PRACTICAL DISCOURSES ON REGENERATION.
DISCOURSE V. OF THE INCAPACITY OF AN UNREGENERATE PERSON FOR RELISHING THE ENJOYMENTS OF THE HEAVENLY WORLD.
—Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God.
IN order to demonstrate the necessity of regeneration, of which I would fain convince not only your understandings, but your consciences, I am now proving to you, that without it, it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of God; and how weighty a consideration that is I am afterwards to represent.
That it is thus impossible, the words in the text do indeed sufficiently prove: but for the further illustration of the subject, I have proposed to consider it under two distinct views.
I have already shown it is impossible, because the constitution of the kingdom of heaven is such, that God has solemnly declared, and this under different dispensations, and more or less plainly in all ages of his church, that no unregenerate person, i. e. no impenitent sinner, shall have any part in it. And I am now further to show,
That the nature of the future happiness, which is here chiefly signified by the kingdom of God, is such, that an unregenerate person would be incapable of relishing it, even upon a supposition of his being admitted into it.
This is a thought of so great importance, and so seldom represented in its full strength, that I shall at present confine my discourse entirely to it.
I know, sinners, it will be one of the most difficult things in the world, to bring you to a serious persuasion of this truth. You think heaven is so lovely, and so glorious a place, that if you could possibly get an admittance there, you should certainly be happy. But I would now set myself, if possible, to convince you that this is a rash and ill-grounded persuasion; and that on the contrary, if you were now in the regions of glory, and in the society of those blessed inhabitants, that unrenewed nature and unsanctified heart of yours, would give you a disrelish for all the sublimest entertainments of that blissful place, and turn heaven itself into a kind of hell to you.
Now for the demonstration of this, it is only necessary for you seriously to consider what kind of happiness that of heaven is, as it is represented to us in the word of God; for from thence undoubtedly we are to take our notions of it.
You might to be sure sit down and imagine a happiness to yourselves, which would perfectly suit your degenerate taste; a happiness, which the more entirely you were enslaved to flesh and sense, the more exquisitely you would be able to enter into it. If God would assign you a region in that beautiful world, where you should dwell in fine houses magnificently furnished, and gaily adorned; where the most harmonious music should soothe your ear, and the most delicious food and generous wines in a rich variety should regale your taste: if he should give you a splendid retinue of people, to caress and attend you, offering you their humblest services, and acknowledging the most servile dependence upon your favor: especially if with all this he should furnish you with a set of companions just of your own temper and disposition, with whom you might spend what proportion of time you pleased, in gaming and jollity, in riot and debauchery, without any interruption from the reproof, or even the example of the children of God, or from indispositions of body, or remorse of conscience: this you would be ready to call life and happiness indeed: and if the great Disposer of all things were but to add perpetuity to such a situation, you would not envy persons of a more refined taste the heaven you lost, for such a Paradise as this.
Such indeed was the happiness which Mahomet promised to his followers: flowery shades and gay dresses, luxurious fare and beautiful women, are described with all the pomp of language in almost every page of his Alcoran, as the glorious and charming rewards which were to be bestowed on the faithful after the resurrection. And if this were the felicity which the Gospel promised, extortioners and idolators, whoremongers and drunkards, would be much fitter to inherit the kingdom of God, than the most pious and mortified saints that ever appeared on earth. But here, as almost everywhere else, the Bible and the Alcoran speak a very different language; and far from leading us into such gross and sensual expectations, our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that the children of the resurrection neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are like the angels of God in heaven, (Matthew 22:30,) and enjoy such pure and spiritual delights, as are suited to such holy and excellent creatures.
It is true that in the book of Revelations, stately palaces and shining habits, delicious fruit and harmonious music are all mentioned, as contributing to the happiness of those, who have the honor to inhabit the New Jerusalem. But then the style of that obscure and prophetical book naturally leads us to consider these merely as figurative phrases, which are made use of to express the happiness that Divine wisdom and love has prepared for the righteous, in a manner accommodated to the weakness of our conceptions; or at least, if in any of these respects provision be made for the entertainment of a glorified body, whatever its methods of sensation and perception will be, all will be temperate and regular; and after all, this is even there represented but as the least considerable part of our happiness, the height of which is made to consist in the most elevated strains of devotion, and in an entire and everlasting devotedness to the service of God and of the Lamb.
Let us therefore immediately proceed to settle the point in question, by a more particular survey of the several branches of the celestial felicity, as represented to us in the word of God; and from thence it will undeniably appear, that were an unregenerate soul in the same place with the blessed, and surrounded with the same external circumstances, the temper of the mind would not by any means allow him to participate of their happiness. For it is plain the Scripture represents the happiness of heaven as consisting,—-in the perfection of our minds in knowledge and holiness;—-in the sight and service of the ever blessed God,—-in beholding the glory of our exalted Redeemer;—-and enjoying the society of glorious angels and perfected saints,—-throughout an endless eternity. Now, sinners, it is impossible you should enter into any such delights as these, while you continue in an unregenerate state.
1. One very considerable part of the happiness of heaven consists in that perfection of knowledge and holiness to which the blessed shall be there exalted; but in which the unregenerate soul can have no pleasure.
Thus we are told, that the spirits of just men shall there be made perfect; (Hebrews 13:23;) for nothing that defiles, as every degree of moral imperfection does, shall enter into the New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:27. An Old Testament saint conceived of future happiness, as consisting in being satisfied with the likeness of God: (Psal. xvii.15;) a character that is manifestly most agreeable to the view of it, which the beloved disciple gives us, where he says, that when Christ shall appear, we shall be tike him, for we shall see him as he is; (1 John 3:2;) which must certainly refer to the glories of the mind, which are of infinitely greater importance than the highest imaginable beauty and ornament, that can be put upon the corporeal part of our nature in its most illustrious state.
Now from this perfection and holiness, which shall then be wrought in the soul, there will naturally arise an unspeakable complacency and joy, something resembling that which the blessed God himself possesses, in the survey of the infinite and unspotted rectitude of his own most holy nature. And in proportion to the degree, in which the eyes of our understandings are enlightened to discern wherein true excellency consists, will the soul be delighted in the consciousness of such considerable degrees of it in itself.
But surely it will be superfluous for me to undertake to demonstrate, that an unregenerate soul can have no part in this divine pleasure, which implies the complete renewal of the mind as its very foundation. For to imagine that he might, would be supposing him regenerate and unregenerate at the same time. As Mr. Baxter very well expresses it, "The happiness of heaven is holiness; and to talk of being happy without it is as apparent nonsense, as to talk of being well without health, or being saved without salvation."
I would only add on this head, that the highest improvement of our intellectual faculties could not make us happy, without such a change in the affections and the will, as I have before described under the former general head. For the more clear and distinct the knowledge of true excellence and perfection is, the greater would be your anguish and horror, to see and feel yourselves entirely destitute of it; and it is exceedingly probable that spirits of the most elevated genius have the keenest sensation of that infamy and misery, which is inseparable from the prevalence of sinful dispositions in such minds as these.
2. Another very considerable branch of the celestial happiness, is that which arises, from the contemplation and enjoyment of the ever blessed God; but of this likewise an unregenerate sinner is incapable.
