death passed upon all men;” so nothing but holiness can restore us to immortality.
The foundation of all our hopes of a blessed immortality, is to be laid in the price of our redemption, as the meritorious cause of it, and in our being “renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness,” as the proper qualification and capacity for it on our parts. We must “have our fruit unto holiness,” if we look that the end should be everlasting life. And to this purpose it is excellently said, in the Wisdom of Solomon, “the keeping of God’s commandments is the assurance of immortality, and immortality makes us like to God.” And therefore I shall mainly apply myself to the
II. Second thing; namely, To shew that our likeness to God in the purity of our souls, is necessary to make us capable of the blessed sight and enjoyment of him in the next life. It is necessary as a condition of the thing; and it is necessary as a qualification in the person.
1. It is necessary, as a condition of the thing to be performed on our part, before we can expect that God should make good the promise of eternal life and happiness to us. The express constitution and appointment of God hath made it necessary, who hath told us, “without holiness no man shall see him;” that “if we sow to the flesh, we shall of the flesh reap corruption; but if we sow to the Spirit, 173(that is, if we be sanctified and renewed) we shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” And if this were a mere arbitrary condition, imposed upon us by the sovereign will of God, without any necessity from the nature of the thing; yet we ought to accept it, as a very easy condition; when he hath only said, as the prophet did to Naaman, “Wash and be clean.” Certainly no man can refuse so great a benefit and blessing conferred upon such cheap and tolerable terms. God hath promised us eternal life; a mighty blessing indeed! for the obtaining of which, no condition that is possible can be thought hard and un reasonable. And what does he require of us for the obtaining of it? but that we “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God;” that is, that we do with all care and diligence abstain from sin, and endeavour to live a holy life; to conform ourselves to the will of God, and to be obedient to his laws. He does not require perfect holiness of us in this life, but a sincere endeavour after it, and he hath promised to assist our endeavour; and if we go as far as we can, he will perfect what is wanting. So that there is nothing in all this but what is very possible for every man to do, by the assistance of that grace which he hath promised to afford us; and if it be possible, we cannot answer our neglect of it, when all our hopes of happiness depend upon it. But this is not all, there is yet,
2. A farther necessity of it, inwardly to qualify and dispose us for the sight and enjoyment of God. We cannot possibly love God, nor take delight in him, unless we be like him in the temper and disposition of our minds. If we would know what will make us happy, we must look upon the great pattern 174of happiness, and that is God himself; who, as he is the most powerful, and wise, and every way perfect, so is he the happiest being in the world. So that if we would be happy, we must be like God. We cannot be so perfect as he is, and therefore we cannot be so happy; but if we would be as happy as creatures are capable of being, we must endeavour to be as like God as it is possible for creatures to be.
We must resemble him as near as we can, in those perfections wherein he is imitable by us. And these are, as I may call them, the moral perfections of his nature, which the Scripture usually comprehends under the name of holiness; his goodness, and patience, and mercy, and justice, and truth, and faithfulness; and these, as they are the great glory, so the chief felicity of the Divine nature.
Goodness is a perfection of itself, though it were without any great degree of knowledge or power. A poor man, and one that is ignorant in comparison of others, may yet be a very good man. But power and knowledge separated from goodness are not perfections, but may be applied to the worst and most mischievous purposes; as we see in the devil, who hath both these qualities in a high degree.
If we could suppose an omnipotent and all-knowing being, that were destitute of goodness, he would not only be troublesome to others, but uneasy to himself. Without goodness there can be no happiness. So that those perfections which contribute most to the happiness of the Divine nature, are the easiest to be imitated by us. We may be like God in his holiness, that is in his goodness, and patience, and mercy, and righteousness, and truth. And 175these perfections are the very temper and disposition of happiness; for they are the nature of God, who is therefore essentially happy, because he is a being constituted of these perfections. And so far as we imitate God in these, we are “partakers of a Divine nature; we dwell in God, and God in us.” So our apostle tells us, in the 4th chapter, verse 16. “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” These Divine qualities make us fit company for our heavenly Father, and capable of the joys of heaven, and the delights of that glorious place.
And the contrary temper and disposition is the nature of the devil, and the very thing which makes it impossible for him to be happy. Malice, and envy, and revenge, are unquiet passions; and in what nature soever they are, they are as vexatious and tormentful to itself, as they are troublesome and mischievous to others. These are a hell within us, and are as natural causes of misery, as bodily diseases are of pain and restlessness; and while these furies are in us, nothing without us can make us happy.
