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I. THE HINDERANCES TO A HEAVENLY LIFE;
2 An earthly mind;
3 Ungodly companions;
4 A notional religion;
5 A haughty spirit;
6 A slothful spirit;
7 Resting in preparatives for a heavenly life, without the thing itself.
II. THE DUTIES WHICH WILL PROMOTE A HEAVENLY LIFE:
2 Labor to know your interest in it;
3 And how near it is;
4 Frequently and seriously talk of it;
5 Endeavor, in every duty, to raise your affections nearer to it;
6 To the same purpose improve every object and event;
7 Be much in the angelical work of praise;
8 Possess your souls with believing thoughts of the infinite love of God;
9 Carefully observe and cherish the motions of the Spirit of God;
10 Nor even neglect the due care of your bodily health.
As thou valuest the comforts of a heavenly conversation, I must here charge thee, from God, to avoid carefully some dangerous hinderances; and then faithfully and diligently to practice such duties as will especially assist thee in attaining to a heavenly life.
First. Let us consider those HINDERANCES which are to he avoided with all possible care.
1. Living in any known sin is a grand impediment to a heavenly life. What havoc will this make in thy soul! O the joys that this hath destroyed! the ruin it hath made amongst men’s graces! the soul-strengthening duties it hath hindered! Christian reader, art thou one that hast used violence with thy conscience? Art thou a willful neglecter of known duty, either public, private, or secret? Art thou a slave to thine appetite, or to any other commanding sense? Art thou a proud seeker of thine own esteem? Art thou a peevish and passionate person, ready to take fire at every word, or look, or supposed slight? Art thou a deceiver of others in thy dealings, or one that will be rich, right or wrong? If this be thy case, I dare say heaven and thy soul are very great strangers. These “beams in thine eye” will not suffer thee to look to heaven; they will be “a cloud between thee and thy God.” When thou dost but attempt to study eternity and gather refreshment from the life to come, thy sin will presently look thee in the face, and say, “These things belong not to thee. How shouldst thou take comfort from heaven, who takest so much pleasure in the lusts of the flesh?” How will this damp thy joys, and make the thoughts of that day and state become thy trouble and not thy delight! Every willful sin will be to thy joys as water to the fire; when thou thinkest to quicken them, this will quench them. It will utterly indispose and disable thee, that thou canst no more ascend in divine meditation than a bird can fly when its wings are clipped. Sin cuts the very sinews of this heavenly life. O man! what a life dost thou lose! What daily delights dost thou sell for vile lusts! If heaven and hell can meet together, and God become a lover of sin, then mayst thou live in thy sin, and in the foretastes of glory and have a conversation in heaven, though thou cherish thy corruption. And take heed lest it banish thee from heaven, as it does thy heart. And though thou be not guilty, and knowest no reigning sin in thy soul, think what a sad thing it would be, if ever this should prove thy case. Watch, therefore especially resolve to keep from the occasions of sin, and out of the way of temptations. What need have we daily to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!”
When the heavenly believer is blessing himself in his God, and rejoicing in hope of the glory to come; perhaps thou art blessing thyself in thy worldly prosperity, and rejoicing in hope of thy thriving here. When he is comforting his soul in the views of Christ, of angels and saints, whom he shall live with for ever; then thou art comforting thyself with thy wealth, in looking over thy bills and bonds, thy goods, thy cattle, or thy buildings; and in thinking of the favor of the great, of the pleasure of a plentiful estate, of larger provisions for thy children after thee, of the advancement of thy family, or the increase of thy dependants. If Christ pronounced him a fool that said, “Soul, take thy ease; thou hast much goods laid up for many years;” how much more so art thou, who, knowingly, speakest in thy heart the same words! Tell, what difference between this fool’s expressions and thy affections? Remember, thou hast to do with the Searcher of hearts.
Certainly, so much as thou delightest and takest up thy rest on earth, so much of thy delight in God is abated. Thine earthly mind may consist with thy outward profession and common duties, but it cannot consist with this heavenly duty. Thou thyself knowest how seldom and cold, how cursory and reserved thy thoughts have been of the joys above, ever since thou didst trade so eagerly for the world.