As our own reason assures us, that God is the greatest and best of beings, and the most deserving object of our inquiries and regards, one would think it would naturally lead us to imagine, that the perfection and happiness of the human soul consists in the knowledge and enjoyment of him; and that when it arrives at the seat of complete felicity, it must intimately know him, and converse with him. And in this view, I have sometimes been surprised, that men of such distinguished abilities, as some of the heathen poet, and philosophers appear to have been, should have had no greater regard to the Supreme Being in the description which they give us of the future happiness. That sort of friendship for them, which an acquaintance with their writings must give to a person of any relish for the beauties of composition, makes one almost unwilling to expose the low and despicable ideas, which they often give of the state of their greatest heroes in the regions of immortality. But the word of God speaks a very different language. Our Lord represents the rewards to be bestowed on the pure in heart, by telling us that they shall see, i. e. contemplate and enjoy God; (Matthew 5:8;) and virtuous souls who overcome the temptations with which they are here surrounded, shall be made as pillars in the house of their God, and shall go no more out: (Revelation 3:12;) and it is elsewhere said that his servants shall serve him, and shall see his face. Revelation 22:3, 4. And David's views under a darker dispensation rose to such a degree of refinement, as to say, As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; (Psal. xvii.1;) which he mentions as a felicity infinitely superior to all the delights of the most prosperous sinner.
But now, sinners, it is utterly impossible that while you continue in an unregenerate state, you should behold the face of God with pleasure. The unutterable delight which the blessed inhabitants of heaven find in it, arises not merely from the abstract ideas of his essential perfections, but from a sense of his favor and love to them. It is this that gives a relish to the whole survey, and rejoices the heart of all the saints, both in heaven and on earth. He is a God of awful majesty and irresistible power, of infinite wisdom and unspotted holiness, of unerring justice, invariable fidelity, and inexhaustible goodness; and this God is our God; he will be our guide and our portion forever. Psal. xlviii.14; lxxiii.26. And were it not for this view, let a creature think of God with ever so much spirit and propriety, he must think of him, and be troubled; (Psal. lxxvii.3;) yea, he must be filled with unutterable horror and confusion, as the devil is at the thought of an infinitely perfect Being, in whom he has no interest, from whom he has nothing friendly to expect; and if nothing friendly, then everything dreadful.
Now it is certain, sinners, that while you continue in an unregenerate state, under the influence of that carnal mind which is enmity against God, (Romans 8:7,) and full of unconquerable rebellion against his law, there can be no foundation for a friendship between him and your souls; nor for any persuasion, or any apprehension of your interest in his favor and love. Friendship, you know, supposes something of a similitude of nature and sentiment; for as God himself argues, how can two walk together except they be agreed? Amos 3:3. Now I have before observed to you at large, that God being of purer eyes than to behold evil, (Hebrews 1:13,) must necessarily hate all the workers of iniquity; the foolish therefore shall not stand in his sight, (Psal. v.5,) or shall not be admitted to such a situation: nor would they indeed be able to endure it. Let conscience judge what satisfaction you could find in the presence of a God, that you knew scorned and hated you, even while he suffered you to continue among the crowd of his children and servants. The more lively ideas you had of the beauty and perfection of the Divine nature, the more you must loathe yourselves for being so unlike him, and so abominable to him: and what pleasure do you think consistent with such self-contempt and abhorrence? Or rather, would not the wretched degeneracy of your nature lead you another way; and a kind of unconquerable self-love, joined even with this consciousness of deformity and vileness, lead you to hate God himself? It is described as the fatal effect of prevailing wickedness in the heart, my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me. Zechariah 11:8. And thus would it probably work in you, and produce in your wretched breasts a mortal hatred against him, and an envious rage at the thought of his perfect happiness; a state of mind, of all others that can be imagined, the most odious, and the most tormenting.
How, sirs, could your hearts, possessed with these diabolical passions, bear to see the beams of his glory surrounding you on every side? How could you bear to hear the songs and adorations, that were continually addressed to his throne; and to observe the humble attendance of all the hosts of heaven about it, who perpetually reckon it their honor and happiness to be employed in obedience to his commands? Such a sight of the glory and felicity of your Divine Enemy would make you, so far as your limited nature was capable of it, miserable even in proportion to the degree in which he is happy. This was, no doubt, the torment of the devils as soon as they had harbored a thought of hostility against God; and the remembrance of that glory in which they once saw him, and which they know he still invariably possesses, is surely an everlasting vexation to them: and it would be so to you, if you were within the sight of it.
But further, the blessed in heaven find their everlasting entertainment in the service of God. They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; (Revelation 4:8;) i. e. they are continually employed, either in the immediate acts of devotion, or in other services, in which they still maintain a devotional temper, and are breathing out their souls in holy affections, while their active powers are employed in the execution of his commands. But as I have already shown you, that while in an unregenerate state you could have no sense of his favor to you, it is very apparent, that you could have no sentiments of gratitude and love towards him. So that while angels and glorified saints were breathing out their souls in the most delightful and rapturous praises, you must keep a sullen silence; or, if it were possible that your harps and voices should sound as melodiously as theirs, it would be all ceremony and show; the music of the heart would be wanting; and you would look on all the external forms of service but as a tedious task, and count it your misfortune, that the customs of the place obliged you to attend them.
You may the more easily apprehend and believe this when you consider what little relish you now have for those solemnities of Divine worship, in which sincere Christians have the most lively foretaste of heaven. You know, in your own consciences, that short and interrupted as our public services are, they are the burden of your lives. You know that you say, in your hearts at least, When will the Sabbath be past, and the new moon be gone? Amos 8.Judge then how insupportable it would be to you, to spend an everlasting Sabbath thus. I question not, but to your wretched spirits annihilation would appear vastly preferable to an eternal existence so employed.
3. Another very considerable branch of the happiness of heaven, is that which arises from the sight of the glory of an exalted Redeemer; but for this likewise no unconverted sinner can have any relish.
This is a view of the future happiness, which our Lord gives us, when he prays for his people in those memorable words, engraven, as I hope, upon many of our hearts; Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me. John 17:24. And he elsewhere promises it, as the great reward he would bestow upon his people; If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my servant be. John 12:26. And agreeably to this, the apostle Paul represents it as the transporting view in which he considered the happiness of the future world; I desire, says he, to depart and be with Christ; which is far better; (Philippians 1:28;) incomparably beyond any of the enjoyments of the present world which can come into competition with it. But for this part of the happiness of angels, and of the spirits of just men made perfect, it is also evident, that you, sinners, can have no relish.
The sight of Christ will afford holy souls a transporting delight, because they will regard it as the glory of their Redeemer and their Friend, and as a pledge and security of their own glory. But what foundation can you, sinners, find for such a joyful sympathy with Christ, and such a comfortable conclusion with regard to yourselves? Such is the wretched degeneracy of your nature, that though Christ be indeed the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, (Cant. v.10, 16.) being the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, (Hebrews 1:3,) possessed of every divine perfection and excellence; yet you now slight and neglect him, and discern in him no form or comeliness, for which he is to be desired: (Isaiah 53:2:) and were you unregenerate in heaven, the same principle would prevail. Now where there is no love to a person, there can be no delight in his converse, nor any pleasure in his happiness. Nay, the contrariety of your nature to his would rather occasion aversion and terror. You could not but know, that the blessed Jesus is holy and undefiled, and separate from sinners; (Hebrews 7:26;) that he abhors all moral evil to such a degree, that he laid aside all the glory and entertainments of heaven, that he might destroy the interest of sin in this world of ours, and might purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works: (Titus 2:14:) and when you should recollect at the same time that sinfulness that continued to reign in your hearts, and made you to every good work reprobate, (Titus 1:16,) you could not but know that you must be hateful to him; and therefore could not but fear, lest his almighty power should be exercised for your punishment and destruction: and thus your terror must rise, in proportion to the sensible evidence you had of his dignity and authority. In a word, you would stand like guilty rebels in the presence-chamber of their injured and displeased Sovereign: his throne. and his sceptre, his robe and his crown, his courtiers and his guards, though in themselves splendid and magnificent objects, only serve to terrify and amaze them, while they display the grandeur and power of their enemy.
