Especial objects of spiritual thoughts on the glorious state of heaven, and what belongs thereto. First, of Christ himself. Thoughts of heavenly glory, in opposition unto thoughts of eternal misery. The use of such thoughts. Advantage in sufferings.
It will be to our advantage, having stated right notions of the glory of the blessed state above in our minds, to fix on some particulars belonging to it as the especial object of our thoughts and meditations.
1. Think much of him who unto us is the life and centre of all the glory of heaven; that is, Christ himself.
I shall be very brief in treating hereof, because I have designed a particular treatise on this subject, of beholding the glory of Christ, both here and unto eternity. At present, therefore, a few things only shall be mentioned, because on this occasion they are not to be omitted. The whole of the glory of the state above is expressed by being “ever with the Lord, where he is, to behold his glory;” for in and through him is the beatifical manifestation of God and his glory made for evermore, and through him are all communications of inward glory unto us. The present resplendency of heavenly glory consists in his mediatory ministry, as I have at large elsewhere declared; and he will be the means of all-glorious communications between God and the church unto eternity.
Wherefore, if we are spiritually minded, we should fix our thoughts on Christ above, as the centre of all heavenly glory. To help us herein, we may consider the things that follow:
1. Faith hath continual recourse to him. on the account of what he did and suffered for us in this world; for thereon pardon of sin, justification, and peace with God, do depend. This ariseth, in the first place, from a sense of our own wants. But love of him is no less necessary unto us than faith in him; and although we have powerful motives unto love from what he did and was in this world, yet the formal reason of our adherence unto him thereby is what he is in himself as he is now exalted in heaven. If we rejoice not at the remembrance of his present glory, if the thoughts of it be not frequent with us and refreshing unto us, how dwelleth his love in us?
2. Our hope is that ere long we shall be ever with him; and if so, it is certainly our wisdom and duty to be here with him as much as we can. It is a vain thing for any to suppose that they place their chiefest happiness in being for ever in the presence of Christ, who care not at all to be with him here as they may. And the only way of our being present with him here is, by faith and love, acting themselves in spiritual thoughts and affections. And it is an absurd thing for men to esteem themselves Christians who scarce think of Christ all the day long; yet some, as one complained of old, scarce ever think or speak of him but when they swear by his name.
I have read of them, who have lived and died in continual contemplation on him, so far as the imperfection of our present state will admit; I have known them, I do know them, who call themselves unto a reproof if at any time he hath been many minutes out of their thoughts; and it is strange that it should be otherwise with them who love him in sincerity. Yet I wish I did not know more who give evidences that it is a rare thing for them to be exercised in serious thoughts and meditations about him; yea, there are some who are not averse upon occasions to speak of God, of mercy, of pardon, of his power and goodness, who, if you mention Christ unto them, with any thing of faith, love, trust in him, they seem unto them as a strange thing. Few there are who are sensible of any religion beyond what is natural. The things of the wisdom and power of God in Christ are foolishness unto them.
Take some directions for the discharge of this duty:
In your thoughts of Christ, be very careful that they are conceived and directed according to the rule of the word, lest you deceive your own souls, and give up the conduct of your affections unto vain imaginations. Spiritual notions befalling carnal minds did once, by the means of superstition, ruin the power of religion. A conviction men had that they must think much of Jesus Christ, and that this would make them conformable unto him; but having no real evangelical faith, nor the wisdom of faith to exercise it in their thoughts and affections in a due manner, nor understanding what it was to be truly like unto him, they gave up themselves unto many foolish inventions and imaginations, by which they thought to express their love and conformity unto him.
They would have images of him, which they would embrace, adore, and bedew with their tears. They would have crucifixes, as they called them, which they would carry about them, and wear next unto their hearts, as if they resolved to lodge Christ always in their bosoms. They would go in pilgrimage to the place where he died and rose again, through a thousand dangers, and purchase a feigned chip of a tree whereon he suffered, at the price of all they had in the world. They would endeavor, by long thoughtfulness, fastings, and watchings, to cast their souls into raptures and ecstasies, wherein they fancied themselves in his presence. They came at last to make themselves like him, in getting impressions of wounds on their sides, their hands, and feet.
