« السابقةمتابعة »
a certain point, we find thought absorbed in its turn, and we feel ourselves equally lost, whether we are disposed to admit an infinite progression in this division, or whether we are disposed to stop at a certain determinate point.
What we have said of the smallness of bodies, holds equally true of their immensity of magnitude. We are able, with the help of the senses of the imagination, and of thought, to increase a mass of matter, to suppose it still greater, to conceive it still exceeding the former magnitude. But after we have acted, imagined, reflected; and, after we have risen in thought to a certain degree of extension, were we disposed to go on to the conception of one still greater, we should at length feel ourselves absorbed in the inconceivable magnitude of matter, as it had eluded our pursuit by its minuteness. So incomplete are our ideas even of matter. And if so, then,
whom tumult and noise pursue wherever he
The blessed in heaven are not liable to have
2. How much more imperfect still is our knowledge of what relates to mind! Who ever presumed to unfold all that a spirit is capable of? Who has ever determined the connexion which subsists within us, between the faculty which feels, and that which reflects? Who has ever discovered the manner in which one spirit is enabled to communicate its feelings and reflections to another? Who has formed a conception of the means by which a spirit becomes capable of acting upon a body, and a body upon a spirit? It is to me then demonstrably certain, that we know but in an imperfect manner, the very things of which we have any ideas at all. The blessed in heaven have complete ideas of these; they penetrate into the minutest particles of matter; they discern all the wonders, all the latent springs, all the subtility of the smallest parts of the body, which contain worlds in miniature, an epitome of the great universe, and not less calculated to excite admiration of the wisdom of the Creator: they trayerse that immensity of space, those celestial globes, those immeasurable spheres, the existence of which it is impossible for us to call in question, but whose enormous mass and countless multitude confound and overwhelm us. The blessed in heaven know the nature of spirits, their faculties, their relations, their intercourse, their laws. But all this is inexplicable. Is any one capable of changing our senses? Is any one capable of giving a more extensive range to our imagination? Is it possible to remove the barriers which limit thought?
Does not this first reason, my beloved brethren, of our apostle's silence on the subject of the heavenly felicity, already produce on your souls, the effect at which this discourse is principally aiming? Has it not already kindled within you an ardent desire to attain that felicity? Soul of man, susceptible of so many ideas, of such enlarged knowledge, of illumination so unbounded, is it possible for thee to sojourn without reluctance, in a body which narrows thy sphere, and cramps thy nobler faculties? Philosopher, who art straining every nerve, While we are on the earth, we discern but very who givest thyself no rest to attain a degree of imperfectly the relations which subsist even be- knowledge incompatible with the condition of tween the things which we do know. Contract- humanity: geometrician, who, after an incredied, incomplete as our ideas are, we should, ne- ble expense of thought, of meditation, of revertheless, make some progress in our research-flection, art able to attain at most the knowes after truth, had we the power of reflecting, ledge of the relations of a circle or of a trianof recollection, of fixing our attention to a cer- gle: theologian, who, after so many days of latain degree, of comparing beings with each bour and nights of watching, hast scarcely arother, and thus advancing from those which rived at the capacity of explaining a few paswe already know, to those with which we are sages of holy writ, of correcting, by an effort, hitherto unacquainted. Men are more or less some silly prejudice; wretched mortals, how intelligent, according as they are in the habit much are you to be pitied! how impotent and of being more or less attentive. A man brought ineffectual are all exertions to acquire real up in the midst of noise, in tumult; a man knowledge! I think I am beholding one of those animals, the thickness of whose blood, the grossness of whose humours, the encumbrance of that house with which nature loads them, preventing them from moving with fa
*For a farther illustration of this part of the subject, the Philosophical and Christian reader is referred to the Letters of Euler to a German Princess, Letter 1. vol. i. hed by the Translator of this volume, 1794.
cility; I think I am beholding one of those animals, striving to move over an immense space in a little, little hour. He strains, he bustles, he toils, he flatters himself with having made a mighty progress, he exults in the thought of attaining the end which he had proposed. The hour elapses, and the progress which he has made is a mere nothing, compared with the immensity of the space still untrodden.
