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Oh, let us keep the soul embalm'd and pure
In living virtue, that, when both must sever,
281.–Of the Happiness of the Life to Come.
ARCHBISHOP LEIGHTON. Of all the thoughts of men, there is certainly none that more often occur to a serious mind, that has its own interest at heart, than that to which all others are subordinate and subservient, with regard to the intention, the ultimate and most desirable end, of all our toils and cares, and even of life itself. And this important thought will the more closely beset the mind, the more sharp-sighted it is in prying into the real torments, the delusive hopes, and the false joys of this our wretched state; which is indeed so miserable that it can never be sufficiently lamented; and as for laughter amidst so many sorrows, dangers, and fears, it must be considered as downright madness. Such was the opinion of the wisest of kings: I have said of laughter, says he, It is mad; and of mirth, What doth it? Eccl. ii. 2. We have, therefore, no cause to be much suprised at the bitter complaints which a grievous weight of afflictions has extorted, even from great and good men: nay, it is rather a wonder, if the same causes do not often oblige us to repeat them.
If we look about us, how often are we shocked to observe either the calamities of our country, or the sad disasters of our • relations and friends, whom we have daily occasion to mourn, either as groaning under the pressure of poverty, pining away under languishing diseases, tortured by acute ones, or carried off by death, while we ourselves are, in like manner, very soon to draw tears from the eyes of others ! nay, how often are we a burden to ourselves, and groan heavily under afflictions of our own, that press bard upon our estates, our bodies, or our minds! Even those who seem to meet with the fewest and the least inconveniences in this life, and dazzle the eyes of spectators with the brightness of a seemingly constant and uniform felicity, besides that they often suffer from secret vexations and cares which destroy their inward peace, and prey upon their distressed hearts, how uncertain, weak, and brittle is that false happiness which appears about them, and, when it shines brightest, how easily is it broken to pieces! So that it has been justly said, “ They want another felicity to secure that which they are already possessed of.” If, after all, there are some whose minds are hardened against all the forms and appearances of external things, and who look down with equal contempt upon all the events of this world, whether of a dreadful or an engaging aspect, even this disposition of mind does not make them happy: nor do they think themselves so; they have still something to make them uneasy, the obscure darkness that overspreads their minds, their ignorance of heavenly things, and the strength of their carnal affections, not yet entirely subdued. And though these we are now speaking of are by far the noblest and most beautiful part of the human race, yet, if they had not within them that blessed hope of removing hence, in a little time, to the regions of light, the more severely they feel the straits and afflictions to which their souls are exposed by being shut up in this narrow earthly cottage, so much they certainly would be more miserable than the rest of mankind.
As oft, therefore, as we reflect upon these things, we shall find that the whole comes to this one conclusion: “There is certainly some end ;"—there is, to be sure, some end suited to the nature of man, and worthy of it; some particular, complete, and permanent good; and since we in vain look for it within the narrow verge of this life, and among the many miseries that swarm on it from beginning to end, we must of necessity conclude that there is certainly some more fruitful country, and a more lasting life, to which our felicity is reserved, and into which we shall be received when we remove hence. This is not our rest, nor have we any place of residence here; it is the region of fleas and gnats; and, while we search for happiness among these mean and perishing things, we are not only sure to be disappointed, but also. not to escape those great miseries which, in great numbers, continually beset us. So that we may apply to ourselves the saying of the famous artist confined in the island of Crete, and truly say, “The earth and the sea are shut up against us, and neither of them can favour our escape: the way to heaven is alone open, and this way we will strive : to go."
· Thus far we have advanced by degrees, and very lately we have discoursed upon the immortality of the soul, to which we have added the resurrection of our earthly body, by way of appendix. It remains that we now inquire into the happiness of the life to come.
