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he did as firmly believe the invisible God, and the recompence of reward, as if he had beheld them with his eyes.
And of this recompence of reward we Christians have a much clearer revelation, and much greater assurance, than former ages and generations had : and the firm belief and persuasion of this is the great motive and argument to a holy life; the hope which is set before us of obtaining the happiness, and the fear of incurring the misery of another world. This made the primitive Christians with so much patience to bear the sufferings and persecutions, with so much constancy to venture upon the dangers and inconveniences which the love of God and religion exposed them to.
Under the former dispensation of the law, though good men received good hopes of the rewards of another life, yet these things were but obscurely revealed to them; and the great inducements to obedience were, temporal rewards and punishments, the promises of long life, and peace, and plenty, and prosperity, in that good land which God had given them; and the threatenings of war, and famine, and pestilence, and being delivered into captivity. But now, under the gospel, life and immortality are brought to light; and the great arguments that bear sway with Christians, are, the promises of everlasting life, and the threatenings of eternal misery : and the firm belief and persuasion of these is now the great principle that governs the lives and actions of good men : for what will not men do that are really perfuaded, that as they do demean themselves in this world, it will fare with them in the other; that the wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal ? I proceed to the
II. Second observation, namely, That faith is a degree of assent inferior to that of sense. This is intimated in the opposition betwixt faith and light: We walk by faith, and not by sight; that is, we believe these things, and are confidently persuaded of the truth of them, though we never saw them; and consequently cannot possibly have that degree of assurance concerning the joys of heaven, and the torments of hell, which those have who enjoy the one and endure the other...
There There are different degrees of assurance concerning things, arising from the different degrees of evidence we have for them. The highest degree of evidence we have for any thing, is our own sense and experience: and this is so firm and strong, that it is not to be shaken by the utmost pretence of a rational deinonstration. Men will trust their own senses and experience, against any subtilty of reason whatsoever. But there are inferior degrees of assurance concerning things; as, the testimony and authority of persons cvery way credible. And this assurance we have in this state concerning the things of another world. We believe, with great reason, that we have the testimony of God concerning them ; which is the highest kind of evidence in itself. And we have all the reasonable assurance we can desire, that God hath testified these things: and this is the utmost assurance which things future and at a distance are capable of.
But yet it is an unreasonable obstinacy to deny, that this falls very much short of that degree of assurance which those persons have concerning these things, who are now in the other world, and have the sense and experience of these things. And this is not only intimated here in the text, in the opposition of faith and fight, but is plainly expressed in other texts of scripture, I Cor. xiii. 9. 10. We know now but in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part Mall be done away. That degree of knowledge and assurance which we have in this life is very imperfect, in comparison to what we shall have hereafter. ' And ý 12. We now see as through a glass, darkly, èv civiguali, as in a riddle, in which there is always a great deal of obscurity. All which expressions are certainly intended by way of abatement and diminution to the certainty of faith ; because it is plain, that by that which is in part, or imperfelt, the Apostle means faith and hope ; which, he tells us, shall cease, when that which is perfect, meaning vifion and fight, is come. We see likewise in experience, that the faith and hope of the best Christians in this life is accompanied with doubting concerning these things; and all doubting is a degree of uncertainty: but those blessed souls who are entered upon the possession of glofy and happiness, and those miserable wretches who lie
groning under the wrath of God, and the severity of his justice, cannot possibly, if they would, have any doubt concerning the truth and reality of these things.
But however contentious men may dispute against common sense, this is so plain a truth, that I will not labour in the farther proof of it. Nor indeed is it reafonable, while we are in this state, to expect that degree of assurance concerning the rewards and punishments of another life, which the fight and sensible experience of them would give us; and that upon these two accounts : :
I. Because our present state will not admit it; and, 2. If it would, it is not reasonable we should have it.
I. Our present state will not admit it: for while we are in this world, it is not possible we should have that sensible experiment and trial how things are in the other. The things of the other world are remote from us, and far out of fight; and we cannot have any experimental knowledge of them, till we ourselves enter into that state. Those who are already passed into it, know how things are : those happy souls who live in the reviving presence of God, and are possessed of those joys which we cannot now conceive, understand these things in another manner, and have a more perfect assurance concerning them, than it is possible for any man to have in this world; and those wretched and miserable spirits, who feel the vengeance of God, and are plunged into the horrors of eternal darkness, do believe upon irresistible evidence, and have other kind of convictions of the reality of that state, and the insupportable misery of it, than any man is capable of in this world.
