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THE PEOPLE OF GOD WHO SHALL ENJOY THIS REST ARE,
2 Given to Christ;
3 Born again;
4 Deeply convinced of the evil of sin, their misery by sin, the vanity of the creature, and the all-sufficiency of Christ.
5 Their will is proportionably changed.
6 They engage in covenant with Christ.
7 They persevere in their engagements.
THE reader invited to examine himself by these characteristics of God’s people. Further testimony from Scripture, that this rest shall be enjoyed by the people of God: also that none but they shall enjoy it; and that it remains for them, and is not to be enjoyed till they come to another world. The chapter concludes with showing, that their souls shall enjoy this rest while separated from their bodies.
While I was in the mount, describing the excellencies of the saints’ rest, I felt it was good being there, and therefore tarried the longer; and were there not an extreme disproportion between my conceptions and the subject, much longer had I been. Can a prospect of that happy land be tedious? Having read of such high and unspeakable glory, a stranger would wonder for what rare creatures this mighty preparation should be made, and expect some illustrious sun should break forth: but, behold! only a shellful of dust, animated with an invisible rational soul, and that rectified with as unseen a restoring power of grace; and this is the creature that must possess such glory! You would think it must needs be some deserving piece, or one that brings a valuable price: but, behold! one that hath nothing and can deserve nothing; yea, that deserves the contrary, and would, if he might, proceed in that deserving: but, being apprehended by love, he is brought to him that is all; and most affectionately receiving him, and resting on him, he doth, in and through him, receive all this! More particularly, the persons for whom this rest is designed are chosen of God from eternity; given to Christ as their Redeemer; born again; deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state, the vanity of the creature, and the all-sufficiency of Christ; their will is renewed; they engage themselves to Christ in covenant; and they persevere in their engagements to the end.
1. The persons for whom this rest is designed, whom the text calls “the people of God,” are “ chosen of God before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before him in love.” That they are but a part of mankind is apparent in Scripture and experience. They are the little flock, to whom “it is their Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom.” Fewer they are than the world imagines; yet not so few as some drooping spirits think, who are suspicious that God is unwilling to be their God, when they know themselves willing to be his people.
2. These persons are given of God to his Son, to be by him redeemed from their lost state, and advanced to this glory. God hath given all things to his Son, but not as he hath given his chosen to him. “God hath given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as the Father hath given him.” The difference is clearly expressed by the apostle; “he hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” And though Christ is, in some sense, a ransom for all, yet not in that special manner as for his people.
3. One great qualification of these persons is that they are born again. To be the people of God without regeneration, is as impossible as to be the children of men without generation. Seeing we are born God’s enemies, we must be new-born his sons, or else remain enemies still. The greatest reformation of life that can be attained, without this new life wrought in the soul, may procure our further delusion, but never our salvation.
They are convinced of the evil of sin. The sinner is made to know and feel that the sin which was his delight, is a more loathsome thing than a toad or serpent, and a greater evil than plague or famine; being a breach of the righteous law of the most high God, dishonorable to him, and destructive to the sinner. Now the sinner no more hears the reproofs of sin as words of course; but the mention of his sin speaks to his very heart, and yet he is willing you should show him the worst. He was wont to marvel what made men keep up such a stir against sin; what harm it was for a man to take little forbidden pleasure; he saw no such heinousness in it that Christ must needs die for it, and a christless world be eternally tormented in hell. Now the case is altered; God hath opened his eyes to see the inexpressible vileness of sin.
They are convinced of their own misery by reason of sin. They who before read the threats of God’s law as men do the story of foreign wars, now find it their own story, and perceive they read their own doom, as if they found their own names written in the curse, or heard the law say, as Nathan, “Thou art the man.” The wrath of God seemed to him before but a storm to a man in a dry house, or as the pains of the sick to the healthful stander-by; but now he finds the disease is his own, and feels himself a condemned man: that he is dead and damned in point of law, and that nothing is wanting but mere execution to make him absolutely and irrecoverably miserable. This is a work of the Spirit wrought in some measure in all the regenerate. How should he come to Christ for pardon who did not first find himself guilty and condemned? or for life, who never found himself spiritually dead? “The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” The discovery of the remedy as soon as the misery, must needs prevent a great part of the trouble. And perhaps the joyful apprehensions of mercy may make the sense of misery sooner forgotten.
