« PreviousContinue »
dom, which even in this fallen state, hath so prepared us for all the functions of this present life, will, in the regeneration of things, fit us in like manner with higher and more perfect faculties for the enjoyment of that life which we have in expectation. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God: human nature, with its present weakness, could enjoy nothing amidst that glorious light, which would dazzle and confound all its powers: and therefore, as the Scripture hath greatly expressed it, mortality must first be swallowed up of life, before we can be capable of enjoying the presence of God, and the glorious scenes of the invisible world.
The man who can raise his mind to the contemplation of these things, will not be mortified when he withdraws himself from the gratifications of sin for he will find himself above them. A man of years feels no uneasiness because he is without the toys and rattles with which children are delighted: their treasure consists in these little things, and their hearts are full of them: but men of skill and science are delighted with what children cannot comprehend. There is just the same difference between the man of pleasure and the man of devotion: the one is a child all his life long: the other is rational and manly in the choice of his objects; which in their nature, are alone worthy of his attention, and capable of satisfying all the highest affections of the mind and understanding. God hath so ordained, that what is our duty is also our present interest and satisfaction; I mean, the interest of our better part. The good man, by his alliance to God, is certainly more happy, as well as more honourable, than he that is allied only to the world; allowing him to be connected with what we usually look upon as the higher part of it.
Should we not think and feel ourselves abundantly happier in the court of Solomon, partakers of his wisdom and splendour, than if we belonged to the train of an Indian prince, who is a black and a savage Infinitely greater is the difference between the felicity of those who attend upon God, and those who are confined to the pleasures of sense. The eyes of the swine are invincibly directed to the earth, and his neck is inflexible: but man has a countenance directed toward the heaven; and the smallest star that is visible in the firmament, is incomparably brighter than all the diamonds and gold of the earth, even when human art has united and polished them to the greatest advantage. As the glories of the heaven are more excellent than the splendour of the earth, so is the contemplation of heavenly things better than the enjoyment of earthly. The astronomer, who measures the courses of the stars, and observes all the appearances of the sun, is employed more to his own satisfaction, than the wretch who dwells in the bottom of a mine, and is digging there by the light of a taper, in danger of being overwhelmed with the ragged vault that hangs over his head; or stifled with poisonous damps and vapours. In a word, the greater and better the objects are, of which we are in pursuit, the higher is the satisfaction afforded by them. The angel is happier than the man, because he has greater things before him: and by parity of reason, the Christian is happier than the man of sensuality. If angels are spectators of what passes here below, how must they look down with pity and contempt on the childish agitations of human affections? on the elevations of pride, the uneasiness of ambition, the misery of covetousness, the rage of envy, the torment of lust, the noise of drunkenness, and the foolish ex
plosions of immoderate laughter? He who places his affections on such objects as angels are delighted with, is raised to an higher sphere of life than other mortals. A person in such a state is delivered from the storms of passion, and is above the reach of disappointment. If he meets with any innocent gratifications in his passage through life, they are tasted without terror and enjoyed without remorse. The light of the sun gives more pleasure to him than to other men. If he admires the works of God which he now beholds, he understands them as so many pledges, that God will shew him greater things than he hath yet seen or heard *. If he is in distress, and tossed about upon the waves of a tempestuous world, he has an anchor of the soul, sure and stedfast, fixed in the region of eternity, and is thereby secured against all the agitations of grief and despair. And is not this an enviable state? Yet it is such a state as we may all obtain. Here ambition is laudable, and will not be punished with disappointment. And let me add, that he who does not aspire to this state, is forgetful
* I have often admired it as a great sentiment in the orator and philosopher of Rome, that men in another life will not only be superior to the sensual pleasures of this life; but that even the virtues required of us in our present state, will then be superfluous and out of place. Si nobis, cum ex hác vitâ migraverimus, in beatorum insulis immortale ævum degere liceret, quid opus esset eloquentiá, cum judicia nulla fierent? Aut ipsis etiam virtutibus? nec enim fortitudinis indigeremus, nullo proposito aut labore aut periculo? nec justitiâ, cum esset nihil quod appeteretur alieni: nec temperantiâ quæ regeret eas, quæ nullæ essent, libidines? ne prudentiâ quidem egeremus, nullo delectu proposito bonorum et malorum. Und igitur essemus beati cogniUná tione naturæ et scientiâ, quæ sola est deorum vitâ laudanda. Ex quo intelligi potest, cætera necessitatis esse, unum hoc voluptatis. This is from a fragment of the Discourse of Cicero, intitled Hortensius ; which was extant in the time of St. Augustine, and, by his own account, prepared his mind for the purer doctrines of Christianity.
of his profession as a Christian. In the greatest service of the Church, that of the holy communion, the Priest calls upon the people to lift up their hearts; to which they give consent, and make answer, we lift them up unto the Lord. They use the language of men, who profess to be above the world, and aspire to heavenly things. And this indeed is their proper character. By their baptism they are risen with Christ to a new and heavenly state of life; and if they are consistent with themselves, they must think, and speak, and act, as men who are raised to new and sublime expectations. Thus argues the Apostle in the words of the text: if ye be risen with Christ, says he, seek the things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God: set your affection on things above. If he has overcome death, and we as members of him are partakers of that victory, we are not to lie like the dead Lazarus, bound about with the grave-clothes of our worldly affection. If Christ sitteth above, as our representative and forerunner; we must rise up from darkness and the shadow of death, to follow him with our hearts and affections; knowing that we shall hereafter follow him in body as well as in spirit. For though it is undoubtedly true, that death shall prevail over our mortal part; yet the grave shall give up our bodies, when he who now sitteth at the right hand of God shall descend from his seat of glory, and call them from the four winds of heaven. This is what the Psalmist alludes to in those remarkable words-though ye have lien among the pots, broken to pieces like frail earthen vessels, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove, that is covered with silver wings, and her feathers like gold: the Spirit of God, that mystic dove, shall lend its wings to raise you from dissolution, and convey you aloft to the regions of eternity.
This prospect is so well secured to us, that our hopes may now begin to take possession of our inheritance. And this is the encouragement given us by the Apostle, to set our affection on things above. He has another reason, which is indeed but a member of the same argument. For if we are risen with Christ in our baptism to a new life; it is equally true, that in the same baptism we are dead with him to the things of this life. And thence he argues, if ye be dead with Christ, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to such things as are to perish with the using? This subjection to perishable things, is the great mistake of mortal man; separating him from the knowledge and love of God; and, consequently, from all the great objects of the world to come. It is not possible to know the things of God, while our hearts are set upon the world. Ignorance of God will cherish earthly affections; and earthly affections will end in a separation from God. One of these cases was exemplified in the heathens; the other in the Jews. The heathens did not like to retain God in their knowledge, and so were given up to vile affections: the Jews had set their affections on the world, and so lost the knowledge of God. It signifies not which end we begin at: for the issue is the same either way.
Upon the whole then, it is the proper business of man in this world, to set his affections on things above in this is our wisdom, our wealth, our hope, and our happiness: therefore it should be an affront to the understandings of rational men, to desire them to follow what is so desirable in itself. Let me then take it for granted, that they who hear me, wish to attain to this heavenly practice, and only want to know how it is to be done. To this the answer is