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from the moment you retire from this place | Hast thou exerted thyself to the uttermost, to must supply the want of preparation, and the take all the immeasurable dimensions of the communicating of this day must make up the love of God? Hast thou reflected profoundly, defects of all that preceded it. And if God on a God who was made flesh, who rescues has not in mercy granted you such dispositions thee from everlasting misery, who covers thy as these, may he inspire you, at least, with a person with his own, that the arrows of divine resolution not to approach his table, for fear of wrath may pierce him only, without reaching arming his right hand with hotter thunder- thee? Hast thou seriously considered, that if bolts to crush and destroy you! or rather, may God had hurried thee out of the world in a God grant you those happy dispositions, and state of unrepented guilt; if he had not pluckgraciously accept them when bestowed! may ed thee, by a miracle of grace, out of the vorit please God to be disarmed by your repent- tex of human things, instead of being surroundance, to gather up your tears, to regard with ed, as now, with these thy fellow-believers in an eye of favour your efforts, your feeble ef- Christ Jesus, thou mightest have been doomed forts! May God grant your absolution, your to the society of demons; instead of those songs salvation, to the earnest prayers of these his of praise to which thy voice is now attuned, faithful servants, or rather, to the all-powerful thou mightest this day have been mingling intercession of the Redeemer, unprotected by thy howlings with those of the victims, whom which the most eminent of saints durst not lift the wrath of God is immolating in the regions up their eyes to heaven, and approach the of despair. Let the blessedness which God is throne of the divine Majesty. accumulating upon us, support us under all the ills which we are called to endure. Our life is not yet concluded; our warfare is not yet accomplished.
2. I now turn to you, my dearly beloved brethren, who, while you reflect on communion seasons past, can enjoy the testimony of conscience, that you drew nigh to God in some state of preparation, and that you have reason to hope for a repetition of the same felicity. This ceremony is so august; the mysteries which it unfolds, are so awful; the punishment denounced against those who profane it, is so tremendous, that it is impossible to escape every emotion of fear, when engaged in the celebration of it. Study to be sensible of your own weakness. Say, in the language of repentance the most lively and sincere, and of humility the most profound, "If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities: O Lord, who shall stand?" Ps. cxxx. 3. "O Lord God, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant," Gen. xxxii. 10. Stand in awe of the presence of the majesty of God Almighty; cry out with Jacob, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven," Gen. xxvii. 17.
But while you render unto God, the homage We are going to return into the world, it is of holy fear, honour him likewise with that of high time to think of our departure out of it. holy confidence. Think not that he loves to We are conversant with the living; we must be always viewed as "the great, the mighty, think of being speedily mingled with the dead. and the terrible God," Neh. ix. 32, the God We yet live; we must die. We must be lookwho "is a consuming fire," Heb. xii. 29. He ing forward to those mortal agonies which are draws nigh to you in this ordinance, not with preparing; to that bed of languishing which is awful manifestations of vengeance; but with already spread; to that funeral procession all the attractions of his grace, with all the gifts which is marshalling for us. But, supported of his Spirit, with all the demonstrations of his by this peace of God, we shall be more than love. Bow down over the mystical ark, to- conquerors in all these conflicts: with "the gether with the celestial intelligences, and ad- Spirit of him who hath raised up Christ from mire the wonders which it contains, and be- the dead," we shall bid defiance to all the holding with them "the glory" of your Re- powers of "the king of terrors." Jesus, who deemer, with them cry out, "Holy, holy, holy"hath destroyed him who had the power of is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of death," will deliver us from his dominion. his glory," Isa. vi. 3. Through that gloomy night which is fast approaching, and which is already covering our eyes with its awful shade, we shall behold the rays of "the Son of righteousness," and their divine light shall dissipate to us all the horrors of" the valley of the shadow of death." Amen. To God be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
Study to know and to feel the whole extent of your felicity, and let a sense of the benefits with which God hath loaded thee, kindle the hallowed flame of gratitude in your hearts. "Hast thou ever, O my soul, been made sensible of the unbounded nature of thy happiness?
We are about to return into the world; we have still difficulties and dangers to encounter, bitter potions to swallow, afflictions to suffer; especially in this age of fire and of blood so fatal to the Christian name. But, supported by this grace of God, we shall be able to resist and to overcome the most violent assaults.
