Richard Baxter, The Saints' Everlasting Rest
The Importance of Leading a Heavenly Life Upon Earth
Is there such a rest remaining for us? Why, then, are not our thoughts more upon if? Why are not our hearts continually there? Why dwell we not there in constant contemplation? What is the cause of this neglect? Are we reasonable in this, or are we not? Hath the eternal God provided us such a glory, and promised to take us up to dwell with himself? and is not this worth thinking on? Should not the strongest desires of our hearts be after it? Do we believe this, and yet forget and neglect it?
If God will not give us leave to approach this light, what mean all his earnest invitations? Why doth he so condemn our earthly-mindedness, and command us to set our affections on things above?
Ah, vile hearts! Were God against it, we were likelier to be for it; but when he commands our hearts to heaven, then they will not stir one inch: like our predecessors, the sinful Israelites, when God would have them march for Canaan, then they mutiny, and will not stir; but when God bids them not go, then will they be presently marching. If God say, "Love not the world, nor the things of the world," we dote upon it.
How freely, how frequently can we think of our pleasures, our friends, our labors, our flesh and its lusts! yea, our wrongs and miseries, our fears and sufferings!
But where is the Christian whose heart is on his rest? What is the matter? Are we so full of joy that we need no more? Or is there nothing in heaven for our joyous thoughts? Or rather, are not our hearts carnal and stupid? Let us humble these sensual hearts, that have in them no more of Christ and glory.
If this world was the only subject of our discourse, all would call us ungodly; why, then, may we not call our hearts ungodly, that have so little delight in Christ and heaven?
But I am speaking only to those whose portion is in heaven, whose hopes are there, and who have forsaken all to enjoy this glory; and shall I be discouraged from persuading such to be heavenly-minded?
Fellow-Christians, if you will not hear and obey, who will? Well may we be discouraged to exhort the blind, ungodly world, and may say, as Moses did, "Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me?"
I require thee, reader, as ever thou hopest for a part in this glory, that thou presently take thy heart to task, chide it for its wilful strangeness to God, turn thy thoughts from the pursuit of vanity, bend thy soul to study eternity, busy it about the life to come, habituate thyself to such contemplations, and let not those thoughts be seldom and cursory, but bathe thy soul in heaven's delights;
and if thy backward soul begin to flag and thy thoughts to scatter, call them back, hold them to their work, bear not with their laziness, nor connive at one neglect. And when thou hast, in obedience to God, tried this work, got acquainted with it, and kept a guard on thy thoughts till they are accustomed to obey, thou wilt then find thyself in the suburbs of heaven, and that there is indeed a sweetness in the work and way of God, and that the life of Christianity is a life of joy.
Thou wilt meet with those abundant consolations which thou hast prayed, panted, and groaned after, and which so few Christians do ever here obtain, because they know not this way to them, or else make not conscience of walking in it.
Say not, "We are unable to set our own hearts on heaven; this must be the work of God only." Though God be the chief disposer of your hearts, yet, next under him, you have the greatest command of them yourselves.
Though without Christ you can do nothing, yet under him you may do much, and must, or else it will be undone, and yourselves undone through your neglect. Christians, if your souls were healthful and vigorous, they would perceive incomparably more delight and sweetness in the believing, joyful thoughts of your future blessedness, than the soundest stomach finds in its food, or the strongest senses in the enjoyment of their objects; so little painful would this work be to you.
But because I know, while we have flesh about us and any remains of that "carnal mind which is enmity against God" and this noble work, that all motives are little enough, I will here lay down some considerations, which, if you will deliberately weigh with an impartial judgment, I doubt not will prove effectual with your hearts, and make you resolve on this excellent duty.
More particularly consider, it will evidence your sincere piety; it is the highest excellence of the Christian temper; it is the way to live most comfortably;
it will be the best preservative from temptations to sin; it will enliven your graces and duties; it will be your best cordial in all afflictions; it will render you most profitable to others; it will honor God; without it you will disobey the commands and lose the most gracious and delightful discoveries of the word of God:
it is also the more reasonable to have your hearts with God, as his is so much on you; and in heaven, where you have so much interest and relation; besides, there is nothing but heaven worth setting your hearts upon.
