HEAVEN A STATE OF
Take, for instance, the idea of God; let it be supposed to
comprehend - as every one grants it doth, whether he acknowledge his existence
or no - all conceivable, all possible excellencies; that it means an infinite,
eternal, ever-living, self-subsisting being, most perfectly intelligent, wise,
true, holy, righteous, powerful, and blessed; the original of life, being, and
blessedness to the creation, according to the several kinds, natures, and
capacities of his creatures; the supreme and sovereign Lord of all, to whom it
belongs to govern and dispose of what he hath made; of most immense and
abounding goodness and. benignity; most bountiful to the indigent,
compassionate to the miserable, reconcilable to the guilty, propitious to the
penitent; most complacently kind, with highest delight, to the holy and the
good; severe only to the obstinately impenitent and implacable, that will by no
means or methods be reclaimed.
Take we again, from hence the measures by which we are to judge what ought to be the dispositions and deportments of his reasonable creatures towards him; that they be entirely composed and made up of love, reverence, humility, dependence, devotedness, subjection, gratitude, and adoration. And suppose we that in the theory, this be, as it generally is, admitted and. acknowledged as the just and most regular consequence of the former : - And let us again suppose, that we being made after his image, which in the natural part remains and is still common to mankind, and as to the moral part, is restored in all that are regenerate and born of God, - that therefore we ought to love universally all mankind, to wish and do well to them, as to ourselves; and no more to injure any man, than we would destroy, pull in pieces, or offer violence to our own life and being: and that we ought, with a more peculiar delectation, to embrace and love all holy and good men, without other distinction, than as any appear more to excel in goodness : - Our light about these things is so clear; they are so little disputable, and so difficult it is to form any argument to the contrary; that few ever set themselves, by any explicit or formed thoughts, to oppose or contend against them. It is not, at least not generally, so much as attempted to disprove theni, or assert contrary principles in opposition to them.
Therefore that the dispositions and common practice of men do so little agree with these principles, is not that their notions are herein doubtful, but spiritless; their light is not uncertain, but weak and impotent. And hereupon their knowledge signifies as little to its proper end, as if their apprehensions touching these things were none at all, or quite contrary to what they are. They as much neglect and slight the blessed God, or decline to be concerned with him, as if they denied all the things of him which his idea contains; or as if they affirmed all the things of him, which it most directly excludes. They shun, they fly from him, as if they thought him the worst of beings, while they acknowledge him the best and most excellent good; disobey and affront him, as if they thought he had no right to rule them, while they confess him the sovereign Lord of all the world: and steer their course both towards him, and one another, in as direct repugnancy to his rules, as if they thought them all reversed; and that the most opposite system of laws and precepts were given them, by some undoubted authority, to regulate all their practice!
It would amaze a thinking man that all this should be so! That intelligent creatures, that the reasonable, living, immortal spirits of men should be sunk to so low a pitch of degeneracy and vileness! But much more, that it being so apparently thus, it should be so seldom reflected on; that men are not afraid of themselves; that they appear not as so many frightful monsters, each in their own eyes ! That they consider not,'What are these faculties for? Why have I such notions of truth in my mind? Why have I a will whereby to choose, resolve, act, and be accordingly?' What a distorted misshapen creature is this soul of mine! Everything in me running counter to right and fit!'
Whatever hath thus fatally perverted all their powers, hath stupified them too; so as not only not to find fault, but to applaud and be well pleased with themselves for all this. But now shall we not take our advantage from hence, to conceive and be enamoured of the rectitude, the amiableness of this most excellent state of the perfected spirits of the just? Now doth comely order succeed, instead of the most horrid deformity; distorted limbs are set right, the ligaments and connexion of the disjointed faculties to each other are restored; and whatsoever the enlightened mind suggests as fit and due, presently obtains. No complaint remains of seeing what is better and doing what is worse;' or that when good should be done, evil is present. There is nothing but perfect regularity, harmony, and agreement. All things move smoothly, and with constant equability and decorum. Right dictates of the leading faculty, and ready compliance of such as are to follow, make with them a perpetual, even, and uninterrupted course. Likeness to God, therefore, in every other just respect, certainly ensues upon such preceding knowledge of him; for the kind and nature of that knowledge being, as it ought to be, powerful, vigorous, transforming of the whole soul, and the will ductile and compliant; agreeable impressions do most certainly take place.
