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For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and
be with Christ, which is far better. (Or, for this is much rather to be preferred, or better.)
SECT. I. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down : he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. And dost thou open thine eyes upon such a one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?” saith Job, xiv. 1-3. As a watch when it is wound up, or as a candle newly lighted, so man, newly conceived or born, beginneth a motion, which incessantly hasteth to its appointed period : and an action, and its time that is past, is nothing ; so vain a thing would man be, and so vain his life, were it not for the hopes of a more durable life, which this referreth to; but those hopes, and the means, do not only difference a believer from an infidel, but a man from a beast. When Solomon describeth the difference, in respect to the time and things, of this life only, he truly tells us," that one end here befalling both, doth show that both are here but vanity, but man's vexation is greater than the beasts'.” And Paul truly saith of Christians, “ That if our hope were only in this life, (that is, in the time and things of this life and world,) we were, of all men, the most miserable.” Though even in this life, as related to a better, and as we are exercised about things of a higher nature than the concerns of temporal life, we are far happier than any worldlings.
Sect. 2. Being to speak to myself, I shall pass by all the rest of the matter of this text, and suppose its due explication, and spread before my soul only the doctrine and uses of these two propositions contained in it. I. That the souls of believers, when departed hence, shall be with Christ. II. That so to be with Christ is far better for them than to be here in the body.
Sect. 3. I. Concerning the first, my thoughts shall keep this order. 1. I shall consider the necessity of believing it. 2. Whether it be best believing it, without consideration of the proofs or difficulties. 3. The certainty of it manifested for the exercise of faith.
Sect. 4. I. Whether the words signify that we shall be in the same place with Christ (which Grotius groundlessly denieth) or only in his hand, and care, and love, I will not stay to dispute. Many other texts concurring, do assure us that “we shall be with him where he is.” (John xii. 26, and xvii. 24, &c.) At least, with him," can mean no less than a state of communion, and a participation of felicity. And to believe such a state of happiness for departed souls, is of manifold necessity, or usé.
Sect. 5. I. If this be not soundly believed, a man must live besides, or below, the end of life.' He must have a false end, or be uncertain what should be his end.
I know it may be objected, that if I make it my end to please God, by obeying him, and doing all the good I can, and trust him with my soul and future estate, as one that is utterly uncertain what he will do with me, I have an end intended, which will make me godly, charitable, and just, and happy, so far as I am made for happiness; for the pleasing of God is the right end of all.
But, 1. Must I desire to please him no better than I do in this imperfect state, in which I have and do so much which is displeasing to him? He that must desire to please him, inust desire to please him perfectly; and our desire of our ultimate end must have no bounds, or check. Am I capable of pleasing God no better than by such a sinful life as this?
2. God hath made the desire of our own felicity so necessary to the soul of man, that it cannot be expected that our desire to please him should be separated from this.
3. Therefore, both in respect of God, as the end, and of our felicity, as our second end, we must believe that he is the beatifying rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
For, 1. If we make such an ill description of God, as that he will turn our pleasing him to our loss, or will not turn it to our gain and welfare, or that we know not whether he will do so or not, it will hinder our love, and trust, and joy, in him, by which we must please him, and, consequently, hinder the alacrity, and soundness, and constancy, of our obedience.
2. And it will much dismiss that self-love which must excite us, and it will take off part of our necessary end. And I think the objectors will confess, that if they have no certainty what God will do with them, they must have some probability and hope before they can be sincerely devoted here to please him.
Sect. 6. And, 1. If a man be but uncertain what he should make the end of his life, or what he should live for, how can he pitch upon an uncertain end? And if he waver so as to have no end, he can use no means; and if end and means be all laid by, the man liveth not as a man, but as a brute : and what a torment must it be to a considering mind to be uncertain what to intend and do in all the tenour and actions of his life ? . Like a man going out at his door, not knowing whither or what to do, or which way to go : either he will stand still, or move as brutes do, by present sense, or as a windmill, or weathercock, as he is moved.
Sect. 7. 2. But if he pitch upon a wrong end, it may yet be worse than none;, for he will but do hurt, or make work for repentance: and all the actions of his life must be formally wrong, how good soever, materially, if the end of them be wrong. Sect. 8.
