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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.
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 it. We now proceed,
III. To conclude our discourse, by making some 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.
Nothing can convey to us a more exalted idea of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, than the effects which it 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
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.
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,
that he was inspired by the Spirit of God, we must ever entertain high ideas of a man, who had derived his extensive knowledge from the pure sources of the Jewish dispensation; who had ennobled his enlarged and capacious mind by all that is more sublime in Christianity; of a man, whose heart had always obeyed the dictates of his understanding; who opposed Christianity with zeal, so long as he believed Christianity to be false, and who bent the full current of his zeal to the support of Christianity, from the moment he became persuaded that it was an emanation from God.
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
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," Gal. 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, 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 recall ed! 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 crietb 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!
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
troduce a discourse on the subject of death. Then we should rejoice in those who might say to us, "Let us go up to Jerusalem." Then we should reply, our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!" Ps. cxxii. 2. Then we should see that fervour, that zeal, that transports, are the virtues, and the attainment of the dying.
You would wish to be partakers of St. Paul's rapture to the third heaven, but if this privilege be denied you to its full extent, nothing forbids your aspiring after one part of it at least. When was it that St. Paul was caught up into paradise? You have been told; it was when engaged in prayer. "While I prayed in the temple," says he, "I was in a trance," Acts xxii. 17. The word trance or ecstacy is of indeterminate meaning. A man in an ecstacy is one whose soul is so entirely devoted to an object, that he is, in some sense, out of his own body, and no longer perceives what passes in it. Persons addicted to scientific research, have been known so entirely absorbed in thought, as to be in a manner insensible during those moments of intense application. Ecstacy in religion, is that undivided attention which attaches the mind to heavenly objects. If any thing is capable of producing this effect, it is prayer. It is by no means astonishing that a man who has "entered into his closet, and shut the door," Matt. vi. 6, who has excluded the world, has lost sight of every terrestrial object, whose soul is concentrated and lost in God, if I may use the expression, that such a man should be so penetrated with admiration, with love, with hope, with joy,as to become like one rapt in an ecstacy. But farther. It is in the exercise of prayer that God is pleased to communicate himself to us in the most intimate manner. It is in the exercise of prayer, that he unites himself to us in the tenderest manner. It is in the exercise of prayer, that distinguished saints obtain those signal marks of favour, which are the object of our most ardent desire. A man who prays; a man whose prayer is employed about detachment from sensible things; a man who blushes, in secret, at the thought of being so swallowed up of sensible things, and so little enamoured of divine excellencies; a man who asks of God, to be blessed with a glimpse of his glory, with a foretaste of the felicity laid up in store for him, and that he would fortify his soul against the difficulties and dangers of his career; such a man may expect to be, as it were, rapt in an ecstacy, either by the natural effect of prayer, or by the extraordinary communications which God is pleased to vouchsafe to those who call upon his name.
From this source proceeds that earnest longing "to depart," such as Paul expressed: hence
eminent saints, and to say, "I have a desire to depart: my soul thirsteth for God, for the living God;" becoming all at once a seraph, burning with zeal; I acknowledge myself to be always under an apprehension, that this zeal derives its birth from some mechanical play, or to the unaccountable duty which the sick impose upon themselves, even such of them as are most steadily attached to the earth, of declaring that they feel an earnest desire to leave it. But a man who, through life, has been busied about eternity, whose leading aim was to secure a happy eternity, who has, as it were, anticipated the pleasures of eternity, by habits of devotion; a man who has been absorbed of those ideas, who has fed upon them; a man who having devoted a whole life to those sacred employments, observes the approach of death with joy, meets it with ardent desire, zeal, transport, such a man displays nothing to excite suspicion.
And is not such a state worthy of being envied? This is the manner of death which I ask of thee, O my God, when, after having served thee in the sanctuary, like the high priest of old, thou shalt be pleased, of thy great mercy, to admit me into the holy of holies. This is the manner of death which I wish to all of you, my beloved hearers. God grant that each of you may be enabled powerfully to inculcate upon his own mind, this great principle of religion, that there is a third heaven, a paradise, a world of bliss over our heads! God grant that each of you may attain the lively persuasion, that this is the only desirable felicity, the only felicity worthy of God to bestow, and of man to receive! God grant that each of you, in meditation, in prayer, in those happy moments of the Christian life in which God communicates himself so intimately to his creatures, may enjoy the foretastes of that felicity; and thus, instead of fearing that death which is to put you in possession of so many blessings, you may contemplate it with holy joy and say, "this is the auspicious moment which I have so long wished for, which my soul has been panting after, which has been the burden of so many fervent prayers: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." May God in mercy grant it to us all. To him be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
ON NUMBERING OUR DAYS.* PART I.