2. If our present state would admit of this high degree of assurance, it is not fit and reasonable that we should have it. Such an overpowering evidence would quite take away the virtue of faith, and much lessen that of obedience. Put the case, that every man, some considerable time before his departure out of this life, were permitted to visit the other world, to assure him how things are there ; to view the mansions of the blessed, and to survey the dark and lothsome prisons of the damned; to hear the lamentable outcries of miserable and despairing fouls, and to see the inconceivable anguifh and torments they are in: after this, what virtue would it be in any man to believe these things? He that had been there and seen them, could not disbelieve them, if he would. Faith in this case would not be virtue, but necessity; and therefore it is observable, that our Saviour doth not pronounce them blessed who believed his resurrection upon the forcible evidence of their own senses ; but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. They might be happy in the effects of that faith ; but there is no praise, no reward belongs to that faith which is wrought in man by so violent and irresistible an evidence. It was the great commendation of Abraham's faith, that against hope he believed in hope ; he believed the promise of God concerning a thing in itfelf very improbable. But it is no commendation at all, to believe the things which we have seen; because they admit of no manner of dispute. No objection can be offered to shake our assent, unless we will run to the extremity of scepticism : for if we will believe any thing at all, we must yield to the evidence of sense. This does so violently inforce our assent, that there can be no virtue in such a faith.
And as this would take away the virtue of faith, so it would very much lessen that of our obedience. It is hardly to be imagined, that any man who had seen the hlesled condition of good men in another world, and been an eye-witness of the intolerable torments of sinners, should ever after be tempted knowingly to do any thing that would deprive him of that happiness, or bring him into that place of torment. Such a light could not chuse but affect a man as long as he lived; and leave such impressions upon his mind, of the indispensable necessity of a holy life, and of the infinite danger of a wicked course, that we might sooner believe that all the men in the world should conspire to kill one another, than that such a man, by consenting to any deliberate act of fin, should wilfully throw himself into those fames. No; his mind would be continually haunted with those furies he had seen tormenting finners in another world, and the fearful shrieks and outcrics of miserable souls would be perpetually ringing in his ears; and the man would Lave so lively and terrible an imagination of the danger he
was running himself upon, that no temptation would be strong enough to conquer his fears, and to make him careless of his life and actions, after he had once seen how fearful a thing it was to fall into the hands of the living God. So that in this case the reason of mens obedience would be so violent, that the virtue of it must be very little : for what praile is due to any man, not to do those things which none but a perfect madman would do? for certainly that man must be beside himself, that could by any temptation be seduced to live a wicked life, after he had seen the state of good and bad men in the other world ; the glorious rewards of holiness and virtue, and the dismal event of a vitious and finful course. God hath designed this life for the trial of our virtue, and the exercise of our obedience: but there would hardly be any place for this, if there were a free and easy passage for us into the other world, to see the true ftate of things there. What argument would it be of any man's virtue, to forbear finning after he had been in hell, and seen the miserable end of sinners? But I proceed to the
III. Third and last observation, namely, That notwithstanding faith be an inferior degree of assent; yet it. is a principle of sufficient force and power to govern our lives : We walk by faith, Now, that the belief of any thing may have its effect upon us, it is requisite that we be satisfied of these two things.
1. Of the certainty; and, 2. of the great concern. ment of the thing. For if the thing be altogether uncertain, it will not move us at all : we shall do nothing towards the obtaining of it, if it be good ; nor for the avoiding and preventing of it, if it be evil. And if we are certain of the thing, yet if we apprehend it to be of no great moment and concernment, we shall be apt to Night it, as not worth our regard. But the rewards and punishments of another world, which the gospel propounds to our faith, are fitted to work upon our minds, both upon account of the certainty and concernment of them. For,
1. We have sufficient assurance of the truth of these things; as much as we are well capable of, in this state; concerning things future and at a distance. We have the VOL. IV.