« ZurückWeiter »
dictates of our reason arguing us into this persuasion, fronr tlie confideration of the justice of the divine providence, and from the promiscuous and unequal administration of things in this world; from whence wise men in all ages have been apt to conclude, that there will be another state of things after this life, wherein rewards and punishments shall be equally distributed. We have the general consent of mankind in this matter. And, to allure us that these reasonings are true, we have a most credible revelation of these things; God having sent his Son from heaven to declare it to us, and given us a sensible denonstration of the thing in his resurrection from the dead, and his visible ascension into heaven. So that there is no kind of evidence wanting that the thing is capable of, but only our own sense and experience of these things; of which we are not capable in this present state. And there is no objection against all this, but what will bring all things into uncertainty which do not come under our senses, and which we ourselves have not seen.
Nor is there any considerable interest to hinder men from the belief of these things, or to make them hesitate about then. For as for the other world, if at last there Should prove to be no such thing, our condition after death will be the same with the condition of those who disbelieve these things; because all will be extinguished by death. But if things fall out otherwise, as most undoubtedly they will, and our souls after this life do pass into a state of everlasting happiness or misery, then our great interest plainly lies in preparing ourselves for this itate: and there is no other way to secure the great concernments of another world, but by believing those things to be true, and governing all the actions of our lives by this bclief. And as for the interests of this life, they are but short and transitory, and consequently of no consideration in comparison of the things which are cternal; and yet, as I have often told you, Tetting aside the case of persecution for religion, there is no real interest of this world, but it may be as well promoted, and pursued to as great advantage, nay, usually to a far greater, by him that believes these things, and lives accordingly, than by any other person : for the belief of
the rewards and punishments of another world, is the greatest motive and encouragement to virtue. And as all vice is naturally attended with some temporal inconvenience; so the practice of all Christian virtues doth, in its own nature, tend both to the welfare of particular persons, and to the peace and prosperity of mankind.
But that which ought to weigh very much with us, is, that we have abundantly more assurance of t'e recompence of another world, than we have of many things in this world, which yet have a greater influence upon our actions, and govern the lives of the most prudent and conliderate men. Men generally hazard their lives and estates upon terms of greater uncertainty than the affurance which we have of another world. Men venture to take phyfick upon probable grounds of the integrity and skill of their physician; and yet the want of either of these may hazard their lives. And men take phyfick upon greater odds; for it certainly causech pain and fickness, and doth but uncertainly procure and recover health : the patient is sure to be made sick, but not cortain to be made well : and yet the danger of being worse, if not of dying, on the one hand, and the hope of success and recovery on the other, make this hazard and trouble reasonable. Men venture their whole estates to places which they never saw; and that there are such places, they have only the concurrent testimony and agreement of men; nay, perhaps have only spoken with them that have spoken with those that have been there. No merchant ever insisted upon the evidence of a miracle to be wrought, to satisfy him that there were such places as the East and West Indies, before he would venture to trade thither: and yet this assurance God hath been pleased to give the world of a state beyond the grave, and of a blessed immortality in another life.
Now, what can be the reason that so slender evidence, so small a degree of assurance, will serve to encourage men to seek after the things of this world with great care and industry ; and yet a great deal more will not suffice to put them effectually upon looking after the great concernments of another world, which are infinitely more considerable. No other reason of this can be given, but that men are partial in their affections toN 2
wards wards these things. It is plain they have not the same love for God and religion, which they have for this world and the advantages of it; and therefore it is, that a less degree of assurance will engage them to seek after the one, than the other; and yet the reason is much stronger on the other side ; for the greater the benefit and good is which is offered to us, we should be the more eager to seek after it, and should be content to venture upon less probability. Upon excessive odds, a man would venture upon very small hopes : for a mighty advantage, a man would be content to run a great hazard of his labour and pains upon little assurance. Where a man's life is concerned, every suspicion of danger will make a man careful to avoid it. And will nothing aftright men from hell, unless God carry them thither, and shew them the place of torments, and the flames of that fire which shall never be quenched ?
