« AnteriorContinuar »
these thoughts settle themselves upon our minds. |
ture and condition of that state which we are so soon to try. This solicitude, which is both natural and strong, is sometimes, however, carried too far: and this is the case, when it renders us uneasy, or dissatisfied, or impatient under the obscurity in which the subject is placed and placed, not only in regard to us, or in regard to common men, but in regard even to the apostles themselves of our Lord, who were taught from his mouth, as well as immediately instructed by his Spirit. Saint John, the author of the text which I have read to you, was one of these; not only an apostle, but of all the apostles, perhaps, the most closely connected with his Master, and admitted to the most intimate familiarity with him. What it was allowed, therefore, for man to know, Saint John knew. Yet this very Saint John acknowledges "that it doth not yet appear what we shall be;" the exact nature, and condition, and circumstances of our future state are yet hidden from us, I think it credible that this may, in a very great degree, arise from the nature of the human understanding itself. Our Saviour said to Nicodemus, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? It is evident from the strain of this extraordinary conversation, that the disbelief on the part of Nicodemus, to which our Saviour refers, was that which arose from the difficulty of comprehending the subject. Therefore our Saviour's words to him may be construed thus: If what I have just now said concerning the new birth, concerning being born again, concerning being born of the Spirit, concerning the agency of the Spirit, which are all "earthly things," that is, are all things that pass in the hearts of Christians in this their present life, and upon this earth; if this information prove so difficult, that you cannot bring yourself to believe it, by reason of the difficulty of apprehending it; "how shall ye believe?" how would
Finally, would we know whether we have made, or are making, any advances in Christianity or not? These are the marks which will tell us. Do we think more frequently about reli-ye be able to conquer the much greater difficulties gion than we used to do? Do we cherish and enter- which would attend my discourse, if I told you tain these thoughts for a longer continuance than heavenly things?" that is to say, if I speak to you we did? Do they interest us more than former- of those things which are passing, or which will ly? Do they impress us more, do they strike us pass, in heaven, in a totally different state and more forcibly, do they sink deeper? If we per- stage of existence, amongst natures and beings ceive this, then we perceive a change, upon which unlike yours? The truth seems to be, that the we may ground good hopes and expectations; if human understanding, constituted as it is, though we perceive it not, we have cause for very afflict-fitted for the purposes for which we want it, that ing apprehensions, that the power of religion hath is, though capable of receiving the instruction and not yet visited us; cause for deep and earnest in- knowledge, which are necessary for our conduct tercession with God for the much wanted succour and the discharge of our duty, has a native origiof his Holy Spirit. nal incapacity for the reception of any distinct knowledge of our future condition. The reason is, that all our conceptions and ideas are drawn from experience, (not, perhaps, all immediately from experience, but experience lies at the bottom of them all,) and no language, no information, no instruction, can do more for us, than teach us the relation of the ideas which we have. Therefore, so far as we can judge, no words whatever that could have been used, no account or description that could have been written down, would have been able to convey to us a conception of our future state, constituted as our understandings now I am far from saying, that it was not in the power of God, by immediate inspiration, to have struck light and ideas into our minds, of which naturally we have no conception. I am far from saying, that he could not, by an act of his power, have assumed a human being, or the soul of a human being into heaven; and have shown to him or it, the
OF THE STATE AFTER DEATH.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and 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.