As now "beholding - we are changed," much more in that state where the injected Divine beams are so strong and vivid, and the receptive disposition so prompt, free, apt and facile. Therefore to be made like God is to be "made perfect," according to the ultimate intendment of these words, - the vision or knowledge of God, in the heavenly state, being never intended for idle, ineffectual speculation; as this perfection is not otherwise to be understood than with reference to the ends we were made for; that we may be immediately capable of, and apt for, everlasting adoration and fruition of the blessed God, in a joint and most full consent and communion with the "general assembly," the whole community of all the blessed spirits besides, whose eternal work and delight this will be. This likeness to God must yet be understood with exception to the Divine peculiarities, as hath been elsewhere shown - whither we now refer, only to save the labour of transcribing: in respect of which peculiarities also there must be, on our part, a correspondency, that is, a likeness with allowance for necessary disagreement; as between a seal and the impression, where what is convex in the one is hollow in the other; and yet otherwise like, that is, correspondent to each other too.
So the case is between the blessed God's all-sufficient fulness and our receptive emptiness; between his supremacy and our subjection. In respect to other things, common to him and us with the rest of those happy spirits that inhabit the regions of light and bliss, - spirituality itself, life and vigour, knowledge, wisdom, holiness, love, serenity, benignity, mercy, peace, and joy, - there is a nearer resemblance; these things passing under the same name with him and with us, but with the infinite inequality still of God and creature.
Now let us here give ourselves leave to pause a while, and contemplate those innumerable multitudes of pure and happy ëreatures, perfected or ever perfect spirits, that inhabit and replenish those ample spacious regions above; the vast, and to us, or to any thought of ours, immense and endless tracts of light and glory. Consider them every one composed and made up of lively light and love, as we are told "God is light " and "God is love." Consider them all as most intelligent and knowing creatures, even of the most profound and hidden mysteries that here were wont to perplex and puzzle the most inquisitive mind; ignorant of nothing, or apt to comprehend anything needful and pleasant to be known, or lawful to be inquired into; curious to know nothing useless or unlawful; most perfectly wise creatures, prudent sages, endowed with a self-governing wisdom, so as easily, without a vexatious solicitude and anxiety, but with a noble freedom, to order and command all their thoughts, appetitions, actions, and deportments towards God, themselves, and one another; so as never to be guilty of mistake or error in any motion of mind or will; never to omit anything in its season, or do anything out of season. Consider them whether in solemn assembly, (which may be stated and perpetual by successively appointed numbers for aught we know,) or diverting and retiring, or faring to and fro, as inclination, with allowance or command, may direct; yet all everywhere full of God, continually receiving the vital, satisfying, glorious communications of the everywhere present, self-manifesting Deity: all full of reverence, and most dutiful love to the eternal Father of spirits, his eternal Son, and Spirit; all formed into perpetual, lowliest, and most grateful adoration, with highest delight and pleasure; all apprehensive of their depending state, and that they owe their all to that fulness which filleth all in all: every one in his own eyes a self-nothing, having no separate divided interest, sentiment, will, or inclination: every one continually self-consistent, agreeing with himself, ever free of all self-displeasure, never finding any cause or shadow of a cause for any angry self-reflection upon any undue thought or wish in that their present, perfect state, though not unmindful what they were or might have been, and ascribing their present state and stability to the grace of God, and dedicating their all to the praise and glory of that most free and unaccountable grace : all well assured and unsuspiciously conscious, with inexpressible satisfaction, of their acceptance with God, and placing with the fullest sense and relish their very life in his favour: all full of the most complacential benignity towards one another, counting each one's felicity his own; and every one's enjoyments being accordingly multiplied so many thousandfold, as he apprehends every one as perfectly pleased and happy as himself! Let but any one recount these things with himself, - as he easily may, with far greater enlargement of thoughts, many more such things as these, - and he needs not be at a loss for a notion of this "perfect state" of the "spirits of the just."