4. Another very considerable branch of the celestial happiness will be the society of angels and glorified saints; but for this likewise an unregenerate sinner must be unfit.
You know that when the apostle speaks of our alliance to the heavenly world, he represents it as a social state; where excellent spirits dwell together, and converse with each other with mutual esteem and endearment: ye are come, says he, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. Hebrews 12:22, 23. It is sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with all the patriarchs and prophets, all the apostles and martyrs in the kingdom of heaven: (Matthew 8:11:) and perhaps you think you shall want nothing more to complete your happiness, than to be admitted to a place among them. But reflect a little more attentively upon the circumstances of things, and I am persuaded you will form a different judgment.
There is no reason to doubt, but that at your first entrance into the regions of glory you would be agreeably struck with the view of those inhabitants. As for those beauties of their character, which consist in love to God, and in zeal for his honor and interest, it is certain, that you would be insensible of them, and pay but little regard to them: but the humanity and benevolence of their temper would, no doubt, render them agreeable to you; and so much the more, as self-love might lead you to expect some personal advantage by it. And it is more than possible, that you would be much prejudiced in their favor by those resplendent and attractive forms in which they appear; forms, no doubt, far more beautiful and engaging than any which the children of men ever saw upon earth. On both these accounts it might be natural enough for you, at first, to address them with an air of respect, as persons that you could be glad to be upon good terms with, and in whose friendship you could desire a share.
But how do you think that any such proposal of friendship would be received by an angel, or a glorified saint? No doubt, if there were any prospect of converting you, or any hope you might be brought to a devout and holy temper, they would immediately become preachers of righteousness to you; and endeavor by the most rational, the most pathetic, and the most insinuating address, to awaken and charm you to a sense of religion, and so to form you to a capacity for happiness. But they would know, that according to the eternal constitution of God, there could be no room to entertain such a hope; but that being filthy, you must be filthy still: (Revelation 22:11:) and therefore, as they would know you to be incorrigible, their love to God, and their concern to be approved and accepted by him, would prevent their forming any intimate friendship with persons whose natures were so contrary to him, and on whom he looked with such irreconcilable abhorrence. And besides this, their own personal sanctity of character would give them an aversion to such corrupt and degenerate creatures: so that how much soever they might pity your condition, they would turn away from you, as objects whose presence and converse were not to be endured.
And do you not easily apprehend, that such a refusal on their part would be both shameful and very provoking to you? For which way could you bear it, to be thus rejected and dishonored by the most excellent part of the creation; by those whom perhaps you once intimately knew, and with whom you conversed upon equal terms; nay, by many who were once much your inferiors, and whom, perhaps, in the pride of your hearts, you would not condescend to regard? The natural effect of this must surely be, that you would soon be proportionably displeased and enraged with the refusal, as you were at first charmed at their appearance; and when you saw that transporting pleasure which they took in the affection and friendship of each other, and the joy which the Divine favor poured into their souls, while you, in the very same place, were excluded from these rich entertainments, your hearts would soon burn with envy and indignation; and as much as you before admired them, you, upon this, would come to hate them. And, perhaps, that hatred would put you upon some attempt to interrupt, or even, if it were possible, to destroy that happiness which you were not allowed to share. But, then, when you saw them continually under the Divine protection, and compassed with his favor as with a shield, (Psalm 5:12,) so that your malice could not reach them, all the keenness and rancor of your spirit would recoil upon itself; you would fly from their presence, as insupportable; and would be glad to retire to some meaner apartment, or to hide yourselves in the shades of darkness; so that you might but get rid of the sight of so many dazzling objects, whose lustre, instead of cheering your vitiated eye, would pain and overpower it.
But if you should not be transported to this diabolical excess—if it were possible for you to behold the glorified saints, and to live among them, without these envious and tormenting passions; yet surely you would want a relish for the most entertaining part of their conversation. Had you indeed a good natural genius, which to be sure many unconverted sinners have, it might be very agreeable to hear them discoursing of the wonders of nature; and that curiosity, which is in some measure incident even to persons of the meanest capacities, would make it pleasant to hear them recount the important history relating to the revolutions of the angelic world, which we on this earth are entirely strangers to, or at least have been very little acquainted with them. But surely the most delightful topics of conversation, which heaven itself can furnish out, must be those which are religious and divine; the infinite perfections of the ever blessed God; the personal glories and incomparable love of his condescending, but exalted Son; and the sanctifying operations of the blessed Spirit on the soul, transforming it into the Divine Image, and making it meet for eternal glory. Yes, even when the blessed spirits above are handling philosophical or historical subjects, they still consider them with a regard to God, as his perfections are displayed and illustrated in the works of his hands, and in the conduct of his providence. And here their pleasure flows, not merely from a set of rational ideas, which arise in their own minds, or are suggested to them by others: but from the exercise of those devout affections upon the blessed God, which are correspondent to these several subjects of discourse.
And can you, sirs, who are alienated from the divine life, (Ephesians 4:18,) and accustomed to live in a continual neglect and forgetfulness of the Great Parent of universal nature, can you relish such subjects as these? You would, no doubt, be discontented and uneasy in such a scene: the heavenly oratory of this holy society would have no charms for you; but you would be longing for some of those vain and worthless companions, whom you were so fond of here upon earth, to hear a merry story, or a song, or to join with them in the pleasures of a debauch.
5. Another considerable branch of the happiness of heaven arises from the assured prospect of the everlasting continuance of this felicity; but, if an unregenerate soul could find any entertainment at all in heaven, he certainly could have no ground for such an expectation of its continuance.
When the children of God on earth think of the happiness of heaven, the eternity of it makes a very deep impression on their hearts, and even swallows up their souls with ardent desire and unutterable joy: it raises their esteem, and animates their hope, while they reflect on that exceeding and eternal weight of glory, (2 Corinthians 4:17,) that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, (2 Corinthians 5:1,) and that inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and which fadeth not away.1 Pet. i.4. And no doubt that the blessed in heaven regard it in the same view, and all the pleasures they enjoy are vastly increased by the prospect of their endless duration; so that by the anticipation of an eternity still to come, they do, as it were, every moment enjoy an infinite satisfaction. But as for you, sinners, while you are so ill attempered to the happiness of heaven, the prospect of an eternal abode there would not, on the principles I have laid down above, be a prospect of eternal happiness, but rather, on the whole, of eternal uneasiness to you.
But suffer me a little to discourse upon another supposition; and let me now, for argument sake, waive what I have been so long insisting upon, and suppose, that you could so far command the turbulent passions of your own heart, and so unite, as it were, the whole powers of your soul, to attend to the beauty of place, the harmony of music, and whatever else may be supposed capable of regaling the senses or the imagination, as upon the whole, to find heaven a pleasing and delightful abode, and to wish, that though some of its entertainments were above your taste and capacity, yet you might be allowed an eternal enjoyment of the rest; could there be any room for you to expect a perpetual abode in these blissful seats? No, sinners, you would not be able so much as to hope it. The good itself is so great, and perpetual enjoyment, even in any degree, has such a kind of infinite value, that I know not how the purest and noblest spirits in heaven could absolutely have been secure of it, separate from the engagement of a Divine promise.