O the cursed madness of many that seem to be religious! They thrust themselves into a multitude of employments, till they are so loaded with labors and clogged with cares, that their souls are as unfit to converse with God, as a man to walk with a mountain on his back; and as unapt to soar in meditation, as their bodies to leap above the sun! And when they have lost that heaven upon earth which they might have had, they take up with a few rotten arguments to prove it lawful; though, indeed, they cannot. I advise thee, Christian, who hast tasted the pleasures of a heavenly life, if ever thou wouldst taste them more, avoid this devouring gulf of an earthly mind. If once thou come to this, that thou “wilt be rich,” thou fallest into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts. Keep these things loose about thee like thy upper garments, that thou mayest lay them by whenever there is need; but let God and glory be next thy heart. Ever remember that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God.
Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.” “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” This is plain dealing, and happy he that faithfully receives it!
3. Beware of the company of the ungodly. Not that I would dissuade thee from necessary converse, or from doing them any office of love; especially not from endeavoring the good of their souls, as long as thou hast any opportunity or hope; nor would I have thee to conclude them to be dogs and swine, in order to evade the duty of reproof; nor even to judge them such at all, as long as there is any hope for the better; much less can I approve of their practice, who conclude men to be dogs or swine before ever they faithfully and lovingly admonish them, or perhaps before they have known them, or spoken with them. But it is the unnecessary society of ungodly men, and too much familiarity with unprofitable companions, from which I would dissuade you. Not only the profane, the swearer, the drunkard, and the enemies of godliness will prove hurtful companions to us — though these indeed are chiefly to be avoided; but too frequent society with persons merely civil and moral, whose conversation is empty and unedifying, may much divert our thoughts from heaven. Our backwardness is such, that we need the most constant and powerful helps. A stone or a clod is as fit to rise and fly in the air, as our hearts are naturally to move toward heaven. You need not hinder the rocks from flying up to the sky; it is sufficient that you do not help them; and surely, if our spirits have not great assistance, they may easily be kept from soaring upward, though they should never meet with the least impediment. O think of this in the choice of your company! When your spirits are so disposed for heaven that you need no help to lift them up, but, as flames, you are always mounting, and carrying with you all that is in your way, then, indeed, you may be less careful of your company; but, till then, as you love the delights of a heavenly life, be careful herein. What will it advantage thee in a divine life, to hear how the market goes, or what the weather is, or is likely to be, or what news is stirring? This is the discourse of earthly men. What will it conduce to the raising of thy heart to God, to hear that this is an able minister, or that an eminent Christian, or this an excellent sermon, or that an excellent book; or to hear some difficult but unimportant controversy?
Yet this, for the most part, is the sweetest discourse thou art like to have from a formal, speculative, dead-hearted professor. Nay, if thou hadst been newly warming thy heart in the contemplation of the blessed joys above, would not this discourse benumb thy affections and quickly freeze thy heart again? I appeal to the judgment of any man that hath tried it, and maketh observations on the frame of his spirit. Men cannot well talk of one thing and mind another, especially things of such different natures. You, young men, who are most liable to this temptation, think seriously of what I say; can you have your hearts in heaven while among your roaring companions in an alehouse or tavern? or when you work in your shops with those whose common language is oaths, “filthiness, or foolish talking or jesting?”
Nay, let me tell you, if you choose such company when you might have better, and find most delight in such, you are far from a heavenly conversation that, as yet, you have no title to heaven at all, and in that state shall never come there. If your treasure was there, your heart could not be on things so distant. In a word, our company will be a part of our happiness in heaven, and it is a singular part of our furtherance to it, or hinderance from it.
4. Avoid frequent disputes about lesser truths, and a religion that lies only in opinions. They are usually least acquainted with a heavenly life, who are violent disputers about the circumstantials of religion. He whose religion is all in his opinions, will be most frequently and zealously speaking his opinions; and he whose religion lies in the knowledge and love of God in Christ, will be most delightfully speaking of that happy time when he shall enjoy them. He is a rare and precious Christian, who is skillful to improve well-known truths. Therefore let me advise you who aspire after a heavenly life, not to spend too much of your thoughts, your time, your zeal, or your speech, upon disputes that less concern your souls; but when hypocrites are feeding on husks or shells, do you feed on the joys above. I wish you were able to defend every truth of God, and to this end would read and study; but still I would have the chief truths to be chiefly studied, and none to cast out your thoughts of eternity. The least controverted points are usually most weighty, and of most necessary, frequent use to our souls.