ONE of the most natural solicitudes of the human mind, is to know what will become of us af ter death, what is already become of those friends who are gone. I do not so much mean the great question, whether we and they shall be happy or miserable, as I mean the question, what is the na
nature and the glories of that kingdom: but it is evident, that, unless the whole order of our present world be changed, such revelations as these must be rare; must be limited to very extraordinary persons, and very extraordinary occasions. And even then, with respect to others, it is to be observed, that the ordinary modes of communication by speech or writing are inadequate to the transmitting of any knowledge or information of this sort and from a cause, which has already been noticed, namely, that language deals only with the ideas which we have; that these ideas are all founded in experience; that probably, most probably indeed, the things of the next world are very remote from any experience which we have in this; the consequence of which is, that, though the inspired person might himself possess this superna-physical, necessary, and invincible incongruity. tural knowledge, he could not impart it to any Therefore they must undergo a change, and that other person not in like manner inspired. When, change will, first, be universal, at least as to those therefore, the nature and constitution of the hu- who shall be saved; secondly, it will be sudden; man understanding is considered, it can excite no thirdly, it will be very great. First, it will be unisurprise, it ought to excite no complaint, it is no versal. Saint Paul's words in the fifteenth chapfair objection to Christianity, "that it doth not yet ter of his first epistle to the Corinthians are, "We appear what we shall be." I do not say that the shall all be changed." I do, however, admit, that imperfection of our understanding forbids it, (for, this whole chapter of Saint Paul's relates only in strictness of speech, that is not imperfect which to those who shall be saved; of no others did he answers the purpose designed by it,) but the pre- intend to speak. This, I think, has been satissent constitution of our understanding forbids it.|factorily made out; but the argument is too long "It doth not yet appear," saith the apostle, to enter upon at present. If so, the expression "what we shall be, but this we know, that, when of the apostle, "We shall all be changed," proves he shall appear, we shall be like him." As if only that we who are saved, who are admissible he had said, Though we be far from understand-into his kingdom, shall be changed. Secondly, ing the subject either accurately or clearly, or from the change will be instantaneous. So Saint Paul having conceptions and notions adequate to the describes it; “In a moment, in the twinkling of truth and reality of the case, yet we know some- an eye, the dead shall be raised incorruptible;" thing: this, for instance, we know, that, "when and therefore their nature must have undergone he shall appear, we shall be like him." The best the change. Thirdly, it will be very great. No commentary upon this last sentence of Saint John's change, which we experience or see, can bear any text may be drawn from the words of Saint Paul. assignable proportion to it in degree or importance. His words state the same proposition more fully It is this corruptible putting on incorruption; it is when he tells us (Phil. iii. 21) “that Christ shall this mortal putting on immortality. Now it has change our vile body, that it may be like his glo- often been made a question, whether, after so great rious body." From the two passages together, we a change, the bodies, with which we shall be may lay down the following points. First, that clothed, are to be deemed new bodies, or the same we shall have bodies. One apostle informs us, bosies under a new form. This is a question that we shall be like him; the other, that our vile which has often been agitated, but the truth is, it body shall be like his glorious body: therefore we is of no moment or importance. We continue shall have bodies. Secondly, that these bodies the same to all intents and purposes, so long as we shall be greatly changed from what they are at are sensible and conscious that we are so. In this present. If we had had nothing but Saint John's life our bodies are continually changing. Much, text to have gone upon, this would have been im- no doubt, and greatly is the body of every human plied. "When he shall appear, we shall be like being changed from his Lirth to his maturity: yet, him." We are not like him now, we shall be like because we are nevertheless sensible of what we him; we shall hereafter be like him, namely, when are, sensible to ourselves that we are the same, we he shall appear. Saint John's words plainly re- are in reality the same. Alterations, in the size gard this similitude as a future thing, as what we or form of our visible persons, make no change in shall acquire, as belonging to what we shall be- that respect. Nor would they, if they were much come, in contradistinction to what we are. There-greater, as in some animals they are; or even if fore they imply a change which must take place they were total. Vast, therefore, as that change in our bodily constitution. But what Saint John's must be, or rather, as the difference must be bewords imply, Saint Paul's declare. "He shall tween our present and our future bodies, as to their change our vile bodies." That point, therefore, substance, their nature, or their form, it will not may be considered as placed out of question. hinder us from remaining the same, any more than the alterations which our bodies undergo in this life, hinder us from remaining the same. We know within ourselves that we are the same; and that is sufficient: and this knowledge or consciousness we shall rise with from the grave, whatever be the bodies with which we be clothed.