Thus, loaded with a body replenished with gross humours, retarded by matter, we are able, in the course of the longest life, to acquire but a very slender and imperfect degree of knowledge. This body must drop: this spirit must disengage itself before it can become capable of soaring unencumbered, of penetrating into futurity, and of attaining that height and depth of knowledge which the blessed in heaven possess.
| dangers, in bidding defiance to almost inevitable death? In general, what arguments are sufficient to convince a worldling, that the purest and most perfect delights are to be enjoyed in exercises of devotion, in those effusions of the heart, in that emptying us of ourselves, of which the saints of God have given us such warm recommendations, and such amiable examples? These are the things of the spirit of God, which the natural man receiveth not, because they are spiritually discerned," 1 Cor.. ii. 14: because he is destitute of that taste, which alone can enable him to relish their charms.
All tastes are not similar. Men agree tolerably well in the vague notions of honour, of pleasure, of generosity, of nobility. But that which appears pleasure to one, is insupportable to another; that which appears noble, generous to one, appears mean, grovelling, contemptible to another. So that the idea which you might suggest to your neighbour, of a pleasant and desirable mode of living, might, in all probability, convey to him ideas of life the most odious and disgusting.
Now, my brethren, although the love of God be the principle of all the exalted virtues possessed by the saints in glory, as well as by those who remain still on the earth; although both agree in this general and vague notion, that to love God is the sublimity of virtue; nevertheless, there is a distance so inconceivable, between the love which we have for God
Not only from revelation do we derive these ideas, not even from reason, in its present high state of improvement; they were entertained in the ancient pagan world. We find this sub- on the earth, and that which inspires the blessject profoundly investigated, I had almost saided in heaven, that inclinations entirely differexhausted in the Phædon of Plato. Socrates ent result from it. considers his body as the greatest obstacle in the way of seeking after truth. And this brings to my recollection the beautiful expression of a certain Anchorite, to the same purpose; extenuated, infirm, sinking under a load of years, on the point of expiring, he breaks out into singing. He is asked, Wherefore singest thou? "Ah! I sing," says he, "because I see that wall tumbling down, which hinders me from beholding the face of God." Yes, this body is a wall which prevents our seeing God. Fall down, fall down, interposing invidious wall: fall down impenetrable wall, and then we shall see God. But to man in his present state, to man loaded with a body like this, the illumination of the blessed in heaven is among the things which are unspeakable.
2. The blessed in heaven are prompted by inclination the most noble and refined; a defect of taste prevents our adopting and enjoying the same inclinations.
We know God very imperfectly while we are upon the earth, and our love to him is in proportion to the imperfection of our knowledge. To come to his holy temple, to hearken to his word, to sing his praises, to administer and to partake of his sacramental ordinances; to pant after a union of which we cannot so much as form an idea, to practice the virtues which our present condition imposes; such is the taste which that love inspires; such are the particular inclinations which it excites in our souls. After all, how often are those feelings blunted by prevailing attachment to the creature? How often are they too faint to animate us to engage in those exercises? How often do we present ourselves before God, like victims dragged reluctantly to the altar? How often must a sense of duty supply the want of inclination, and hell opening under our feet, produce in our souls the effects which ought to flow from the love of God purely? But, be it as it may, our love, so long as we continue here below, can go no further than this. That complete devotedness to God, those voluntary sacrifices, that sublimity of virtue which refers every thing to God and to him alone, are wholly unknown to us; we have neither ideas to conceive them ourselves, nor terms in which to convey them to the minds of others.
The blessed in heaven know God perfectly, and have a love to him proportioned to the perfection of that knowledge, and inclinations proportioned to that love. We know what may be impressed on the heart of man, by the idea of a God known as supremely wise, as supremely powerful, as supremely amiable. The blessed in heaven take pleasure in exercises which Scripture describes in language adapted to our present capacities. To this purpose are such as the following expressions, cast their crowns before the throne," Rev. iv. 10; "to behold always the face of their father which is in heaven," Matt. xviii. 10, as courtiers do that of their sovereign: to "cover their faces" in his presence, Isa. vi. 2; "to sing a new song before the throne," Rev.
Who is able to make a man plunged in business to comprehend, that there is pleasure inexpressible in studying truth, in making additions to a stock of knowledge, in diving into mysteries? Who is able to persuade a miser, that there is a delight which nothing can equal, n relieving the miserable, in ministering to their necessities, in sharing fortunes with them, and thus, to use the expression of Scripture,"To to draw nigh to a man's "own flesh?" Isa. Iviii. 7. Who is able to convince a grovelling and dastardly soul, that there is joy to be found in pursuing glory through clouds of smoke and showers of iron, in braving instant and certain
xiv. 3; to fly at his command with the rapidity of the "wind and of a flame of fire," Heb. i. 7; to "cry one to another, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts," Isa. vi. 3; to burn, to bear the name of Seraphim, that is, burning with zeal. These are emblems presented to our imagination. The thing itself cannot be brought down to the level of our capacity. We are ignorant of the effect, because the cause is far beyond our comprehension. We are strangers to the joy flowing from it, because we want the taste which alone can enable us to relish such delights.