Yet, I own, I am almost deterred from entering upon this inquiry by the vast obscurity and sublimity of the subject, which in its nature is such, that we can neither understand it, nor, if we could, can it be expressed in words. The divine Apostle, who had had some glimpse of this felicity, describes it no otherwise than by his silence, calling the words he heard, unspeakable, and such as it was not lawful for a man to utter. 2 Cor. xii. 4. And if he neither could nor would express what he saw, far be it from us boldly to force ourselves into or intrude upon what we have seen; especially as the same apostle, in another place, acquaints us, for our future caution, that this was unwarrantably done by some rash and forward persons in his own time. But since in the sacred archives of this new world, however invisible and unknown to us, we have some maps and descriptions of it suited to our capacity, we are not only allowed to look at them, but, as they were drawn for that very purpose, it would certainly be the greatest ingratitude, as well as the highest negligence in us, not to make some improvement of them. Here, however, we must remember, what a great odds there is between a description of a kingdom in a small and imperfect map, and the extent and beauty of that very kingdom when viewed by the traveller's eye; and how much greater the difference must be between the felicity of that heavenly kingdom to which we are aspiring, and all, even the most striking figurative expressions, taken from the things of this earth, that are used to convey some faint and imperfect notion of it to our minds. What are these things, the false glare, and shadows whereof, in this earth, are pursued with such keen and furious impetuosity, riches, honours, pleasures? All these in their justest, purest, and sublimest sense are comprehended in this blessed life: it is a treasure that can neither fail, nor be carried away by force or fraud : it is an inheritance uncorrupted and undefiled; a crown that fadeth not away; a never-failing stream of joy and delight: it is a marriage-feast, and of all others the most joyous and most sumptuous; one that always satisfies, and never cloys the appetite: it is an eternal spring, and an everlasting light, a day without an evening: it is a paradise, where the lilies are always white and
in full bloom, the saffron blooming, the trees sweat out their balsams, and the tree of life in the midst thereof: it is a city where the houses are built of living pearls, the gates of precious stones, and the streets paved with the purest gold. Yet all these are nothing but veils of the happiness to be revealed on that most blessed day: nay, the light itself, which we have mentioned among the rest, though it be the most beautiful ornament in this visible world, is at best but a shadow of that heavenly glory; and how small soever that portion of this inaccessible brightness may be, which, in the sacred Scriptures, shines upon us through these veils, it certainly very well deserves that we should often turn our eyes towards it, and view it with the closest attention.
1. Now, the first that necessarily occurs in the constitution of happiness, is a full and complete deliverance from every evil and every grievance; which we may as certainly expect to meet with in that heavenly life, as it is impossible to be attained while we sojourn here below. All tears shall be wiped away from our eyes, and every cause and occasion of tears for ever removed from our sight. There, there are no tumults, no wars, no poverty, no death, nor disease; there, there is neither mourning nor fear, nor sin, which is the source and fountain of all other evils : there is neither violence within doors nor without, nor any complaint in the streets of that blessed city. There, no friend goes out, nor enemy comes in.
2. Full vigour of body and mind; health, beauty, purity, and perfect tranquillity.
3. The most delightful society of angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the saints; among whom there are no reproaches, contentions, controversies, nor party spirit, because there are, there, none of the sources whence they can spring, nor any thing to encourage their growth; for there is, there, particularly, no ignorance, no blind selflove, no vain-glory, nor envy, which is quite excluded from those Divine regions; but, on the contrary, perfect charity, whereby every one, together with his own felicity, enjoys that of his neighbours, and is happy in the one as well as the other: hence there is among them a kind of infinite reflection and multiplication of happiness, like that of a spacious hall adorned with gold and precious stones, dignified with a full assembly of kings and potentates, and having its walls quite covered with the brightest looking-glasses.
4. But what infinitely exceeds and quite eclipses all the rest is that boundless ocean of happiness which results from the beatific vision of the ever-blessed God; without which, neither the tranquillity they enjoy, nor the society of saints, nor the possession of any particular finite good, nor indeed of all such taken together, can satisfy the soul or make it completely happy. The manner of this enjoyment we can only expect to understand when we enter upon the full possession of it; till then, to dispute and raise many questions about it is nothing but vain foolish talking, and fighting with phantoms of our own brain. But the schoolmen, who confine the whole of this felicity to the bare speculation, or, as they call it, actus intellectualis, an intellectual act, are, in this, as in many other cases, guilty of great presumption, and their conclusion is built upon a very weak foundation. For, although contemplation be the highest and noblest act of the mind, yet complete happiness necessarily requires some present good suited to the whole man, the whole soul, and all its faculties. Nor is it any objection to this doctrine, that the whole of this felicity is commonly comprehended in Scripture under the term of vision ; for the mental vision, or con. templation of the primary and infinite good, most properly signifies, or at least includes in it, the full enjoyment of that good; and the observation of the Rabbins concerning Scripture phrases, “ That words expressing the senses, include also the affections naturally arising from those sensations,” is very well known. Thus knowing is often put for approving and loving; and seeing for enjoying and attaining. Taste and see that God is good, says the Psalmist. And, in fact, it is no small pleasure to lovers to dwell together, and mutually to enjoy the sight of one another. “ Nothing is more agreeable to lovers than to live together."
We must, therefore, by all means conclude, that this beatific vision includes in it not only distinct and intuitive knowledge of God, but, so to speak, such a knowledge as gives us the enjoyment of that most perfect Being, and, in some sense, unites us to him; for such a vision it must, of necessity, be, that converts that love of the Infinite Good, which blazes in the souls of the saints, into full possession; that crowns all their wishes, and fills them with an abundant and overflowing fulness of joy; that vents itself in everlasting blessings and songs of praise.
And this is the only doctrine, if you believe it, (and I make no doubt but you do,)this, I say, is the only doctrine that will transport your