Unto all these things, and sundry others of a like nature and tendency, did superstition abuse and corrupt the minds of men, from a pretence of a principle of truth; for there is no more certain gospel truth than this, that believers ought continually to contemplate on Christ by the actings of faith in their thoughts and affections, and that thereby they are changed and transformed into his image (2 Cor 3:18). And we are not to forego our duty because other men have been mistaken in theirs, nor part with practical, fundamental principles of religion because they have been abused by superstition. But we may see herein how dangerous it is to depart in any thing from the conduct of Scripture light and rule, when for want thereof the best and most noble endeavors of the minds of men, even to love Christ and to be like unto him, do issue in provocations of the highest nature.
Pray, therefore, that you may be kept unto the truth in all things, by a diligent attention unto the only rule thereof and conscientious subjection of soul unto the authority of God in it; for we ought not to suffer our affections to be entangled with the paint or artificial beauty of any way or means of giving our love unto Christ which are not warranted by the word of truth. Yet I must say that I had rather be among them who, in the actings of their love and affection unto Christ, do fall into some irregularities and excesses in their manner of expressing it (provided their worship of him be neither superstitious nor idolatrous), than among those who, professing themselves to be Christians, do almost disavow their having any thoughts of or affection unto the person of Christ.
But there is no need that we should foolishly run into either of these extremes. God hath in the Scripture sufficiently provided against them both. He hath both showed us the necessity of our diligent acting of faith and love on the person of Christ, and hath limited out the way and means whereby we may so do; and let our designs be what they will, where in any thing we depart from his prescriptions, we are not under the conduct of his Spirit, and so are sure to lose all that we do.
Wherefore, two things are required that we may thus think of Christ and meditate on him according to the mind and will of God:
(1.) That the means of bringing him to mind be what God hath promised and appointed.
(2.) That the continued proposal of him as the object of our thoughts and meditations be of the same kind.
For both these ends the superstitious minds of men invented the ways of images and crucifixes, with their appurtenances, before mentioned; and this rendered all their devotion an abomination. That which tends to these ends among believers is the promise of the Spirit and the institutions of the word.
Would you, then, think of Christ as you ought, take these two directions:
(1.) Pray that the Holy Spirit may abide with you continually, to mind you of him; which he will do in all in whom he doth abide; for it belongs unto his office.
(2.) For more fixed thoughts and meditations, take some express place of Scripture wherein he is set forth and proposed, either in his person, office, or grace, unto you (Gal 3:1).
3. This duty lies at the foundation of all that blessed communion and intercourse that is between Jesus Christ and the souls of believers. This, I confess, is despised by some, and the very notion of it esteemed ridiculous; but they do therein no less than renounce Christianity, and turn the Lord Christ into an idol, that neither knoweth, seeth, nor heareth. But I speak unto them who are not utter strangers unto the life of faith, who know not what religion is unless they have real spiritual intercourse and communion with the Lord Christ thereby.
Consider this, therefore, as it is in particular exemplified in the book of Canticles [Song of Solomon]. There is not one instance of it to be found which doth not suppose a continual thoughtfulness of him. And in answer unto them, as they are actings of faith and love, wherein he is delighted, doth he by his Spirit insinuate into our minds and hearts a gracious sense of his own love, kindness, and relation unto us. The great variety wherein these things are mutually carried on between him and the church, the singular endearments which ensue thereon, and blessed estate in rest and complacency, do make up the substance of that holy discourse.
No thoughts of Christ, then, proceeding from faith, accompanied with love and delight, shall be lost. They that sow this seed shall return with their sheaves; Christ will meet them with gracious intimations of his acceptance of them and delight in them, and return a sense of his own love to them. He never will be, he never was, behind with any poor soul in returns of love. Those gracious and blessed promises which he hath made of “coming unto them” that believe in him, of “making his abode with them,” and of “supping with them” – all expressions of a gracious presence and intimate communion – do all depend on this duty.