And what Divine promise would you be able to have recourse to in such a circumstance as we now suppose? Where could you find it in all the book of God, that persons of your character should ever enter into heaven at all, much less that you should forever continue there? You could have therefore no security of the continuance of your abode in heaven, if it were possible that you should enter on the possession of it: but when you should consider the unsullied holiness of the ever blessed God, the sovereign of this sacred province, and the spotless purity of that gracious Redeemer, to whom the government of it is committed, you could not but fear, that you should quickly be seized by the hand of vengeance, be hurled from the battlements of heaven, and plunged low into the pit of destruction. You know this was the condemnation of the rebel angels, and your guilt, compared with that dreadful event, which makes so considerable a scene of the history of heaven, would, I doubt not, be sufficient to create everlasting jealousy and uneasiness, and to turn every pleasurable circumstance into a source of horror, in the apprehensions of being deprived eternally of it.
Thus you see, sirs, from a particular survey of the various lights in which heaven is represented, and of the various branches of which its happiness consists, an unregenerate sinner is incapable of it, even though we would suppose that he was actually admitted to it. Let me entreat you to reflect on all these things, and you will see the reasonableness of that one remark with which I shall conclude this discourse, viz.:
How vain are all those hopes of heaven, which in your present condition you are ready to entertain!
I have been proving at large, that if God were to admit you to the possession of heaven, which it is certain he never will, you would be incapable of relishing the enjoyment of it: nay, that there would be a solid foundation in your own hearts, for many of the most tumultuous and disquieting passions. Envy and grief, fear and rage, those roots of bitterness, would spring up even in the Paradise of God, and turn the fertility of that blessed soil into their own nourishment. And do you imagine that any external accommodations or ornaments could make you easy and comfortable, under the transports of such hellish passions? What if you were to take a man that was tormented with a violent fit of the stone or gout, and to place him in a most delicious garden, or in a palace of marble and cedar, to set him on a throne of gold under a canopy of purple, to clothe him with robes of velvet and embroidery, regaling him with the most delicious fruits and generous wines, and at the same time soothing his ear with all the harmony of sound, which the most melodious symphony of instruments and voices could afford? Would all this magnificence and luxury make him insensible of that anguish which was racking his very vitals? or would not that inward torture rather render him insensible of this association of pleasurable impressions from without? Yea, would it not incline him to suspect, that you intended all these pompous preparations only to deride and insult him?' As little would your distempered and unholy souls be capable of relishing the entertainments of heaven, while these entertainments and these souls of yours, continue what they are at present.
There must be therefore a change: and will you consider where that change must be made? If you continue still in your present character and circumstances, there must be a vast change in heaven itself, before you can be happy in it. The whole temper, character, and disposition of every saint and angel there, must be changed from what it now is, before they can be capable of any friendly and complacential conversation with you. Yea, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, (Hebrews 13:9,) must divest himself of those beauties of holiness, which are infinitely dearer to him than any external grandeur or authority, before he can receive you into his kingdom. Nay, the very Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, (James 1:17,) must be entirely changed. He must lay aside that holiness which is essential to his nature, and which is the brightness and glory of it: he must love that which he now hates, and be indifferent to that which he most affectionately loves, before he can open his arms to you, and smile upon your souls. And can you dare to hope for such an unaccountable, such an inconceivable revolution as this? No, sirs, infinitely sooner would God change earth into hell, and bury you, and all of your character, under the ruins of this world, which you inhabit and pollute, than he would thus tarnish the beauties of heaven, and divest himself of the brightest glory of his own divinity. "God," says Archbishop Tillotson, "has condescended to take our nature upon him, that he might make us capable of happiness; but if this will not do, he will not put off his own nature to make us happy."
What then do you imagine? Do you think that God will prepare some separate apartments in heaven, furnished with a variety of sensual pleasures, for the entertainment of persons of your character? some apartments from whence the tokens of his presence shall be withdrawn, from whence the exercise of his worship shall be banished, from whence saints and angels shall retire to make way for those inhabitants, who, like you, have sinned themselves beyond a capacity of enjoying God, or of being fit companions for any of his most excellent creatures? This were to suppose the Christian religion false, and to contradict the light of natural reason too, which not only shows such a disposition of things to be unworthy the Divine sanctity and majesty, but also shows that if there be a future state, it must be a state of misery to wicked men, in whose minds those vicious habits prevail, which are even now the beginnings of hell; which therefore they must carry along with them wherever they are, in proportion to the degree in which they are predominant.
Upon the whole then, you must evidently see that it is absolutely necessary that you, sinners, should be changed, if ever you expect to have any part or lot in the future happiness. And when do you expect that change should be wrought? Do you expect it when death has done its dreadful office upon you, and your soul arrives at the invisible world? Is the air of it, if I may be allowed the expression, so refined that it will immediately purify, and transform every polluted sinner that comes into it? You cannot but know, that the whole tenor of scripture forbids that presumptuous destructive hope. It assures us that there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave; (Ecclesiastes 9:10;) but that we must be judged according to what we have done in the body, and not according to what has passed in a separate state, whether the actions we have done be good, or whether they be evil.2 1 Corinthians 5:10.
If ever therefore you are regenerate at all, it must be while you are here below, in this state of education and trial: and if you continue in your sins till death surprise you, your souls will be forever sealed up under an irreversible sentence, and by the decree of God, and the constitution of things, will be excluded from happiness, as by no means either entitled to it, or prepared for it. So evident is the truth of this assertion in the text, that Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
And will you then sit down contentedly under such conclusion as this, "I shall be excluded from this kingdom, as accursed and profane?" Alas, sirs, the conclusion is big with unutterable terror and death, as I should now proceed to show you at large if my time would allow: for I am next to represent the infinite importance of entering into that kingdom, and consequently of that entire change which has been proved to be necessary to that entrance. But I must reserve that to the next opportunity of this kind.
In the mean time let me add, that I doubt not but there are many present, who have heard this description of the heavenly world with delight, and who are saying in their hearts, "This is my rest forever: here will I dwell, for I have desired it: (Psal. cxxxii.14:) This is the felicity to which my heart aspires with the most ardent breathing." Such may with the utmost reason regard it as a token for good, and may go on in a cheerful assurance, that the grace that has made them meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, (Colossians 1:12,) will at length conduct them to it, in perfect safety and everlasting triumph. Amen.
OF THE IMPORTANCE OF ENTERING INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
—Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God.
How impossible it is that an unregenerate sinner should see the kingdom of God, or enjoy that future blessedness to which the Gospel is intended to lead its professors, I have shown you at large. I have appealed to the testimony of God's holy prophets, and apostles, in concurrence with that of his incarnate Son, to prove that persons of such a character are, by the inviolable constitution of that kingdom, excluded from it. And I have further, in my last discourse, proved, that if they were actually admitted to it, they would be incapable of relishing its pleasures: that their vitiated palate would have a distaste to the choicest fruits of the Paradise of God; yea, that in these blessed regions thorns and briers would spring up in their paths, and make them wretched in the very seat of happiness.