1. Consider that a heart set upon heaven will be one of the most unquestionable evidences of your sincerity, and a clear discovery of a true work of saving grace upon your souls. You are often asking, "How shall we know that we are truly sanctified?"
Here you have a sign infallible from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself: "where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also." God is the saints' treasure and happiness; heaven is the place where they must fully enjoy him. A heart, therefore, set upon heaven, is a heart set upon God; and surely a heart set upon God, through Christ, is the truest evidence of saving grace.
When learning will be no proof of grace; when knowledge, duties, gifts will fail; when arguments from thy tongue or hand may be confuted; yet then will this, from the bent of thy heart, prove thee sincere.
Take a poor Christian, of a weak understanding, a feeble memory, a stammering tongue; yet his heart is set on God, he hath chosen him for his portion, his thoughts are on eternity, his desires are there; he cries out,
"O that I were there!" He takes that day for a time of imprisonment, in which he hath not had one refreshing view of eternity. I had rather die in this man's condition, than in the case of him who hath the most eminent gifts, and is most admired for his performances, while his heart is not thus taken up with God.
The man that Christ will find out at the last day, and condemn for want of a "wedding garment," will be one that wants this frame of heart. The question will not then be, How much have you known, or professed, or talked? but, How much have you loved, and where was your heart? Christians, as you would have a proof of your title to glory, labor to get your hearts above.
If sin and Satan keep not your affections from thence, they will never be able to keep away your persons.
2. A heart in heaven is the highest excellence of Christian temper. As there is a common excellence by which Christians differ from the world, so there is this peculiar dignity of spirit, by which the more excellent differ from the rest.
As the noblest of creatures, so the noblest of Christians are they whose faces are set most direct for heaven.
Such a heavenly saint, who hath been rapt up to God in his contemplations, and is newly come down from the views of Christ, what discoveries will he make of those superior regions! how high and sacred is his discourse! enough to convince an understanding hearer that he hath seen the Lord, and that no man could speak such words, except he had been with God. This, this is the noble Christian.
The most famous mountains and trees are those that reach nearest to heaven; and he is the choicest Christian whose heart is most frequently and most delightfully there.
If a man have lived near the king, or hath seen the sultan of Persia, or the grand Turk, he will be thought a step higher than his neighbors. What, then, shall we judge of him that daily travels as far as heaven, and there hath seen the King of kings, hath frequent admittance into the divine presence, and feasteth his soul upon the tree of life? For my part, I value this man before the noblest, the richest, the most learned in the world.
3. A heavenly mind is the nearest and truest way to a life of comfort. The countries far north are cold and frozen, because they are distant from the sun. What makes such frozen, uncomfortable Christians, but their living so far from heaven?
And what makes others so warm in comforts, but their living higher, and having nearer access to God? When the sun in the spring draws nearer to our part of the earth, how do all things congratulate its approach!
The earth looks green, the trees shoot forth, the plants revive, the birds sing. and all things smile upon us. If we would but try this life with God, and keep these hearts above, what a spring of joy would be within us!
How should we forget our winter sorrows! How early should we rise to sing the praise of our great Creator! O Christian, get above! Those that have been there have found it warmer; and I doubt not but thou hast sometimes tried it thyself. When hast thou largest comforts?
Is it not when thou hast conversed with God, and talked with the inhabitants of the higher world, and viewed their mansions, and filled thy soul with the forethoughts of glory? If thou knowest by experience what this practice is, I dare say thou knowest what spiritual joy is. If; as David professes, "the light of God's countenance more gladdens the heart than corn and wine," then, surely, they that draw nearest, and most behold it, must be fullest of these joys.
Whom should we blame, then, that we are so void of consolation, but our own negligent hearts? God hath provided us a crown of glory, and promised to set it shortly on our heads, and we will not so much as think of it.
He bids us behold and rejoice, and we will not so much as look at it: and yet we complain for want of comfort. It is by believing that we are filled with joy and peace," and no longer than we continue believing. It is in hope the saints rejoice, and no longer than they continue hoping.
God's Spirit worketh our comforts, by setting our own spirits at work upon the promises, and raising our thoughts to the place of our comforts. As you would delight a covetous man by showing him gold, so God delights his people by leading them, as it were, into heaven, and showing them himself and their rest with him.