And for further confirmation, as well as for a somewhat more distinct and explicit conception thereof let it be moreover considered, - What was the undertaking and design of our Redeemer, to whom the next words direct our eye: "And to Jesus, the Mediator of the New Testament, and to the blood of sprinkling," etc. He was to be the restorer of these once lost apostate spirits, and besides reconciling them to God by his blood, "that speaketh better things than that of Abel," was to impart his own Spirit to them; and by the tenour of that New Testament or covenant whereof he was Mediator, was not only to procure that their sins and iniquities should be remembered no more, but that the Divine laws should be "put in their minds, and written in their hearts." They are therefore, "by the blood of the everlasting covenant to be made perfect," "in every good work to do his will," having "all that wrought in them which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ." Now when shall he be said to have accomplished his design? Not till every one be presented perfect and faultless in the presence of the Divine glory. -
Do but consider what was a design worthy of so great an undertaker, the Son of God; and of his being engaged so deeply, of his being so earnestly intent upon, it, as to become first a man, then a sacrifice, to effect it. Consider his death and resurrection, wherein he will have all that belonged to him to have a consortium, a participation with him, and conformity to him; as is largely discoursed in the Philippians ; and hence we are to make our estimate what is the mark and "prize of the high calling of God in Christ." 'This can be no other than final consummate Christianity, the Christian's high calling in termino; and which they that are inchoatively perfect, or sincere, must be so minded as to design it for themselves. Therefore let me but tell any man, so that he can understand me, what true Christianity now is, and he can tell me what heaven is. Let me tell him what it is to be a sincere Christian in this present state, and he can tell me what it is to be perfect in the heavenly state. The writing God's law in the heart truly and perfectly, goes far towards both. The two great commandments impressed, that are both fulfilled in love, are of vast compass to this purpose, and with the certain connexa, comprehend all: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart," etc.; and - " thy neighbour as thyself," etc. What a heaven upon earth would these two create, reduced to practice! and when the impression is perfect, what needs there more?
But God knows, men too commonly measure their heaven by their Christianity, on the wrong hand; a Christianity and a heaven, both external and foreign to them. God deliver me from this so palpable and destructive a delusion of a Christianity and a heaven foreign to my soul! A religion and a felicity that touch not our minds, that never impress our inner man; what can we be the better for them? What! to be imposed upon by so absurd a misconceit, and so repugnant to Scripture, which so expressly tells us that glory we are finally to expect, is a glory whereby we are to be glorified, made glorious, and to be revealed in us, and wherein we are to partake with Christ?' Or did the Son of God put on man, and suffer so deeply for us, with a design upon us less than this?
But now my work is done, nor do my limits allow me to enlarge in reference to the - SECOND head of discourse proposed:
In what sense sincere Christians may be said to be already come to the spirits of the just made perfect. Enough may be collected from what hath been said. It is to be understood,
I. In a relative sense; they are come, they already belong to that general assembly, that church which the myriads of angels and the perfected spirits of the just are of. A local coming none can pretend in this case to dream of; they are said to be come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Such were truly said to .be come into the very constitution of the Roman polity, that were civitate donati, admitted freemen, though they lived a thousand miles off.
II. In a real sense; by a gradual, but true participation of the primordia - the first and most constituent principles and perfections of the heavenly state.
And now, if that were the thing designed, there is a most adequate groundwork laid for a true and the most ample encomium of that rare person, our never too deeply lamented nor too highly renowned Queen, whose funerals drew my thoughts to this theme. View the perfections of the spirits of the just, as they were growing and more eminently grown towards their highest pitch, and here is our ground. Do not wonder it is laid as high as heaven, for thence they begin, as well as end there. By most benign influences from thence, though the plant was set on earth, they had an early bud in concealment; but we have seen them blossom in open view, still aspiring thitherward, as there they are fully blown. Her otherwise royal parentage was thus incomparably more royal. The lustre of her excellent virtues had all the advantage which they could have by 'dwelling well;' as the endowments - what they were - of a great prince heretofore, were noted to have had the contrary disadvantage. It was common sense, not the poet's authority, that could make the apprehension take place: that 'virtue is more grateful, exerted from a comely body.'
