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I. Is it not contrary to every principle of our nature to be pleased with misery, to fail to desire happiness? And yet this must be the strange disposition of every believer who does not wish “ to be absent from the body, that he may be present with the Lord.”
Consider for a moment, my brother, the evils which in this world press upon thee, and then tell me whether it is not rational that thou shouldst sigh to be delivered from them. Continually duped or disquieted by thy passions; pained by the withering of thy fondest hopes, by the blasting of thy tenderest expectations; weighed down by personal sorrows, and wounded to the heart by the woes or the treachery of those whom thou lovest; perpetually pursuing airy shadows, and mocked with a phantom where thou expectedst felicity; exposed to losses, poverty, and shame ; contending with sickness, envy, and reproach; afflicted by the remembrance of past follies, and trembling at the apprehension of future woes : oh! is this a condition in which a reasonable man should be satisfied to remain, when the sacred calm, the holy peace, the ineffable joys of the New Jerusalem are proffered to him? Is it wise in thee to prefer the thorns planted around Paradise before the fruits of the tree of life? But if thou art a believer, these sorrows which we have mentioned are the lightest which thou feelest; are far more tolerable than those spiritual distresses which oppress thee. The blindness of thy mind, the treachery of thy heart, the inconstancy of thine affections, the sins which thou committest, the clouds which so often obscure the face of thy God: do not these, and a thousand other circumstances, lie as a weight on thy soul, and make thee long to drop so oppressive a burden of sins and sorrows, though the body
should drop together with it? Is it not reasonable that they should make you exclaim, with an holy anxiety, Oh! when will the happy period arrive, when I shall be loosed from earth; when I shall no longer have any cross to bear, any corruption to combat; when I shall be perfectly happy, since I shall see my Lord; when I shall be perfectly holy, since I shall be made like unto him !'
Is it not then certain, that when the sentiments of our nature cry to us, not to be pleased with misery, but to desire happiness, they require the Christian to cherish a desire to be absent from the body, that he may be present with the Lord ? But,
II. This truth is still more strongly confirmed by considering the spirit and the principles of our religion. True religion gives to the soul a holy and a heavenly temper : but can such a temper be inwrought in that soul, which contentedly settles down on earth, and fastening with avidity on terrestrial pleasures, for- • gets the throne above the skies ? Can such a temper be inwrought in that soul, which, enamoured by the objects of time and sense, exclaims, “ It is good for us to be here," instead of crying, with the groaning church, “ Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly?” A holy love to God and the Redeemer lies at the very foundation of true religion. But what kind of love, I pray you, is that which is satisfied to remain at a distance from the object of its affections, which looks with calmness at the immense interval between the blessed God and itself, and desires not to pass over this interval, and to rest in his bosom? What kind of love is that which thirsts not after a more intimate union and communion with the Source of light and joy? What kind of love is that which had rather be absent from the Lord than be absent from the
body ? Surely it is that kind which our Saviour denounced when he declared, “ He that loveth father or mother, yea, or his own life, more than me, is not worthy of me.” A love to the children of God, and a delight in their society, are essential to the Christian character. But can the soul of that man be warmed with this love, who sees the pious, one by one, departing from earth, and joining the innumerable company of the pious in heaven, and yet desires not to die with them, and go with them to join the holy host of the redeemed of the Lord; who is not yet wearied with the world, and who had rather spend some years longer in the company of earth, than instantly go and associate with the purified children of God? Hope is one of the Christian graces; but hope includes desire: we hope not for an object which we do not desire. What a contradiction then to say, that
, we hope for the presence of the Lord when it is not the object of our wishes, when we had rather that he would delay his coming. Finally, there is no religion in that heart which does not long after greater degrees of holiness, and continual increase in grace. But is this the character of him who prefers a sinful world to a holy heaven; of him who desires, it is true, that he may enter into the region of purity, when
, God will no longer permit him to remain on earth, but who does not desire now, instantly, to go to that world of purity, if the entrance into it is to be made through the gate of death, and at the price of a separation from the body; of him who had rather for the present live in the midst of sin and iniquity, and carry about with him a polluted soul, than depart and be with Christ, and be thoroughly sanctified ?
III. The representations of the Scriptures confirm this same truth. They uniformly represent those whose
affections are so fixed on earth that they are unwilling to quit their eager grasp of it, as the enemies of God: they uniformly declare that those who “ mind earthly things,” “ who look at the things which are seen and temporal,” who do not continually sigh after heaven, who do not look and wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus, as without any right to hope for eternal blessedness. It would be easy to quote many texts speaking this language, but our time will not permit, and your memory will supply them.
IV. Finally, the examples of saints teach us to cultivate this disposition which we are recommending. Look at David : he casts his view forward to the
period of his death, and, cheered by the prospect, breaks forth into exulting strains, and cries, “ My heart is glad, my glory rejoiceth, my flesh also shall rest in hope, for thou wilt show me the path of life.” Listen to Paul, whilst, panting for celestial joys, he cries, “I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.” View the delight of Peter, when he is permitted to tell the churches, " I must shortly put off this tabernacle, even as the Lord Jesus hath showed me.” Hear the joyful response of John, when the Saviour tells him, “I come quickly:" “ Even so, Amen; come, Lord Jesus.” Ah, my brother! thou who art contented with earth; thou who longest not for a better portion; thinkest thou that thou wilt dwell with these men, from whom thy temper is so discordant?
Unite all these ideas, and I think you cannot but be convinced of the truth of our proposition; you cannot but be convinced that those men who, from their attachment to the objects of earth, prefer the world before the presence of Christ, have but little of the temper of the followers of the Redeemer.
But perhaps you have some objections to this doctrine, and some excuses to palliate the neglect of this duty. Let us then pause a moment, and examine into them.
Do you say then, for I expect that some of you will thus say, “ I am unwilling to die, because I am not assured of the love of God towards me?" This is not an objection against our doctrine, for we have already said, that the Christian desires death as connected with the presence of the Lord; we have not been endeavouring to persuade you to be willing to die, whilst you know not but that the next moment you may wake in hell; but, we have been labouring to induce you to shake off that worldly spirit which makes you prefer earth before the enjoyment of Christ; which prevents you from esteeming the presence of the Redeemer, the greatest blessing which you can now as well as hereafter enjoy, and therefore, the most worthy of your present as well as your future desires. This is then no objection against our doctrine: but let me ask you, my dear friends that
present this plea, why do you not tremble when you make it? What! you yourselves acknowledge that it is a matter of uncertainty whether you are bound to heaven or hell, whether when you enter into the presence of the Lord you shall behold an angry Judge, or a tender Redeemer; you acknowledge that
you are in this dreadful uncertainty, and yet can be cool and tranquil! Where is your reason, where is your prudence? And what have been the employments of these years which have flown from you, and which should have been spent in putting this great question out of all doubt? We have just proposed to your imitation the sentiments of the primitive Christians. Ah! do you think that when they