Nay more, with the taste which we have upon the earth, such and such a joy of the blessed above would appear the severest of punishments to the greatest of saints among us. The essence of the felicity of saints in glory consists in loving God only, and all other things in reference to God. The sentiments by which they are animated relatively to other beings, are not sentiments of blood, of the spirits, of temperament, like those by which we are actuated here below, they are regulated by order; they refer all to God alone: the blessed above are affected with the felicity and the misery of others, only in so far as these relate to the great moving principles by which they are governed. But that felicity depicted to men upon earth, and applied to particular cases, would appear to them a real punishment. Could a father relish a felicity which he was told he could not possibly share with his child? Could the friend enjoy tranquillity, were he haunted with the thought, that the friend of his heart lay groaning under chains of darkness? Have we so much love for order; are we sufficiently disposed to refer all our inclinations to God, so as to have that taste, which considers objects as amiable and interesting, only as they have a relation to that order, and to that glory of the Creator? And do we not feel, that a felicity relative to a taste which we do not possess, nay, opposite to that which we now have, is a felicity unspeakable.
3. The third notion which we suggested to you, of the heavenly felicity, is that of sensible pleasure. A defect of faculty prevents our perception of their pleasures.
significant; pleasures of everlasting duration, to those of a moment.
If we declaim against your pleasures, it is because the attachment which you feel for those of the earth, engages you to consider them as the sovereign good, and prevents your aspiring after that abundant portion, which is laid up for you in heaven.
If we declaim against your pleasures, it is because you regard the creatures through which they are communicated, as if they were the real authors of them. You ascribe to the element of fire the essential property of warming you, to aliments that of gratifying the palate, to sounds that of ravishing the ear. You consider the creatures as so many divinities which preside over your happiness; you pay them homage; you prostrate your imagination before them; not reflecting that God alone can produce sensations in your soul, and that all these creatures are merely the instruments and the ministers of his Providence. But the maxim remains incontrovertible; namely, that the faculty of relishing pleasures is a perfection of our soul, and one of its most glorious attributes.
Be not surprised that we introduce sensations of pleasure, into the ideas of a felicity perfectly pure, and perfectly conformable to the sanctity of him who is the author of it. Do not suspect that we are going to extract from the grossly sensual notions of Mahomet, the representation which we mean to give you of the paradise of God. You hear us frequently declaiming against the pleasures of sense. But do not go to confound things under pretence of perfecting them; and under the affectation of decrying sensible pleasures, let us not consider as an imperfection of the soul of man, the power which it has to enjoy them. No, my brethren, it is, on the contrary, one of its highest perfections to be susceptible of those sensations, to possess the faculty of scenting the perfume of flowers, of relishing the savour of meats, of delighting in the harmony of sounds, and so of the other objects of sense. If we declaim against your pleasures, it is because you frequently sacrifice pleasures the most sublime, to such as are pitiful and in
But what merits particular attention is, that this faculty which we have of receiving agreeable sensations, is extremely imperfect so long as we remain upon the earth. It is restricted to the action of the senses. Its activity is clogged by the chains which fetter it down to matter. Our souls are susceptible of innumerable more sensations than we ever can receive in this world. As progress in knowledge admits of infinity, so likewise may progress in the enjoyment of pleasure. In heaven the blessed have the experience of this. There God exerts the plenitude of his power over the soul, by exciting in it the most lively emotions of delight; there his communications are proportional to the immortal nature of the glorified spirit. This was produced in the soul of our apostle.
