« PreviousContinue »
hopes hath that tutor or schoolmaster of preserving his reputation, who shall be accounted erroneous, and accused of unsound or injurious doctrine, by every scholar that understandeth not his words, and all the reasons of them?
But God in great mercy to me hath made this my lot (not causing, but permitting, the sins of the contentious) that I might before death be better weaned from all below : had my temptations from inordinate applause had no allay, they might have been more dangerously strong. Even yet while churchdividers, on both extremes, do make me the object of their daily obloquy, the continued respects of the sober and peaceable, are so great, as to be a temptation strong enough, to so weak a person, to give a check to my desires to leave the world. It is long since riches and worldly honour appeared to me as they are, as not rendering the world much lovely or desirable. But the love and concord of religious persons hath a more amiable aspect : there is so much holiness in these, that I was loth to call them vanity and vexation : but yet as flesh and blood would refer them to selfish ends, and any way value them as a carnal interest, I must so call them, and number them with the things that are loss and dung. (Phil. iii. 7, 8.) Selfishness can serve itself upon things good and holy: and if good men, and good books, and good sermons, would make the world seem over-lovely to us, it will be a mercy of God to abate the temptation: and if my soul, looking toward the heavenly Jerusalem, be hindered as Paul was in his journey to Jerusalem, (Acts xx. and xxi.,) by the love of ancient friends and hearers, I must say, "What mean you to weep and break my heart! I am ready to leave the dearest friends on earth, and life, and all the pleasures of life, for the presence of far better friends with Christ, and the sweeter pleasures of a better life.' That little amiableness which is in things below, is in godly men as life in the heart, which dieth last: when that is all gone, when we are dead to the love of the godly themselves, and to learning, books, and mediate ordinances, so far as they serve a selfish interest, and .tempt down our hearts from heavenly aspirings, the world is then crucified to us, indeed, and we to it. I rejoice to tread in the footsteps of my Lord, who had some, indeed, weeping about his cross, but was forsaken by all his disciples, while in the hour of temptation they all fled ! But my desertion is far less, for it is less that I am fit to bear. If God will justify, who shall condemn ? If he be for me, who shall be against me? O may I not be put to that dreadful case, to cry out, “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And may nothing separate me from his love! And then were I forsaken of the sober and peaceable, as I am, in part, of some quarrelsome dividers, how tolerable a trial would it be ? Man is as dust in the balance, that addeth- little to it, and signifieth nothing when God is in the other end. But I suspect still that I make too much account of man, when this case hath taken up too much of my observation. 1. And of all things, surely a departing soul hath least
to fear the losing of its notice of the affairs of the world ; of peace, or wars, or church, or kingdoms ? For, 1. If the sun can send forth its material beams, and operate by motion, light, and heat, at such a distance as this earth, why should I think that blessed spirits are such local, confined, and impotent substances, as not to have notice of the things of earth ? Had I but bodily eyes, I could see more from the top of a tower or hill, than any one that is below can do. And shall I know less of earth from heaven than I do now? It is unlike that my capacity will be so little, and if it were, it is unlike that Christ and all the angels will be so strange to me, as to give me no notice of things that so much concern my God and my Redeemer, (to whom I am united,) and the holy society of which I am a part, and inyself as a member of Christ and that society! I do not think that the communion of the celestial inhabitants is so narrow and slow, as it is of walking clods of earth, and of souls that are confined to such dark lanterns as this body is. Stars can shine one to another, and we on earth can see them so far off in their heaven. And sure then if they have a seeing faculty each of them can see many of us ; even the kingdoms of the world. Spirits are most active, and of powerful and quick communication. They need not send letters, or write books to one another, nor lift up a voice to make each other hear; nor is there any unkindness, division, or unsociable selfishness among them, which may cause them to conceal their notices or their joys ; but as activity, so unity is greatest where there is most perfection; they will so be many, as yet to be one; and their knowledge will be one knowledge, and their love one love, and their joy one joy. Not by so perfect a unity as in God himself, who is one and but one; but such as is suitable to created imperfection, which participate of the perfection of the Creator, as the effect doth of the virtue of the cause, and therefore hath some participation of his unity. (O foolish soul ! if I shall fear this unity with God, Christ, and all the holy spirits, lest I should lose my present separate individuation, when perfection and union are so rear a-kin.) In a word, I have no cause to think that my celestial advancement will be a diminution of any desirable knowledge, even of things on earth; but contrarily, that it will be incoli: ceivably increased.
