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CONSIDERATION OF OUR FUTURE STATE,
AS THE BEST REMEDY AGAINST AFFLICTIONS.
2 COR. iv. 18.
WHILE WE LOOK NOT AT THE THINGS WHICH Are seen, buT AT THE THINGS WHICH ARE NOT SEEN: FOR THE THINGS, WHICH ARE SEEN, ARE TEMPORAL; BUT THE THINGS, WHICH ARE NOT SEEN, ARE ETERNAL.
THESE words are a strange paradox; and are brought in by the Apostle, to confirm a position, which, to most men, may seem as much a paradox as themselves.
In the precedent verses, he asserts afflictions to be advantageous, and losses beneficial; that we improve by our decays, and may reckon our sorrows and troubles to be our gain and interest.
And this he makes good to us, whether we consider Grace or Glory.
As to Grace, he tells us, v. 16. Though our outward man decay, yet our inward man is renewed daily. As sharp and nipping winters do to the earth, so do afflictions to the heart: they mellow it, and make it fruitful. These goads in our sides, as trouble some as they are, yet serve to quicken us to our work, and make us mend our pace to heaven: for Christians are like clocks; the more weight is hung upon them, the faster they go.
And, then, as for Glory, he tells us, in the verse immediately foregoing my text, that their afflictions do but work out this. The cross stands in the highway to the crown. It was by this, that our Lord himself obtained it; and he hath since ordained, that all his followers should pass the same way. We must, through many tribulations, enter into glory: Acts xiv. 22. This is the pathway to heaven, which is strewed all along with thorns. And, though the Scripture asks, Do men gather grapes of thorns?
yet, certainly, these thorns shall yield a plentiful and a pleasant vintage. Poverty, reproach, persecution, imprisonment, sickness, yea death itself, take whatsoever is most stern and most dreadful to human nature, though they may seem to be oppressing tyrants, yet they are, indeed, but faithful and laborious servants: they are working out glory for us: and if, in doing their work, they break either our bodies or estates in pieces; yet, so long as out of that rubbish they work and mould a mass of glory, we may rest ourselves well satisfied in such an advantageous loss. This is an abundant encourgement to bear afflictions, not only with patience, but with joy too: for, God having promised that all things shall work together for our good, it is the greatest folly in the world, to complain that the potion is not pleasant, which the skill of the Great Physician hath tempered for our health; and let us rest confidently assured of it, that as much as we wish our condition otherwise than it is, so much we wish it should be worse with us than it is.
But, yet, the frailty of human nature being such, that it is ready to sink under every burden which God lays upon it, it cannot have too many supports. The Apostle, therefore, not only assures them, that their afflictions work for their glory and happiness; but, moreover, makes a comparison, wherein he shews them, how infinitely their reward shall surpass their suf-. ferings.
And this comparison stands upon a Twofold Antithesis, or opposition of the one to the other.
The afflictions, which they here endure, are but light afflictions; but the glory, which they shall receive hereafter, is an exceeding weight: Το καθ' ὑπερβολην εἰς ὑπερβολην βάρος: αν exceeding, excessive weight of glory. He labours, you see, to express it; and he expresseth it so great, as if he must again labour to bear it. Their crown of glory shall be so massy and ponderous, that it will be as much as the soul will be able to stand under: it is a weight, a load of glory.
But then, again, he compares them in duration, as well as weight. Their afflictions are but short and momentary; but the glory, that shall be revealed, is durable and eternal: Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Now, it is a very difficult thing to persuade wretched and miserable men, that their afflictions are but light and short. Every little pressure is a load, and every hour an age. We reckon our time by
quite different measures, when we are in adversity, from those which we use when we are happy and prosperous. In prosperity, time imps its wings, and flies away apace, before us: life, we think, glides along too fast in a smooth and even way. But, when the way is rugged and miry, the hours then seem slowpaced and loitering: and, quite contrary to the course of nature, our summer and sun-shine days are the shortest, and our winter are the only long and tedious ones.
What, then, makes the Apostle here give in such a different account concerning afflictions, from that of other men? that, when they reckon the least and shortest to be long and heavy, he should here determine quite contrary, and assert the greatest to be but light and momentary? He satisfies us in the reason of this strange and paradoxical assertion, in the words of the text; and tells us, that we shall account all the afflictions of this life light and short, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.
But this may seem to be no better, than the resolving of a question by propounding a riddle. For, to look at things not seen, to see things invisible, can appear no other than a perplexing riddle to most men, who live more by sense than they do by faith.
I shall, therefore, first clear the words from the doubtfulness and ambiguity of the phrase: and then collect from them the principal subject, on which I intend to insist at present.
I. We have, IN THESE WORDS, the Apostle's practice, and the reason of it. His practice: We look not at things seen, but at things not seen: the reason, because things seen are temporal, but things not seen are eternal.
Here let us briefly enquire,
What is meant by things seen.
What, by things not seen.
What, by looking both at the one and the other.
As for the other two expressions, that things seen are temporal, but things not seen are eternal; I suppose them known to all who have but a notion of the differénce of time from eternity. Briefly, the one have their original, continuance, and period, in the revolution of time, and are measured by days and years the other never had beginning, or, at least, never shall have end; and so, are exempt, either one way or both, from the jurisdiction of time and change.