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in all things.” Nay, he will not only be circumspect, lest they should check with his great design, but wisely manages them in subserviency to it. St. Paul “ charges them that are rich in this world, to do good, to be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.” Tim. 6. 18, 19.
And the fixed aim at heaven, as our felicity, will reconcile an afflicted state to us. When temporal evils are effectual means to promote our everlasting happiness; the amiableness and excellency of the end changes their nature, and makes those calamities that in themselves are intolerable, to become light and easy. “ The poor, the mourners, the persecuted are blessed now, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The apostle, though under variety of sharp troubles, yet expresses his sense with that mitigation, as but lightly touched with them: “ as sorrowful, but always rejoicing.” From hence he tells us, that with unfainting courage he prosecuted his glorious end. “ For our light afflictions that are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding weight of glory.” This seriously believed and considered, will make us understand the harmony and consent of the most discordant parts of God's providence. This will reconcile the severity and roughness of his hand, with the tender compassions of his heart towards his servants. This will dry up rivers of unprofit
. able tears that flow from the afflicted, and make the cross of Christ a light burden. For their heaviest afflictions are not only consistent with his love, but the effects of it are influential upon their happiness. We are now tossed upon the alternate waves of time, but it is that we may arrive at the port, the blessed bosom of our Saviour, and enjoy a peaceful calm; and “so we shall be ever with the Lord.” Words of infinite sweetness! This is the song of our prosperity, and the charm of our adversity : well might the apostle add immediately after, “ Therefore comfort one another with these words."
4. The sincere choice of heaven as our final happiness, will make us aspire to the greatest height of holiness we are capable of in the present state. For the end has always a powerful virtue to transform a man into its likeness : and heaven is a state of perfect conformity to the holy God. This difference is observable between the understanding and the will in their operations: the understanding in forming conceptions of things, draws the object to itself. The will is drawn by the object it chooses, and is always fashioning and framing the soul into an entire conformity to it. Thus carnal objects, when propounded as the end of a man, secretly imprint on him their likeness ; his thoughts, affections, and whole conversation is carnal. As the psalmist speaks of the worshippers of idols, “they that make them are like unto them, so is every one that trusteth in them :" whatever we adore and esteem, we are changed into its image. Idolaters are as stupid and senseless, as the idols to which they pay homage. Thus when God is chosen as our supreme good and last end, by cenversing with him, the image of his glorious holiness is derived on the soul, and it becomes godly: the heart is drawn by his attractive excellencies, and the life directed to him. This being a point of great importance, I shall further prove and illustrate it. There is no deliberating about the degrees of that which is loved for itself as our end. More or less may respect the means that are valued and used to obtain it, but the love of the end is vast and unlimited. A physician endeavours to recover his patient to sound and perfect healthi, that being the end of his art. He that seeks for honour or riches, is not content with a mediocrity of success, but drives on his affairs to the full period of his desires. An ardent lover of learning with a noble jealousy strives to excel others in knowledge. In short, no man designs and longs for a thing as his happiness, but will use all diligence to gain the present and full possession of it. Therefore it cannot be imagined that any person sincerely propounds the enjoyment of heaven as his end, but love will make him fervent and industrious to be as heavenly as is possible here. He will strive by blessed and glorious gradations, to ascend to the perfection of his aims and desires, “to be holy as God is holy in all manner of conversation, to be pure as Christ is pure.'
We have an admirable instance of this in St. Paul, who declares, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil: 3. 13, 14. His progress was great, yet that did not make him slack in the prosecution of his end. He laboured to attain the precedent of our Saviour, to feel the power of “ his death and life, to apprehend Christ” entirely and perfectly as “ Christ had apprehended him. He was very diligent” to improve the divine image in his heart and life.