I do not speak this, as if these things had not abundant evidence; I have shewn that they have ; but to convince men how unreasonable and cruelly partial they are about the concernments of their fouls, and their eternal happiness.
2. Supposing these things to be real and certain, they are of infinite concernment to us. For what can concern us more, than that cternal and unchangeable state, in which we must be fixed and abide for ever? If so vast a concern will not move us, and have no influence upon the government of our lives and actions, we do not deserve the name of reasonable creatures. What consideration can be set before men, who are not touched with the sense of so great an interest, as that of our happy or miserable being to all eternity? Can we be so folicitous and careful about the concernment of a few days; and is it nothing to us what becomes of us for ever? Are we so tenderly concerned to avoid poverty and disgrace, perfecution and suffering in this world; and shall we not much more flee from the wrath which is to come, and endeavour to escape the damnation of hell ? Are the flight and transitory enjoyments of this world worth so much thought and care ; and is an eternal inheritance in the heavens not worth the looking after ? As there is no proportion betwixt the things which are temporal,
and the things which are eternal; so we ought in all reason to be infinitely more concerned for the one than for the other.
- The proper inference from all this discourse is, that we would endeavour to strengthen in ourselves this great principle of a Christian life, the belief of another world, by representing to ourselves all those arguments and considerations which may confirm us in this persuasion. The more reasonable our faith is, and the surer grounds it is built upon, the more firm it will abide, when it comes to the trial, against all the impressions of temptations, and assaults of persecution. If our faith of another world be only a strong imagination of these things, foon as tribulation ariseth, it will wither ; because it hath no root in itself. Upon this account, the Apostle so often exhorts Christians to endeavour to be established in the truth, to be rooted and grounded in the faith, that when persecution comes, they may conti1!1!e stedfast and unmoveable. This firmness of our belief will have a great influence upon our lives : if we be stedfast and unmoveable in our persuasion of these things, we shall be abundant in the work of the Lord. The Apostle joins these together, i Cor. xv. 58. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast and unnloveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as y'e know that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. Stedfast and unmovie able, in what ? in the belief of a blessed resurrection ; which the more firmly any man believes, the more active and industrious will he be in the work and service of God.
And that our faith may have a constant and powerful influence upon our lives, we should frequently revolve in our minds the thoughts of another world, and of that vast cternity which we shall shortly launch into. The great disadvantage of the arguments fetched from another world is this, that these things are at a distance from us, and not sensible to us, and therefore we are not apt to be so affected with them; present and fenfible things weigh down all other considerations. And therefore, to balance this disadvantage, we should often have these thoughts in our minds, and inculcate upon ourselves the certainty of these things, and the infinite
concernment of them; we should reason thus with ourselves : If these things be true, and will certainly be, why should they not be to me, as if they were actually present? why should not I always live, as if heaven were open to my view, and I saw fefus standing at the right hand of God, with crowns of glory in his hands, ready to be set upon the heads of all those who continue faithful and obedient to him? and why should I not be as much afraid to commit any sin, as if hell were naked before me, and I saw the astonishing miseries of the damned ?
Thus we should, by frequent meditation, represent these great things to ourselves, and bring them nearer to our minds, and oppose to the present temptations of sense, the great and endless happiness and misery of the other world. And if we would but thus exercise ourselves about the things which are not seen, and make eternity familiar to ourselves, by a frequent meditation of it, we should be very little moved with present and fenfible things; we should walk and live by faith, as the men of the world do by sense; and be more serious and earnest in the pursuit of our great and everlasting interest, than they are in the pursuit of sensual enjoyments; and should make it the great business of this present and temporal life, to secure a future and eternal happiness.
:S E R M O N LXV. The danger of apoftafy from the true religion.
H E B. X. 38. . But if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in • him.
T HE great design of this epistle (whoever was the
author of it, which I shall not now inquire into)
is plainly this, to confirm the Jews who were but newly converted to Christianity, in the stedfalt pro