He does not kindle our joys while we are idle, or taken up with other things. He gives the fruits of the earth, while we plough, and sow, and weed, and water, and dress, and with patience expect his blessing; so doth he give the joys of the soul.
I entreat thee, reader, in the name of the Lord, and as thou valuest the life of constant joy, and that good conscience which is a continual feast, to enter upon this work seriously, and learn the art of heavenly-mindedness, and thou shalt find the increase a hundred fold, and the benefit abundantly exceed thy labor.
But this is the misery of man's nature: though every man naturally hates sorrow and loves the most merry and joyful life, yet few love the way to joy, or will endure the pains by which it is obtained;
they will take the first that comes to hand, and content themselves with earthly pleasures, rather than ascend to heaven to seek it; and yet, when all is done, they must have it there, or be without it.
4. A heart in heaven will be a most excellent preservative against temptations to sin. It will keep the heart well employed. When we are idle, we tempt the devil to tempt us; as careless persons make thieves.
A heart in heaven can reply to the tempter, as Nehemiah did: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come. It hath no leisure to be lustful or wanton, ambitious or worldly. If you were but busy in your lawful callings, you would not be so ready to hearken to temptations; much less if you were also busy above with God.
Would a judge be persuaded to rise from the bench, when he is sitting upon a case of life and death, to go and play with children in the streets? No more will a Christian, when he is taking a survey of his eternal rest, give ear to the alluring charms of Satan.
The children of that kingdom should never have time for trifles, especially when they are employed in the affairs of the kingdom; and this employment is one of the saints' chief preservatives from temptations.
A heavenly mind is the freest from sin, because it has truer and livelier apprehensions of spiritual things.
He hath so deep an insight into the evil of sin, the vanity of the creature, the brutishness of fleshly, sensual delights, that temptations have little power over him. "In vain the net is spread,' says Solomon, "in the sight of any bird."
And usually in vain doth Satan lay his snares to entrap the soul that plainly sees them. Earth is the place for his temptations, and the ordinary bait: and how shall these ensnare the Christian who hath left the earth and walks with God? Is converse with wise and learned men the way to make one wise?
Much more is converse with God. If travellers return home with wisdom and experience, how much more he that travels to heaven! If our bodies are suited to the air and climate we most live in, his understanding must be fuller of light who lives with the Father of lights.
The men of the world that dwell below, and know no other conversation but earthly, no wonder if their "understanding be darkened," and Satan "take them captive at his will."
How can worms and moles see, whose dwelling is always in the earth? While this dust is in their eyes, no wonder they mistake gain for godliness, sin for grace, the world for God, their own wills for the law of Christ, and, in the issue, hell for heaven.
But when a Christian withdraws himself from his worldly thoughts, and begins to converse with God in heaven, methinks he is, as Nebuchadnezzar, taken from the beasts of the field to the throne, and "his reason returneth unto him."
When he has had a glimpse of eternity, and looks down on the world again, how doth he charge with folly his neglects of Christ, his fleshly pleasures, his earthly cares!
How doth he say of his laughter, It is mad; and of his vain mirth, What doeth it? How doth he verily think there is no man in Bedlam so truly mad as wilful sinners, and unworthy slighters of Christ and glory!
This makes a dying man usually wiser than others, because he looks on eternity as near, and hath more heart-piercing thoughts of it than he ever had in health and prosperity.
Then many of the most bitter enemies of the saints have their eyes opened, and like Balaam, cry out, "O that I might die the death of the righteous, and that my last end might be like his!"
Yet let the same men recover, and lose their apprehensions of the life to come, and how quickly do they lose their understanding with it! Tell a dying sinner of the riches, honors or pleasures of the world, and would he not answer, "What is all this to me, who must presently appear before God, and give an account of all my life?"
Christian, if the apprehended nearness of eternity will work such strange effects upon the ungodly, and make them so much wiser than before, O what rare effects would it produce in thee, couldst thou always dwell in the views of God, and in lively thoughts of thy everlasting state!
Surely a believer, if he improve his faith, may ordinarily have more quickening apprehensions of the life to come, in the time of his health, than an unbeliever hath at the hour of his death.
A heavenly mind is also fortified against temptations, because the affections are thoroughly prepossessed with the high delights of another world.