Therefore study well such Scripture precepts as these: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. and the servant of the Lord must not strive.” “Avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness; from such withdraw thyself.”
5. Take heed of a proud and lofty spirit. There is such an antipathy between this sin and God, that thou wilt never get thy heart near him, nor get him near thy heart, as long as this prevaileth in it. If it cast the angels out of heaven, it must needs keep thy heart from heaven. If it cast our first parents out of paradise, and separated between the Lord and us, and brought his curse on all the creatures here below, it will certainly keep our hearts from paradise, and increase the cursed separation from our God.
Intercourse with God will keep men lowly, and that lowliness will promote their intercourse. when a man is used to be much with God, and taken up in the study of his glorious attributes, he abhors himself in dust and ashes; and that self-abhorrence is his best preparative to obtain admittance to God again. Therefore, after a soul-humbling day, or in times of trouble, when the soul is lowest, it useth to have freest access to God, and savor most of the life above. The delight of God is in “him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at his word;” and the delight of such a soul is in God; and where there is mutual delight, there will be freest admittance, heartiest welcome, and most frequent converse. But God is so far from dwelling in the soul that is proud, that he will not admit it to any near access. “The proud he knoweth afar off;” “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” A proud mind is high in conceit, self-esteem, and carnal aspiring; a humble mind is high indeed in God’s esteem, and in holy aspiring. These two sorts of high-mindedness are most of all opposite to each other, as we see most wars are between princes and princes, and not between a prince and a ploughman.
Well, then, art thou a man of worth in thy own eyes? Art thou delighted when thou hearest of thy esteem with men, and much dejected when thou hearest that they slight thee? Dost thou love those best that honor thee, and think meanly of them that do not, though they be otherwise men of godliness and honesty? Must thou have thy humors fulfilled, and thy judgment be a rule, and thy word a law to all about thee? Are thy passions kindled if thy word or will be crossed? Art thou ready to judge humility to be sordid baseness, and knowest not how to submit to humble confession, when thou has sinned against God or injured thy brother? Art thou one that lookest strange at the godly poor, and art most ashamed to be their companion? Canst thou not serve God in a low place as well as a high? Are thy boastings restrained more by prudence or artifice than humility? Dost thou desire to have all men’s eyes upon thee, and to hear them say, “This is he?” Art thou unacquainted with the deceitfulness and wickedness of thy heart? Art thou more ready to defend thy innocence, than accuse thyself, or confess thy fault? Canst thou hardly bear a close reproof, or digest plain dealing? If these symptoms be undeniably in thy heart, thou art a proud person. There is too much of hell abiding in thee, to have any acquaintance with heaven; thy soul is too like the devil, to have any familiarity with God.
A proud man makes himself his God, and sets up himself as his idol; how, then, can his affections be set on God? how can he possibly have his heart in heaven? Invention and memory may possibly furnish his tongue with humble and heavenly expressions, but in his spirit there is no more heaven than there is humility. I speak the more of it, because it is the most common and dangerous sin in morality, and most promotes the great sin of infidelity.
O Christian! if thou wouldst live continually in the presence of thy Lord, lie in the dust, and he will thence take thee up. “Learn of him to be meek and lowly; and thou shalt find rest unto thy soul.” Otherwise thy soul will be “like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt;” and instead of these sweet delights in God, thy pride will fill thee with perpetual disquiet. As he that humbleth himself as a little child shall hereafter be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, so shall he now be greatest in the foretastes of that kingdom. God “dwells with a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Therefore, “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” And when “others are cast down, then thou shalt say, there is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person.”