2. And if I fetch them not from this end, and believe not in God as a rewarder of his servants, in a better life, what motives shall I have, which, in our present difficulties, will be sufficient to cause me to live a holy, yea, or a truly honest, life? All piety and honesty, indeed, is good, and goodness is desirable for itself: but the goodness of a means is its aptitude for the end; and we have here abundance of impediments, competitors, diversions, and temptations, and difficulties, of many sorts; and all these must be overcome by him that will live in piety or honesty: and our natures, we find, are diseased, and greatly indisposed to unquestionable duties; and will they ever discharge them, and conquer all these difficulties and temptations, if the necessary motive be not believed ? Duty to God and man is accidentally hard and costly to the flesh, though amiable in itself. It may cost us our estates, our liberties, our lives. The world is not so happy as commonly to know good men from bad, or to encourage piety and virtue, or to forbear opposing them. And who will let go his present welfare, without some hope of better, as a reward? Men use
not to serve God for nought; nor that think it will be their loss to serve him. Sect. 9. A life of sin will not be avoided
lower ends and motives : nay, those lower ends, when alone, will be a constant sin themselves. A preferring vanity to glory, the creature to God, and a setting our heart on that which will never make us happy: and when lust and appetite incline men, strongly and constantly, to their several objects, what shall sufficiently restrain them, except the greater and more durable delights or motives fetched from preponderating things ? Lust and appetite distinguish not between lawful and unlawful. We may see in the brutish politics of Benedictus Spinosa, in his Tractat. Theolog. Polit., whither the principles of infidelity tend. If sin so overspread the earth, that the whole world is as drowned in wickedness, notwithstanding all the hopes and fears of a life to come, what would it do were there no such hopes and fears?
Sect. 10. 3. And no mercy can be truly known and estimated, nor rightly used and improved, by him that seeth not its tendency to the end, and perceiveth not that it leadeth to a better life, and useth it not thereunto. God dealeth more bountifully with us than worldlings understand. He giveth us all the mercies of this life, as helps to an immortal state of glory, and as earnests of it. Sensualists know not what a soul is, nor what soul mercies are; and, therefore, not what the soul of all bodily mercies are, but take up only with the carcass, shell, or shadow. If the king would give me a lordship, and send me a horse, or coach, to carry me to it, and I should only ride about the fields for my pleasure, and make no other use of it, should I not undervalue and lose the principal benefit of my horse, or coach ? No wonder if unbelievers be unthankful, when they know not at all that part of God's mercies which is the life and real excellency of them.
Sect. 11. 4. And, alas ! how should I bear with comfort the sufferings of this wretched life, without the hopes of a life with Christ? What should support and comfort me under my bodily languishing's and pains, my weary hours, and my daily experience of the vanity and vexation of all things under the sun, had I not a prospect of a comfortable end of all ? I that have lived in the midst of great and precious mercies, have all my life had something to do to overcome the temptation of wishing that I had never been born, and had never overcome it but by the belief of a blessed life hereafter. Solomon's sense of vanity and vexation hath long made all the business, and wealth, and honour, and pleasure, of this world, as such, appear such a dream and shadow to me, that were it not for the end, I could not have much differenced men's sleeping and their waking thoughts, nor have much more valued the waking than the sleeping part of life, but should have thought it a kind of happiness to have slept from the birth unto the death. Children cry when they come into the world; and I am often sorry when I am awakened out of a quiet sleep, especially to the business of an unquiet day. We should be strongly tempted, in our considering state, to murmur at our Creator, as dealing much hardlier by us than by the brutes, if we must have had all those cares, and griefs, and fears, by the knowledge of what we want, and the prospect of death, and future evils, which they are exempted from, and had not, withal, had the hopes of a future felicity to support us. Seneca and his stoics had no better argument to silence such murmurers who believed not a better life, than to tell them, that if this life had more evil than good, and they thought God did them wrong, they might remedy themselves by ending it when they would. But that would not cure the repinings of a nature which found itself necessarily weary of the miseries of life, and yet afraid of dying. And it is no great wonder that many thought that pre-existent souls were put into these bodies as a punishment of something done in a former life, while they foresaw not the hoped end of all our fears and
O how contemptible a thing is man !' saith the same Seneca, ' unless he lift up himself above human things.' Therefore, saith Solomon, when he had glutted himself with all temporal pleasures, “I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous to me; for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” (Eccles. ii. 17.)
Sect. 12. Il. I have often thought whether an implicit belief of a future happiness, without any search into its nature, and thinking of any thing that can be said against it, or the searching, trying way, be better. On the one side, I have known many godly women that never disputed the matter, but served God, comfortably, to a very old age, (hetibeen eighty and one hundred;) to have lived many years in a cheerful readiness and desire of death, and such as few learned, studious inen do ever attain to in that degree, who, no doubt, had this as a divine reward of their long and faithful service of God, and trusting in him. On