"The pleasures which I have tasted," he seems to say, are not such as your present faculties can reach. In order to make you comprehend what I have felt, I must be endowed with the power of creating new laws of the union subsisting between your soul and your body. I must be endowed with the capacity of suspending those of nature; or rather, I must be possessed of the means of tearing your soul asunder from that body. I must have the power of transporting you in an ecstacy, as I myself was. And considering the state in which you still are, I am persuaded that I shall represent to you what my feelings were much better, by telling you that they are things unspeakable, than by attempting a description of them. For when the point in question is to represent that which consists in lively and affecting sensations, there is no other method left, but actually to produce them in the breasts of the persons to whom you would make the communication. In order to produce them, faculties must be found, adapted to the reception of such sensations. But these faculties you do not as yet possess. It is therefore impossible that you should ever comprehend, while here below, what such sensations mean. And it is no more in my power to con
vey to you an idea of those which I have enjoyed, than it is to give the deaf an idea of sounds, or the blind man of colours."
You must be sensible then, my brethren, that defect in respect of faculties, prevents our conception of the sensible pleasures which the blessed above enjoy, as want of taste and want of genius prevent our comprehending what are their inclinations, and what is their illumination. Accordingly, the principal reason of St. Paul's silence, and of the silence of scripture in general, respecting the nature of the heavenly felicity, present nothing that ought to relax our ardour in the pursuit of it; they are proofs of its inconceivable greatness, and so far from sinking its value in our eyes, they manifestly enhance and aggrandize it. This is what we undertook to demonstrate.
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL. PART III.
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.
We have endeavoured to elucidate the expressions of our apostle in the text, and to demonstrate that the silence of Scripture, on the subject of a state of celestial felicity, suggests nothing that has a tendency to cool our ardour in the pursuit of it, but rather, on the contrary, that this very veil which conceals the paradise of God from our eyes is, above all things, calculated to convey the most exalted ideas of t. We now proceed,
III. To conclude our discourse, by making come application of the subject.
Now, if the testimony of an apostle, if the decisions of Scripture, if the arguments which have been used, if all this is deemed insufficient, and if, notwithstanding our acknowledged inability to describe the heavenly felicity, you should still insist on our attempting to convey some idea of it, it is in our power to present you with one trait of it, a trait of a singular kind, and which well deserves your most serious attention. It is a trait which immediately refers to the subject under discussion: I mean the ardent desire expressed by St. Paul to return to that felicity, from which the order of Providence forced him away, to replace him in the world.
every thing terrestrial, friends, relations, engagements; "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles," Matt. xvii. 4; and to the extremity of old age he retains the impression of that heavenly vision, and exults in the recollection of it: "He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount," 2 Pet. i. 17, 18.
Nothing can convey to us a more exalted idea of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, than the effects which produced on the soul of St. Peter. That apostle had scarcely enjoyed a glimpse of the Redeemer's glory on the holy mount, when, behold, he is transported at the sight. He has no longer a desire to descend from that mountain; he has no longer a desire to return to Jerusalem; he has forgotten
The idea of the celestial felicity has made a similarly indelible impression on the mind of St. Paul. More than fourteen years have elapsed since he was blessed with the vision of it. Nay, for fourteen years he has kept silence. This object, nevertheless, accompanies him wherever he goes, and, in every situation, his soul is panting after the restoration of it. And in what way was he to look for that restoration? Not in the way of ecstacy, not in a rapture. He was not to be translated to heaven, as Elijah, in a chariot of fire. Necessity was laid upon him of submitting to the law imposed on every child of Adam: "It is appointed to all men once to die," Heb. ix. 27. But no matter; to that death, the object of terror to all mankind, he looks forward with fond desire.