He that loves most, and not he that only knows most, will most easily resist the motions of sin. The will doth as sweetly relish goodness as the understanding doth truth; and here lies much of a Christian's strength.
When thou hast had a fresh, delightful taste of heaven, thou wilt not be so easily persuaded from it. You cannot persuade a child to part with his sweetmeats while the taste is in his mouth.
O that you would be much in feeding on the hidden manna, and frequently tasting the delights of heaven! How would this confirm thy resolutions, and make thee despise the fooleries of the world, and scorn to be cheated with such childish toys.
If the devil had set upon Peter in the mount of transfiguration, when he saw Moses and Elias talking with Christ, would he so easily have been drawn to deny his Lord?
What! with all that glory in his eye? No. So if he should set upon a believing soul, when he is taken up into the mount with Christ, what should such a soul say? "Get thee behind me, Satan; wouldst thou persuade me hence with trifling pleasures, and steal my heart from this my rest?
Wouldst thou have me sell these joys for nothing? Is any honor or delight like this? or can that be profit, for which I must lose this?"
But Satan stays till we are come down, and the taste of heaven is out of our mouths, and the glory we saw is even forgotten, and then he easily deceives our hearts.
Though the Israelites below eat and drink, and rise up to play before their idol, Moses in the mount will not do so. O, if we could keep the taste of our souls continually delighted with the sweetness above, with what disdain should we spit out the baits of sin!
Besides, whilst the heart is set on heaven, a man is under God's protection. If Satan then assault us, God is more engaged for our defence, and will doubtless stand by us and say, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
When a man is in the way of God's blessing, he is in the less danger of sin's enticing. Amidst thy temptations, Christian reader, use much this powerful remedy; keep close with God by a heavenly mind; follow your business above with Christ, and you will find this a surer help than any other.
"The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath." Remember that "Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation;" for he "walked with God;" and that God said to Abraham, "Walk before me, and be thou perfect."
5. The diligent keeping your hearts in heaven will maintain the vigor of all your graces, and put life into all your duties. The heavenly Christian is the lively Christian.
It is our strangeness to heaven that makes us so dull. How will the soldier hazard his life, and the mariner pass through storms and waves, and no difficulty keep them back, when they think of an uncertain, perishing treasure!
What life, then, would it put into a Christian's endeavors, if he would frequently think of his everlasting treasure! We run so slowly, and strive so lazily, because we so little mind the prize. Observe but the man who is much in heaven, and you shall see he is not like other Christians; something of what he hath seen above appeareth in all his duty and conversation.
If a preacher, how heavenly are his sermons! If a private Christian, what heavenly converse, prayers, and deportment! Set yourself upon this employment, and others will see the face of your conversation shine, and say, Surely he hath been "with God on the mount."
But if you lie, complaining of deadness and dullness; that you cannot love Christ, nor rejoice in his love; that you have no life in prayer, or any other duty, and yet neglect this quickening employment; you are the cause of your own complaints. Is not thy life "hid with Christ in God?"
Where must thou go but to Christ for it? And where is that, but to heaven, "where Christ is?"
"Thou wilt not come to Christ, that thou mayest have life." If thou wouldst have light and heat, why art thou no more in the sunshine? For want of this recourse to heaven, thy soul is as a lamp not lighted, and thy duties as a sacrifice without fire. Fetch one coal daily from this altar, and see if thy offering will not burn.
Light thy lamp at this flame, and feed it daily with oil from hence, and see if it will not gloriously shine. Keep close to this reviving fire, and see if thy affections will not be warm.
In thy want of love to God, lift up thy eye of faith to heaven, behold his beauty, contemplate his excellencies, and see whether his amiableness and perfect goodness will not ravish thy heart.
As exercise gives appetite, strength, and vigor to the body, so these heavenly exercises will quickly cause the increase of grace and spiritual life.
Besides, it is not false or strange fire which you fetch from heaven for your sacrifices: the zeal which is kindled by your meditations on heaven, is most likely to be a heavenly zeal.
Some men's fervency is only drawn from their books, some from the sharpness of affliction, some from the mouth of a moving minister, and some from the attention of an auditory;
but he that knows this way to heaven, and derives it daily from the true fountain, shall have his soul revived with the water of life, and enjoy that quickening which is peculiar to the saints.
