« PreviousContinue »
advantages in one. I ask now, is it an improbable proposition, that virtue hath a reward in itself, sufficient to indemnify us for all we suffer on account of it, so that though there were nothing to expect after this life, yet it would be a problem, whether it would not be better all things considered, to practise godliness than to live in sin.
But this is not the consequence we mean to draw from our principles. We do not intend to make this use of our observations. We will not dispute with the sinner whether he finds pleasure in the practice of sin, but as he assures us, that it gives him more pleasure to gratify his passions than to subdue them, we will neither deny the fact, nor find fault with his taste, but allow that he must know better than any body what gives himself most pleasure. We only derive this consequence from all we have been hearing, that the advantages, which accompany godliness, are sufficient to support us in a course of action, that leads to eternal felicity.
This eternal felicity the apostle had chiefly in view, and on this we would fix your attention in the close of this discourse. Godliness hath promise of the life that now is, is a proposition, we think, plain and clear: but however it is disputable, you say, subject to many exceptions, and liable to a great number of difficulties: but godliness hath promise of the life that is to come, is a proposition which cannot be disputed, it is free from all difficulty, and can admit of no exception.
Having taken up nearly all the time allotted to this exercise, I will finish with one reflection. Promise of the life to come, annexed to godliness, is not a mere promise, it puts even in this life the pious man in possession of one part of the benefits, the perfect possession of which he lives in hope of enjoying. Follow him in four periods--First in
society---Next in the closet-Then in a participation of holy ordinances--And lastly, at the approach of death: you will find him participating the eternal felicity, which is the object of his hope. : In society. What is the life of a man, who never goes into the company of his fellow creatures without doing them good: of a man who after the example of Jesus Christ goes about doing good: a man, who every where shews the light of a good example, who endeavors to win all hearts to God, who never ceases to publish his perfections, and to celebrate his praise, what, I ask, is the life of such a man? It is an angelical life, it is a heavenly life, it is an anticipation of that life, which happy spirits live in heaven, it is a foretaste, and prelibation of those pleasures, which are at the right hand of God, and of that fulness of joy, which is found in contemplating his majesty.
Follow the pious man into the silent closet. There he recollects, concenters himself, and loses himself in God. There, in the rich source of religion, he quenches the thirst of knowing, elevating, perpetuating and extending himself, which burns within him, and there he feels how God, the author of his nature, proportions himself to the boundless capacity of the human heart. There, ye earthly thoughts, ye worldly cares, ye troublesome birds of prey, that so often perplex us in life, there you have no access! There revolving in his mind the divers objects presented to him in religion, he feels the various emotions that are proper to each. Sometimes the rich gifts of God in nature, and the insignificance of man the receiver are objects of his contemplation. and then he exclaims, O Lord, my Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained, Psal. viji. 1,3. I cannot help crying, What is man that thou art mindful of him! And the son of man that thou visitest him ! ver. 4. Sometimes the brightness of the divine perfections shining in Jesus Christ fixes his attention, and then he exclaims, Thou art fairer than the children of men, grace is poured into thy lips, therefore God hath blessed thee for ever! Psal. xlv. 2. Sometimes his mind contemplates the train of favors, with which God hath enriched every believer in his church, and then he cries, Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us ward ! they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee! Would I declare and speak of them? They are more than can be numbered ! Psal. xl. 6. Sometimes it is the sacrifice of the cross, and then he saith, Without contropersy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh! i Tim. iii. 16. Sometimes it is the joy of possessing God, and then his language is, My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fat"Ress! Psal. lxii. 5. Sometimes it is the desire of enjoying God in a greater measure, and in a richer abundance, and then he says with Asaph, my supreme good is to draw near to God! When shall I come? when shall I come and appear before God? Psalm. lxxi. 28. and xlii. 2.
Follow this man in the participation of holy ordinances. Represent to yourselves a man, who after preparing himself some days, or some weeks for the holy communion, bringing thither a heart proportioned to the labor, which he hath taken to dispose it properly; imagine such a man sitting at
this table along with the ambitious, the impure, 'the revengeful, the vain, all the members of this community, suppose this man saying to himself,
they are not only men who see and consider me, they are angels, who encamp around such as love God; it is Jesus Christ, who sits amidst bis disciples assembled in his name; it is God himself, who sees all, and examines all the dispositions I bring to his table. It is not only an invitation to this table given me by ministers, it is wisdom, who hath furnished her table, mingled her wine, Prov. ix. 1, 2. and who crieth, Ho, every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters, Isaiah ly. It is my Saviour, who saith to me With desire, I have desired to eat with you, Luke xxii. 15.
It is not only material bread, that I am receiving, it is a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, it is his flesh and blood under the elements of bread and wine. It will be not only a little tranquillity of conscience, which I shall receive at this table, if I enter into the spirit of the mystery set before me: but I shall have tonsolations on my death bed, triumphs after death, and oceans of felicity and glory for ever. God hath not preserved me till now merely to give me an opportunity of sitting here: but to open to me the treasures of his patience and long suffering: to enable me to repent of my former negligence, of breaking the sabbath, profaning the communion, committing iniquity, forgetting my promises, and offending my creator.
I ask, my brethren, what is the man, who approaches the Lord's table with such dispositions ! Is he a common man ? Verily with eyes of flesh, I see nothing to distinguish him from the crowd. I see this man confounded with all others, whom a lax disciple suffers to partake of this ordinance, and to receive with unclean hands and a profane mouth the most holy symbols of our religion ; at most I see only an agitation of his senses, a spark shining in his eye, à look cast towards heaven,
emotions, which the veil of humility that covers him cannot entirely conceal: but with the eyes of my mind I behold a man of a superior order, a man in paradise, a man nourished with pleasure at the right hand of God, a man' at whose conversation the angels of God rejoice, a man fastened to the triumphal car of Jesus Christ, and who makes the glory of the triumph, a man who hath the happy art of making heaven descend into his soul; I behold amidst the miseries and vanities of the world, a man already justified, already raised, already glorified, already sitting in heavenly places with Christ Jesus, Rom. viii. 30. Eph. ii. 6. I see a man ascending to heaven along with Jesus Christ, amidst the shouting of the heavenly choir, Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and let the King of glory in, Psalm xxiv. 7. I see a man with uncovered face beholding the glory of the Lord, and changing from glory to glory by the spirit of the Lord, 2 Cor. ji. 18.
But it is particularly in a dying bed that the pious man enjoys foretastes of the life to come. A worldling is confounded at the approach of that dismal night, which hides futurity from him, or rather despair seizes his soul at the rising of that dreadful light, which discovers to him a dispensation of punishment; in spite of his obstinate denial of it. Then he sees fire, flames, devils, a lake of fire, the smoke of which ascendeth up for ever and ever. Then he shrinks back from the bitter cup, the dregs of which he must drink; he tries though in vain to put off the end by his too late prayer, and he cries at its approach, Mountains fall on me, hills cover me! As for the believer, he sees and desires nothing but that dispensation of happiness, which