They are also convinced of the creature’s vanity and insufficiency. Every man is naturally an idolater. Our hearts turned from God in our first fall; and, ever since, the creature hath been our God. This is the grand sin of our nature. Every unregenerate man ascribes to the creature divine prerogatives, and allows it the highest room in his soul; or, if he is convinced of misery, he flies to it as his savior. Indeed, God and His Christ shall be called Lord and Savior; but the real expectation is from the creature, and the work of God is laid upon it. Pleasure, profit and honor, are the natural man’s trinity and his carnal self is these in unity. It was our first sin to aspire to be as gods and it is the greatest sin that is propagated in our nature from generation to generation. When God should guide us, we guide ourselves; when he should be our Sovereign, we rule ourselves: the laws which he gives us, we find fault with, and would correct and, if we had the making of them, we would have made them otherwise: when he should take care of us, (and must, or we perish,) we will take care for ourselves: when we should depend on him in daily receiving, we had rather have our portion in our own hands: when we should submit to his providence, we usually quarrel with it, and think we could make a better disposal than God hath made. When we should study and love, trust and honor God, we study and love, trust and honor our carnal selves. Instead of God, we would have all men’s eyes and dependence on us, and all men’s thanks returned to us, and would gladly be the only men on earth extolled and admired by all. Thus we are naturally our own idols. But down falls this Dagon when God once renews the soul. It is the chief design of that great work, to bring the heart back to God himself. He convinceth the sinner that the creature can neither be his God, to make him happy, nor his Christ, to recover him from his misery and restore him to God, who is his happiness. God does this not only by his word, but also by his providence.
This is the reason why affliction so frequently concurs in the work of conversion. Arguments which speak to the quick, will force a hearing when the most powerful words are slighted. If a sinner made his credit his God, and God cast him into the lowest disgrace, or bring him, who idolized his riches, into a condition wherein they cannot help him, or cause them to take wing and fly away, what a help is here to this work of conviction! If a man made pleasure his God, whatsoever a roving eye, a curious ear, a greedy appetite, or a lustful heart could desire, and God take these from him, or turn them into gall and wormwood, what a help is here to conviction! When God casts a man into languishing sickness, and inflicts wounds on his heart, and stirs up against him his own conscience, and then, as it were, says to him, “Try if your credit, riches, or pleasures can help you. Can they heal your wounded conscience? Can they now support your tottering tabernacle? Can they keep your departing soul in your body? or save you from my everlasting wrath? or redeem your soul from eternal flames? Cry aloud to them, and see now whether these will be to you instead of God and Christ — “ O how this works now with the sinner!
Sense acknowledges the truth, and even the flesh is convinced of the creature’s vanity, and our very deceiver is undeceived.
The people of God are likewise convinced of the absolute necessity, the full sufficiency, and perfect excellency of Jesus Christ: as a man in famine is convinced of the necessity of food; or a man that has heard or read his sentence of condemnation, of the absolute necessity of pardon; or a man that lies in prison for debt, of his need of a surety to discharge it. Now the sinner feels a insupportable burden upon him, and sees there is none but Christ can take it off: he perceives the law proclaims him a rebel, and none but Christ can make his peace: he is as a man pursued by a lion, that must perish if he finds not a present sanctuary: he is now brought to this dilemma; either he must have Christ to justify him, or be eternally condemned; have Christ to save him, or burn in hell for ever; have Christ to bring him to God, or be shut out of his presence everlastingly! And no wonder if he cry as the martyr, “None but Christ! none but Christ!” Not gold, but bread, will satisfy the hungry; nor will any thing but pardon comfort the condemned.