By this faith thou mayst offer Abel's sacrifice, more excellent than that of common men, and "by it obtain witness that thou art righteous, God testifying of thy gifts" that they are sincere.
When others are ready, like Baal's priests, to "cut themselves," because their sacrifice will not burn, thou mayst breathe the spirit of Elijah, and in the chariot of contemplation soar aloft, till thy soul and sacrifice gloriously flame, though the flesh and the world should cast upon them all the water of their opposing enmity.
Say not, How can mortals ascend to heaven? Faith hath wings, and meditation is its chariot. Faith is as a burning glass to thy sacrifice, and meditation sets it to the face of the sun; only take it not away too soon, but hold it there awhile, and thy soul will feel the happy effect. Reader, art thou not thinking, when thou seest a lively Christian, and hearest his fervent prayers and edifying discourse, "O how happy a man is this!
O that my soul were in this blessed condition!" Why, I here advise thee, from God, set thy soul conscientiously to this work, wash thee frequently in this Jordan, and thy leprous, dead soul will revive, "and thou shalt know that there is a God in Israel," and that thou mayst live a vigorous and joyful life, if thou dost not wilfully neglect thy own mercies.
6. Frequent believing views of glory are the most precious cordials in all afflictions. these cordials, by cheering our spirits, render our sufferings far more easy, enable us to bear them with patience and joy, and so strengthen our resolutions, that we forsake not Christ for fear of trouble.
If the way be ever so rough, can it be tedious, if it lead to heaven? O sweet sickness, reproaches, imprisonments, or death, accompanied with these tastes of our future rest!
This keeps the suffering from the soul, so that it can only touch the flesh. Had it not been for that little (alas! too little) taste which I had of rest, my sufferings would have been grievous, and death more terrible.
I may say. "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."
Unless this promised rest "had been my delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction.
One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion; in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me.
Therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord." All sufferings are nothing to us, so far as we have these supporting joys.
When persecution and fear have shut the doors, Christ can come in, and stand in the midst, and say to his disciples, "Peace be unto you."
Paul and Silas can be in heaven, even when they are thrust into the inner prison, their bodies scourged with "many stripes, and their feet fast in the stocks."
The martyrs find more rest in their flames than their persecutors in their pomp and tyranny; because they foresee the flames they escape, and the rest to which their fiery chariot is conveying them.
If the Son of God wilt walk with us, we are safe in the midst of those flames which shall devour them that cast us in. Abraham went out of his country, "not knowing whither he went;" because "he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
Moses "esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; because he had respect unto the recompense of reward.
He forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; because he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection." Even Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
This is the noble advantage of faith: it can look on the means and end together. The great reason of our impatience and censuring of God, is that we gaze on the evil itself, but fix not our thoughts on what is beyond it.
They that saw Christ only on the cross, or in the grave, shook their heads and thought him lost; but God saw him dying, buried, rising, glorified; and all this at one view.
Faith will, in this, imitate God, so far as it hath the glass of a promise to help it. We see God burying us under ground, but we foresee not the spring, when we shall all revive.
Could we but clearly see heaven, as the end of all God's dealings with us, surely none of his dealings could be grievous.
If God would once raise us to this life, we should find, that though heaven and sin are at a great distance; yet, heaven and a prison, or banishment; heaven and the belly of a whale, or a den of lions; heaven and consuming sickness, or invading death, are at no such distance.
But as "Abraham saw Christ's day and rejoiced," so we, in our most forlorn state, might see that day when Christ shall give us rest, and therein rejoice. I beseech thee, Christian, for the honor of the Gospel, and for thy soul's comfort, leave not this heavenly art to be learned when, in thy greatest extremity, thou hast most need to use it.
He that, with Stephen, "sees the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God," will comfortably bear the shower of stones.
"The joy of the Lord is our strength," and that joy must be drawn from the place of our joy; and if we walk without our strength, how long are we likely to endure?
7. He whose conversation is in heaven, is the profitable Christian to all about him. When a man is in a strange country, how glad is he of the company of one of his own nation! how delightful is it to talk of their own country, their acquaintance, and affairs at home!