The capacity and foundation of all felicity must be laid in the inward frame of our minds, in a god like temper and disposition. Till the image of his holiness and goodness, which hath been defaced by sin, be renewed upon our minds, we are utterly in capable of the enjoyment of the first and chief good, in which all our felicity does consist.
And thus you see what a necessary connexion there is between our likeness and conformity to God, and the blessed vision and enjoyment of him. All that now remains, is to draw some inferences from 176what hath been discoursed upon this argument, and so I shall conclude.
I. This shews us how impossible it is to reconcile a wicked life with the hopes of heaven. The terms of our happiness are firmly and immutably fixed, like “the foundation of the earth, which can not be moved;” nay, sooner may “heaven and earth pass away,” than a wicked man enter into the kingdom of heaven. If we continue in a sinful and impenitent state, we must necessarily “come short of the glory of God.” And therefore, all those devices which men have found out, to excuse themselves from a holy life, and yet to maintain hopes of getting to heaven at last, are but foolish arts of security, and tricks to undo ourselves quietly, and without any great disturbance. Some think to be saved by an external profession of religion, though it have no force and efficacy upon their lives; some by being of the only true church, wherein salvation is to be had: and yet, if it were true, that there were any one party or community of Christians, out of which there were no salvation, I am sure this likewise is true, that there is no church wherein a wicked man can be saved.
Others rely upon absolutions and indulgences, and hope, notwithstanding all the unrighteousness and ungodliness of their lives, to do their business at last that way. But can any man be so foolish, as to think, that any church or priest can forgive a man upon other terms, than those upon which only God hath declared he will forgive sinners?
Others hope to be saved by the righteousness of Christ, without any of their own. But what a presumption is this, to think that any thing that Christ 177hath done for us, will avail us while we cherish our lusts, and live in the contempt of his laws? “Let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” The righteousness of Christ shall never be imputed to any for their justification, but those who are “sanctified by the renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
So that nothing can be vainer than a wicked man’s hopes of heaven. The whole design of the gospel is, to convince men that blessedness belongs only to the righteous, and that no man that allows himself in any wickedness and impiety of life, shall have any “inheritance in the kingdom of God and Christ.”
II. The consideration of the indispensable necessity of our likeness and conformity to God in holiness and purity, to make us capable of the happiness of the next life, calls loudly upon us, to endeavour after it in this life. So it follows in the words immediately after the text; “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is: and every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” It is true, indeed, nothing but perfect holiness makes us capable of the enjoyment of God, and we cannot be perfectly holy in this life. But then we are to consider, that if we do not purify ourselves in some measure in this world, if we do not begin this work here, it will never be perfected hereafter; such dispositions as we carry with us out of this world, stick by us for ever. Indeed, if they be good, the degree of them shall be perfected; but if they be bad, they shall never be altered. If the “image of God be renewed upon us” in this life, “we shall be changed from glory to glory” in the other, “by the Spirit of the Lord.” But if we be 178utterly unlike God when we die, death will make no change in us for the better: we shall “go to our place, and inherit the portion of sinners.” We did not endeavour to be like God, and therefore we can never be admitted to the blessed sight and enjoyment of him; for there is a direct and eternal op position between the holy nature of God, and an impure creature; and till this opposition be removed, we can have no communion with him. And it is too late to take away this opposition between God and an impure soul in the other world; because our condition is then concluded, and we shall remain for ever such as we have made ourselves, while we were in this world.
Now is the time, “this is the day of salvation.” Now we may repent and leave our sins, and purify ourselves; and by purity make ourselves like to God, and by our likeness to him render our souls capable of being admitted to the blessed sight of him, “in whose presence is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
So that we ought to resolve upon one of these two things; either to give over all thoughts of happiness in another world; or to qualify ourselves for it, by “purifying ourselves, as God is pure:” for till we are like God, we are not capable of enjoying him. While we live “in ungodliness and worldly lusts,” we are as unlike God as is possible; and there are but two ways imaginable, whereby to bring a conformity and likeness between God and us either by changing God or ourselves. Now the nature of God is fixed and immutable, he cannot recede from his holy nature; therefore we must leave our sins. It is certain we cannot change God; therefore we must endeavour to change ourselves. 179Rather think of purifying thy corrupt nature, which may be done; than of making any alteration in God, “with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.”
Once God hath condescended so far as to take our nature upon him, to bring us to a participation of his own Divine nature, and make us capable of happiness: but if this will not do, we must not expect that God will put off his own nature to make us happy.180
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