That such a change is necessary, that such a change is to be expected, is agreeable even to the established order of nature. Throughout the universe this rule holds, viz. that the body of every animal is suited to its state. Nay, more; when an animal changes its state, it changes its body. When animals which lived under water, afterwards live in air, their bodies are changed almost entirely, so as hardly to be known by any one
The two apostles go one step further when they tell us, that we shall be like Christ himself; and that this likeness will consist in a resemblance to
mark of resemblance to their former figure; as, for example, from worms and caterpillars to flies and moths. These are common transformations; and the like happens, when an animal changes its element from the water to the earth, or an insect from living under ground to flying abroad in the air. And these changes take place in consequence of that unalterable rule, that the body be fitted to the state; which rule obtains throughout every region of nature with which we are acquainted. Now our present bodies are by no means fitted for heaven. So saith Saint Paul expressly, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; corruption doth not inherit incorruption." Between our bodies as they are now constituted, and the state into which we shall come then, there is a
his glorified body. Now of the glorified body of image of the earthy, of our parent, the first Adam, Christ all that we know is this. At the transfi-created for a life upon this earth; we shall, in our guration upon the mount, the three apostles saw future state, bear another image, a new resemthe person of our Lord in a very different state blance, that of the heavenly inhabitant, the sefrom its ordinary state. "He was transfigured cond man, the second nature, even that of the before them, and his face did shine as the sun, Lord from heaven. and his raiment was white as the light." Saint Luke describes it thus: "The fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening: and behold there talked with him two men who appeared in glory." Then he adds, "that the apostles, when they awaked, saw his glory." Now I consider this transaction as a specimen of the change of which a glorified body is susceptible. Saint Stephen, at his martyrdom, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Saint Paul, at his conversion, saw a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about him; and in this light Christ then was. These instances, like the former, only show the changes and the appearances WHEN the text tells us, “that every man that of which a glorified body is susceptible, not the hath this hope in him purifieth himself," it must form or condition in which it must necessarily be be understood as intending to describe the natefound, or must always continue. You will ob-ral, proper, and genuine effects of this hope, serve, that it was necessary that the body of our rather, perhaps, than the actual effects, or at least Lord at his transfiguration, at his appearance after as effects, which, in point of experience, unihis resurrection, at his ascension into heaven, at versally follow from it. As hath already been his appearance to Stephen, should preserve a re- observed, the whole text relates to sincere Chrissemblance to his human person upon earth, be-tians, and to these alone; the word we, in the cause it was by that resemblance alone he could preceding part of it, comprises sincere Christians, be known to his disciples, at least by any means and no others. Therefore the word every man, of knowledge naturally belonging to them in that must be limited to the same sort of men, of whom human state. But this was not always necessary, he was speaking before. It is not probable, that nor continues to be necessary. Nor is there any in the same sentence he would change the persons sufficient reason to suppose, that this resemblance and characters concerning whom he discoursed. to our present bodies will be retained in our fu- So that if it had been objected to Saint John, that, ture bodies, or be at all wanted. Upon the whole, in point of fact, every man did not purify himself the conclusions, which we seem authorised to who had this hope in him, he would have replied, draw from these intimations of Scripture, are, I believe, that these were not the kind of persons he had in his view; that throughout the whole of the text, he had in contemplation the religious condition and character of sincere Christians, and no other. When in the former part of the text, he talked of we being the sons of God, of we being like Christ, he undoubtedly meant sincere Christians alone; and it would be strange if he meant any other in this latter part of the text, which is in fact a continuation of the same discourse, of the same subject, nay, a portion of the same sentence.