I doubt not, but you are in your consciences generally convinced, that the truth of these things cannot be contested. You are inwardly persuaded that it is indeed so; and I fear many of you have also reason to apprehend, that you are of this unhappy number, who are hitherto strangers to regenerating grace. But how are your minds impressed with this apprehension? Do I wrong you, sirs, when I suspect that some of you are hardly impressed at all? Do I wrong you when I suspect there are those of you, who have spent the last week with very little reflection upon what you have heard? The cares and amusements of life have been pursued as before, and you have not taken one hour to enter into the thought with self-application, and seriously to consider, 'I am one of these concerning whom eternal wisdom and truth has pronounced, that if they continue such as at present they are, they shall not see the kingdom of heaven.' You have not paused at all upon the awful thought; you have not offered one lively petition to God, to beg that you may be recovered from this unhappy state, and brought to a meetness for his kingdom, and a title to it. For your sakes therefore, and for the sakes of others in your state, having already explained, illustrated, and confirmed the proposition in my text, I proceed,
III. To represent to you the IMPORTANCE of the argument suggested here; or to show you how much every unregenerate sinner ought to be alarmed to hear, that while he continues in his present state, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
And oh! that while I endeavor to illustrate this, my words might enter into your minds, as goads, and might fix there as nails fastened in a sure place! The substance of my argument is given forth by the one great Shepherd; (Ecclesiastes 12:11;) may the prosecution of it be blessed, as the means of reducing some wandering sheep into his fold.
Now in order to illustrate the force of this argument, I beseech you seriously to consider,—-what this kingdom is, from which you are in danger of being forever excluded:—and what will be the condition of all those, who shall be finally cut off from any interest in it.
Consider first what that kingdom is, from which the unregenerate, or those who are not born again, shall be excluded.
And here you are not to expect a complete representation of it: for that is an attempt in which the tongues of angels, as well as men, might fail; or how proper soever their language might be in itself, to us it would be unintelligible: for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.1 1 Corinthians 2:9. And surely these final and most illustrious preparations of his love must, beyond all others, exceed our description and conception. A minister, that, with the apostle Paul, had been caught up into the third heaven, if he would attempt to speak of the glorious scenes which were there opened to him, must say, they were unutterable things: (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4:) and one, that with John, had lain in the bosom of Christ himself, must say, as that Apostle did, It does not yet appear what we shall be.1 John 3:2. And indeed, when we go' about to discourse of it, I doubt not but the blessed angels pity the weakness of our apprehensions and expressions, and know that we do but debase the subject, when we attempt the most to exalt and adorn it.
Yet there are just and striking representations of this kingdom made in the word of God; and we are there often told in general, wherein it shall consist. You no doubt remember that I was, in the last of these Lectures, going over several important views of it. I then told you, it will consist in the perfection of our souls in knowledge and holiness; in the sight of God and our blessed Redeemer; in exercising the most delightful affections towards them, and in being forever employed in rendering them the most honorable services; in conversing with saints and glorious angels; and in the assured expectation of the eternal continuance of this blessedness in all its branches. That this is the scriptural representation of the matter, I proved to you from many express testimonies in the word of God; and I doubt not, but you have often heard the excellency of each of these views represented at large, in distinct discourses on each.
I will not therefore now repeat what has been said upon such occasions; but will rather direct you to some general considerations, which may convince you of the excellency of that state and world, from which, if you continue unregenerate, you must forever be excluded: for I would fain fix it upon your minds, that it is in this connection, and for this purpose, that the representation is made. And oh! that you might so review it, as no longer to neglect so great salvation, (Hebrews 2:3,) nor act as if you judged such everlasting life to be beneath your attention, and unworthy your care and regard! Acts 13:46. You cannot think it so when you consider,—that it is represented in scripture under the most magnificent images;—that it is the state which God has prepared for the display of his glory, and the entertainment of his most favorite creatures; that it is tile purchase of the blood of his eternal Son, that it is the main work of his sacred Spirit to prepare men's hearts for it; and the great business of our inveterate enemy, the devil, by all possible means, to prevent our obtaining it. Each of these considerations may much illustrate the excellency of it and all taken together yield a most convincing demonstration.
1. Consider, by what a variety of beautiful and magnificent images this happiness is represented in the word of God; and that may convince you of its excellency.
When the blessed God himself would raise our conceptions of a state of being, so much superior to anything we have ever seen or known, unless he intended a personal and miraculous revelation of it, he must borrow our language, and in painting the glory of heaven must take his colors from earth. And here the magnificence of a city, the sweetness of a garden, the solemn pomp of a temple, the lustre of a crown, and the dignity of a kingdom, strike powerfully on the human mind, and fill it with veneration and delight. But when such figures as these are borrowed from this lower world of ours, faintly to shadow out that which is above, there is always the addition of some important circumstance, to intimate how far the celestial original: exceeds the brightest earthly glory, by which the Divine condescension has vouchsafed to describe it.
The enumeration of a variety of scriptural descriptions will set these remarks in the strongest light. If therefore heaven be described as a city, it is the New Jerusalem, the city of our God, that cometh down from God out of heaven; (Revelation 3:12, xxi.2;) the pavement of its streets is all of pure gold, its gates are pearl, and its foundations jewels. Revelation 21:19, 21. If it be a garden, it is the Paradise of God, (Revelation 2:7,) and so far superior to that which he at first prepared and furnished out for the entertainment of Adam in his state of innocence, that it is planted on every side with the tree of life, (Revelation 22:2,) of which there was but one alone in the garden of Eden: and is watered, not with such common rivers as the Tigris and Euphrates, but with that living, copious, inexhausted stream, the river of the water of life, which proceeds from the throne of God, (Revelation 22:1,) and gently glides along through all its borders. When it is represented as a temple, we are told that instead of a golden ark placed in the remotest recess, to which only the high priest might once a year approach, and on which he might not be allowed to gaze, the throne of God is erected there, (Revelation 7:15,) perpetually surrounded with myriads of worshipers who see his face, and like the high priest when clothed in his richest robes, have his name written in their foreheads: (Revelation 22:4:) instead of the feeble rays of that golden candle. stick, whose lamps shone in the holy place, the heavenly temple is illuminated in a more glorious manner, and needs no candle, neither light of the sun, for the glory of God continually enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof: (Revelation 21:23, xxii.5:) Nay, we are assured that its sacred ministers are made kings as well as priests unto God; (Revelation 1:6;) and accordingly being clothed in white raiment, they have crowns of gold on their heads; (Revelation 4:4;) as well as harps and golden vials, or censers full of incense in their hands: (Revelation 5:8:) and lest we should think these pompous services are only the entertainments of some peculiarly sacred seasons, we are told that they rest not day nor night, (Revelation 4:8,) adoring him that sits upon the throne, and are fixed as pillars in his temple, to go out no more. Revelation 3:12. Again, if it be spoken of as a crown, it is represented as incorruptible; (1 Corinthians 9:25;) a crown of glory that fadeth not away.1 Pet. v.4. And when it is called a kingdom, the scripture does not only add, as here in the text, that it is the kingdom of God, which must certainly exalt the idea of it; but that it is a kingdom which can not be moved, (Hebrews 12:28,) an everlasting kingdom: (2 Peter 1:11;) nay, to carry our thoughts to the highest degree of dignity and glory, it is spoken of as a sitting down with Christ on his throne. Revelation 3:21.