Wherefore, we may consider three things concerning these thoughts of Christ:
(1.) That they are exceeding acceptable unto him, as the best pledges of our cordial affection: “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song 2:14). When a soul through manifold discouragements and despondencies withdraws, and as it were hides itself from him, he calleth to see a poor, weeping, blubbered face, and to hear a broken voice, that scarce goes beyond sighs and groans.
(2.) These thoughts are the only means whereby we comply with the gracious intimations of his love mentioned before. By them do we hear his knocking, know his voice, and open the door of our hearts to give him entrance, that he may abide and sup with us. Sometimes, indeed, the soul is surprised into acts of gracious communion with Christ (Song 6:12); but they are not to be expected unless we abide in those ways and means which prepare and make our souls meet for the reception and entertainment of him. Wherefore,
(3.) Our want of experience in the power of this holy intercourse and communion with Christ ariseth principally from our defect in this duty. I have known one who, after a long profession of faith and holiness, fell into great darkness and distress merely on this account, that he did not experience in himself the sweetness, life, and power, of the testimonies given concerning the real communications of the love of Christ unto, and the intimation of his presence with, believers. He knew well enough the doctrine of it, but did not feel the power of it; at least he understood there was more in it than he had experience of. God carried him by faith through that darkness, but taught him withal that no sense of these things was to be let into the soul but by constant thoughtfulness and contemplations on Christ. How many blessed visits do we lose by not being exercised unto this duty! See Song 5:1-3.
Sometimes we are busy, sometimes careless and negligent, sometimes slothful, sometimes under the power of temptations, so that we neither inquire after nor are ready to receive them. This is not the way to have our joys abound.
4. Again (I speak now with especial respect unto him in heaven); the glory of his presence, as God and man eternally united; the discharge of his mediatory office, as he is at the right hand of God; the glory of his present acting for the church, as he is the minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle which God hath fixed and not man; the love, power, and efficacy of his intercession, whereby he takes care for the accomplishment of the salvation of the church; the approach of his glorious coming unto judgment; are to be the objects of our daily thoughts and meditations.
Let us not mistake ourselves. To be spiritually minded is, not to have the notions and knowledge of spiritual things in our minds; it is not to be constant, no, nor to abound, in the performance of duties: both which may be where there is no grace in the heart at all. It is to have our minds really exercised with delight about heavenly things, the things that are above, especially Christ himself as at the right hand of God.
5. Again; so think of eternal things, as continually to lay them in the balance against all the sufferings of this life. This use of it I have spoken unto somewhat before; and it is necessary it should be pressed upon all occasions. It is very probable that we shall yet suffer more than we have done. Those who have gone before us have done so; it is foretold in the Scripture that if we will live godly in Christ Jesus we must do so; we stand in need of it, and the world is prepared to bring it on us. And as we must suffer, so it is necessary, unto the glory of God and our own salvation, that we suffer in a due manner.
Mere sufferings will neither commend us unto God nor any way advantage our own souls. When we suffer according to the will of God, it is an eminent grace, gift, and privilege (Phil 1:29). But many things are required hereunto. It is not enough that men suppose themselves to suffer for conscience’ sake – though if we do not so suffer all our sufferings are in vain; nor is it enough that we suffer for this or that way of profession in religion, which we esteem to be true and according to the mind of God, in opposition unto what is not so. The glory of sufferings on these accounts solely hath been much sullied in the days wherein we live. It is evident that persons, out of a natural courage, accompanied with deep radicate persuasions, and having their minds influenced with some sinister ends, may undergo things hard and difficult in giving testimony unto what is not according to the mind of God. Examples we have had hereof in all ages, and in that wherein we live in an especial manner. See 1 Pet 4:14-16. We have had enough to take off all paint and appearance of honour from them who in their sufferings are deceived in what they profess. But men may from the same principles suffer for what is indeed according to the mind of God, yea, may give their bodies to be burned therein, and yet not to his glory nor their own eternal advantage. Wherefore, we are duly to consider all things that are requisite to make our sufferings acceptable to God and honorable unto the gospel.