I have said thus much in order to obviate the contrariety which there seems to be between Saint John's assertion and experience. Experience, I acknowledge, proves the inefficacy, in numerous cases, of religious hope and religious motives: and it must be so; for if religious motives operated certainly and necessarily, if they produced their effect by an infallible power over the mind, we should only be machines necessarily actuated; and that certainly is not the thing which a moral agent, a religious agent, was intended to be. It was intended that we should have the power of doing right, and, consequently, of doing wrong; for he who cannot do wrong, cannot do right by choice; he is a mere tool and instrument, or rather a machine, whichever he does. Therefore all moral motives, and all religious motives, unless they went to deprive man of his liberty entirely, which they most certainly were not meant to do, must depend for their influence and success upon the man himself.
This success, therefore, is various; but when
First, that we shall have bodies. Secondly, that they will be so far different from our present bodies, as to be suited, by that difference, to the state and life into which they are to enter, agreeably to that rule which prevails throughout universal nature; that the body of every being is suited to its state, and that, when it changes its state, it changes its body.
Thirdly, that it is a question by which we need not at all be disturbed, whether the bodies with which we shall arise be new bodies, or the same bodies under a new form; for,
Fourthly, no alteration will hinder us from remaining the same, provided we are sensible and conscious that we are so; any more than the changes which our visible person undergoes even in this life, and which from infancy to manhood are undoubtedly very great, hinder us from being the same, to ourselves and in ourselves, and to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
Lastly, that though, from the imperfection of our faculties, we neither are, nor, without a constant miracle upon our minds, could be made able to conceive or comprehend the nature of our future bodies; yet we are assured that the change will be infinitely beneficial; that our new bodies will be infinitely superior to those which we carry about with us in our present state; in a word, that whereas our bodies are now comparatively vile, (and are so denominated,) they will so far rise in glory, as to be made like unto his glorious body; that whereas, through our pilgrimage here, we have borne, that which we inherited, the
ON PURITY OF THE HEART AND AFFECTIONS,
Beloved, now are we the sons of God: and 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. And every man that hath this hope in him purifeth himself, even as he is pure.-1 John iii. 2, 3.
Merely controlling the actions, without governing the thoughts and affections, will not do. In point of fact it is never successful. It is certainly not a compliance with our Saviour's command, nor is it what St. John meant in the text by purifying ourselves.
it fails, it is owing to some vice and corruption in | of our Saviour, in the passage here referred to, to the mind itself. Some men are very little affected direct the attention of his disciples to the heart, to by religious exhortation of any kind, either by that which is within a man, in contradistinction hearing or reading. That is a vice and corrupto that which is external. Now he who only tion in the mind itself. Some men, though strives to control his outward actions, but lets his affected, are not affected sufficiently to influence thoughts and passions indulge themselves without their lives. That is a vice and corruption in the check or restraint, does not attend to that which mind, or rather in the heart; and so it will always is within him, in contradistinction to that which be found. But I do not so much wonder at per- is external. Secondly, the instances which our sons being unaffected by what others tell them, Saviour has given, though, like all instances in be those others who they may, preachers, or Scripture, and to say the truth, in all ancient teachers, or friends, or parents, as I wonder at writings, they be specimens and illustrations of seeing men not affected by their own thoughts, his meaning, as to the kind and nature of the their own meditations; yet it is so; and when it duties or the vices which he had in view, rather is so, it argues a deep corruption of mind indeed. than complete catalogues, including all such We can think upon the most serious, the most duties or vices by name, so that no other but what solemn subjects, without any sort of consequence are thus named and specified were intended: upon our lives. Shall we call this seared insensi- though this qualified way of understanding the bility? shall we call it a fatal inefficiency of the enumerations be right, yet even this enumeration rational principle within us? shall we confess, itself shows, that our Saviour's lesson went beyond that the mind has lost its government over the man? the mere external action. Not only are adulteThese are observations upon the state of morals ries and fornications mentioned, but evil thoughts and religion, as we see them in the world: but and lasciviousness; not only murders, but an evil whatever these observations be, it is still true, and eye; not only thefts, but covetousness or covetings. this is Saint John's assertion, that the proper, Thus by laying the axe to the