All things are counted but dung now, that he may win Christ; and what was gain, he counts loss for Christ. As the sinner sees his misery, and the inability of himself and all things to relieve him, so he perceives there is no saving mercy out of Christ. He sees that though the creature cannot, and himself cannot, yet Christ can help him. Though the fig leaves of our own unrighteous righteousness are too short to cover our nakedness, yet the righteousness of Christ is large enough: ours is disproportionate to the justice of the law, but Christ’s extends to every tittle. If he intercede, there is no denial; such is the dignity of his person and the value of his merits, that the Father grants all he desires. Before, the sinner knew Christ’s excellency as a blind man knows the light of the sun; but now, as one that beholds its glory.
5. After this deep conviction, the will manifests also its change. As, for instance, the sin which the understanding pronounces evil, the will turns from with abhorrence. Not that the sensitive appetite is changed, or any way made to abhor its object; but when it would prevail against reason, and carry us to sin against God, instead of Scripture being the rule, and reason the master, and sense the servant, this disorder and evil the will abhors. The misery also, which sin hath procured, is not only discerned, but bewailed. It is impossible that the soul should now look either on its trespass against God, or yet on its own self-procured calamity, without some contrition. He that truly discerns that he hath killed Christ, and killed himself, will surely in some measure be pricked to the heart. If he cannot weep, he can heartily groan and his heart feels what his understanding sees.
The creature is renounced as vanity, and turned out of the heart with disdain: not that it is undervalued, or the use of it condemned; but its idolatrous abuse, and its unjust usurpation. Can Christ be the way, where the creature is the end? Can we seek Christ to reconcile us to God, while in our hearts we prefer the creature before him? In the soul of every unregenerate man the creature is both God and Christ. As turning from the creature to God, and not by Christ, is no true turning; so believing in Christ, while the creature hath our hearts, is no true believing. Our aversion from sin, renouncing our idols, and our right receiving Christ, is all but one work, which God ever perfects where he begins. At the same time, the will cleaves to God the Father, and to Christ. Having been convinced that nothing else can be his happiness, the sinner now finds it is in God.
Convinced also that Christ alone is able and willing to make peace for him, he most affectionately accepts of Christ as his Savior and Lord. Paul’s preaching was “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” And life eternal consists, first in “knowing the only true God;” and then “Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.” To take the Lord for our God is the natural part of the covenant; the supernatural part is, to take Christ for our Redeemer. The former is first necessary, and implied in the latter. To accept Christ without affection and love, is not justifying faith: nor does love follow as a fruit, but immediately concurs; for faith is the receiving of Christ with the whole soul. “He that loveth father or mother more than Christ, is not worthy of him,” nor is justified by him. Faith accepts him as Savior and Lord: for in both relations will he be received, or not at all.
Faith not only acknowledges his sufferings, and accepts of pardon and glory, but acknowledges his sovereignty, and submits to his government and way of salvation.
6. As an essential part of the character of God’s people, they now enter into a cordial covenant with Christ. The sinner was never strictly, nor comfortably, in covenant with Christ till now. He is sure, by the free offers, that Christ consents and now he cordially consents himself; and so the agreement is fully made. With this covenant Christ delivers up himself in all comfortable relations to the sinner; and the sinner delivers up himself to be saved and ruled by Christ. Now the soul resolutely concludes, “I have been blindly led by flesh and lust, by the world and the devil, too long, almost to my utter destruction; I will now be wholly at the disposal of my Lord, who hath bought me with his blood, and will bring me to his glory.”
Though the believer may be tempted, yet he never disclaims his Lord, renounces his allegiance, nor repents of his covenant; nor can he properly be said to break that covenant, while that faith continues which is the condition of it. Indeed, those that have verbally covenanted, and not cordially, may tread under foot the blood of the covenant, wherewith they were sanctified, as an unholy thing, by separation from those without the church; but the elect cannot be so deceived. Though this perseverance be certain to true believers, yet it is made a condition of their salvation; yea, of their continued life and fruitfulness, and of the continuance of their justification, though not of their first justification itself. But eternally blessed be that hand of love which hath drawn the free promise, and subscribed and sealed to that which ascertains us both of the grace which is the condition, and the kingdom which on that condition is offered!