So illustrious an instance would give more countenance than the most argumentative philosophy, to the opinion, that souls have a great subordinate agency in forming their own mansions: which the more one apprehends, the less credulous he would be of their original equality. It must be a very peculiar genius that could stamp so inimitable and undeceiving signatures as appeared in her Majesty's most graceful countenance, in her comely mien and looks, and all her deportments. Whosoever should behold the fabric she inhabited, made up of pulchritude and state, must conclude some very lovely and venerable inhabitant dwelt there. But nearer approaches discovered such excellencies of the indwelling mind, - that quickness of apprehension, that clearness and strength of reason, that solidity of judgment, that complectionate goodness, which that noble philosopher speaks of, as the seedplot of virtues, - that must soon beget, not conviction only, but admiration.
Such were the bounties of nature in the forming a rare and excellent person; but how munificent were the largesses of grace! That reverence of the Divine Majesty that appeared in her whole course; a life transacted under the government of religion; her constant care to avoid what she thought sinful, and readiness to do what she judged might be serviceable to the interest of God; her detestation of the profligate wickedness that she knew to be dishonourable and offensive to him, and of all the principles that any way tended thereto; her continued conversation with God in the constant practice of religious duties, and in all the exercises of godliness that belonged to her most beloved and frequented closet, the family, or more solemn assembly; her most composed seriousness in attendance upon the worship of God in the way which she chose - and which, that she chose no one could think strange; the natural and most unaffected appearances hereof, the remotest from ostentation, but which could not quite be hid: nor ought, when in religious assemblies we are to testify we all worship the same God, and that all our applications, and addresses, have one centre above, and are all to be directed to one and the same glorious object; unless one would have the religion of the church be allowed the retiredness of a closet, or reduce joint social worship, wherein all are some way or other to express their unanimity and consent, unto that which is merely solitary and single: her assiduity in her religious course, - the seasons, order, and constancy whereof seemed to be governed by the ordinances of heaven, that ascertain the succession of day and night; so that what was said so long ago of that famed person's justice, (and which equally may of hers,) might have a nobler application to her religion, - that 'one might as soon divert the course of the sun,' as turn her from her daily course in religious duties : (this argued a steady principle and of the highest excellency, that of Divine love; any other would have its more frequent qualms and inequalities.
The remark was wise and weighty, concerning the insincere man:' "Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?" That course is never like to be even, uniform, and continued, that springs not from love, or is not sweetened by delight and pleasure: all these are to us great indications of a copious communication of Divine grace, and that she received not the grace of God in vain.
I cannot here omit her reverential regard for the Lord's-day, which at the Hague I had a very particular occasion to take notice of. On a Saturday, a vessel, the packet-boat, was stranded not far from thence; which, lying very near the shore, I viewed, (happening to be thereabouts at that time,) till the last passengers were brought, - as all were, - safe off. Multitudes went to see it, and her Highness being informed of it, said she was willing to see it too, but thought she should not, for it was then too late for that evening, and she reckoned by Monday it would be shivered to pieces ; though, it remaining entire till then, she was pleased to view it that day; but she resolved, (she added,) she would not give so ill an example, as to go see it on the Lord's-day.'
Next to her exemplary piety towards God, shone with a second lustre her most amiable benignity towards men; and peculiarly towards them whom she judged pious, of whatsoever persuasion in respect of the circumstances of religion. She opened not her mouth, but with wisdom, and in her tongue was the "law of kindness." She hath divers times expressed her acceptance, value, and desire of their prayers, whom she knew in some modes of worship to differ from her; as one that well understood that "the kingdom of God stands" not in lesser things, but "in righteousness, peace," etc., and "that they who in these things serve Christ, are acceptable to God," and are to be "approved of men." She was not inaccessible to such of her subjects, whose dissentient judgments in some such things, put them into lower circumstances. Great she was in all valuable excellencies, nor greater in any, than in her most condescending goodness. Her singular humility adorned all the rest. Speaking once of a good thing, which she intended, she added: 'but of myself I can do nothing;' and somewhat being, (by one of two more only, then present,) interposed, she answered: 'she hoped God would help her.'
She is, as the text speaks, gone to Mount Sion, in the highest sense of that phrase. And to sum up all, he that will read the character of an inhabitant of that holy hill, will there read her true and most just character; wherein I cannot omit to take notice, how sacred she reckoned her word. I know with whom she hath sometimes conferred,'Whether having given a promise of such a seeming import, she could consistently therewith do so or so?' saying: that whatever prejudice it were to her, she would never depart from her word.'
