THE SAINTS' EVERLASTING REST
"There remaineth therefore a rest unto the people of God." -- Hebrews, 4:9.
Thus, reader, I have given thee my best advice for maintaining a heavenly conversation. It thou canst not thus meditate methodically and fully, yet do it as thou canst; only be sure to do it seriously and frequently. Be acquainted with this heavenly work, and thou wilt, in some degree, be acquainted with God; thy joys will be spiritual, prevalent and lasting, according to the nature of their blessed object; thou wilt have comfort in life and death. When thou hast neither wealth, nor health, nor the pleasures of this world, yet wilt thou have comfort. Without the presence or help of any friend, without a minister, without a book, when all means are denied thee, or taken from thee, yet mayst thou have vigorous, real comfort. Thy graces will be mighty, active and victorious; and the daily joy which is thus drawn from heaven will be thy strength. Thou wilt be as one that stands on the top of an exceeding high mountain; he looks down on the world as if it were quite below him; fields and woods, cities and towns seem to him but little spots. Thus despicably wilt thou look on all things here below. The greatest princes will seem but as grass-hoppers; the busy, contentious, covetous world, but as a heap of ants. Men's threatenings will be no terror to thee, nor the honors of this world any strong enticement; temptations will be more harmless, as having lost their strength; and afflictions less grievous, as having lost their sting; and every mercy will be better known and relished. It is now, under God, in thy own choice, whether thou wilt live this blessed life or not; and whether all this pains I have taken for thee shall prosper, or be lost. if it be lost through thy neglect, thou thyself wilt prove the greatest loser. O man, what hast thou to mind but God and heaven? art thou not almost out of this world already? Dost thou not look every day, when one disease or another will release thy soul? Does not the grave wait to be thine house, and worms to feed upon thy face and heart? What if thy pulse must beat a few strokes more? What if thou hast a little longer to breathe, before thou breathe out thy last; a few more nights to sleep, before thou sleepest in the dust? Alas! what will this be when it is gone? And is it not almost gone already? Very shortly thou wilt see thy glass run out, and say to thyself, "My life is done! My time is gone! It is past recalling! There is nothing now but heaven or hell before me!" Where, then, should thy heart be now but in heaven? Didst thou know what a dreadful thing it is to have a doubt of heaven when a man is dying, it would raise thee up. And what else but doubt can that man then do, that never seriously thought of heaven before.
Some there be that say, "It is not worth so much time and trouble to think of the greatness of the joys above; if we can make sure they are ours, we know they are great." But as these men obey not the command of God, which requires them to have their "conversation in heaven, and to set their affections on things above;" so they wilfully make their own lives miserable, by refusing the delights which God hath set before them. And if this were all, it were a small matter: but see what abundance of other mischiefs follow the neglect of these heavenly delights. This neglect will damp, if not destroy, their love to God-will make it unpleasant to them to think or speak of God, or engage in his service-it tends to pervert their judgment concerning the ways and ordinances of God-it makes them sensual and voluptuous-it leaves them under the power of every affliction and temptation, and is a preparative to total apostacy-it will also make them fearful and unwilling to die; for who would go to a God or a place he hath no delight in? who would leave his pleasure here, if he had not better to go to? Had I only proposed a course of melancholy, and fear, and sorrow, you might reasonably have objected. But you must have heavenly delights, or none that are lasting. God is willing you should daily walk with him, and draw consolations from the everlasting fountain: if you are unwilling, even bear the loss; and, when you are dying, seek for comfort where you can get it, and see whether fleshly delights will remain with you. Then conscience will remember, in spite of you, that you were once persuaded to a way for more excellent pleasures-pleasures that would have followed you through death, and have lasted to eternity.
As for you, whose hearts God hath weaned from all things here below, I hope you will value this heavenly life, and take one walk every day in the New Jerusalem. God is your love and your desire; you would fain be more acquainted with your Savior; and I know it is your grief that your hearts are not nearer to him, and that they do not more feelingly love him and delight in him. O try this life of meditation on your heavenly rest! Here is the mount on which the fluctuating ark of your souls may rest. Let the world see, by your heavenly lives, that religion is something more than opinions and disputes, or a task of outward duties. If ever a Christian is like himself, and conformable to his principles and profession, it is when he is most serious and lively in his duty. As Moses, before he died, went up into Mount Nebo to take a survey of the land of Canaan; so the Christian ascends the mount of contemplation, and by faith surveys his rest. He looks upon the glorious mansions, and says, "glorious things are" deservedly "spoken of thee, thou city of God!" He hears, as it were, the melody of the heavenly choir, and says, "Happy is the people that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord!" He looks upon the glorified inhabitants, and says, "Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the lord, who is the shield of thy help and the sword of thine excellency!" When he looks upon the Lord himself, who is their glory, he is ready, with the rest, to "fall down and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and say, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come! Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honor, and power!" When he looks on the glorified Savior, he is ready to say Amen to that "new song, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the lamb, for ever and ever. For thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us, unto our God, kings and priests!: When he looks back on the wilderness of this world, he blesses the believing, patient, despised saints; he pities the ignorant, obstinate, miserable world; and for himself he says, as Peter, "It is good to be here;" or, as Asaph, "It is good for me to draw near to God; for, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish." Thus as Daniel, in his captivity, daily opened his window towards Jerusalem, though far out of sight, when he went to God in his devotions; so may the believing soul, in this captivity of the flesh, look towards "Jerusalem which is above." And as Paul was to the Colossians, so may the believer be with the glorified spirits, "though absent in the flesh, yet with them in the spirit, joying and beholding their heavenly order." And as the lark sweetly sings while she soars on high, but is suddenly silenced when she falls to the earth; so is the frame of the soul most delightful and divine while fixed in the views of God by heavenly contemplation. Alas, we make there too short a stay, fall down again, and lay by our music!
But "O thou, the merciful Father of spirits, the attraction of love and ocean of delights, draw up these drossy hearts unto thyself, and keep them there till they are spiritualized and refined; and second thy servant's weak endeavors, and persuade those that read these lines, to the practice of this delightful, heavenly work! O suffer not the soul of thy most unworthy servant to be a stranger to those joys which he describes to others; but keep me, while I remain on earth, in daily breathings after thee, and in a believing, affectionate walking with thee! And when thou comest, let me be found so doing; not serving my flesh, nor asleep, with my lamp unfurnished; but waiting and longing for my Lord's return! Let those who shall read these heavenly directions, not merely read the fruit of my studies, but the breathing of my active hope and love; that if my heart were open to their view, they might there read the same most deeply engraven with a beam from the face of the Son of God; and not find vanity, or lust, or pride within, when the words of life appear without; that so these lines may not witness against me; but proceeding from the heart of the writer, may be effectual, through thy grace, upon the heart of the reader, and so be the savor of life to both! Amen."
"Glory be to God in the highest; on earth peace, good-will toward men."
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