PSALM XC. 12.
that delightful recollection of the pleasure en- So teach us to number our days, that we may apjoyed in those devout exercises, pleasure that has rendered the soul insensible to the empty delights of this world; hence the idea of those blessed moments which occupy the mind for fourteen years together, and which produces, at the hour of death, a fervour not liable to suspicion: for, my brethren, there is a fervour which I am disposed to suspect. I acknowledge, that when I see a man who has all his life long stagnated in the world, affecting in the hour of death, to assume the language of VOL. II.-27
ply our hearts unto wisdom. does this church nourish in its bosom members THROUGH What favour of indulgent heaven sufficient to furnish out the solemnity of this day, and to compose an assembly so numerous and respectable? Through what distinguishing goodness is it, that you find yourselves with your children, with your friends, with * Delivered in the church of Rotterdam, on New Year's day, 1727.
ON NUMBERING OUR DAYS.
your fellow-citizens; no, not all of them, for the mourning weeds in which some of you are clothed, plainly indicate, that death has robbed us, in part of them, in the course of the year which is just terminated. But through what distinguishing goodness is that you find yourselves, with your children, with your friends, with your fellow-citizens, collected together in this sacred place?
The preachers who filled the spot which I have now the honour to occupy, and whose voice resounded through this temple at the commencement of the last year, derived, from the inexhaustible fund of human frailty and infirmity, motives upon motives to excite apprehension that you might not behold the end of it. They represented to you the fragility of the organs of your body, which the slightest shock is able to derange and to destroy: the dismal accidents by which the life of man is incessantly threatened; the maladies, without number, which are either entailed on us by the law of our nature, or which are the fruit of our intemperance; the uncertainty of human existence, and the narrow bounds to which life, at the longest, is contracted.
him who shall dare henceforth to abuse... But no, let us not fulminate curses. Let not sounds so dreadful affright the ears of an audience like this. Let us adopt a language more congenial to the present day. We come to beseech you, my beloved brethren, by those very mercies of God to which you are indebted for exemption from so many evils, and for very mercies which have this day opened for your admission, the gates of this temple, inthe enjoyment of so many blessings: by those stead of sending you down into the prison of the tomb; by those very mercies, by which you were, within these few days, invited to the table of the Eucharist, instead of being summoned to the tribunal of judgment; by these tender mercies we beseech you to assume sentiments, and to form plans of conduct, which may have something like a correspondence to what God has been pleased to do in your behalf.
the Searcher of all hearts! thou who movest and directest them which ever way thou wilt! And thou, God Almighty, the Sovereign, vouchsafe, Almighty God, to open to us the After having filled their mouths with argu- to the entreaties which we address to them in ments drawn from the stores of nature, they thy name, as thou hast been thyself propitious hearts of all this assembly, that they may yield had recourse to those of religion. They spake to the prayers which they have presented to to you of the limited extent of the patience thee. Thou hast reduced "the measure of and long suffering of God. They told you, our days to an hand breadth:" Ps. xxxix. 5, that to each of us is assigned only a certain and the meanest of our natural faculties is number of days of visitation. They thundered sufficient to make the enumeration of them: in your ears such warnings as these: "Gather but "so to number our days, as that we may yourselves together, yea gather together, O na- apply our hearts unto wisdom," we cannot suction not desired; before the decree bring forth cessfully attempt without thy all-powerful aid before the fierce anger of the Lord"Lord, so teach us to number our days, come upon you," Zeph. ii. 1, 2. "I will set that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." a plumb line in the midst of my people: I will Amen. not again pass by them any more," Amos vii. 8. Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown: yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown," Jonah iii. 4.
How is it possible that we should have escaped, at the same time, the miseries of nature, and the fearful threatenings of religion? And to repeat my question once more, through what favour of indulgent heaven does this church nourish in its bosom members sufficient to furnish out the solemnity of this day, and to compose an assembly so numerous and respectable?
It is to be presumed, my brethren, that the principle which has prevented our improvement of the innumerable benefits with which a gracious Providence is loading us, prevents not our knowledge of the source from which they flow. It is to be presumed, that the first emotions of our hearts, when we, this morning, opened our eyes to behold the light, have been such as formerly animated holy men of God, when they cried aloud, amidst the residue of those whom the love of God had delivered from the plagues inflicted by his justice, in the days of vengeance: "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not: they are new every morning," Lam. iii. 22, 23. hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, "Except the Lord of we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah," Isa. i. 9.
Wo! wo! Anathema upon anathema! be to
words of my text, it would be necessary for
is probable, the prayer under review is the pro-
ON NUMBERING OUR DAYS.
duction of a heart as deeply affected with grief, as it is possible to be without sinking into despair. Never did Moses feel himself reduced to such a dreadful extremity, as at this fatal period. It appeared as if there had been a concert between God and Israel to put his constancy to the last trial. On the one hand, the Israelites wanted to make him responsible for all that was rough and displeasing in the paths through which God was pleased to lead them; and it seemed as if God, on the other hand, would likewise hold him responsible for the complicated rebellions of Israel.