6. A slothful spirit is another impediment to this heavenly life. And I verily think there is nothing hinders it more than this in men of a good understanding. If it were only the exercise of the body, the moving of the lips, the bending of the knee, men would as commonly step to heaven as they go to visit a friend. But to separate our thoughts and affections from the world, to draw forth all our graces, and increase each in its proper object, and hold them to it till the work prospers in our hands; this, this is the difficulty. Reader, heaven is above thee, and dost thou think to travel this steep ascent without labor and resolution? Canst thou get that earthly heart to heaven, and bring that backward mind to God, while thou liest still and takest thine ease? If lying down at the foot of the hill, and looking toward the top, and wishing we were there, would serve the turn, then we should have daily travelers for heaven. But “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” There must be violence used to get these first-fruits, as well as to get the full possession. Dost thou not feel it so, though I should not tell thee? Will thy heart get upward, except thou drive it? Thou knowest that heaven is all thy hope; that nothing below can yield thee rest; that a heart, seldom thinking of heaven, can draw but little comfort thence; and yet dost thou not lose thy opportunities and lie below, when thou shouldst walk above and live with God? Dost thou not commend the sweetness of a heavenly life, and judge those the best Christians that use it, and yet never try thyself? As the sluggard that stretches himself on his bed and cries, O that this were working! so dost thou talk, and trifle, and live at thy ease, and say, O that I could get my heart to heaven! How many read books and hear sermons, expecting to hear of some easier way, or to meet with a shorter course to comfort than they are ever like to find in Scripture! Or they ask for directions for a heavenly life, and if the hearing them will serve, they will be heavenly Christians; but if we show them their work, and tell them they cannot have these delights on easier terms, then they leave us, as the young man left Christ, sorrowful.
If thou art convinced, reader, that this work is necessary to thy comfort, set upon it resolutely: if thy heart draw back, force it on with the command of reason; if thy reason begin to dispute, produce the command of God, and urge thy own necessity, with the other considerations suggested in the former chapter. Let not such an incomparable treasure lie before thee, with thy hand in thy bosom; nor thy life be a continual vexation, when it might be a continual feast, only because thou wilt not exert thyself. Sit not still with a disconsolate spirit while comforts grow before thine eyes, like a man in the midst of a garden of flowers, that will not rise to get them and partake of their sweetness. This I know, Christ is the fountain; but the well is deep, and thou must get forth this water before thou canst be refreshed with it. I know, so far as you are spiritual, you need not all this striving and violence; but in part you are carnal, and as long as it is so, there is need of labor. It was the custom of the Parthians not to give their children any meat in the morning before they saw the sweat on their faces with some labor.
And you shall find this to be God’s usual course, not to give his children the tastes of his delights till they begin to sweat in seeking after them.
Judge, therefore, whether a heavenly life or thy carnal ease be better; and, as a wise man, make thy choice accordingly. Yet, let me add for thy encouragement, thou needest not employ thy thoughts more than thou now dost; it is only to fix them upon better and more pleasant objects. Employ but as many serious thoughts every day upon the excellent glory of the life to come, as thou now doest upon worldly affairs, yea, on vanities and impertinences, and thy heart will soon be in heaven. On the whole, it is “the field of the slothful that is all grown over with thorns and nettles; and the desire of the slothful killeth his joy, for his hands refuse to labor; and it is the slothful man that saith, There is a lion in the way, a lion is in the streets.
The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth,” though it be to feed himself with the food of life. What is this but throwing away our consolations, and consequently the precious blood that bought them? For “he that is slothful in his work, is brother to him that is a great waster.” Apply this to thy spiritual work, and study well the meaning of it.
7. Contentment with the mere preparatives to the heavenly life, while we are utter strangers to the life itself, is also a dangerous and secret hinderance; when we take up with the mere study of heavenly things, and the notions of them, or the talking with one another about them; as if this were enough to make us heavenly. None are in more danger of the snare, than those that are employed in leading the devotions of others, especially preachers of the Gospel. O how easily may such be deceived! while they do nothing so much as read and study of heaven; preach, and pray, and talk of heaven: is not this the heavenly life? Alas! all this is but mere preparation; this is but collecting the materials, not erecting the building itself; it is but gathering the manna for others, and not eating and digesting it ourselves.