2. But if indeed I shall know less of things below, it will be because that the knowledge of them is a part of vanity and vexation, which hath no place in heaven. So much knowledge of good and evil in lower matters, as came to us by sin, is unworthy of our fond tenaciousriess, and fear of losing it. Surely the sad tidings which we have weekly in our news books, our lamentable notices of heathen and infidel kingdoms, of the overspreading prevalency of barbárousness, idolatry, ignorance, and infidelity; of the rage and success of cruel tyrants; of the bloody wars of proud, unquiet, worldly men; of the misery of the oppressed, desolate countries, the dissipated churches, the persecuted, innocent Christians, are no sucli pleasing things as that we should be afraid to hear of such no more. To know or hear of the poor in famine, the rich in folly, the church distracted, the kingdom discontented, the godly scandalous by the effects of their errors, imperfections, and divisions ; the wicked outrageous, and waxing worse, the falseness, of miscarriages, or sufferings of friends, the fury or success of enemies. Is this an intelligence which I cannot spare? What is the daily tidings that I hear, but of bloody wars, the undone countries, the persecuted churches, the silenced, banished, or imprisoned preachers; of the best removed in judgment from an unworthy world by death, and worse succeeding in their rooms, of the renewed designs and endeavours of the church's enemies; the implacable rage of the worldly and unquiet clergy, and the new divisions of self-conceited sectaries, and the obloquy and backbitings of each party against the other? How oft hear I the sad tidings of this friend's sickness or death, and that friend's discontent, and of another's fall, and of many, very many's sufferings? My eårs are daily filled with the cries of the poor, whom I cannot relieve; with the endless complaints of fearful, melancholy, despairing persons; witli the wranglings of the ignorant and proud professors, and contentious divines, who censure most boldly where they are most érroneous or dark; or with the
troublesome discontents of those that I converse with ; and should I be afraid of the ending of so sad a tragedy, or of awaking out of such an unpleasant dream? Have I not many times thought of the privilege of the deaf, that hear not these troublesome and provoking things; and of the blind that see not the vanities and temptations of this world. It is one part. of the benefit of solitude, or a private life and habitation, to free me from many of these unpleasing objects ; and a great part of the benefit of sleep, that with my clothes I may lay by these troublesome thoughts.
Sect. ll. But other men tell me, the church cannot yet spare you ; there is yet this and that necessary work to be done ; there is this and that need, &c.
But, 1. Is it we or God that must choose his servants, and cut out their work? Whose work am I doing? Is it my own or his? If his, is it not he that must tell me what, and when, and how long? And will not his will and choice be hest? If I believe not this, how do I take him for my God ?. Doth God or I know better what he hath yet to do? And who is fittest to do it? The church's service and benefits must be measured out by our Master and Benefactor, and not by ourselves.
2. What am I to those more excellent persons whom, in all ages, he hath taken out of the world? And would men's thoughts of the church's needs detain them? The poot heathen, infidel, Mahometan nations have no preachers of the Gospel. And if their need prove not that God will send them such, no country's need will prove that God will continue them such. Many more useful servants of Christ have died in their youth : John Janeway preached but one sermon; Joseph Allen (and many other excellent men) died in the midst of his vigorous, successful labours; both of them far more fit for God's work, and likely to win souls, and glorify God, than I am, or ever was, however their greater light was partly kindled from
Yet did both these, under painful consuming languishings of the flesh, die as they had long lived, in the lively triumphant praises of their Redeemer, and joyful desires and hopes of glory. And shall I, at seventy-six years of age, after such a life of unspeakable mercies, and almost fifty-three years of comfortable help in the service of my Lord, be now afraid of my reward, and shrink at the sentence of death, and still be desiring to stay here, upon pretence of further service ? We know not what is best for the church as God doth; the
church and the world are not ours but his; not our desires, but his will must measure out its mercies. We are not so merciful as he is. It is not unmeet for us to desire many things which God will not give, nor seeth it meet to grant the particulars of such desires. Nothing ever lay so heavy on my heart, as the sin and misery of mankind, and to think how much the world lieth in folly and wickedness! And for what can I heartily as for the world's recovery? and it is his will that I should show a holy and universal love by praying, "Let thy name be hallowed, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven;" and yet alas, how unlike is earth to heaven, and what ignorance, sin, confusions, and cruelties, here reign and prosper! And unless there be a wonderful change to be expected, even as by a general miracle, how little hope appeareth that ever these prayers should be granted in the things ! It maketh us better to desire that others may be better; but God is the free disposer of his own gifts: and it seemeth to be his will, that the permitted ignorance and confusions of this world should help us the more to value and desire that world of light, love, and order, which he calleth us to prefer and hope for.
And if I am any way useful to the world, it is undeserved mercy that hath made me so, for which I must be thankful; but how long I shall be so, is not my business to determine, but my Lord's. . My many sweet and beautiful flowers arise and appear in their beauty and sweetness, but for one summer's time, and they murmur not that they flourish for so short a space. The beasts, and birds, and fishes, which I feed on, do live till I will have them die ; and as God will be served and pleased by wonderful variety at once of animals and vegetables, &c., so will he by many successive generations. If one flower fall or die, it sufficeth that others shall, summer after summer, arise from the same root : and if my pears, apples, plums, &c., fall or serve me when they are ripe, it sufficeth that not they, but others, the next year, shall do the same ; God will have other generations to succeed us.
Let us thank him that we have had our time : and could we overcome the grand (too little observed) crime of selfishness, and could love others as ourselves, and God, as God, above all the world, it would comfort us at death, that others shall survive us, and the world shall continue, and God will be still God, and be glorified in his works : and love will say, I shall live in my successors, and I shall more than live in the life of the world, and yet most of all in the eternal life and glory of God.