We are going to return into the world, amidst the snares of the wicked one; he will still aim many a blow at our souls; this flesh is not yet entirely mortified; the old man has not yet received his death's wound; evil concupiscence is not yet completely extinguished; we shall fall into sin again. Humiliating reflection to a soul which this day places all its delight in being united unto God! But, supported by this peace of God, we shall find the means of remedying the weakness with which we may be still overtaken, as it has furnished the means of deliverance from those into which we had already fallen.
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL
2 COR. xii. 2-4.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
But St. Paul fulfils not this expectation: he maintains a profound silence respecting the objects which had been presented to his mind: he speaks of his rapture, only in the view of confounding those false teachers who took upon them to set at nought his ministry: and all the description he gives of paradise, amounts to no more than a declaration of his own utter inability to describe what he had seen and heard. "I knew a man in Christ: a man in Christ," that is to say, a Christian, and by this denomination the apostle is characterizing himself, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell: or whether out of the body, I
We propose in the following discourse, my brethren, to attempt a solution of the difficulty which arises from this silence of the apostle. We propose to discuss this singular, but interesting question; Wherefore is the celestial felicity "unspeakable?" Wherefore should it be unlawful for a man to utter it? We shall begin with some elucidation of the expressions of our text, inquiring, 1. Into the era to which reference is here made; "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago." 2. By considering what is said respecting the manner of this rapture; "Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body I cannot tell: God knoweth." 3. What we are to understand by paradise, and the third heaven. 4. Finally, What ideas we are to affix to those unspeakable words to which our apostle alludes in the text; and these will constitute the first general division of our subject.
But in the second, which we have princi
If there be a passage in the whole Bible capable of inflaming, and at the same time of baffling human curiosity, it is that which I have just now read. I do not mean a vain and presumptuous curiosity, but a curiosity apparently founded on reason and justice. One of the principal causes of our want of ardour in the pursuit of heavenly blessings, is our having no experienced witness, who, after having himself tasted the sweetness of thern, conveyed to us clear and distinct ideas on the sub-pally in view, we shall examine the point alject. It is a difficult matter to love that of ready indicated, by inquiring, whether the siwhich we have no knowledge. lence of Scripture respecting a state of future St. Paul seems to have been reserved of God happiness, suggests any thing tending to cool to supply this defect, and to fill up, if I may our ardour in the pursuit of it: we shall enuse the expression, this void in religion. By a deavour to make you sensible, that nothing is supernatural dispensation of grace, he passes so much calculated to convey lofty ideas of into the other world before death; and he re- the paradise of God, as that very veil which turns thence before the general resurrection. conceals it from our eyes. If you fully enter The whole church, awakened to eager atten- into the great aim and end of this discourse, tion, calls upon him for a detail of the wonders it will produce on your minds those effects to of the world unknown. And as the Israelites, which all our exhortations, all our importuniafter having despatched spies into the land of ties are adapted, namely, to kindle in your promise, burned with ardent desire to see and hearts an ardent desire to go to God; to put hear them, in order that they might obtain in- into your mouths that exclamation of the forination respecting the country, whether it psalmist: "How great is thy goodness, O God, merited the exertions necessary to acquire pos- which thou hast laid up for them that fear session: in like manner, the Christian world thee!" Ps. xxxi. 19; to place you in the very seems to flock round our apostle, in earnest ex- situation of our apostle, who after having been pectation of being informed what that felicity"caught up to the third heaven," could no is, into which they are invited to enter by a gate longer endure to live upon the earth, had his so strait. They seem with one accord to ask eyes opened to every path that led to death, him: What did you hear? What did you see? could talk no more of any thing but of dyin the view of determining, upon his report, ing, "but of finishing his course," 2 Tim. iv. this all important question, whether they should 7, but of being "absent from the body," 2 Cor. still persevere in their exertions, to surmount v. 8, but of departing, but of "being with Christ, the obstacles which they have to encounter in which was to him far better," Phil. i. 23. the way of salvation, or whether they should relinquish the pursuit.
I. We begin with some elucidation of the expressions of the text, and of these,
1. The first refers to the era of St. Paul's rapture, I knew a man in Christ "above fourteen years ago." But were we to enter into a complete discussion of this question, it would occupy much more time than is allotted for the whole of our present exercise. Never had preacher a fairer opportunity of wasting an hour to his hearers, in useless investigation, and impertinent quotations. We could easily supply you with an ample list of the opinions of interpreters, and of the reasons adduced by each, in support of his own. We could tell you, first, how it is alleged by some that these fourteen years denote the time elapsed from the conversion of St. Paul; and that his rapture
took place during those three days in which "he | that profound intenseness of mental applicawas without sight, and did neither eat nor tion, under the influence of which the enrapdrink," Acts ix. 9., and to this purpose we tured person is emancipated from the commucould quote Capel, Lira, Cave, Tostat, and nications of the senses, forgets his body, and is many other authors, unknown to the greater completely absorbed by the object of his medipart of my audience.