As he that sits at home may draw exact maps of countries, and yet never see them nor travel toward them; so may you describe to others the joys of heaven, and yet never come near it in your own hearts. A blind man, by learning, may dispute of light and colors; so may you set forth to others that heavenly light which never enlightened your own souls, and bring that fire from the hearts of your people which never warmed your own hearts.
What heavenly passages had Balaam in his prophecies, yet how little of it in his spirit! Nay, we are under a more subtle temptation than any other men to draw us from this heavenly life. Studying and preaching of heaven more resembles a heavenly life than thinking and talking of the world does; and the resemblance is apt to deceive us. This is to die the most miserable death, even to famish ourselves because we have bread on our tables; and to die for thirst while we draw water for others; thinking it enough that we have daily to do with it, though we never drink for the refreshment of our own souls.
Secondly, Having thus showed what hinderances will resist the work, I expect that thou resolve against them, consider them seriously, and avoid them faithfully, or else thy labor will be vain. I must also tell thee that I here expect thy promise, as thou valuest the delights of these foretastes of heaven, to make conscience of performing the following DUTIES; particularly,
1. Be convinced that heaven is the only treasure and happiness, and labor to know what a treasure and happiness it is. If thou do not believe it to be the chief good, thou wilt never set thy heart upon it; and this conviction must sink into thy affections; for if it be only a notion, it will have little efficacy. If Eve once supposes she sees more worth in the forbidden fruit than in the love and enjoyment of God, no wonder if it have more of her heart than God. If your judgment once prefer the delights of the flesh before the delights of the presence of God, it is impossible your heart should be in heaven. As it is ignorance of the emptiness of things below that makes men so overvalue them; so it is ignorance of the high delights above which is the cause that men so little mind them. If you see a purse of gold, and believe it to be but counters, it will not entice your affections to it. It is not the real excellence of a thing itself, but its known excellence, that excites desire. If an ignorant man see a book containing the secrets of arts or sciences, he values it no more than a common scroll, because he knows not what is in it; but he that knows it, highly values it, and can even forbear his meat, drink and sleep, to read it. As the Jews killed the Messiah while they waited for him, because they did not know him; so the world cries out for rest, and busily seeks for delight and happiness, because they know it not; for did they thoroughly know what it is, they could not so slight the everlasting treasure.
2. Labor also to know that heaven is thy own happiness. We may confess heaven to be the best condition, though we despair of enjoying it; and we may desire and seek it, if we see the attainment but probable; but we can never delightfully rejoice in it till we are in some measure persuaded of our title to it. What comfort is it to a man that is naked, to see the rich attire of others? What delight is it for a man that hath not a house to put his head in, to see the sumptuous buildings of others? Would not all this rather increase his anguish, and make him more sensible of his own misery? So, for a man to know the excellencies of heaven, and not know whether he shall ever enjoy them, may raise desire and urge pursuit, but he will have little joy.
Who will set his heart on another man’s possessions? If your houses, your goods, your cattle, your children were not your own, you would less mind them, and less delight in them. O Christian! rest not till you can call this rest your own: bring thy heart to the bar of trial; set the qualifications of the saints on one side, and of thy soul on the other, and then judge how nearly they resemble. Thou hast the same word to judge thyself by now, as thou must be judged by at the great day. Mistake not the Scripture’s description of a saint, that thou neither acquit nor condemn thyself upon mistakes. For as groundless hopes tend to confusion, and are the greatest cause of most men’s damnation; so groundless doubts tend to and are the great cause of the saints’ perplexity and distress. Therefore, lay thy foundation for trial safely, and proceed in the work deliberately and resolutely, nor give over till thou canst say either thou hast or hast not yet a title to this rest. O if men did truly know that God is their own Father, and Christ their only Redeemer and Head, and that those are their own everlasting habitations, and that there they must abide and be happy for ever; how could they but be transported with the forethoughts thereof! If a Christian could but look upon sun, moon and stars, and reckon all his own in Christ, and say, “These are the blessings that my Lord hath procured me, and things incomparably greater than these;” what holy raptures would his spirit feel!