Such are the essentials of this people of God. Not a full portraiture of them in all their excellencies, nor all the marks whereby they may be discerned. I beseech thee, reader, as thou hast the hope of a Christian, or the reason of a man, judge thyself as one that must shortly be judged by a righteous God, and faithfully answer these questions. I will not inquire whether you remember the time or the order of these workings of the Spirit, there may be much uncertainty and mistake in that. If you are sure they are wrought in you, it is not so great a matter that you should know when or how you came by them. But carefully examine and inquire, Hast thou been thoroughly convinced of a prevailing depravation through thy whole soul? and a prevailing wickedness through thy whole life? and how vile sin is? and that by the covenant thou hast transgressed, the least sin deserves eternal death? Dost thou consent to the law, that it is true and righteous, and perceive thyself sentenced to this death by it? Hast thou seen the utter insufficiency of every creature, either to be itself thy happiness, or the means of removing this thy misery? Hast thou been convinced that thy happiness is only in God, as the end, and in Christ, as the way to him and that thou must be brought to God through Christ, or perish eternally? Hast thou seen an absolute necessity of thy enjoying Christ, and the full sufficiency in him to do for thee whatsoever thy case requires? Hast thou discovered the excellency of this pearl to be worth thy “selling all to buy it?” Have thy convictions been like those of a man that thirsts and not merely a change in opinion, produced by reading or education? Have both thy sin and misery been the abhorrence and burden of thy soul? If thou couldst not weep, yet couldst thou heartily groan under the insupportable weight of both? Hast thou renounced all thy own righteousness? Hast thou turned thy idols out of thy heart, so that the creature hath no more the sovereignty, but is now a servant to God and Christ? Dost thou accept of Christ as thy only Savior, and expect thy justification, recovery and glory from him alone? Are his laws the most powerful commanders of thy life and soul? Do they ordinarily prevail against the commands of the flesh, and against the greatest interest of thy credit, profit, pleasure or life? Has Christ the highest room in thy heart and affections, so that, though thou canst not love him as thou wouldst, yet nothing else is loved so much? Hast thou, to this end, made a hearty covenant with him, and delivered up thyself to him?
Is it thy uttermost care and watchful endeavor that thou mayest be found faithful in this covenant and though thou fall into sin, yet wouldst not renounce thy bargain, nor change thy Lord, nor give up thyself to any other government, for all the world? If this be truly thy case, thou art one of “the people of God” in my text and as sure as the promise of God is true, this blessed rest remains for thee. Only see thou “abide in Christ,” and “endure to the end;” for “if any man draw back, his soul shall have no pleasure in him.” But if no such work be found within thee, whatever thy deceived heart may think, or how strong soever thy false hopes may be, thou wilt find to thy cost, except thorough conversion prevent it, that the rest of the saints belongs not to thee. “O that thou wert wise, that thou wouldst understand this, that thou wouldst consider thy latter end!” that yet, while thy soul is in thy body, and “a price is in thy hand,” and opportunity and hope before thee, thine ears may be open, and thy heart yield to the persuasions of God, that so thou mayest rest among his people, and enjoy “the inheritance of the saints in light!”
That this rest shall be enjoyed by the people of God, is a truth which the Scripture, if its testimony be further needed, clearly asserts in a variety of ways; as, for instance, that they are “foreordained to it, and it for them.