But further, the value of these illustrious representations is much enhanced, if we consider the character of the persons by whom they are made. They were persons well acquainted with these things, having received their information from a Divine revelation, and from the immediate visions of God. They were also persons of such sublime and elevated sentiments, that they had a sovereign contempt for all the enjoyments of time and sense, even those which the generality of mankind set the greatest value upon: and counted all things but loss for the knowledge of Christ, (Philippians 3:8,) and the testimony of a good conscience, (2 Corinthians 1:12,) while they looked not at temporal, but at eternal things.2 1 Corinthians 4:18. They could deliberately, constantly, and even cheerfully, resign all the riches and honors, and carnal pleasures, which they might have purchased by their apostacy from religion; and were ready to embrace bonds, imprisonments, or death itself, when it met them in the way of their duty. Now certainly a glory, with which such holy, wise and heroic persons were so passionately enamored, and which they describe with such pathos of language, and such ecstasy of delight, while they were trampling with so generous a disdain on everything which earth calls good and great, must deserve our very attentive regard. And this it yet more evidently will appear to do, if we consider,
2. It is the state and world, which God has prepared for the display of his glory, and the entertainment of the most favored of his creatures.
This argument seems to be hinted at, when it is said, as in the place I referred to before, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.1 1 Corinthians 2:9. God well knows the capacity of his creatures, and how much happiness they are able and fit to receive; and he can fill their capacities to the utmost: nay, he can farther enlarge them to what degree he pleases, that they may admit superior degrees of. glory and felicity. A happiness, therefore, which he has prepared on purpose to display the riches of his magnificence and love, and to show what he can do to delight his creatures, must certainly be in some measure proportionable, if I may so express it, to the infinity of his own sacred perfections. Let us then seriously consider who God is; and attentively dwell in our meditations on the extent of his power, and the riches of his bounty; and our conception of the happiness of heaven must be raised to something more glorious, than the most emphatical words can perfectly describe.
And here, to assist our imagination in some degree, let us look round us, and take a survey of this visible world. This earth, how conveniently has he furnished it, how beautifully has he disposed it, how richly has he adorned it! What various and abundant provision has he made for the subsistence, the accommodation, and the entertainment of the creatures that inhabit it and especially of man, in whom this scheme and system of things appears to centre, and to whom it is almost wisely and graciously referred! Yet earth is the habitation of a race of mean and degenerate creatures, who are but in a state of trial; nay, it is the habitation of thousands and ten thousands of God's incorrigible enemies, with whom he is angry every day. Psalm 7:11. Already it is marked with some awful characters of the Divine displeasure: and the scripture assures us, that it is reserved unto fire, against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men.2 Pet. iii.7. Yet even this earth is not a spectacle unworthy our regard; nor can we, if we allow ourselves to survey it with becoming attention, behold it without an affecting mixture of admiration, of love, and of joy—passions that will strike us yet more powerfully, if from this earth of ours we raise our eyes to the visible heavens; and there behold the glory of the sun, the brightness of the moon, and all the numerous host of heaven that attend in her train. Who that considers, with any degree of attention, their magnitude, their lustre, their motion, and their influence, can forbear crying out, Oh Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Psal. viii.1.
And when, with even these in our view, we further reflect, that there is another apartment, as yet invisible, of which this spangled firmament is but, as it were, the shining vail; an apartment, where the great Creator and Governor of all has fixed his stated residence, and erected the throne of his glory; even that throne which is forever surrounded by all the most holy and excellent of his creatures; we must be convinced, it is something more beautiful, and more magnificent than this harmonious system itself. And, methinks, when we have said more beautiful and more magnificent than this, imagination is ready to fail us, and to leave the mind dazzled and overwhelmed with an effulgency of lustre which it cannot delineate, and can scarce sustain. Yet will our venerable apprehensions of it be farther assisted if we consider,
3. That the kingdom of heaven is the great purchase of the blood of God's only begotten Son; and therefore to be sure it must be inconceivably valuable.
If you are at all acquainted with your Bibles, you must know that we are by sin in a state of alienation from God; (Ephesians 4:18;) that we had forfeited all our title to his love, and stood justly exposed to his severe displeasure; and that it is Jesus who delivered us from the wrath to come.1 Thess. i.10. Now if we owe it to his merit and atonement that we live, (1 John 4:9,) much more are we to ascribe it to him, if we are raised to any superior degree of happiness. If God could not, with honor to his justice, have suffered us, without such a propitiation, to have passed off with impunity; much less could he, without it, have received us to his embraces, and have advanced us to sit with him on his throne. Revelation 3:21. Accordingly it is said of the blessed martyrs in the heavenly world, even of those who had so gloriously distinguished their fidelity and zeal, and loved not their lives unto the death; (Revelation 12:11,) that they had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; (Revelation 7:14;) and they gratefully acknowledge it in their hymns of praise, that Christ had redeemed them to God by his blood, and had made them kings and priests unto God. Revelation 5:9, 10.
Now let us seriously reflect, and consider what this blood of the Lamb is. The apostle Peter tells us, that silver and gold, and all the peculiar treasures of kings and princes, are but corruptible things, (1 Pet. i.18, 19,) or perishing and worthless trifles, when compared with it. And no wonder it is represented in such exalted language, when we consider it was the blood of the only begotten Son of God, who is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, (Hebrews 1:3,) and indeed one with him, (John 10:30,) being possessed of a nature truly and properly divine; so that it is called the blood of God. Acts 20:28. We may well argue, even from these transient surveys, that it was some important happiness, which he came to procure at so expensive a rate. Had an angel been sent down from heaven, we should naturally have concluded, it must have been upon some momentous errand: surely then, when the Lord of angels comes down, not only to live on earth, but to expire in bitter agonies on the cross, to purchase a benefit for us, we may be well assured, that this benefit must be very considerable. Our Lord Jesus Christ must certainly set a very great value upon it, or he would not have purchased it at such a price; and we are sure, the value that he apprehended in it must be its true value. He could not be imposed upon by any false appearance of glory and splendor: he despised, with a just and generous contempt, all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; (Matthew 4:8, 10;) and he was also well acquainted with the celestial kingdom, having so long dwelt in it, and so long presided over it: yet so highly does he esteem it, that he speaks of it upon all occasions, as the highest possible gift of Divine bounty, the richest preparation and noblest contrivance of Divine love: yea, he regards it as a felicity so great, that when he conducts his people into it, with the last solemn pomp of the judgment day, it is said, he shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied, (Isaiah 54:11,) allowing it to be a just equivalent for all he has done, and all he has suffered in so glorious a cause.
4. The excellency of the heavenly kingdom will further appear, if we consider, that it is the main work of the Spirit of God upon men's hearts, to prepare them for an admittance into it.
You well know, that the blessed Spirit of God is spoken of as that Divine Agent, by whom all the hosts of heaven were created, and all God's various works produced; (Job 33:4;) and it is he that knows the things of God even as the human spirit knows the things of a man.1 1 Corinthians 2:11. Now it is his peculiar office in the economy of our redemption, to form the soul to a meetness for glory. Accordingly, when the apostle Paul had been reminding the Corinthians, that while they continued in their sinful state, they were unfit for the kingdom of God, he adds, But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.1 1 Corinthians 6:11.
That the Spirit should condescend to engage at all in such a work, must give us a very sublime idea of the end at which it aims. But much more will that idea be raised, when we consider with what a variety, and what a constancy of operations he begins, continues, and perfects it. He attempts it, as we shall hereafter more particularly show you, sometimes by convictions of terror, and sometimes by insinuations of love; and by one method or another, in the hearts of all the heirs of this glory, he works so great a change, that it is represented by turning a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, (Ezekiel 36:26,) by raising the dead from their graves, (Ezekiel 37:13. Ephesians 2:5, 6,) yea, by producing a new creation.2 1 Corinthians 5:17. Ephesians 2:10. For this does he watch over the soul with the tenderest care, and continues his friendly offices, to recover it from relapses, and gradually to form it to advancing degrees of sanctity, till at length it be enabled to perfect holiness in the fear of God.2 1 Corinthians 7:1. Nay, so intent is this Sacred Agent on the important work, that when sinners most insolently and ungratefully reject him, and by resisting him oppose their own happiness, he does not immediately leave them; he strikes them again and again; and waits upon them for succeeding days and months, and years.