The more do they sin against their own comforts, as well as against the grace of the Gospel, who plead for their unbelief, and cherish distrustful thoughts of God, and injurious thoughts of their Redeemer; who represent the covenant as if it were of works, and not of grace; and Christ as an enemy rather than a Savior; as if he were willing they should die in their unbelief, when he hath invited them so often and so affectionately, and suffered the agonies that they should suffer. Wretches that we are! to be keeping up jealousies of our Lord when we should be rejoicing in his love.
As if any man could choose Christ before Christ hath chosen him; or any man were more willing to be happy than Christ is to make him happy.
Away with these injurious if not blasphemous thoughts! If ever thou hast harbored such thoughts in thy breast, cast them from thee, and take heed how thou ever entertainest them more. God hath written the names of his people in heaven, as you use to write your names or marks on your goods; and shall we be attempting to raze them out, and to write our names on the doors of hell? But blessed be “God, whose foundation standeth sure;” and who “keepeth us by his power, through faith, unto salvation.”
3. Labor to apprehend how near thy rest is. What we think near at hand, we are more sensible of than that which we behold at a distance. When judgments or mercies are afar off, we talk of them with little concern; but when they draw close to us, we tremble at, or rejoice in them. This makes men think on heaven so insensibly, because they conceive it at too great a distance; they look on it as twenty, thirty, or forty years off. How much better were it to receive “the sentence of death in ourselves,” and to look on eternity as near at hand! While I am thinking and writing of it, it hasteneth near, and I am even entering into it before I am aware. While thou are reading this, whoever thou art, time posteth on, and thy life will be gone, “as a tale that is told.” If you verily believed you should die to-morrow, how seriously would you think of heaven to-night! When Samuel had told Saul, “To-morrow shalt thou be with me,” this struck him to the heart. And if Christ should say to a believing soul, “To-morrow shalt thou be with me,” this would bring him in spirit to heaven beforehand. Do but suppose that you are still entering into heaven, and it will greatly help you more seriously to mind it.
4. Let thy eternal rest be the subject of thy frequent serious discourse, especially with those that can speak from their hearts, and are seasoned themselves with a heavenly nature. It is pity Christians should ever meet together without some talk of their meeting in heaven, or of the way to it, before they part. It is a pity so much time is spent in vain conversation and useless disputes, and not a serious word of heaven among them. Methinks we should meet together on purpose to warm our spirits with discoursing of our rest. To hear a Christian set forth that blessed, glorious state, with life and power, from the promises of the Gospel, methinks should make us say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures?” If a Felix will tremble when he hears his judgment powerfully represented, why should not the believer be revived when he hears his eternal rest described? Wicked men can be delighted in talking together of their wickedness; and should not Christians then be delighted in talking of Christ, and the heirs of heaven in talking of their inheritance? This may make our hearts revive, as did Jacob’s to hear the message that called him to Goshen, and to see the chariots that should bring him to Joseph. O that we were furnished with skill and resolution to turn the stream of men’s common discourse to these more sublime and precious things! and, when men begin to talk of things unprofitable, that we could tell how to put in a word for heaven, and say, as Peter of his bodily food, “Not so, for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean!” O the good that we might both do and receive by this course! Had it not been to deter us from unprofitable conversation, Christ would not have talked of our “giving an account of every idle word in the day of judgment.” Say, then, as the Psalmist, when you are in company, “Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” then you shall find it true, that a “wholesome tongue is a tree of life.”
5. Endeavor, in every duty, to raise thy affections nearer to heaven. God’s end in the institution of his ordinances was that they should be as so many steps to advance us to our rest, and by which, in subordination to Christ, we might daily ascend in our affections. Let this be thy end in using them, and doubtless they will not be unsuccessful. How have you been rejoiced by a few lines from a friend, when you could not seem him face to face!