God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city.” They are styled “vessels of mercy, afore prepared unto glory.” “In Christ they have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” And “whom he did predestinate, them he also glorified.” Who can deprive his people of that rest which is designed for them by God’s eternal purpose? Scripture tells us, they are redeemed to this rest. “By the blood of Jesus, we have boldness to enter into the holiest;” whether that entrance means by faith and prayer here, or by full possession hereafter. Therefore the saints in heaven sing a new song unto Him who has “redeemed them to God by his blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them kings and priests unto God.” Either Christ, then, must lose his blood and sufferings, and never “see of the travail of his soul,” or else “there remaineth a rest to the people of God.” In Scripture this rest is promised to them. As the firmament with stars, so are the sacred pages bespangled with these divine engagements. Christ says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” “I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.” All the means of grace, the operations of the Spirit upon the soul, and gracious actings of the saints, every command to repent and believe, to fast and pray, to knock and seek, to strive and labor, to run and fight, prove that there remains a rest for the people of God. The Spirit would never kindle in us such strong desires after heaven, such love to Jesus Christ, if we should not receive what we desire and love. He that “guides our feet into the way of peace,” will undoubtedly bring us to the end of peace. How nearly are the means and end conjoined! “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” They that “follow Christ in the regeneration, shall sit upon thrones of glory.” Scripture assures us, that the saints have the “beginnings, foretastes, earnests, and seals” of this rest here. “Though they have not seen Christ, yet loving him, and believing in him, they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.” They “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” And does God seal them with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of their inheritance,” and will he deny the full possession? The Scripture also mentions, by name, those who have entered into this rest; as Enoch, Abraham, Lazarus, and the thief that was crucified with Christ. And if there be a rest for these, surely there is a rest for all believers. But it is in vain to bring together Scripture proofs, seeing it is the very end of Scripture to be a guide to lead us to this blessed state, and to be the charter and grant by which we hold all our title to it.
Scripture not only proves that this rest remains for the people of God, but also that it remains for none but them; so that the rest of the world shall have no part in it. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. No whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. They all shall be damned who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.
The Lord Jesus shall come in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” Had the ungodly returned before their life was expired, and been heartily willing to accept of Christ for their Savior and their King, and to be saved by him in his way, and upon his most reasonable terms, they might have been saved. God freely offered them life, and they would not accept it. The pleasures of the flesh seemed more desirable to them than the glory of the saints. Satan offered them the one, and God offered them the other; and they had free liberty to choose which they would, and they chose “the pleasures of sin for a season,” before the everlasting rest with Christ. And is it not a righteous thing that they should be denied that which they would not accept? When God pressed them so earnestly, and persuaded them so importunately, to come in, and yet they would not, where should they be but among the dogs without? Though man be so wicked that he will not yield till the mighty power of grace prevail with him, yet still we may truly say that he may be saved, if he will, on God’s terms. His inability being moral, and lying in willful wickedness, is no more excuse to him than it is to an adulterer that he cannot love his own wife, or to a malicious person that he cannot but hate his own brother: is he not so much the worse, and deserving of so much the sorer punishment? Sinners shall lay all the blame on their own wills in hell for ever. Hell is a rational torment by conscience, according to the nature of the rational subject. If sinners could but then say, It was God’s fault, and not ours, it would quiet their consciences and ease their torments, and make hell, to them, to be no hell. But to remember their willfulness, will feed the fire, and cause the worm of conscience “never to die.”