And when, perhaps, the sincere convert makes the most ungrateful return for the experience of his goodness, even after he has acknowledged, and at length obeyed it: when under the fatal transport of some ungoverned passion, and the influence of some strong temptation, he acts as if he were intent upon tearing down the work of the Spirit of God upon his soul, and driving him forever away; yet in how many instances does he return again after all these injuries, pleading the cause of God with a sweetly prevailing eloquence, and thus healing the wound, and repairing the breach, and making it perhaps stronger than before I And all this, for what? That the happy subject of all these kind operations may be formed to a fitness for the kingdom of heaven.
And are we to regard this blessed Spirit as an unmeaning agent, or as incapable of judging of the importance of this end for which he acts? Is that almighty energy of his employed in an insignificant manner? Surely Nicodemus, slow of understanding as he was, must apprehend the importance of entering into the kingdom of heaven, when he heard, that in order to be admitted to it, a man must be born of the Spirit. And let me add once more,
5. That the excellency of the heavenly kingdom may further be argued from the eagerness with which the enemy of souls is endeavoring to prevent our entrance into it.
You know the devil is always represented as the inveterate enemy of our happiness. His rage is expressed by that of a roaring lion, that walks about, seeking whom he may devour: (1 Peter 5:9:) and with unwearied diligence he is continually employed in forming and pursuing his temptations. And this is the grand design of all, that he may exclude us from the promised felicity. While sinners are in their unregenerate state, he endeavors to engage all their regards to the objects of time and sense; and for that purpose he continually presents them with a variety of entertainments and amusements suited to their respective tempers and circumstances. If they are awakened to any serious concern about their eternal salvation, he uses his utmost address to divert their minds from an attendance to it: and for this purpose he displays before them all the allurements of sin in its most engaging forms, and if they are not captivated with these, he often puts on a face of terror, and endeavors to affright them from religion by the most gloomy representations of it, or by horrible and distracting suggestions, that it is now forever too late to attain it.
Or, if Divine Grace surmount all this opposition, and the sinner resolutely chooses his portion in heaven, and puts his soul into the hands of Christ to be conducted to it, the malice of Satan pursues him even to that sacred retreat, which he has sought in the arms of his Saviour: and if he cannot prevent the soul from entering into heaven, he will at least labor to bring it into such a state of negligence, and to seduce it into those delays and relapses, which may divert its regards to that blessed world, which may cloud its evidences of it, and may at least, as much as possible, diminish the degree of its glory there.
Now permit me, in this instance, to turn the artillery of this cunning enemy against himself, and to argue the excellency of this kingdom, from the zeal and attachment with which he endeavors to obstruct your attaining it. Though Satan be now a very degenerate creature, he was once an angel of light, and still retains much of the knowledge, though he has lost the rectitude and integrity of the angelic nature. And he particularly knows what heaven is because he was once an inhabitant there; and while he is endeavoring to persuade the sinner to prefer earth before it, he does, by that very endeavor, incontestably prove, that he himself knows the contrary, and is fully apprized that there is nothing here to be compared with the felicity of the future state. And therefore while he seeks the destruction of the soul, he can leave it in the enjoyment of all its worldly prosperity; nay, he will attempt to lead him into methods, by which this prosperity may be promoted and increased.
And thus, sirs, I have endeavored a little to represent to you, what this kingdom of heaven is from which we are assured that unconverted sinners shall forever be excluded. I have argued its excellency—from the representations which are made of it in the word of God—from its being the preparation of Divine love—from its being the purchase of a Redeemer's blood—and the end to which, on the one hand, the glorious operations of the blessed Spirit lead—and of which, on the other hand, all the stratagems and assaults of the prince of darkness are intended to deprive us. If, therefore, there be truth in scripture, if there be wisdom in heaven, or policy in hell, it must surely be infinitely important. And will any of you be such mean-spirited creatures, as, when that happiness is proposed to you, basely to relinquish the pursuit of it, and to sacrifice this blessed hope to any perishing trifle of mortal life? Surely it would be madness; though nothing more were to be apprehended than the loss of it; and though, when heaven were lost, all that earth can give should remain, if not to counterbalance the loss, yet at least to make you less sensible of it. But the weight of the argument will much more evidently appear, if you consider,
Secondly, What will at last become of all those who are excluded from this heavenly kingdom?
And here I beseech you to ask your own consciences, whether they be not inwardly persuaded, that those who are excluded from heaven, will remain in a state of existence, in which they will be ever sensible of their loss, and will be delivered over by Divine vengeance into that seat of torment, which God has prepared for the punishment of his implacable and incorrigible enemies. This many of you do undoubtedly believe of such persons in general; believe it, therefore, of yourselves, if you are, and continue, in an unregenerate state.
1. You will still continue in a state of existence, in which you will be ever sensible of your unspeakable loss.
It might afford some wretched kind of consolation to you, if, as soon as you died out of this world, your being or your apprehensive powers were immediately to cease. Then the loss of heaven would only be an affliction to you in your dying moments, when you saw the enjoyments of earth were come to an end, and that you must have no part in any future happiness. But, alas! sirs, you cannot but know that when your bodies are dead, and consumed in their graves, your thinking faculties will still be continued to you: and, oh, that you would seriously reflect, how they will then be employed! You will then be thinking what you have done in life, what you have chosen for your happiness, and what has been the consequence of that choice. You will look round in vain for such accommodations and pleasures as you were once most fond of: but they will be no more. And when you perceive them vanished, like the visionary amusements of a dream, you will lift up your astonished eyes towards the regions of glory. And you indeed will have a lively view of those happy regions: but to what purpose will that view serve? Only through the righteous vengeance of God to aggravate your misery and despair.
"Alas," you will think, "there are millions of creatures yonder in heaven, who are rejoicing in the sight and favor of God, and are as full of happiness as their natures can contain, and shall be so forever; while I am cut off from all share in the Divine bounty. Rivers of pleasures are flowing in upon them, while not one drop is sent down to me; nor could I obtain it, though I were to ask the favor from the least of Christ's servants there. I am cast out as an accursed wretch, with whom God and his holy and blessed creatures will have no farther intercourse, or communion. And why am I thus cast out? and why am I thus cut off from God's favor, and driven from his presence, while so many that dwell with me on earth are admitted to it? My nature was originally as capable of happiness as theirs: and though it was sadly degenerate, it might, like theirs, have been renewed. God was once offering me that grace, by which my disordered soul might have been transformed, and I might have been fitted for the regions of glory: but I despised all these offers, and gave the preference to those fading vanities, which, alas I have forever forsaken me. And now they that were ready are gone in to the delightful banquet, and the door is shut; (Matthew 25:10;) the everlasting gates are shut forever, and barred against me. And here I must lie at this miserable distance, envying and raging at their happiness—of which, whatever sight or knowledge I may have of it, I must never, never, never partake!"