We might add, that some other commentators refer this epoch to the eighth year after St. Paul's conversion to Christianity, the fortyfourth of Jesus Christ, and the twelfth after his death.
Rapture is perhaps a degree superior to ecstacy. Sometimes it affects the mind. This is the case when God, in virtue of that sovereign power which he possesses over the soul of man, excites in it the same ideas, causes it to perceive the same objects, with which it would be struck, were the body, to which it is united, really in a place from whence it is extremely remote. It is thus that we must explain the rapture of the prophet Ezekiel, chap. viii. 3; and that of which St. John speaks in the book of Revelation, chap. i. 10.
It sometimes affects the body. This was the case of Philip, who, after he had converted to the faith of Christ the eunuch of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and baptized him, was
caught away by the spirit of the Lord, that the eunuch saw him no more," Acts viii. 39.
Though St. Paul has spoken very sparingly of the manner in which God was pleased to reveal himself to him, he has said enough to show that it is holy rapture he means. But whether it were that which transported the body into another place, or that which transported the mind only: nay, whether there be a real difference between rapture and ecstacy, no one can pretend to determine, without incurring the charge of presumption. The apostle himself declares that it surpassed his own knowledge; "whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth, such an one caught up to the third heaven..... caught up into paradise."
We could show you how others insist, with a greater air of probability, that the apostle enjoyed this heavenly vision, when, after his contention with Barnabas, humiliating instance of the infirmity of the greatest saints, he prosecuted his ministry in a different track. Those who adopt this opinion, allege, in support of it, the words of St. Paul in chap. xxii. of the Acts, ver. 17. "It came to pass, that when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance." But disquisitions of this sort are unworthy of the place which I now have the honour to fill. I have matters of much higher importance to propose to you.
2. The manner of St. Paul's rapture stands in need, perhaps, of some elucidation. He has expressed it in terms very much calculated to check curiosity. "Whether in the body I cannot tell: or whether out of the body I cannot tell." We, accordingly, presume not to pursue researches on points respecting which the apostle himself professes ignorance.
Let it only be remarked, that God was pleased, in former times, to manifest himself in many different manners. Sometimes it was by a voice: witness that which issued out of the cloud, Exod. xvi. 10; witness that which addressed Moses from the burning bush, Ex. iii. 4; witness that which thundered from Mount Sinai at the giving of the law, Exod. xix. 16; witness that which answered Job out of the whirlwind, chap. xxxviii. 1; witness that from above the mercy-seat, Exod. xxv. 22.
3. The third heaven, paradise: another subject of elucidation. The third heaven is the habitation of the blessed; that in which God displays the most splendid and glorious tokens of his presence: this is disputed by no one.But the other expression employed by St. Paul, He was pleased at other times, to reveal " caught up into paradise," has furnished mathimself in dreams and visions of the night: as ter for controversy among the learned. It has to Jacob at Bethel, Gen. xxviii. 12: to Abime-long been made a question whether paradise lech, Gen. xx. 3; and to Pharoah's butler, Gen. and the third heaven denote one and the same xl. 9. place. Certain modern interpreters have maintained the negative, with excessive warmth. A great number of the ancient fathers had adopted the same opinion. They considered paradise as a mansion in which the soul resided till the resurrection, and they distinguished it from heaven. Justin Martyr, disputing with Tryphon, condemns, as equally erroneous, the denying of the doctrine of the resurrection, and the opinion which supposes that the souls of men go to God immediately after death. In this they follow the prejudices of the Jews.Many of them believe that the souls of good people are translated to the garden of Eden, to wait for the day of the resurrection: they accordingly employ this form of prayer for dying persons: "May his soul be received into the garden of Eden; may he have his part in paradise; may he repose, and sleep in peace till the coming of the Comforter, who shall speak peace to the fathers. O ye to whom the treasures of paradise are committed, open now its gates that he may enter in."
