« PreviousContinue »
and the present state of things made so very low and insignificant, that he who can only deprive us of them, has not power enough to deserve our fear.
We must therefore, if we would conceive our true state, our real good and evil, look farther than the dim eyes of flesh can carry our views, we must, with the eyes of faith, penetrate into the invisible world, the world of spirits, and consider our order and condition amongst them, a world which (as St. John speaks) has no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it, for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the light of the Lamb. For it is there, amongst eternal beings, that we must take an eternal fellowship, or fall into a kingdom of darkness and everlasting misery
Christianity is so divine in its nature, so noble in its ends, so extensive in its views, that it has no lesser subjects than these to entertain our thoughts.
It buries our bodies, burns the present world, triumphs over death by a general resurrection, and opens all into an eternal state.
It never considers us in any other respect, than as fallen spirits; it disregards the distinctinetions of human society, and proposes nothing to our fears, but eternal misery, nor any thing to our hopes but an endless enjoyment of the divine nature.
This is the great and important condition in which Christianity has placed us, above our bodies, above the world, above death, to be present at the dissolution of all things, to see the earth in flames, and the heavens wrapt up like a scroll, to stand at the general resurrection, to appear at the universal judgment, and to live for ever, when all that our eyes have seen is passed away and gone.
Take upon thee, therefore, a spirit and temper suitable to this greatness of thy condition; remember that thou art an eternal spirit, that thou art, for a few months and years, in a state of flesh and blood, only to try whether thou shalt be for ever happy with God, or fall into everlasting misery with the devil.
Thou wilt often hear of other concerns, and other greatness in this world; thou wilt see every order of men, every family, every person pursuing some fancied happiness of his own, as if the world had not only happiness, but a particular kind of happiness for all its inhabitants.
But when thou seest this state of human life, fancy that thou sawest all the world asleep, the prince no longer a prince, the beggar no longerbegging, but every man sleeping out of his proper state; some happy, others tormented, and all changing their condition as fast as one foolish dream could succeed another.
When thou hast seen this, thou hast seen all that the world awake can do for thee; if thou wilt, thou mayest go to sleep for a while, thou mayest lie down and dream; for be as happy as the world can make thee, all is but sleeping and dreaming, and what is still worse, it is like sleeping in a ship when thou shouldest be pumping out the water; or dreaming thou art a prince, when thou shouldest be redeeming thyself from slavery.
Now this is no imaginary flight of a melancholy fancy, that too much exceeds the nature of things, but a sober reflection justly suited to the vanity of worldly enjoyments.
For if the doctrines of Christianity are true, if thou art that creature, that fallen spirit, that immortal nature which religion teaches us, if thou art to meet death, resurrection, and judgment, as the forerunners of an eternal state, what are all the little flashes of pleasure, the changing appearances of worldly felicities, but so many sorts of dreams?
How canst thou talk of the happiness of riches, the advantages of fortune, the pleasures of apparel, of state and equipage, without being in a dream?
Is the beggar asleep, when he fancies he is build
ing himself fine houses? Is the prisoner in a dream when he imagines himself in open fields and fine groves? And canst thou think that thy immortal spirit is awake, whilst it is delighting itself in the shadows and bubbles of wordly happiness ?
For if it be true, that man is upon his trial, if the trial is for eternity, if life is but a vapour, what is there that deserves a serious thought, but how get well out of the world, and make it a right passage to our eternal state?
How can we prove that we are awake, that our eyes are open, but by seeing and feeling, and living according to these important circumstances of our life?
If a man should endeavour to please thee with fine descriptions of the riches, and pleasures, and dignities of the world in the moon, adding that its air is always serene, and its seasons always pleasant, wouldest thou not think it a sufficient answer, to say, I am not to live there?
When thy own false heart is endeavouring to please itself with worldly expectatìons, the joy of this or that way of life, is it not as good a reproof to say to thyself, I am not to stay here?
For where is the difference betwixt an earthly happiness, from which thou art to be separated for ever, and a happiness in the moon to which thou art never to go? Thou art to be for ever separated from the earth, thou art to be eternal, when the earth itself is lost, is it not therefore the same vanity to project for happiness on earth, as to propose a happiness in the moon ? For as thou art never to go to the one, so thou art to be eternally separated from the other.
Indeed the littleness and insignificancy of the boasted honours of human life, appears sufficiently from the things themselves, without comparing them to the subjects of religion. For see what they are in themselves.
Ahasuerus, that great prince of the eastern world, puts a question to Haman, his chief minister of state, he asks him, what shall be done unto the man, whom the king delighteth Esther vi. 6. to honour.
Haman imagining that he was the person whom the king had in his thoughts, answered in these words:
Let the royal apparel be brought which the king used to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head ; and let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal, whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring them on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.
Here you see the sum total of worldly honours.
An ambitious Haman cannot think of any thing greater to ask; Ahasuerus, the greatest monarch in the world, has nothing greater to give to his greatest favourite; powerful as he is, he can only give such honours as these.
Yet it is to be observed, that if a poor nurse was to please her child, she must talk to it in the same language, she must please it with same fine things, and gratify its pride with honours of the same kind.
Yet these are the mighty things, for which men forget God, forget their immortality, forget the difference betwixt an eternity in heaven, and an eternity in hell.
There needs no great understanding, no mighty depth of thought, to see through the vanity of ail worldly enjoyments; do but talk of them, and you will be forced to talk of gewgaws, of ribbons, and feathers.
Every man sees the littleness of all sorts of hoa nours, but those which he is looking after himself.
A private English gentleman, that is half distracted till he has got some little distinction, does, at the same time, despise the highest honours of other countries, and would not leave his own condition to possess the ridiculous greatness of an Indian king. He sees the vanity and falseness of their honours, but forgets that all honour placed in external things, is equally vain and false.
He does not consider that the difference of greatness is only the difference of flowers and feathers; and that they who are dressing themselves with beads, have as just a taste of what adorns their persons as they who place the same pride in diamonds.
When we read of an Eastern prince, that is too great to feed himself, and thinks it a piece of grandeur to have other people put his meat into his mouth, we despise the folly of his pride.
But might we not as well despise the folly of their pride, who are ashamed to use their legs, and think it adds to their state to be removed from one place to another by other people.
For he that thinks it stately to be carried, and mean to walk on foot, has as true notions of greatness, as he who is too haughty to put his meat into his own mouth.
Again, It is the manner of some countries in the burial of their dead to put a staff, and shoes, and money in the Sepulchre along with the corpse.
We justly censure the folly and ignorance of such a poor contrivance to assist the dead; but if we did but as truly understand what life is, we should see as much to ridicule in the poor contrivances to assist the living
For how many things in life do peopie labour after, break their rest and peace to get, which yet, when gotten, are of as much real use to them as a staff and shoes to a corpse under ground? They are always adding something to their life, which is