It is the will of God that this rest should yet remain for his people, and not be enjoyed till they come to another world. Who should dispose of the creatures but he that made them? You may as well ask why have we not spring and harvest without winter? or, why is the earth below and the heavens above? as why we have not rest on earth? All things must come to their perfection by degrees. The strongest man must first be a child. The greatest scholar must first begin with the alphabet. The tallest oak was once an acorn. This life is our infancy; and would we be perfect in the womb, or born at full stature? If our rest was here, most of God’s providences must be useless. Should God lose the glory of his church’s miraculous deliverances, and of the fall of his enemies, that men may have their happiness here? If we were all happy, innocent, and perfect, what use was there for the glorious work of our sanctification, justification, and future salvation? — If we wanted nothing, we should not depend on God so closely, nor call upon him so earnestly. How little would he hear from us, if we had what we would have! God would never have had such songs of praise from Moses at the Red Sea and in the wilderness, from Deborah and Hannah, from David and Hezekiah, if they had been the choosers of their own condition. Have not thy own highest praises to God, reader, been occasioned by thy dangers or miseries? The greatest glory and praise God has through the world, is for redemption, reconciliation, and salvation by Christ; and was not man’s misery the occasion of that? — And where God loses the opportunity of exercising his mercies, man must needs lose the happiness of enjoying them. Where God loses his praise, man will certainly lose his comforts. O the sweet comforts the saints have had in return for their prayers! How should we know what a tender-hearted Father we have, if we had not, as the prodigal, been denied the husks of earthly pleasure and profit? We should never have felt Christ’s tender heart, if we had not felt ourselves “weary and heavy laden, hungry and thirsty, poor and contrite.” It is a delight to a soldier or traveler, to look back on his escapes when they are over; and for a saint in heaven to look back on his sins and sorrows upon earth; his fears and tears, his enemies and dangers, his wants and calamities must make his joy more joyful. Therefore the blessed, in praising the Lamb, mention his “redeeming them out of every nation, and kindred, and tongue;” and so out of their misery, and wants, and sins, “and making them kings and priests to God.” But if they had had nothing but content and rest on earth, what room would there have been for these rejoicings hereafter?
Besides, we are not capable of rest upon earth. Can a soul that is so weak in grace, so prone to sin, so nearly joined to such a neighbor as this flesh, have full content and rest in such a case? What is soul-rest, but our freedom from sin, and imperfections, and enemies? And can the soul have rest that is molested with all these, and that continually? Why do Christians so often cry out, in the language of Paul, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” What makes them “press toward the mark, and run that they may obtain, and strive to enter in,” if they are capable of rest in their present condition? And our bodies are incapable as well as our souls. They are not now those sun-like bodies which they shall be, when this “corruptible hath put on incorruption, and this mortal hath put on immortality.” They are our prisons and our burdens; so full of infirmities and defects, that we spend most of our time in repairing them and supplying their continual wants. Is it possible that an immortal soul should have rest in such a disordered habitation? Surely these sickly, weary, loathsome bodies must be refined before they can be capable of enjoying rest. The objects which we here enjoy are insufficient to afford us rest.
Alas! what is there in all the world to give us rest? They that have most of it have the greatest burden. They that set most by it, and rejoice most in it, do all cry out at last of its vanity and vexation. Men promise themselves a heaven upon earth; but when they come to enjoy it, it flies from them. He that has any regard to the works of the Lord, may easily see that the very end of them is to take down our idols, to make us weary of the world, and seek our rest in him. Where does he cross us most, but where we promise ourselves most content? If you have a child you dote upon, it becomes your sorrow. If you have a friend you trust in, and judge unchangeable, he becomes your scourge. Is this a place, or state of rest? And as the objects we here enjoy are insufficient for our rest, so God, who is sufficient, is here little enjoyed. It is not here that he had prepared the presence-chamber of his glory. He hath drawn the curtain between us and him. We are far from him as creatures, and farther as frail mortals, and farthest as sinners. We hear now and then a word of comfort from him, and receive his love-tokens to keep up our hearts and hopes; but this is not our full enjoyment. And can any soul that hath made God his portion, as every one hath that shall be saved by him, find rest in so vast a distance from him, and so seldom and small enjoyment of him?
Nor are we now capable of rest, as there is a worthiness must go before it.
Christ will give the crown to none but the worthy. Are we fit for the crown before we have overcome? or for the prize before we have run the race? or to receive our penny before we have wrought in the vineyard? or to be rulers of ten cities before we have improved our ten talents? or to enter into the joy of our Lord before we have well done as good and faithful servants? God will not alter the course of justice, to give you rest before you have labored, nor the crown of glory till you have overcome. There is reason enough why our rest should remain till the life to come. Take heed, then, Christian reader, how thou darest to contrive and care for a rest on earth; or to murmur at God for thy trouble, and toil, and wants in the flesh.