He sometimes manifested himself in visions to persons awake. Thus he presented to Moses in Horeb a bush burning with fire yet unconsumed, Exod. iii. 4: to Balaam, an angel with his sword drawn in his hand, Num. xxii. 32; to Joshua, the captain of the Lord's host, Josh.
He sometimes communicated himself to men through the medium of inspiration, accomparied with emotions which constrained them to speak out. This was the case with Jeremiah, as we read, chap. xx. 8, 9, "The word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing."
But of all those miraculous dispensations, the most noble and exalted was that of rapture or ecstacy. By the term ecstacy we mean that powerful conflict, that concentration of thought, VOL. II.-26
But this error, however long it may have subsisted, and by whatever great names it may have been maintained, is nevertheless an error, as might be demonstrated by more arguments than we have now leisure to adduce. You have only to read the prayer which Jesus Christ addressed to his father a little before his death, where you will find him demanding immediate admission into the heavenly felicity. He says, likewise, to the penitent thief on the cross, "Verily I say unto thee, to-day thou shalt be with me in paradise," Luke xxiii. 43. Paradise, therefore, is the place in which God displays the most august symbols of his presence, and is not different from the third heaven.
ture, it is not unlikely that the objects which struck him, having left no trace in the brain, he lost the recollection of a great part of what he had seen.
But we are under no obligation to restrict ourselves to either of these senses. The words of the original translated "unspeakable, which it is not lawful for a man to utter," frequently denote that which is not of a nature to be explained: thus it is said, that "the Spirit maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered," Rom. viii. 26. Thus, too, St. Peter mentions a "joy unspeakable and full of glory," chap. i. 8., and we shall presently see that the heavenly felicity is, in this sense, unspeakable.
Again, among those who have pursued researches, respecting the things which St. Paul declares to be unspeakable, some have pretended to tell us, that he means the divine essence: others, that it was the hierarchal order of the celestial intelligences; others, that it was the beauty and excellency of glorified souls; others, that it was the mystery of the rejection of the Jewish nation, and of the calling of the Gentiles; others, that it was the destination of the Christian church through its successive periods. But wherefore should we attempt to affix precise limits to the things which our apostle heard and saw? He was rapt up to the very seat of the blessed; and he there, undoubtedly, partook of the felicity which they enjoy.
Now, if it be asked, why this name is given to the third heaven, it will be necessary to recur to its first original. Persons who have applied to the dry study of etymology assure us that the word is of Persian extraction, and that the Persians gave the name of paradise to the parks and gardens of their kings. It came in process of time to denote all places of a similar description. It passed from the Persians to the Greeks, to the Hebrews, to the Latins. We find it employed in this sense in Nehemiah ii. 8, in Ecclesiastes ii. in many profane authors; and the Jews gave this name to the garden of Eden in which Adam was placed. You will find it in the second chapter of the book of Genesis. But enough, and more than enough, has been suggested on this head.
4. There is but one particular more that re- Had men employed their imagination only quires some elucidation. "I knew a man," on the discussion of this question, no great adds the apostle, "who heard unspeakable harm could have ensued. But it is impossible words, which it is not lawful for a man to ut- to behold, without indignation, the inventors ter." To see things, and to hear words, are, in of fictitious pieces carrying their insolence so the style of the sacred writers, frequently used far, as to forge writings, which they ascribed as phrases of similar import, and it is not on to the Spirit of God himself, and in which they this ground that the difficulty of the present pretended those mysteries were explained. St. article presses. But, what can be the meaning Epiphanius relates, that certain ancient hereof the apostle, when he asserts that the words tics, these were the Gaianites or Cainites, had which he heard, or the things which he saw, invented a book which was afterwards adopted "are unspeakable," and "which it is not law-by the Gnostics. They gave it the name of ful for a man to utter?" Had he been laid un- The Ascension of St. Paul, and presume to alder a prohibition to reveal the particulars of his lege, that this book discovered what those "unvision? Had he lost the ideas of it? Or were speakable things" were, which the apostle had the things which he heard and saw of such a heard. St. Augustine speaks of the same nature as to be absolutely inexpressible by work, as a gross imposture. Nicephorus tells mortal lips? There is some plausible reason- us, that a story was current, under the empeing that may be employed in support of each ror Theodosius, of the discovery, in the house of the three opinions. of St. Paul at Tarsus, of a marble chest, buried in the earth, and which contained the Apocalypse of St. Paul. He himself refutes this fiction, by the testimony of a man of Tarsus, a member of the Presbytery.