root; not by lopnatural, and genuine effect of religious hope is to ping off the branches, but by laying the axe to cause us to strive "to purify ourselves, even as he the root, our Saviour fixed the only rule which is pure." Saint John strongly fixes our attention, can ever produce good morals. I mean, as he means, such of us as are sincere Christians, upon what we are to be hereafter. This, as to particulars, is veiled from us, as we have observed, by our present nature, but as to generals, as to what is of real importance and concern for us to know (I do not mean but that it might be highly gratifying and satisfactory to know more, but as to what is of the first importance and concern for us to know,) we have a glorious assurance, we have an assurance that we shall undergo a change in our nature infinitely for the better; that when he shall appear glorified as he is, we shall be like him. Then the point is, what we are to do, how we are to act, under this expectation, having this hope, with this prospect placed before our eyes. Saint John tells us, we are to purify ourselves, even as he is pure." Now what is the Scriptural meaning of purifying ourselves can be made out thus. The contrary of purity is defilement, that is evident: but our Saviour himself hath told us what the things which defile a man are; and this is the enumeration; evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, Lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; and the reason given why these are the real proper defilements of our nature is, that they proceed from within, out of the heart: these evil things come from within, and defile the man. The seat, therefore, of moral defilement, according to our Saviour, is the heart; by which we know, that he always meant the affections and the dis-ness of his resurrection." Once more, but still position. The seat, therefore, of moral purity observe in the same sense, "We are buried with must necessarily be the same; for purity is the him by baptism unto death; our old man is crucireverse of defilement: consequently, to purify fied with him." The burden of the whole passage ourselves, is to cleanse our hearts from the pre- is, that if we hope to resemble what Christ is in heasence and pollution of sin; of those sins particu- ven, we must resemble what he was upon earth; larly, which reside in, and continue in the heart. and that this resemblance must consist specifically This is the purgation intended in our text. This in the radical casting off of our sins. The exis the task of purgation enjoined upon us. pressions of the apostle are very strong; "that the body of sin may be destroyed. Let not sin reign in your mortal body; obey it not in the lusts thereof," not only in its practices, but in its desires. "Sin shall not have dominion over you."
"Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he," namely, Christ himself, "is pure." It is a doctrine and lesson of the New Testament, not once, but repeatedly, inculcated, that if we hope to resemble Christ in his glorified state, we must resemble him in his human state. And it is a part, and a most significant part, of this doctrine, that the resemblance must consist in purity from sin, especially from those sins which cleave and attach to the heart. It is by Saint Paul usually put thus: "If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him." "Dead with Christ;" what can that mean? for the apostle speaks to those who had not yet undergone natural death. He explains: "Reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin;" that, you hear, is the death he means. "He that is dead, is freed from sin;" that is Saint Paul's own exposition of his own words; and then, keeping the sense of the words in his thoughts, he adds; "if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him." Again, still keeping the same sense in view, and no other sense: "If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the like
It is to be noticed, that it goes beyond the mere control of our actions. It adds a further duty, the purifying of our thoughts and affections. Nothing can be more certain, than that it was the design
In another epistle, that to the Colossians, Saint Paul speaks of an emancipation from sin, as a virtual rising from the dead, like as Christ rose from the dead. 66 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God: set your affections on things above, not on things of the earth; for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." In this way is the comparison carried on. And what is the practical exhortation which it suggests? "Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, evil concupiscence, and covetousness:" which is an equivalent exhortation, and drawn from the same premises, as that of the text; "Purify yourselves, even as he is pure."
The Scriptures then teach, that we are to make ourselves like Christ upon earth, that we may become like him in heaven, and this likeness is to consist in purity.
It appears from these words, that our Saviour in his preaching held in view the character and spiritual situation of the persons whom he addressed; and the differences which existed amongst men in these respects: and that he had a regard to these considerations, more especially in the preaching of repentance and conversion. Now I think, that these considerations have been too much omitted by preachers of the Gospel since, particularly in this very article; and that the doctrine itself has suffered by such omission.
