« AnteriorContinuar »
temporal; that is, an enjoyment of good things in the land of Canaan. If this was the sense of God's promises, then they were false to Abraham, to whom they were first made: for he never received the promises in that sense. St. Stephen (Acts vii. 5.) ur^es the Jews with this case, in answer to their own blind worldly wisdom, which had totally mistaken the meaning of their law. We ought never to conclude what the law taught, from what some disaffected people learned from it: for when the affections are wrone. the understanding is never right. "God," saith St. Stephen, speaking of Abraham, '' gave him none inheritance in it; no, not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession." What follows then, but that the earthly Canaan was not the thing meant in the promise, but only a figure of the thing? and so St. Paul assures us in his epistle to the Hebrews; telling us, that they who had received this promise, did not look upon Canaan as the end of the promise, but still called themselves pilgrims and strangers upon earth, declaring that they were seeking a country, not an earthlyone (for when they had left Canaan they shewed no desire of returning to it) but an heavenly country, the thing intended in the promise. The very person, to whom God promised a land to be afterwards enjoyed, had not a foot of land upon earth, except a buryingplace; and when he was laid in that, God still calls himself his Grod, still in covenant with him, still related to him, the same as before, though he was now dead; and consequently, still as much engaged as ever to make good his words in their true sense, and give him the land he had promised. Go then, thou worldly Jew, or thou half-blind Christian, go to the sepulchre of thy father Abraham, and there consider,
whether the promises of God in the law of Moses were temporal only. To him they were spiritual only; I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward, saith the promise in Gen. xv. 1 ; and what they were to Abraham, that they were to all his posterity; and are to us at this day: for the law, which was after, could not set them aside, or render them of no effect.
The rewards of another life were also promised to the people of God, under the name of a sabbath or rest. When God's works of this world were finished, he rested. Now it was promised, that into that rest of his, his people, if faithful, should enter. Where could it be, but in heaven? for there God rested: when could it be, but after the works of man are finished; that is, after this present life; as the rest of God was after the works of God? The sabbath, or rest of the seventh day, was therefore a perpetual memorial, before and under the law, that God had so rested, and that man should rest with him; and it was a constant monition, to those who observed it, of an heavenly rest; as the Apostle argues more at large in the Epistle to the Hebrews*.
You will not wonder at this language of the law, nor find it difficult, when you see how it is copied in other parts of the Scripture. In the Prophet Jeremiah, where Rachel mourneth for the death of her children, she is comforted with a promise, that they shall come again from the land of the enemy: their death is expressed as a captivity; and the region of departed spirits, is the country, in which the grand, or the last enemy, detains his prisoners. But, saith the Lord, there is hope in thine end, that is, in thy death, that
* This argument is drawn out in the Lectures on the Figurative Language of the Scripture, p. 362. J 6. Second Ehitiou.
thy children shall come aguin to their oxen border; that is, that they shall return at the resurrection, as captives are brought back from ihe land of the enemy, and restored to their native country. See Jer. xxxi. 15, 16, 17. In the same language doth the widow of Tekoah plead with David. She takes the metaphor which arises from the occasion of Absalom's banishment; and argues, that though death is appointed to all men, yet God deviseth means, that his banished be not expelled from him. 2 Sam. xiv. 14.
Now if death and life are thus 6poken of in the Prophets, under the similitude of leaving and returning to our native land; this is the land which God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; who never enjoyed the earthly Canaan, but were pilgrims and strangers upon earth. This is the land wherein dwelleth righteousness, in which shall be found the true tabernacle of God, the city of God, the new Jerusalem, where saints and angels shall dwell together. All this, as the Apostle assures us, was intended by the promise in the text. God is there called the God of those who are dead in body, because they are still alive in spirit; and having prepared for them a city, which they shall enjoy at the resurrection, he is not ashamed to be called their God; as he would have been, if his covenant with them had extended only to the present Kfe. Because he gave an earthly land, and a city built by men, we think he meant nothing else; whereas these things never were more than similitudes and pledges; the Oiiq of an heavenly country, the other of a city, whose builder and maker is God. ©f that place which is reserved for the blessed after the resurrection, we can have no conception, but from what we tee upon earth; and therefore, God doth not describe it in words of its own to Jews or Christians, but gives ]t to both in sign and figure. Our Saviour JesuS Christ tells us, that he is gone before to prepare a place for us. What that place is, he does not say. If we would know something more of it, we must look back to his fore-runner, the Joshua or Jesus of the law, who went before the people of God, to prepare a place for them in Canaan, and settle them in possession of it. Thence we shall learn, that the place prepared for us is preferable to that we now iive in, as the freedom of Canaan was preferable to the bondage of Egypt; that there are many mansions in the heavenly land, as Canaan was divided and laid out into many quarters, for the orderly reception of the several tribes of Israel. That as they all went up to worship at Jerusalem, so shall all the tribes of the earth, who shall be saved, assemble together to worship in the heavenly city of God. Other particulars we might gather; but this is the only way in which we can learn; and we can go no farther than this method will carry us, in understanding the promises of God. Jewish priests and prophets, even though they had taken their lesson from the philosophers of heathenism (who thought their deities delighted in good eating and drinking) could have come no nearer than they have done: for the things of another life are not to be described, as they are, in words which man can understand: it is, therefore, never attempted: since the beginning of the world, men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen—what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. Isaiah, xiv. 4. Our present life is not a state of knowledge, but of expectation, on which alone the Patriarchs and friends of God subsisted so long as they were here. In the want of due conception, Jews and Christians are all upon a level: all the information they can
receive is conveyed under the words, life, rest, a promised land, redemption from enemies, a city of God, new heavens and new earth, and such like signatures of visible things; for which reason the doctrine of the prophet is taken up and reasserted by the Apostle. See 1 Cor. Hi. 9.
I might add other things, if the time would permit, on the character of Enoch and Elijah, and the idea given of death to the priests, and rulers, and kings of ancient times. A state of life after death could never be unknown to those, who knew that Enoch was actually taken into it. His character was handed down to the times of the Gospel, as that of an evangelical prophet, who warned the people of the old world of a judgment to come—Behold the Lord cometh, &c. SeeJudever. 14.—Elijah went up alive into heaven; whence it was known to all those who knew the fact, that men may live in heaven: and so, the Jews must of necessity have learned from the rapture of Elijah, what we learn from the ascension of Christ; though of heaven itself we know nothing but from the sky which we behold with our eyes. When it is said of the saints of old, that they slept with their fathers, what could be meant, but that they should awake; as it is actually applied in the prophet Daniel, chap. xii. 2. Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame, and everlasting contempt. So when it is said of Moses and Aaron, that they should be gathered to their fathers, it is therein affirmed, that their fathers were still alive: which sense is so obvious, that I find it insisted upon even by Jewish commentators.
From what has been said, I hope you will see farther than some learned men have done into the resurrection