I have observed in many a frame of spirit with respect unto sufferings that I never saw good event of when it was tried to the uttermost. Boldness, confidence, a pretended contempt of hardships, and scorning other men whom they suppose defective in these things, are the garments or livery they wear on this occasion. Such principles may carry men out in a bad cause, they will never do so in a good cause. Evangelical truth will not be honorably witnessed unto but by evangelical grace. Distrust of ourselves, a due apprehension of the nature of the evils to be undergone and of our own frailty, with continual prayers to be delivered from them or supported under them, and prudent care to avoid them without an inroad on conscience or neglect of duty, are much better preparations for an entrance into a state of suffering. Many things belong unto our learning aright this first and last lesson of the gospel, namely, of bearing the cross, or undergoing all sorts of sufferings for the profession of it; but they belong not to our present occasion. This only is that which we now press as an evidence of our sincerity in our sufferings, and an effectual means to enable us cheerfully to undergo them, which is, to have such a continual prospect of the future state of glory as to lay it in the balance against all that we may undergo. For:
1. To have our minds filled and possessed with thoughts thereof will give us an alacrity in our entrance into sufferings in a way of duty.
Other considerations will offer themselves unto our relief, which will quickly fade and disappear. They are like a cordial water, which gives a little relief for a season, and then leaves the spirits to sink beneath what they were before it was taken. Some relieve themselves from the consideration of the nature of their sufferings; they are not so great but that they may conflict with them and come off with safety. But there is nothing of that kind so small as will not prove too hard and strong for us unless we have especial assistance. Some do the same from their duration; they are but for ten days or six months, and then they shall be free – some from the compassion and esteem of men. These and the like considerations are apt to occur unto the minds of all sorts of persons, whether they are spiritually minded or no.
But when our minds are accustomed unto thoughts of the “glory that shall be revealed,” we shall cheerfully entertain every way and path that leads thereunto, as suffering for the truth doth in a peculiar manner. Through this medium we may look cheerfully and comfortably on the loss of name, reputation, goods, liberty, life itself, as knowing in ourselves that we have better and more abiding comforts to betake ourselves unto. And we can no other way glorify God by our alacrity in the entrance of sufferings than when it ariseth from a prospect into and valuation of those invisible things which he hath promised as an abundant recompense for all we can lose in this world.
2. The great aggravation of sufferings is their long continuance, without any rational appearance or hope of relief.
Many who have entered into sufferings with much courage and resolution have been wearied and worn out with their continuance. Elijah himself was hereby reduced to pray that God would take away his life, to put an end unto his ministry and calamities. And not a few in all ages have been hereby so broken in their natural spirits, and so shaken in the exercise of faith, as that they have lost the glory of their confession, in seeking deliverance by sinful compliances in the denial of truth. And although this may be done out of mere weariness (as it is the design of Satan to “wear out the saints of the Most High”), with reluctance of mind, and a love yet remaining unto the truth in their hearts, yet hath it constantly one of these two effects:
Some, by the overwhelming sorrow that befalls them on the account of their failure in profession, and out of a deep sense of their unkindness unto the Lord Jesus, are stirred up immediately unto higher acts of confession than ever they were before engaged in, and unto a higher provocation of their adversaries, until their former troubles are doubled upon them, which they frequently undergo with great satisfaction. Instances of this nature occur in all stories of great persecutions.
Others being cowed and discouraged in their profession, and perhaps neglected by them whose duty it was rather to restore them, have by the craft of Satan given place to their declensions, and become vile apostates.
To prevent these evils, arising from the duration of sufferings without a prospect of deliverance, nothing is more prevalent than a constant contemplation on the future reward and glory. So the apostle declares it in Heb 11:35. When the mind is filled with the thoughts of the unseen glories of eternity, it hath in readiness what to lay in the balance against the longest continuance and duration of sufferings, which in comparison thereunto, at their utmost extent, are “but for a moment.”
I have insisted the longer on these things, because they are the peculiar object of the thoughts of them that are indeed spiritually minded.