But what do I say, that death simply was the path which St. Paul must tread, to arrive at the heavenly rest? No, not the ordinary death of most men; but death violent, premature, death arrayed in all its terror. Nero, the barbarous Nero, was then upon the throne, and the blood of a Christian so renowned as our apostle, must not escape so determined a foe to Christianity. No matter still. "Let loose all thy fury against me, ferocious tiger, longing to glut thyself with Christian blood; I defy thy worst. Come, executioner of the sanguinary commands of that monster; I will mount the scaffold with undaunted resolution; I will submit my head to the fatal blow with intrepidity and joy." We said, in the opening of this discourse, Paul, ever since his rapture, talks only of dying, only of being absent from the body, only of finishing his course, only of departing. "We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: . willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord," 2 Cor. v. 4. 8. "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus," Acts xx. 24, "having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better," Phil. i. 23. We often find men braving death when at a distance, but shrinking from the nearer approach of the king of terrors. But the earnestness of our apostle's wishes is heightened in proportion as they draw nigh to their centre: when he is arrived at the departing moment, he triumphs, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day," 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
My brethren, you are well acquainted with St. Paul. He was a truly great character. Were we not informed by a special revelation,
he is admitted into the bosom of glory; or, to say somewhat which has a still nearer relation to the idea which we ought to conceive of St. Paul, represent to yourself a man "bearing in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus," Ğal. vi. 17, and beholding that Jesus in the bosom of the Father: represent to yourself that man giving way to unrestrained effusions of love, embracing his Saviour, clinging to his feet, cur-passing, in such sacred transports of delight, a time which glides away, undoubtedly, with rapidity of which we have no conception, and which enables the soul to comprehend how, in the enjoyment of perfect bliss, a thousand years fly away with the velocity of one day: represent to yourself that man suddenly recalled to this valley of tears, beholding that "third heaven," those archangels, that God, that Jesus, all, all disappearing; Ah, my brethren, what regret must such a man have felt! What holy impatience to recover the vision of all those magnificent objects! What is become of so much felicity, of so much glory! Was I made to possess them, then, only to have the pain of losing them again! Did God indulge me with the beatific vision only to give me a deeper sense of my misery! O moment too fleeting and transitory, and have you fled never to be recalled! Raptures, transports, ecstacies, have ye left me for ever! "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof," 2 Kings ii. 12. "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God: my soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" Ps. xlii. 1, 2. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. . . . Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee! thine altars, thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God!" Ps. lxxxiv. 1, &c.
My God, wherefore enjoy we not at this day such privileges, that we also might be filled with such sentiments! Boundless abysses, which separate between heaven and earth, why are ye not, for a season, filled up to us, as ye were to this apostle! Ye torrents of endless delight, wherefore roll ye not to us, some of your precious rills, that they may teach us a holy contempt for those treacherous joys which deceive and ensnare us!
that he was inspired by the Spirit of God, we
St. Paul was a man possessed of strong reasoning powers, and we have in his writings many monuments which will convey down to the end of the world the knowledge of his intellectual superiority. Nevertheless this man so enlightened, so sage, so rational; this man who knew the pleasures of heaven by experience, no longer beholds any thing on the earth once to be compared with them, or that could for a moment retard his wishes. He concludes that celestial joys ought not to be considered as too dearly purchased, at whatever price it may have pleased God to rate them, and whatever it may cost to attain them. I reckon, says he, I reckon what I suffer, and what I may still be called to suffer, on the one side; and I reckon, on the other, the glory of which I have been a witness, and which I am still to enjoy; "I reckon, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us," Rom. viii. 18. "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ," Phil. i. 23.
But who is capable of giving an adequate representation of his transports, so as to make you feel them with greater energy, and were it possible, to transfuse them into your hearts? Represent to yourself a man, who has actually seen that glory, of which we can give you only borrowed ideas. Represent to yourself a man, who has visited those sacred mansions which are "in the house of the Father," John xiv. 2; a man who has seen the palace of the Sovereign of the universe, and those "thousands," those "thousand thousands," which surround his throne, Dan. vii. 10; a man who has been in that “new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven," Rev. iii. 12; in that "new heaven," and that "new earth," Rev. xxi. 1. The inhabitants of which are angels, archangels, the seraphim; of which the lamb is the sun and the temple, Rev. xxi. 22, 23, and where "God is all in all," 1 Cor. xv. 28. Represent to yourself a man, who has heard those harmonious concerts, those triumphant choirs which sing aloud day and night: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory," Isa. vi. 3; a man who has heard those celestial multitudes which cry out, saying, "Alleluia: salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God. . . . . and the four-and-twenty elders reply, saying, Amen; Alleluia. . . . . let us be glad and rejoice, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready," Rev. xix. 1. 4. 7. Represent to yourself a man who has been received into heaven by those angels who "rejoice over one sinner that repenteth," Luke xv. 7, and who redouble their acclamations when
My brethren, if ceasing from the desire of manifestations which we have not, we could learn to avail ourselves of those which God has been pleased to bestow! were we but disposed to listen to the information which the Scriptures communicate, respecting the heavenly felicity: If we would but examine the proofs, the demonstrations which we have of eternal blessedness! If we but knew how to feed on those ideas, and frequently to oppose them to those voids, to those nothings, which are the great object of our pursuit! If we would but compare them with the excellent nature of our souls, and with the dignity of our origin! then we should become like St. Paul. Then nothing would be able to damp our zeal. The end of the course would then employ every wish, every desire of the heart. Then no dexterity of management would be needful to in