Such reflections, as these, sirs, will cut deep into your souls; and accordingly our Lord declares to impenitent sinners in his own days, There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see others sitting down in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. Luke 13:28. And if you would reflect, you might easily apprehend this. How would you be enraged at yourselves, if by your folly you had neglected securing a plentiful estate, when it was offered to you on the most easy terms; and you actually saw others, once your equals, and perhaps your inferiors, in the possession of it, in consequence of having taken those methods which you stupidly neglected? The reflection, I doubt not, would very much impair the pleasure you might find in other comfortable and agreeable circumstances. How much more insupportable then will the loss of heaven appear to you, when you come to see, and know, what it is you have lost, and have nothing to relieve or support you, under the painful recollection?
It is to no purpose to object, that upon the principles of my last discourse, there will be no room to lament your exclusion from those entertainments, which you would be incapable of relishing if you were admitted to them: for you will then see, and lament that incapacity as a very great misery. As if a man, who was naturally fond of feasting and mirth, should see a great many regaling themselves, and reveling about him, while he was languishing under some painful distemper, which made him incapable of joining in the entertainment; he would yet grieve that he had no part in it: and it would be the increase, rather than the alleviation of his uneasiness, that it was his sickness which unfitted him for it; especially if, as in your case, it was a sickness, which he had brought upon himself by his own folly, and for which he had been offered an easy, pleasant, and infallible remedy, which he had refused to use till the malady was grown utterly incurable. One would imagine, this thought would be enough to impress you; but if it do not, let me entreat, and even charge you, to consider.
2. That if you are excluded from the kingdom of heaven, you will be consigned over to those regions of darkness, despair, and misery, which God has prepared for those unhappy criminals, who are the objects of his final displeasure, and whom he will render everlasting monuments of his wrath.
There is something in human nature, that starts back at the thought of annihilation with strong reluctance: and yet how many thousands are there in this miserable world, who would with all their souls fly to it as a refuge! They shall seek death, as an inspired writer strongly expresses it, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. Revelation 9:6. I will not attempt to enter into a detail of the horrors, attending the place and state, into which all who are excluded from the glories of the heavenly world shall be cast, and in which they shall be fixed. Let that one awful scripture suffice for a specimen of many more; in which we are told, that every one whose name was not found written in the book of life, or who was not registered in the number of those, who were to inhabit the New Jerusalem, or the kingdom of heaven, was cast into the lake of fire, (Revelation 20:25,) or, as it is afterwards expressed, into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Revelation 21:8. Think of this, and ask your own hearts, you that are so impatient of the little evils of mortal life, whether you can endure to take up your abode forever in devouring fire, or whether you can dwell with everlasting burnings? Isaiah 33:14. Yet these are the images by which the word of God represents it; to be plunged as in a sea of liquid fire, whose flames are exasperated and heightened, by being fed with brimstone; nay, as the prophet speaks, by a copious stream of brimstone, so expressly appointed by God himself, that this, as well as the river of the water of life, is represented as proceeding immediately from him: he has made Tophet deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood, and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it. Isaiah 30:33.
It is painful to a tender mind to think of this, as what its fellow-creatures are obnoxious to: it is grievous to speak of it in these dreadful terms. But who are we, that we should be more merciful than God? Or rather, how can we imagine it is mercy, to avoid speaking of the appointment of infinite wisdom, for the punishment of impenitent sinners? What mercy were that, sirs, to avoid to mention these terrors to you, and to neglect to warn you of them, because they are great? which is indeed the very reason why the scripture thus pathetically describes them.
Away therefore with this foolish, this treacherous compassion, which chooses rather to leave men to be consumed, than to disturb their slumbers. Think, sirs, of that wretched man, whom Christ describes as lifting up his eyes in hell, being in torments; seeing the regions of the blessed at an unapproachable distance, and begging in vain that one drop of water might be sent to cool his tongue, amidst all the raging thirst with which he was tormented in this flame. Luke 16:23, 24. Regard it attentively; for as God lives, and as your soul lives, if you continue in an unrenewed state, you see in that wretch the very image and representation of yourselves. Yes, sinners, I testify it to you this day, that intolerable as it seems, it will on that supposition be your own certain fate; or to speak much more properly, your righteous, but inevitable doom. Heaven and earth will desert you in that dreadful hour: or if the inhabitants of both were to join to intercede for you, it would be in vain. Sentence will be past, and execution done. Hell will open its mouth to receive you, and shut it again forever to enclose you, with thousands, and ten thousands more, among whom you will not find one to comfort you, but every one ready to afflict you. Then shall you know the value which God sets upon his heavenly kingdom, by the judgments he inflicts upon you for neglecting and despising it; and then shall you know the importance of being born again, that only means by which Hell can be avoided, and Heaven secured.
And let me farther add, that conviction will quickly come in this terrible way, if you are not now prevailed upon to consider these things; things which, if you have the least regard to the word of God, you cannot but notionally believe. Do not then go about to annihilate, as it were, these prospects to your mind, by placing them at a long distance. The distance is not so great as to deserve mention. The patience of God will not wait upon you for thousands, or even hundreds of years; you have a few mortal days, in which to consider of the matter; or rather, you have the present moment to consider of it. And if you improve the opportunity, it is well; but if not, the just and uniform methods of the divine administration shall proceed, though it should be to your ruin. God has vindicated the honors of his violated law, and despised Gospel, upon millions, who with the rebel-angels, by whom they have been seduced, are even now reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day; (Jude, verse 6;) and he will as surely vindicate them upon you. If you do not repent, if you are not regenerate, you shall all likewise perish, (Luke 13:3,) and not one of you shall escape.
And thus I close this copious and important argument: this argument, in which life and death, salvation and damnation are concerned. View it, my friends, in all its connection, and see in what part of it the chain can be broken. Will you say, that without regeneration you can secure an interest in the kingdom of heaven, though the constitution of heaven oppose it, and all the declarations of God's word stand directly against it; and though nature itself proclaim, and conscience testify your incapacity to enjoy it? Or will you say, that being excluded from it, you shall suffer no considerable damage, though you lose so glorious a state, the noblest preparation of Divine love, the purchase of redeeming blood, and the end of the Spirit's operation on the soul; though you ever remain sensible of your loss, and be consigned over to dwell in that flaming prison, which God has prepared for the devil and his angels, and where all the terrors of his righteous judgment are made known?
But if you are indeed inwardly convinced of the truth and importance of these things, and will go away, and act as before, without any regard to them, I can say no more The reason of man, and the word of God can point out no stronger arguments, than an infinite good on the one hand, and an infinite evil on the other.
Hear, therefore, O heavens! and give ear O earth! and let angels and devils join their astonishment; that creatures, who would strenuously contend, and warmly exert themselves, I will not say merely for an earthly kingdom, but in an affair where only a few pounds, or perhaps a few shillings or pence were concerned, are indifferent here, where, by their own confession, a happy or miserable eternity is in question. For indifferent, I fear, some of you are and will continue. I have represented these things in the integrity of my heart, as in the sight of God, not in artful forms of speech, but in the genuine language, which the strong emotions of my own soul, in the views of them, most naturally dictated. Yet I think it not at all improbable, that some of you, and some perhaps who do not now imagine it, will, as soon as you return home, divert your thoughts and discourses to other objects; and may, perhaps, as heretofore, lie down upon your beds without spending one quarter of an hour, or even one serious minute, in lamenting your miserable state before God, and seeking that help and deliverance which his grace alone can give. But if you thus lie down, make, if you can, a covenant with death that it may not break in upon your slumbers; and an agreement with hell, (Isaiah 28:15,) that before the return of the morning, it may not flash in upon your careless souls another kind of conviction, than they will now receive from the voice of reason and the word of God.