And may we not have intercourse with God in his ordinances, though our persons be yet so far remote? May not our spirits rejoice in reading those lines which contain our legacy and charter for heaven? With what gladness and triumph may we read the expressions of divine love, and hear of our celestial country, though we have not yet the happiness to behold it! Men that are separated by sea and land can by letters carry on great and gainful trades; and may not a Christian, in the wise improvement of duties, drive on this happy trade for rest? Come, then, renounce formality, custom and applause, and kneel down in secret or public prayer, with hope to get thy heart nearer to God before thou risest up. When thou openest thy Bible, or other book, hope to meet with some passage of divine truth, and such a blessing of the Spirit with it as will give thee a fuller taste of heaven. When thou are going to the house of God, say, “I hope to meet with somewhat from God to raise my affections before I return; I hope the Spirit will give me his presence and sweeten my heart with those celestial delights; I hope Christ will ‘appear to me in that way, and shine about me with light from heaven;’ let me hear his instructing and reviving voice, and cause the scales to fall from my eyes, that I may see more of that glory than I ever yet saw.
I hope, before I return, my Lord will bring my heart within the view of rest, and set it before his Father’s presence, that I may return as ‘the shepherds’ from the heavenly vision, ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things I have heard and seen.’” When the Indians first saw that the English could converse together by letters, they thought there was some spirit enclosed in them. So would by-standers admire, when Christians have communion with God in duties, what there is in those Scriptures, in that sermon, in this prayer, that fills their hearts so full of joy, and so transports them above themselves. Remember, therefore, always to pray for your minister, that God would put some divine message into his mouth, which may leave a heavenly relish upon your spirit.
6. Improve every object and every event to remind thy soul of its approaching rest. As all providences and creatures are means to our rest, so they point us to that as their end. God’s sweetest dealings with us at present would not be half so sweet as they are, if they did not intimate some further sweetness. Thou takest but the bare earnest and overlookest the main sum, when thou receivest thy mercies and forgettest thy crown. O that Christians were skillful in this art! You can open your Bible; learn to open the volumes of creation and providence, to read there also of God and glory. Thus we might have a fuller taste of Christ and heaven in every common meal than most men have in a sacrament. If thou prosper in the world, let it make thee more sensible of thine eternal prosperity. If thou art weary with labor, let it make the thoughts of thy eternal rest more sweet. If things go cross, let thy desires be more earnest to have sorrows and sufferings for ever cease. Is thy body refreshed with food or sleep? remember the inconceivable refreshment with Christ. Dost thou hear any good news? remember what glad tidings it will be to hear the trump of God and the applauding sentence of Christ. Art thou delighted with the society of the saints? remember what the perfect society in heaven will be. Is God communicating himself to thy spirit? remember the time of thy highest advancement, when both thy communion and joy shall be full. Dost thou hear the raging noise of the wicked and the confusions of the world? think of the blessed harmony in heaven. Dost thou hear the tempest of war? remember the day when thou shalt be in perfect peace, under the wings of the Prince of Peace for ever. Thus, every condition and creature affords us advantages for a heavenly life, if we had but hearts to improve them.
7. Be much in the angelic work of praise. The more heavenly the employment, the more it will make the spirit heavenly. Praising God is the work of angels and saints in heaven, and will be our own everlasting work; and if we were more in it now, we should be more like what we shall be then. As desire, faith and hope are of shorter continuance than love and joy, so also preaching, prayer, and ordinances, and all means for expressing and confirming our faith and hope, shall cease, when our triumphant expressions of love and joy shall abide for ever. The liveliest emblem of heaven that I know upon earth, is when the people of God, in the deep sense of his excellency and bounty, from hearts abounding with love and joy, join together, both in heart and voice, in the cheerful and melodious singing of his praises. These delights, like the testimony of the Spirit, witness themselves to be of God, and bring the evidences of their heavenly parentage along with them.
Little do we know how we wrong ourselves by shutting out of our prayers the praises of God, or allowing them so narrow a room as we usually do, while we are copious enough in our confessions and petitions. Reader, I entreat thee, remember this: let praises have a larger room in thy duties; keep matter ready at hand to feed thy praise, as well as matter for confession and petition. To this end study the excellencies and goodness of the Lord as frequently as thy own wants and unworthiness; the mercies thou has received, and those which are promised, as often as the sins thou hast committed. “Praise is comely for the upright. Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth God. Praise ye the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praises unto his name, for it is pleasant. Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.” Had not David a most heavenly spirit, who was so much in this heavenly work?