From hence we may discover the vanity of their hopes, that are of lukewarm affections in religion, (the abhorred character of Laodicea) who esteem it a prudent principle, as convenient for their carnal ease and interest, not to be “earnest in following holiness.” Vices in mediocrity are tolerable with them, only the excess is condemned. They content themselves with a mediocrity in religion, and are presumptuous and secure, as the church that said, “I am rich, and have need of nothing.” They boast as if they had found out the temperate region between the burning line and the frozen pole. They account all that is above their degrees in religion, to be furious or indiscreet zeal, and all below to be dead, cold profaneness. They censure those for hypocrisy or unnecessary strictness, who are visibly better, and stand upon proud comparisons with those who are visibly worse: and thus set off theinselves by taxing others. But how easily do men deceive and damn themselves? Can we have too much of heaven upon the earth ? Can we become too like God, when a perfect conformity to him is our duty and felicity? Indeed moral virtue consists in a mediocrity, not of the habitual quality, but of the affections and actions between the vicious extremities. Fortitude consists in the mean between cowardice, and rash boldness; but how much the more confirmed the courageous habit is, so much the more a man excels in that virtue. Liberality consists between an indiscreet profuseness, and sordid avarice; patience between a soft delicacy, and stupid insensibility. Thus philosophic virtue glories in its beauty as pure and entire, between two vicious deformities. And the religion of many is paganism dressed up in a christian fashion. But this mediocrity only belongs to inferior virtues, that respect things of created limited goodness, and is determined according to the worth of their nature. But divine graces respect an object supremely good, and their perfection consists in their most excellent degrees, and the most intense affections and operations that are leading to it. Faith in its obedience, hope in its assurance, love in its ardour can never exceed. When the object is infinite, a mediocrity is vicious. Humility can never descend too low, nor love ascend too high: for reflecting upon our natural and moral imperfec
tions, that we are raised from nothing, that we are defiled and debased with sin, we cannot have too low thoughts of ourselves. And since God the sovereigo being, infinite in perfections, and infinitely amiable, is the object, no bounds or measure must be set to our affections, but with all our united powers, “all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind, and with all the strength,” we must love him, and please him, and endeavour to be beloved of him.
There are others will acknowledge their defects, and tell you they do not pretend to eminent sanctity, to the graces of the apostles and martyrs, nor aspire to their degrees in glory; they are content with a lower place in heaven, and less strict religion is sufficient for their purpose. This deceit is strengthened by popery, that enervates and dissolves many of our Saviour's precepts, by teaching they are not laws obliging all christians to obedience, that will attain to eternal life, but counsels of perfection : if they are not done, it is no sin; and the performance of them meritoriously entitles to a richer crown. And though men by impure indulgencies please their sensual affections, yet by tasting purgatory in the way, they may come to heaven on easier terms, than a universal respect to God's commands, and an equal care to observe them. But death will confute all these feeble wretched pretences : for though the saints above shine with an unequal brightness, as the stars differ in glory; yet none are there but saints. And those who do not mourn under their imperfections, and unfeignedly desire and endeavour to be better, were never really good. The slothful servant that did not waste but neglect to improve his talent, was cast into “outer darkness." There are different degrees of punishments in hell, but the least miserable there are miserable for ever. In short, it is a perfect contradiction, a prodigy, for any man to think he is sincere in his choice, and prepared in his affections for the pure glorious felicity in heaven, that does not labour to “cleanse himself from all pollutions of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God."
The choice of heaven must be early, in the prime of our days. The choice
must be constant. Saving perseverance includes the permanent residence of grace in the soul, and the exercise of it, and progress towards perfection. Perseverance is required, rotwithstanding all templations that may allure or terrify us from our duty. Saving perseverance excludes not all sins, but total apostacy and final impenitency. The sincerity of obedience is discovered by its constancy. A corrupt confidence, or a vicious dejection of spirit, the trusting in ourselves, and distrusting God, are equally pernicious to the stability of a christian.
The choice of eternal felicity must be early, in the prime of our days. The rule of our duty, and reason binds us 6 to remember our Creator in our youth,” to pay to him the first fruits of our time and strength. When we are surrounded with enticing objects, and the senses are entire and most capable to enjoy them, when the electing powers are in their vigour, then it is just we should live to God, obey him as our Lawgiver, and prefer the fruition of him in heaven, the reward of obedience, before all the pleasures of vanity. It is very honourable and pleasing to God to give the heart to him, when the flesh and the world strongly solicit to withdraw it. It is a high endearment of the soul to him, when his excellencies are prevalent in the esteem and affections above all the charms of the creatures. And it is an unspeakable satisfaction to the spirit of a man, to declare the truth and strength of his love to God, by despising temptations when they are most inviting, and the appetite is eager for the enjoyment of them. But alas! how many neglect their duty, and defer their happiness? They think it too soon to live for heaven “ before the evil days come, wherein they shall have no pleasure;" when they cannot sin, and vainly presume they can repent. The danger of this I have considered in the Discourse on Death, and shall therefore proceed to the next head. 3dly. Our choice of heaven must be constant and lasting.