Moses opposes to this just displeasure of God a buckler which he had often employed with success, namely, prayer. That which he put up on this occasion, was one of the most fervent that can be imagined. But there are situations in which all the fervour, of even the most powerful intercessor, is wholly unavailing. There are seasons, when, "though Moses and Samuel stood up before God," Jer. xvi. 1, to request him to spare a nation, the measure of whose iniquity was come to the full, they would request in vain. In such a situation was Moses now placed. Represent to your selves the deplorable condition of the Israelites, and the feelings of that man, whose leading character was meekness; and who, if we may be allowed the expression, carried that rebellious people in the tenderest and most sensible part of his soul: to be excluded from all hope beyond thirty or forty years of life, and to be condemned to pass these in a desert; what a fearful destiny!
What course does Moses take? Dismissed, so to speak, banished from the throne of grace, does he however give all up for lost? No, my brethren. He was unable by entreaty to procure a revocation of the sentence pronounced against persons so very dear to him, he limits himself to imploring, in their behalf, wisdom to make a proper use of it. "Thou hast sworn it, great God; and the oath, which thy adorable lips have pronounced against us, can never be recalled. Thou hast sworn that none of us, who came out of Egypt, shall enter into that land, the object of all our hopes and prayers. Thou hast sworn that die we must, after having lingered out for forty years, a miserable existence in this wilderness, a habitation fitter for ferocious beasts of prey, than for reasonable creatures, than for men whom thou hast chosen, and called thy people. The sighs which my soul has breathed to heaven for a remission are unavailing; the tears which I have shed in thy bosom, have been shed in vain; these hands, once powerful to the combat, these hands which were stronger than thee in battle, these hands against which thou couldst not hold out, which made thee say, "let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them," Exod. xxxii. 10; these hands have lost the blessed art of prevailing with God in the conflict! Well, be it so. Let us die, great God, seeing it is thy sovereign will! Let us serve as victims to thy too just indignation; reduce our life to the shortest standard. But at least, since we had not the wisdom to avail ourselves of the promises of a long and happy life, teach us to live as becomes persons who are to die so soon.
Lord, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
text has in view. But let us enter somewhat This is a general idea of the end which our us make application of it to our own life, which more deeply into this interesting subject. Let bears a resemblance so striking to that which the children of Israel were doomed to pass in the wilderness. We are to inquire,
I. What is implied in numbering our days. deduces from that enumeration. II. What are the conclusions which wisdom
days, let us reckon, 1. Those days, or divisions I. In order to make a just estimate of our of time, in which we feel neither good nor evil, neither joy nor grief, and in which we practise neither virtue nor vice, and which, for this reason, I call days of nothingness; let us reckon these, and compare them with the days of reality. 2. Let us reckon the days of adversity, and compare them with the days of prosperity. 3. Let us reckon the days of languor and weariness, and compare them with the days of delight and pleasure. 4. Let us reckon the days which we have devoted to the world, and compare them with the days which we have devoted to religion. 5. Finally, let us calculate the amount of the whole, that we may discover how long the duration is of a life consisting of days of nothingness and of reality; of days of prosperity and of adversity; of days of pleasure and of languor; of days devoted to the world, and to the salvation of the soul.
1. Let us reckon the days of nothingness, I give the appellation of days of nothingness to and compare them with the days of reality. all that portion of our life in which, as I said, we feel neither good nor evil, neither joy nor grief; in which we practise neither virtue nor vice, and which is a mere nothing with respect to us.
which human infirmity lays us under the neIn this class must be ranked, all those hours cessity of passing in sleep, and which run away with the third part of our life: time, during which we are stretched in a species of tomb, and undergo, as it were, an anticipated death. Happy at the same time in being able, in a death not immediately followed by the judgment of God, to bury, in some measure, our troubles, together with our life!
seasons of inaction, and of distraction, in which In this class must be farther ranked, those all the faculties of our souls are suspended, during which we propose no kind of object to thought, during which we cease, in some sense, to be thinking beings; seasons which afford an objection of no easy solution, to the opinion of those who maintain that actual thought is essential to mind; and that from this very consideration, that it subsists, it must actually think.
portions of time which are a burden to us; not In this class must be farther ranked, all those because we are under the pressure of some calamity, for this will fall to be considered under another head, but because they form, if I may say so, a wall between us and certain events, which we ardently wish to attain. Such as when we are in a state of uncertainty respect ing certain questions, in which we feel our selves deeply interested, but which must re