« PreviousContinue »
SET YOUR AFFECTION ON THINGS ABOVE.
Ir can hardly be denied, that all men are desirous of happiness; though, at the same time, it must be confessed, some are so miserably mistaken in the pursuit, that it may be difficult to give any rational account of their proceedings. They either think that to be happiness, which is not so: or, if they are right as to the object, they have such prejudices concerning the means of obtaining it, as render all their endeavours ineffectual.
I shall make it my business to shew you in this discourse, that till we set our affections on things above, no true happiness is to be found.
As the affections of man are active and restless in their nature, they must have their objects; and if these objects are not the things above, they will be the things below; and if these things are in their nature unsatisfactory, such an attachment can terminate in nothing but disappointment. The wisest of mankind, who had experienced all the heights of worldly felicity, did long ago pass sentence of condemnation upon the things of the world, as the instruments of vanity and vexation; yet few can find in their hearts to take his word, till they have made their unsuccessful experiments, and are convinced by the issue of them. It is a truth, which some happily discover
in due time, and which all will see at last, that to expect substantial happiness from the things of this earth, is as impertinent as to seek for the living among the dead. That no real good can be found here, is evident from this one consideration, that whatsoever we find we cannot keep possession of it. Suppose the things never so good in themselves, yet such are the conditions on which we hold them, that they cannot confer upon us the happiness we are looking for. If the cup of life were to be mixed up at the will of the most skilful epicure, the certainty of death, and the uncertainty of the time, are ingredients which can never be excluded; and they will ne ver fail to embitter the whole. For our life is but a vapour, a thing of no substance, and liable to be dissipated by the next rough blast. If a man is unmindful of this, he is in a state of stupefaction; and stupefaction is not enjoyment; if it lies upon his mind, it will as surely have its effect, as the sound of a passing bell, near at hand, will spoil a concert of music. Besides this, the objects so eagerly sought after, are but shadows and delusions; which borrow their greatest value from the error of our imaginations. All the things we behold at present are but the lowest works of our Almighty Creator, and are to endure but for a limited time. The world itself, as well as they that inhabit it, must pass away, as a garment which is worn out, and must be changed for that which is eternal. This being the case, there is something in the soul of man which thirsteth after greater things than are here to be met with. There is in those, who do not extinguish it, an appetite, which will not be satisfied or put off with trifles. When a man has tried the world, and found it full of labour and vanity and disappointment, what can he
think? If he thinks at all, he must conclude, either that God made him to disappoint him, or that there are other better objects on which he ought to set his affections: and if there are such objects, then there is in man an appetite toward them; for where there is no appetite, there can be no enjoyment. But earthly things, when they are abused, have this unhappy effect, that they spoil the taste: and therefore it is said, that if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. It is wisely represented to us in the parable, that they whose affections were engaged by worldly occupations, partook not of that heavenly feast, which was provided for them: but the halt, the lame, and the blind, being disengaged from the world, were ready for the enjoyment of superior pleasures. And every wise man will endeavour to keep himself in this state of disengagement: he will be thankful to God for any of those losses or disappointments, which serve to remove the mists that are before the eyes of great men, and busy men, and men of pleasure. So long as his mind hath the use of its sight, he will consider every thing in this life under that relation which it bears to eternity: and this will at once lessen the value of such things as have their end as well as their beginning in this life. As often as he looks forward to eternity, he will wish to secure himself a portion there; and with this view he will attend to the methods proposed to him in divine Revelation. He will seek for such information, as shall not only improve his head but purify his heart: for the word of God cannot make us wise unto salvation, but as it makes us in the end partakers of it. He will consider his actions, as the only sure evidences of his affections; for all but idiots act upon such principles as they have, whether good or bad; and
therefore the affections of all men are distinguished by their fruits.
Though the things above, of which the text speaks, are not really present to us in themselves, they are present to us in their influences; and in some respect they are also present as the reward of those that seek them. How much pleasure does the miser conceive, in his own imagination, only by contemplating that treasure, which he never uses! Surely then, the Christian may feast his mind with the contemplation of that heavenly treasure, which will be sure not to disappoint him. While his body is circumscribed by this world, and under the dominion of the elements, his heart may be where his treasure is; and thus he may anticipate the joys of heaven, before he is put into actual possession of them. His present enjoyment is in his hope; one of the greatest pleasures in the world indeed, so great a pleasure, that some have supposed all the happiness of man to consist in it. They have discovered, that the affections of men are alive and active, so long as they are kept in expectation; but dead and flat when they have nothing more to look for: and, on this ground, they have affirmed that human happiness is nothing but expectation: a sort of chace, whose pleasure is not in the end, but in the pursuit. If this be so, then the vicissitudes of human life, are one continued series of deception; and no hope is worth entertaining, but the hope of heaven; the only hope that will not make us ashamed at last. It is true, that if we are never so sharp-sighted, all our contemplation will not give us an adequate conception of the things above. We are told, they are such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive them but it is sufficient for us to know,
that they have this one property of lasting for ever. If we remove our affections from the happiness of this world, because we cannot be sure of it; it is a good reason for setting our affections on things above, because they afford that happiness which cannot be taken away from us: and which will probably be advancing by steps unknown to us, through all the ages of eternity.
We may form some conjecture concerning the sufficiency and fulness of this happiness, by considering the power of that God who has engaged himself to make us happy. If we look around us, we are astonished at the manifestations of his power and wisdom; and cannot but see, how the elements work together for the benefit and support of this habitable world. Hence it may be concluded, that he who hath made his sun to rise upon us in this lower state of our existence, can bring us, in his own good time, to that unspeakable brightness, in comparison of which, the sun himself shall disappear, as the stars are drowned in the light of the morning. For God himself, the fountain of uncreated light, shall enlighten that kingdom, which hath been prepared for us from the beginning of the world. It is said of the new Jerusalem, that the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God doth enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
If we consider the structure of an human body; how the eye is exquisitely framed to receive the impressions of the light; the ear to be sensible of sounds; and the skill with which all the organs of circulation and the several instruments of motion are adapted to the kind of life for which the body is now prepared; we can never doubt, but that the same wis