Page images
PDF
EPUB

in bidding defiance to almost inevitable death? In general, what arguments are sufficient to convince a worldling, that the purest and most perfect delights are to be enjoyed, in exercises of devotion, in those effusions of the heart, in that emptying us of ourselves, of which the saints of God have given us such warm recommendations, and such amiable examples ? These are the things of the spirit of God, which the natural man receiveth not, because they are spiritually discerned : 1 Cor. ii. 14. because he is destitute of that taste, which alone can enable him to relish their charms.

Now, my brethern, although the love of God be the principle of all the exalted virtues, possessed by the saints in glory as well as by those who remain still on the earth ; although both agree in this general and vague notion, that to love God is the sublimity of virtue: nevertheless, there is a distance so inconceivable, between the love which we have for God, on the earth, and that which inspires the blessed in heaven, that inclinations entirely different result from it.

We know God very imperfectly while we are upon the earth, and our love to him is in proportion to the imperfection of our knowledge. To come to his holy temple; to hearken to his word; to sing his praises ; to administer, and to partake of his sacramental ordinances : to pant after a union of which we cannot so much as form an idea ; to practise the virtues which our present condition imposes; such is the taste which that love inspires; such are the particular inclinations which it excites in our souls. After all, how often are those feelings blunted by prevailing attachment to the creature? How often are they too faint to animate us to engage in those exercises ? How often do we present ourselves before God, like victims dragged

reluctantly to the altar? How often must a sense of duty supply the want of inclination, and hell opening under our feet, produce in our souls the effects which ought to flow from the love of God purely? But, be it as it may, our love, so long as we continue here below, can go no farther than this. That complete devotedness of soul to God, those voluntary sacrifices, that sublimity of virtue which refers every thing to God, and to him alone, are wholly unknown to us; we have neither ideas to conceive them ourselves, nor terms in which to convey them to the minds of others.

The blessed in heaven know God perfectly, and have a love to him proportioned to the perfection of that knowledge, and inclinations proportioned to that love. We know not what may be impressed on the heart of man by the idea of a God known as supremely wise, as supremely powerful, as supremely amiable. The blessed in heaven take pleasure in exercises which scripture describes in language adapted to our present capacities. To this purpose are such as the following expressions, to cast their crowns before the throne, Rev. iv. 10: to behold always the face of their Father which is in heaven, Matt. xviii. 10: as courtiers do that of their sovereign ; to cover their faces in his presence, Isa. vi. 2: to sing a new song before the throne, Rev. xiv. 3. to fly at his command with the rapidity of the wind, and of a flame of fire, Heb. i. 7: to cry one to another, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, Isa. vi. 3: to burn, to bear the name of Seraphim, that is, burning with zeal. These are emblems presented to our imagination. The thing itself cannot be brought down to the lear vel of our capacity. We are ignorant of the effect, because the cause is far beyond our comprehension. We are strangers to the joy flowing from

2 1

VOL. VI.

it, because we want the taste which alone can enable us to relinquish such delights.

Nay more: with the taste which we have upon the earth, such and such a joy of the blessed above, would appear the severest of punishments to the greatest of saints among us. The essence of the felicity of saints in glory, consists in loving God only, and all other things in reference to God. The sentiments by which they are animated relatively to other beings, are not sentiments of blood, of the spirits, of temperament, like those by which we are actuated here below, they are regulated by order; they refer all to God alone : the blessed above are affected with the felicity and the misery of others, only in so far as these relate to the great moving principles by which they are governed. But that felicity depicted to men upon earth, and applied to particular cases, would appear to them a real punishment. Could a father relish a felicity which he was told he could not possibly share with his child ? Could the friend enjoy tranquillity, were he haunted with the thought, that the friend of his heart lay groaning under chains of darkness? Have we so much love for order; are we sufficiently disposed to refer all our inclinations to God, so as to have that taste, which considers objects as amiable and interesting, only as they have a relation to that order, and to that glory of the Creator? And do we not feel, that a felicity relative to a taste which we do not possess, nay opposite to that which we now have, is a felicity unspeakable.

3. The third notion which we suggested to you, of the heavenly felicity, is that of sensible pleasure. A defect of faculty prevents our perception of their pleasures.

Be not surprized that we introduce sensations of pleasure, into the idea of a felicity perfectly pure,

and perfectly conformable to the sanctity of him who is the author of it. Do not suspect that we are going to extract from the grossly sensual notions of Mahomet, the representation which we mean to give you of the Paradise of God. You hear us frequently declaiming against the pleasures of sense. But do not go to confound things, under pretence of perfecting them; and under the affectation of decrying sensible pleasures, let us not consider as an imperfection of the soul of man, the power which it has to enjoy them. No, my brethren, it is, on the contrary, one of its highest perfections, to be susceptible of those sensations, to possess the faculty of scenting the perfume of flowers, of relishing the savor of meats, of delighting in the harmony of sounds, and so of the other objects of sense.

If we declaim against your pleasures, it is because you frequently sacrifice pleasures the most sublime, to such as are pitiful and insignificant ; pleasures of everlasting duration to those of a moment.

If we declaim against your pleasures, it is because the attachment which you feel for those of the earth, engages you to consider them as the sovereign good, and prevents your aspiring after that abundant portion, which is laid up for you in heaven.

If we declaim against your pleasures, it is because you regard the creatures through which they are communicated, as if they were the real authors of them. You ascribe to the element of fire the essential property of warming you ; to aliments, that of gratifying the palate, to sounds, that of ravishing the ear. You consider the creatures as so many divinities, which preside over your happiness : you pay them homage : you prostrate

your imagination before them: not reflecting that God alone can produce sensations in your soul, and that all these creatures are merely the instruments and the ministers of his providence. But the maxim remains incontrovertible: namely, that the faculty of relishing pleasure is a perfection of our soul, and one of its most glorious attributes.

But what merits particular attention, is, that this faculty which we have of receiving agreeable sensations, is extremely imperfect so long as we remain upon the earth. It is restricted to the action of the senses. Its activity is clogged by the chains which fetter, it down to matter. Our souls are susceptible of innumerably more sensations than we ever can receive in this world. As progress in knowledge admits of infinity, so likewise may progress in the enjoyment of pleasure. In heaven the blessed have the experience of this. There God exerts the plenitude of his power over the soul, by exciting in it the most lively emotions of delight: there his communications are proportional to the immortal nature of the glorified spirit. This was produced in the soul of our apostle.

“ The pleasures which I have tasted,” he seems to say, " are not such as your present faculties can reach. In order to make you comprehend what I have felt, I must be endowed with the power of creating new laws of the union subsisting between your soul and your body. I must be endowed with the capacity of suspending those of nature: or rather, I must be possessed of the means of tearing your soul asunder from that body. I must have the power of transporting you in an extasy, as I myself was. And considering the state in which you still are, I am persuaded that I shall represent to you what my feelings were much better, by telling you that they are things unspeakable, than by

« PreviousContinue »