These rich endowments every way accomplished her for all the duties that belonged to her, whether in her Christian, conjugal, or political capacity: which if we consider together, the world cannot give an instance, for many by-past ages, of so much lost out of it in one person. When did Christianity lose so conspicuous an ornament? A king, so delectable and helpful a consort? A kingdom, so venerable and beloved a sovereign? For our king how are we concerned to pray, "Lord, remember David, and all his afflictions!" And we are to hope he hath some such sincere purposes and vows deeply infixed in his heart, as those subjoined in that psalm which will engage the Divine presence with him, by which, neither shall his pressures be intolerable, nor his difficulties insuperable; but "his bow shall abide in strength, and the arms of his hands be made strong, by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob."
But England, England! How deplorable is thy case! In what agonies should every concerned heart be for thee, 0 England! In the latter days - and God, grant they be not too late - thou mayest consider, that after many former, defeated methods, thou hadst a prince, yea princes, studiously intent upon making thee a reformed, happy people. Is there now no cause to fear, lest it be determined: "Let him that is filthy, be filthy still; and him that is unjust, be unjust still" Few can be ignorant of the endeavours of our most gracious queen to that purpose.
And I am persuaded nothing did more recommend our deceased excellent Archbishop to her majesty, than that she knew his heart to be as hers in that design; namely, of a general reformation of manners, that must have concerned all parties; and without which, leading and preparing us thereto, union and the cessation of parties was little to have been hoped for. And so far as I could understand, the attempt of it was as little intended, - being otherwise not likely to meet with either a blessing from God, or any sufficient disposition to it with men. Great dispositions must, with much gratitude to God, be acknowledged in those who hold that supreme and this subordinate station. But such a work is not likely to succeed, till (by whatsoever means) minds be brought to that temper, that it will even do itself. And that two such persons should be removed out of them, within not much more than a month's time, is an awful umbrage to us of a Divine determination, - that less gentle methods are fitter for us.
And God's holy will be done! it is now obvious to any considering person, that many very useful reflections might be made upon the text and the occasion together. I shall shut up this present discourse with these that follow.
1. It ought to be most remote from us to confine, in our narrow thoughts, sincere religion and godliness to a party, distinguished by little things, and most extra-essential thereto. Take we that great apostle's document, "I perceive God is no respecter of persons;" and what he said of nations, may not we as aptly say that of all such parties? "They that fear God, and work righteousness, are accepted of him."' Let us once learn to reckon substantial godliness a greater thing than the using or not using this or that ceremony; and account that faith, mercy, judgment, and the love of God, are not to be passed over for as little things as the tithing of mint, anise, and cummin. I believe there are few in the world, if they cast their eyes about them, but might truly say, what, I thank God, I have often thought, that of all our parties that hold the substantials of religion, I have known some of far greater value than myself. Let the being a good Christian, signify more with us, than to belong to a so-or-so-shaped or figured church.
A noted writer among the ancients brings in one, saying, by way of exprobration to Christians: 'There is Socrates, the prince of wisdom, if any among you be so great, let them imitate him, if they can.' What persuasion among us can produce a greater example than we have been now considering; or more worthy the imitation even of private Christians?
2. The spirits of the just on earth are in a great propinquity and have a near alliance to heaven. They are not there to have the first foundations laid of their blessed state, but are only to be "made perfect." They have in them here the first principles, the elements of their final blessedness; heaven in little, as the acorn contains the tree or the embryo the man.
3. The just in this world are of the church in heaven. They "are come to the general assembly, the church of the first-born," etc. All sincere Christians, whether in heaven or earth, (as hath been noted,) make but one family. Good God! Can our little differences here, set us at greater distance than heaven and earth! The observation is worth considering of that wise and noble person: It will be found a mattef of great moment and use, to define what, and of what latitude, those points are, which discorporate men from the body of the church; and if any think this hath been done, now long ago, let them seriously consider with what sincerity and moderation the same hath been performed,' etc.