OF THE DOCTRINE OF CONVERSION.
I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.-Matthew ix. 13.
It has been usual to divide all mankind into two classes, the converted and the unconverted; and, by so dividing them, to infer the necessity of conversion to every person whatever. In proposing the subject under this form, we state the distinc tion, in my opinion, too absolutely, and draw from it a conclusion too universal: because there is a class and description of Christians, who, having been piously educated, and having persevered in those pious courses into which they were first brought, are not conscious to themselves of ever having been without the influence of religion, of ever having lost sight of its sanctions, of ever having renounced them; of ever, in the general course of their conduct, having gone against them. These cannot properly be reckoned either converted or unconverted. They are not converted, for they are not sensible of any such religious alteration having taken place with them, at any particular time, as can properly be called a conversion. They are not unconverted, because that implies a state of reprobation, and because, if we call upon them to be converted, (which if they be unconverted we ought to do,) they will not well understand what it is we mean them to do; and, instead of being edified, they may be both much and unnecessarily disturbed, by being so called upon.
Now there are a class of Christians, and I am ready to allow, real Christians, to whom this admonition of the text is peculiarly necessary.
They are not those who set aside religion; they are not those who disregard the will of their Maker, but they are those who endeavour to obey him partially, and in this way: finding it an easier thing to do good than to expel their sins, especially those which cleave to their hearts, their affections, or their imaginations, they set their endeavours more towards beneficence than purity. You say we ought not to speak disparagingly of doing good: by no means; but we affirm, that it is not the whole of our duty, nor the most difficult part of it; in particular, it is not that part of it which is insisted upon in the text, and in those other Scriptures that have been mentioned. The text, enjoining the imitation of Christ upon earth, in order that we may become like him in heaven, does not say, do good even as he went about doing good, but it says; "purify yourselves even as he is pure:" so saith Saint John. "Mortify the deeds of the body, let not sin reign in you; die with Christ unto sin; be baptized unto Jesus Christ, that is, unto his death; be buried with him by baptism unto death; be planted together in the likeness of his death; crucify the old man, and destroy the body of sin; as death hath no more dominion over him, so let sin no more reign in your mortal bodies:" so Saint Paul. All these strong and significant metaphors are for the purpose of impressing more forcibly upon us this great lesson; that to participate with Christ in his glory, we must participate with him in his humiliation; and that this participation consists in di-sition which is already too much; or be at a loss to vesting ourselves of those sins, of the heart espe- know what it is herein that he would enjoin upon cially, and affections, whether they break out into them. Yet the discourse and the doctrine may, action or not, which are inconsistent with that nevertheless, be very good; and for a great portion purity, of which he left us an example; and to of our congregation, very necessary. The like, I the attainment and preservation of which purity, think, is the case with the doctrine of conversion. we are most solemnly enjoined to direct our first, If we were to omit the doctrine of conversion, we strongest, and our most sincere endeavours. should omit a doctrine, which, to many, must be the salvation of their souls. To them, all calls without this call, all preaching without this doetrine, would be in vain; and it may be true, that a great part of our hearers are of this description. On the other hand, if we press and insist upon conversion, as indispensable to all for the purpose of being saved, we should mislead some, who would not apprehend how they could be required
There is, in the nature of things, a great variety of religious condition. It arises from hence, that exhortations, and calls, and admonitions, which are of great use and importance in themselves, and very necessary to be insisted upon, are, nevertheless, not wanted by all, are not equally ap plicable to all, and to some are altogether inap plicable. This holds true of most of the topics of persuasion or warning, which a Christian teacher can adopt. When we preach against presump tion, for instance, it is not because we suppose that all are presumptuous; or that it is necessary for all, or every one, to become more humble, or diffident, or apprehensive than he now is: on the contrary, there may, amongst our hearers, be low, and timorous, and dejected spirits, who, if they take to themselves what we say, may increase a dispo