The first has numerous partisans. Their belief is that God had revealed mysteries to St. Paul, but with a prohibition to disclose them to the world; they believe that the apostle, after having been rapt into the third heaven, had received a charge similar to that which was given to St. John, in a like situation, and which is transmitted to us in chap. x. of the book of Revelation, 4th verse, "Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not." Thus it was that the pagans denominated certain of their mysteries ineffable, because it was forbidden to reveal them. Thus, too, the Jews called the name of Jehovah ineffable, because it was unlawful to pronounce it. The second opinion is not destitute of probability. As the soul of St. Paul had no sensible intercourse with his body, during this rap
The impostor, who is the author of the work ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, and who gives himself out as that illustrious proselyte of our apostle, boasts of his having heard him relate wonderful things respecting the nature, the glory, the gifts, the beauty of angels; and upon this testimony it is that he founds the chimerical idea which he has given us of the celestial hierarchy.
But let us have done with all these frivolous conjectures, with all these impious fictions. We are going to propose much nobler objects to your meditation, and to examine, as has
* Hæres. 38.
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL.
been said, this singular, but interesting ques-ever efforts may have been made by certain tion, Wherefore is the celestial glory of such a philosophers to prove that we are acquainted nature as to defy description? Why is it "not with beings intermediate between mind and lawful for a man to utter them?" We are go- matter, they have never been able to persuade ing to avail ourselves of this very inability to others of it, and probably entertained no such describe these gloriously unspeakable things, as persuasion themselves. But if all beings which the means of conveying to you exalted ideas are within the sphere of our knowledge be reof them, and of kindling in your souls more ferrible to these two ideas, where is the person ardent desires after the possession of them. who is bold enough to affirm, that there are in This shall be the subject of the second part of fact no others? Where is the man who dares our discourse. to maintain, that the creation of bodies, and that of spirits, have exhausted the omnipotence of the Creator? Who shall presume to affirm, that this infinite intelligence, to whom the universe is indebted for its existence, could find only two ideas in his treasures?
May it not be possible that the blessed in heaven, have the idea of certain beings which possess no manner of relation to any thing of on the soul of St. Paul? May not this be one which we have a conception upon earth? May of the reasons of the impossibility to which he it not be possible that God impressed this idea is reduced, of describing what he had seen? For when we speak to other men, we go on the supposition that they have souls similar to our own, endowed with the same faculties, enriched with the same sources of thought. We possess certain signs, certain words to express our conwithin themselves, to follow up their principles, ceptions. We oblige our fellow men to retire to examine their notions. It is thus we are enabled to communicate our notions to each other. But this is absolutely impracticable with regard to those beings who may be known to the blessed above. There is in this respect, no notion in common to us and them. We have no term by which to express them. God himself alone has the power of impressing new ideas on the soul of man. do is to render us attentive to those which we already have, and to assist us in unfolding All that men cau them.
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL.
2 COR. xii. 2-4.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to uller.
HAVING presented you with some brief elucidations of the expressions of the text, namely, 1. Respecting the era to which reference is here made; I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago:" 2. Respecting the manner of his rapture; "whether in the body, I cannot tell: or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth:" 3. Respecting the place to which Paul was caught; "paradise, the third heaven:" and, 4. Respecting what he there saw and heard; 66 unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter:" we proceed to, II. The second general head, namely, to inquire, whether the silence of Scripture on the subject of a state of future happiness, suggests any thing that has a tendency to cool our ardour in the pursuit of it; or, whether this very veil, which conceals the paradise of God from our eyes, is not above all things calculated to convey the most exalted ideas of it.
We refer the felicity of the blessed in heaven to three general notions. The blessed in heaven possess, 1. Superior illumination: 2. They are prompted by inclinations the most noble and refined: 3. They enjoy the purest sensible pleasures. A defect of genius prevents our ability to partake of their illumination; a defect of taste prevents our adopting their inclinations; a defect of faculty prevents our perception of their pleasures. In these three respects, the celestial felicity is "unspeakable:" in these three respects, "it is not lawful for a man to utter it."
1. The blessed in heaven possess superior illumination: a defect of genius prevents our participation of it.
While we are in this world, we are deficient many ideas. Properly speaking, we have ideas of two kinds only: that of body, and that of spirit. The combination of those two ideas forms all our perceptions, all our speculations, the whole body of our knowledge. And what
have but a very imperfect knowledge of the
out entering here into the discussion of the