And if it had not been done with due sincerity and moderation in his days, it is much to be doubted whether it have since. In the meantime it is to be considered, that what differenceth anything, constitutes it; and if a church, of whatsoever denomination, be constituted in its superstructure - though its foundation be good - " of hay, and stubble," of things that can belong to no church as a church, it must some time or other "suffer loss :" and though the builders be "saved," it must be by a more penetrative, than - an imagined purgatory fire,
4. Angels must have kind propensions towards men, especially good then,'in this warld, - knowing these are of the same society and church with them, though the Divine wisdom hath not judged it suitable to our present state of probation, there should be an open and common intercourse between them and us. It is however a great incongruity we should have strange, uncouth, shy, frightful, or unfrequent thoughts of them in the meantime.
5. When we find any excellent persons in our world attain far and high towards the perfection of the heavenly state, it ought to be a great encouragement to us, and is an obligation, to aspire to some like pitch. We see it is not an impossible or an unpracticable thing, and should disdain to crawl now as worms, when we are to soar as angels.
6. We ought hereupon to acknowledge and adore the munificence and power of Divine grace, that it should design the making of such abjects as we fit to be associated with such an assembly, "the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect;" and will not fail to effect it, if we comply with the apt methods appointed for that blessed purpose.
7. When such ascend and are taken up from us, that God had eminently prepared for translation, we should take great care lest we unduly regret it; that we do not envy heaven its own, to which they are more akin than to our earth; and which had a greater right in them than we could pretend.
8. We should look upon funeral solemnities for such, with more prospect than retrospect, and consider them as directing our eye less downward to our own forsaken world than upwards to the celestial regions and inhabitants. To such, - to die is to be born; they die only out of our mean world, and are born into a most glorious one. Their funerals should be celebrations of their ascent; and an exulting joy should therefore, in that case, not be quite banished from funeral sorrows, but be allowed to mingle therewith, as sunbeams glittering in a cloud. When the greatest person was leaving this world, that ever lived in it, he says: "If ye loved me, ye would rejoice that I say, I go to the Father."
We should bear our part in the joys of heaven upon this occasion, if we relate to it. And when we are told there is joy there, among the angels of God, for the conversion of such who are thereby but prepared to come to their assembly, we may conclude there is much more for their glorification, when they are fully come and joined to it. Funeral solemnities are very dull melancholy shows, without such references forwards and upwards. With how different a temper of mind would two persons have been the spectators of Jacob's funeral, the one of whom should have looked no further than the Canaanites or Egyptians did, who would only say,'Some great person is dead;' but the other, by Divine illumination is enabled to apprehend.
This dust here mingles with the earth of this land, to presignify this people, of whom he was the head, must possess it. Yea, moreover, here the great God will fix his residence and throne; upon such a mount shall be the palace of the supreme King. Here, after great mutations and revolutions, and great destructions both of the Egyptians and Canaanites, shall this people have a long succession of princes and rulers that shall be of themselves: and all this but as representing a King and kingdom that shall rule and spread over all the earth, and reach up at length into heaven. Canaan shall be a holy land. Unto Sion's King shall tributary princes bring their gifts out of Egypt, and Ethiopia stretch out her hands, and all nations serve him. His empire shall confine with the universe, and all power be given him both in heaven and earth.' With what a large and raised mind would such a one have beheld this funeral ! - What better Canaan, than we now behold, we shall have in this worid, God knows; and we should be the less solicitous to know intermediate things, when we are so fully ascertained of the glorious end of all things. And. let us reflect upon the solemn pomp of that late mournful assembly, that lamented our queen's departure out of our world, comparing it with the transcendent magnificence of that triumphant assembly into which she is received above.
It may interest the reader to insert here an epigram of Howe (the only composition of the kind attributed to his pen) on the noble-minded queen whose virtues the preceding funeral sermon celebrates
"In Virtue's race, as far at
She went, as woman, wife, and queen could do;
Bnt yet her virtues told she died not young,
For Virtue never lived at court so long."
Joshua Wilson, Esq., who kindly called my attention to_these lines, observes that Dr. Gibbon, by whom they are recorded ("Memoirs of Pious Women," 1777), gives his authority for them. "The epitaph," says he, "was communicated to the author many years since by Mr. Matthew Collett, grandson of Mr. Howe. " - Vol. I. p. 216. - En.
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