With what pleasure did Joseph talk with his brethren, and inquire after his father and his brother Benjamin! Is it not so to a Christian, to talk with his brethren that have been above, and inquire after his Father, and Christ his Lord?
When a worldly man will talk of nothing but the world, and a politician of state affairs, and a mere scholar of human learning, and a common professor of his duties; the heavenly man will be speaking of heaven, and the strange glory his faith hath seen, and our speedy and blessed meeting there.
O how refreshing and useful are his expressions! How his words pierce and melt the heart, and transform the hearers into other men!
How doth his "doctrine drop as the rain, and his speech distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass," while his lips publish the name of the Lord, and ascribe greatness unto his God!
His sweet discourse of heaven is like the "box of precious ointment," which, being "poured upon the head of Christ, filled the house with the odor." All that are near may be refreshed by it.
Happy the people that have a heavenly minister! Happy the children and servants that have a heavenly father or master!
Happy the man that hath a heavenly companion, who will watch over thy ways, strengthen thee when thou art weak, cheer thee when thou art drooping, and "comfort thee with the comfort wherewith he himself" hath been so often comforted of God!
This is he that will always be blowing at the spark of thy spiritual life and drawing thy soul to God, and will say to thee, as the Samaritan woman, "Come and see one that hath told me all that ever I did;" one that hath loved our souls to the death. "Is not this the Christ?"
Is not "the knowledge of God and him eternal life?" Is it not the glory of the saints to see his glory? Come to this man's house and sit at his table, and he will feast thy soul with the dainties of heaven; travel with him by the way, and he will direct and quicken thee in thy journey to heaven; trade with him in the world, and he will counsel thee to buy "the pearl of great price."
If thou wrong him, he can pardon thee, remembering that Christ hath pardoned his greater offences.
If thou be angry, he is meek, considering the meekness of his heavenly Pattern; or, if he fall out with you, he is soon reconciled, when he recollects that in heaven you must be everlasting friends.
This is the Christian of the right stamp, and all about him are better for him. How unprofitable is the society of all other sorts of Christians, in comparison with this!
If a man should come from heaven, how would men long to hear what reports he would make of the other world, and what he had seen, and what the blessed there enjoy!
Would they not think this man the best companion, and his discourses the most profitable?
Why, then, do you value the company of saints no more, and inquire no more of them, and relish their discourse no better?
For every saint shall go to heaven in person, and is frequently there in spirit, and hath often viewed it in the glass of the Gospel.
For my part, I had rather have the company of a heavenly-minded Christian than that of the most learned disputants or princely commanders.
8. No man so highly honoreth God, as he whose conversation is in heaven. Is not a parent dishonored when his children feed on husks, are clothed with rags, and keep company with none but rogues and beggars?
And is not our heavenly Father, when we, who call ourselves his children, feed on earth, and the garb of our souls is like that of the world; and our hearts familiarly converse with and "cleave to the dust," rather than stand continually in our Father's presence?
Surely we live below the children of the King, not according to the height of our hopes, nor the provision of our Father's house, and the great preparations made for his saints.
It is well we have a Father of tender compassion, who will own his children in rags. If he did not first challenge his interest in us, neither ourselves nor others could know us to be his people.
But when a Christian can live above, and rejoice his soul with the things that are unseen, how is God honored by such a one!
The Lord will testify for him: This man believes me, and takes me at my word, he rejoices in my promise before he has possession; he can be thankful for what his bodily eyes never saw:
his rejoicing is not in the flesh; his heart is with me; he loves my presence, and he shall surely enjoy it in my kingdom for ever. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
Them that honor me, I will honor." How did God esteem himself honored by Caleb and Joshua, when they went into the promised land and brought back to their brethren a taste of the fruits, and spake well of the good land, and encouraged the people!
What a promise and recompense did they receive!
9. A soul that does not set its affections an things above, disobeys the commands, and loses the most gracious and delightful discoveries of the word of God.
The same God that hath commanded thee to believe, and to be a Christian, hath commanded to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God: and to set our affections on things above, not on things of the earth."
The same God that has forbidden thee to murder, steal, or commit adultery, has forbidden thee the neglect of this great duty; and darest thou wilfully disobey him? Why not make conscience of one as well as the other?
He hath made it thy duty, as well as the means of thy comfort, that a double bond may engage thee not to forsake thy own mercies.