Doth thy poverty weary thee? thy sickness, thy bitter enemies and unkind friends? It should be so here. Do the abominations of the times, the sins of professors, the hardening of the wicked, all weary thee? It must be so while thou art absent from thy rest. Do thy sins and thy naughty, distempered heart weary thee? Be thus wearied more and more. But, under all is weariness, art thou willing to go to God, thy rest; and to have thy warfare accomplished, and thy race and labor ended? If not, complain more of thy own heart, and get it more weary, till rest seem more desirable.
I have but one thing more to add, for the close of this chapter — that the souls of believers do enjoy inconceivable blessedness and glory, even while they remain separated from their bodies. What can be more plain than these words of Paul: “We are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home,” or rather sojourning, “in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Or these: “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.” If Paul had not expected to enjoy Christ till the resurrection, why should he be in a strait, or desire to depart? Nay, should he not have been loth to depart upon the very same grounds? for while he was in the flesh he enjoyed something of Christ. Plain enough are the words of Christ to the thief — “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
In the parable of Dives and Lazarus, it seems unlikely Christ would so evidently intimate and suppose the soul’s happiness or misery presently after death, if there were no such thing. Our Lord’s argument for the resurrection supposes, that, “God being not the God of the dead, but of the living,” therefore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were then living in the soul. If the “blessedness of the dead that die in the Lord” were only in resting in the grave, then a beast or a stone were as blessed; nay, it were evidently a curse, and not a blessing. For was not life a great mercy? Was it not a greater mercy to serve God and to do good; to enjoy all the comforts of life, the fellowship of saints, the comfort of ordinances, and much of Christ in all, than to lie rotting in the grave? Therefore some further blessedness is there promised. How else is it said, “We are come to the spirits of just men made perfect?” Surely, at the resurrection, the body will be made perfect as well as the spirit. The Scriptures tell us, that Enoch and Elias are taken up already. And shall we think they possess that glory alone? Did not Peter, James, and John see Moses also with Christ on the mount? yet the Scripture saith, Moses died. And is it likely that Christ deluded their senses in showing them Moses, if he should not partake of that glory till the resurrection? And is not that of Stephen as plain as we can desire? “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Surely, if the Lord receive it, it is neither asleep, nor dead, nor annihilated; but it is where he is, and beholds his glory. That of the wise man is of the same import: “The spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Why are we said to “have eternal life;” and that to “know God is life eternal;” and that a believer “on the Son hath everlasting life?”
Or how is “the kingdom of God within us?” If there be as great an interruption of our life as till the resurrection, this is no eternal life, nor “everlasting kingdom.” “The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah” are spoken of as “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire!” And if the wicked already suffer eternal fire, then no doubt but the godly enjoy eternal blessedness.
When John saw his glorious relations, he is said to be “in the Spirit,” and to be “carried away in the Spirit.” And when Paul was “caught up to the third heaven,” he knew not “whether in the body or out of the body.” This implies that spirits are capable of these glorious things without the help of their bodies. The same is implied when John says, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God.” When Christ says, “Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul,” does it not plainly imply, that when wicked men have killed our bodies, that is, have separated the souls from them, yet the souls are still alive? The soul of Christ was alive when his body was dead, and therefore so shall be ours too. This appears by his words to the thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise;” and also by his voice on the cross, “Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit.” If the spirits of those that “were disobedient in the days of Noah were in prison,” that is, in a living and suffering state; then, certainly, the separate spirits of the just are in an opposite condition of happiness. Therefore, faithful souls will no sooner leave their prisons of flesh but angels shall be their convoy; Christ, and all the perfected spirits of the just, will be their companions; heaven will be their residence, and God their happiness. When such die, they may boldly and believingly say, as Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;” and commend it, as Christ did, into a Father’s hands.