Doth it not sometimes raise our hearts when we only read the song of Moses and the psalms of David? How much more would it raise and refresh us to be skillful and frequent in the work ourselves! O the madness of youth, that lay out that vigor of body and mind upon vain delights and fleshly lusts, which is so fit for the noblest work of man! And O the sinful folly of many of the saints, who drench their spirits in continual sadness, and waste their days in complaints and groans, and so make themselves, both in body and mind, unfit for this sweet and heavenly work! Instead of joining with the people of God in his praises, they are questioning their worthiness and studying their miseries; and so rob God of his glory and themselves of their consolation. But the greatest destroyer of our comfort in this duty, is our taking up with the tune and melody, and suffering the heart to be idle which ought to perform the principal part of the work, and use the melody to revive and exhilarate itself.
8. Ever keep thy soul possessed with believing thoughts of the infinite love of God. Love is the attractive of love. Few so vile but will love those that love them. No doubt it is the death of our heavenly life to have hard thoughts of God, to conceive of him as one that would rather damn than save us. This is to put the blessed God into the similitude of Satan. When our ignorance and unbelief have drawn the most deformed picture of God in our imaginations, then we complain that we cannot love him, nor delight in him. This is the case of many thousand Christians. Alas, that we should thus blaspheme God and blast our own joys! Scripture assures us that “God is love; that fury is not in him; that he hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Much more hath he testified his love to his chosen, and his full resolution to save them.
O that we could always think of God as we do of a friend; as of one that unfeignedly loves us, even more than we do ourselves; whose very heart is set upon us to do us good, and hath therefore provided for us an everlasting dwelling with himself! it would not then be so hard to have our hearts ever with him. Where we love most heartily, we shall think most sweetly and most freely. I fear most Christians think higher of the love of a hearty friend than of the love of God; and what wonder, then, if they love their friends better than God, and trust them more confidently than God and had rather live with them than with God?
9. Carefully observe and cherish the motions of the Spirit of God. If ever thy soul get above this earth, and get acquainted with this heavenly life, the Spirit of God must be to thee as the chariot to Elijah; yea, the very living principle by which thou must move and ascend. O, then, grieve not thy guide, quench not thy life, knock not off thy chariot wheel! You little think how much the life of all your graces and the happiness of your souls depend upon your ready and cordial obedience to the Spirit. When the Spirit urges thee to secret prayer; or forbids thee thy transgressions; or points to thee the way in which thou shouldst go; and thou wilt not regard; no wonder if heaven and thy soul be strange. If thou wilt not follow the Spirit while he would draw thee to Christ and thy duty; how should he lead thee to heaven, and bring thy heart into the presence of God? What supernatural help, what bold access shall the soul find in its approaches to the Almighty, that constantly obeys the Spirit? And how backward, how dull, how ashamed will he be in these addresses, who hath often broke away from the Spirit that would have guided him? Christian reader, dost thou not feel sometimes a strong impression to retire from the world and draw near to God? Do not disobey, but take the offer, and hoist up thy sails while this blessed gale may be had. The more of the Spirit we resist, the deeper will it wound; and the more we obey, the speedier will be our pace.
10. I advise thee, as a further help to this heavenly life, neglect not the due care of thy bodily health. Thy body is a useful servant if thou give it its due, and no more than its due; but it is a most devouring tyrant if thou suffer it to have what it unreasonably desires; and it is as a blunted knife if thou unjustly deny what is necessary to its support. when we consider how frequently men offend on both extremes, and how few use their bodies aright, we cannot wonder if they be much hindered in their converse with heaven. Most men are slaves to their appetite, and can scarcely deny any thing to their flesh, and are therefore willingly carried by it to their sports, or profits, or vain companions, when they should raise their minds to God and heaven. As you love your souls, “make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lust thereof,” but remember, “to be carnally minded is death; because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So, then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” There are a few who much hinder their heavenly joy by denying the body its necessaries, and so making it unable to serve them: if such wronged their flesh only, it would be no great matter; but they wrong their souls also; as he that spoils the house injures the inhabitants. When the body is sick and the spirits languish, how heavily do we move in the thoughts and joys of heaven.