Besides, what are all the most glorious descriptions of heaven, all those discoveries of our future blessedness and precious promises of our rest, but lost to thee?
Are not these the stars in the firmament of Scripture, and the golden lines in that book of God? Methinks thou shouldst not part with one of these promises, no, not for a world. As heaven is the perfection of all our mercies, so the promises of it in the Gospel are the very soul of the Gospel.
Is a comfortable word from the mouth of God of such worth, that all the comforts in the world are nothing to it? And dost thou neglect and overlook so many of them?
Why should God reveal so much of his counsel, and tell us beforehand of the joys we shall possess, but to make us know it for our joy?
If it had not been to fill us with the delights of our foreknown blessedness, he might have kept his purpose to himself, and never have let us know it till we came to enjoy it.
Yea, when we had got possession of our rest, he might still have concealed its eternity from us, and then the fears of losing it would have diminished the sweetness of our joys.
But it hath pleased our Father to open his counsel, and let us know the very intent of his heart, that our joy might be full, and that we might live as the heirs of such a kingdom. And shall we now overlook all?
Shall we live in earthly cares and sorrows, and rejoice no more in these discoveries than if the Lord had never written them?
If thy prince had but sealed thee a patent of some lordship, how oft wouldst thou cast thy eyes upon it, and made it thy delightful study, till thou shouldst come to possess the dignity itself!
And hath God sealed thee a patent of heaven, and dost thou let it lie by thee, as if thou hadst forgot it? O that our hearts were as high as our hopes, and our hopes as high as these infallible promises!
10. It is but equal that our hearts should be on God, when the heart of God is so much on us.
If the Lord of glory can stoop so low as to set his heart on sinful dust, methinks we should easily be persuaded to set our hearts on Christ and glory, and ascend to him in our daily affections, who so much condescends to us. Christian, dost thou not perceive that the heart of God is set upon thee, and that he is still minding thee with tender love, even when thou forgettest both thyself and him?
Is he not following thee with daily mercies, moving upon thy soul, providing for thy body, preserving both?
Doth he not bear thee continually in the arms of love, and promise that "all shall work together for thy good," and suit all his dealings to thy greatest advantage, and "give his angels charge over thee?"
And canst thou be taken up with the joys below, and forget thy Lord, who forgets not thee? Unkind ingratitude! When he speaks of his own kindness for us, hear what he says:
"Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of hands; thy walls are continually before me." But when he speaks of our regards to him, the case is otherwise. "Can a maid forget his ornaments, or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number." As if he should say, "You will not rise one morning, but you will remember to cover your nakedness, nor forget your vanity of dress; and are these of more worth than your God? of more importance than your eternal life? And yet you can forget these, day after day."
Give not God cause thus to expostulate with us. Rather let our souls get up to God, and visit him every morning, and our hearts be towards him every moment.
11. Our interest in heaven, and our relation to it, should continually keep our hearts upon it. There our Father keeps his court. We call him "Our Father, who art in heaven."
Unworthy children, that can be so taken up in their play as to be mindless of such a Father.
There also is Christ, our head, our husband, our life; and shall we not look towards him, and send to him as oft as we can, till we come to see him face to face? Since "the heavens must receive him until the times of the restitution of all things," let them also receive our hearts with him.
There also is the "New Jerusalem, which is the mother of us all." And there are multitudes of our elder brethren. There are our friends and old acquaintance, whose society in the flesh we so much delighted in, and whose departure hence we so much lamented; and is this not attractive to thy thoughts?
If they were within thy reach on earth, thou wouldst go and visit them; and why not oftener visit them in spirit, and rejoice beforehand to think of meeting them there?
"Socrates rejoiced that he should die, because he believed he should see Homer, Hesiod, and other eminent persons. How much more do I rejoice," said a pious old minister, "who am sure to see Christ my Savior, the eternal Son of God, in his assumed flesh; besides so many wise, holy and renowned patriarchs, prophets, and apostles."
A believer should look to heaven, and contemplate the blessed state of the saints, and think with himself, "Though I am not yet so happy as to be with you, yet this is my daily comfort,
-- you are my brethren and fellow-members in Christ, and therefore your joys are my joys, and your glory, by this near relation, is my glory; especially while I believe in the same Christ, and hold fast the same faith and obedience by which you were thus dignified, and rejoice in spirit with you, and congratulate your happiness in my daily meditations."
Moreover, our house and home is above, "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
Why do we then look no oftener towards it, and "groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven?"
If our home were far meaner, surely we should remember it, because it is our home. If you were but banished into a strange land, how frequently would your thoughts be at home! And why is it not thus with us in respect to heaven?
Is not that more truly and properly our home, where we must take up our everlasting abode, than this, which we are every hour expecting to be separated from, and to see no more?
We are strangers, and that is our country. We are heirs, and that is our inheritance; even "an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled; and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us."
We are here in continual distress and want, and there lies our substance; even "a better and an enduring substance." Yea, the very hope of our souls is there; all our hope of relief from our distresses; all our hope of happiness, when here we are miserable; all this "hope is laid up for us in heaven."
Why, beloved Christians, have we so much interest, and so few thoughts there? so near relation, and so little affection?
Doth it become us to be delighted in the company of strangers, so as to forget our Father and our Lord? or to be so well pleased with those that hate and grieve us, as to forget our best and dearest friends; or to be so fond of borrowed trifles, as to forget our eternal joy and rest?
God usually pleads his property in us; and thence concludes he will do us good, even because we are his people, whom he hath chosen out of all the world.
Why then do we not plead our interest in him, and so raise our hearts above; even because he is our God, and because the place is our own possession?
Men commonly overlove and overvalue their own things, and mind them too much. O that we could mind our own inheritance, and value it half as much as it deserves.
12. Once more consider, there is nothing but heaven worth setting our hearts upon.
If God have them not, who shall? If thou mind not thy rest, what wilt thou mind? Hast thou found out some other god; or something that will serve thee instead of rest? Hast thou found on earth an eternal happiness?
Where is it? What is it made of? Who was the man that found it out? Who was he that last enjoyed it? Where dwelt he? What was his name?
Or art thou the first that ever discovered heaven on earth? Ah, wretch! trust not to thy discoveries; boast not of thy gain till experience bid thee boast.
Disquiet not thyself in looking for that which is not on earth, lest thou learn thy experience with the loss of thy soul, which thou mightest have learned on easier terms; even by the warnings of God in his word, and the loss of thousands of souls before thee.
If Satan should take thee up to the mountain of temptation, and "show thee all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them," he could show thee nothing that is worthy thy thoughts, much less to be preferred before thy rest.
Indeed, so far as duty and necessity require it, we must be content to mind the things below; but who is he that contains himself within the compass of those limits? and yet, if we ever so diligently contract our cares and thoughts, we shall find the least to be bitter and burdensome.
Christian, see the emptiness of all these things, and the preciousness of the things above.
If thy thoughts should, like the laborious bee, go over the world from flower to flower, from creature to creature, they would bring no honey or sweetness home, save what they gathered from their relations to eternity.
Though every truth of God is precious, and ought to be defended; yet even all our study of truth should be still in reference to our rest; for the observation is too true, "that the lovers of controversies in religion have never been warmed with one spark of the love of God."
And as for minding the "affairs of the church and the state;" so far as they illustrate the providence of God, and tend to the settling of the Gospel and the government of Christ, and consequently to the saving of our own souls and those of our posterity, they are well worth our diligent observation; but these are only their relations to eternity.
Even all our dealings in the world, our buying and selling, our eating and drinking, our building and marrying, our peace and war, so far as they relate not to the life to come, but tend only to the pleasing of the flesh, are not worthy the frequent thoughts of a Christian.
And now, doth not thy conscience say that there is nothing but heaven, and the way to it, that is worth thy minding?
Now, reader, are these considerations weighty or not? Have I proved it to be thy duty to keep thy heart on things above, or have I not? If thou say, Not, I am confident thou contradictest thy own conscience.
If thou acknowledge thyself convinced of the duty, that very tongue of thine shall condemn thee, and that confession be pleaded against thee, if thou wilfully neglect such a confessed duty.
Be thoroughly willing, and the work is more than half done. I have now a few plain directions to give you for your help in this great work;
but, alas! it is in vain to mention them, except you be willing to put them into practice. However, I will propose them to thee, and may the Lord persuade thy heart to the work!