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that are used to convey and receive ideas and sentiments in the present state. For we must suppose that in heaven there is but one medium of conversing, which is common to the great Mediator, to angels, and to men of all nations, and which can be immediately understood by every human soul, upon its first arrival in the kingdom of glory. I will observe only once more,
3. Upon this dark side of the subject, that the children of God must remain totally ignorant in this life, how they shall arrive in heaven, and how they shall move from place to place, after they arrive there. Our Lord has told us, that there are many mansions in heaven, which plainly implies that all the inhabitants do not always dwell together, but are sometimes locally separated from each other, by different apartments their Father's house. And if this be true, then they will have frequent occasions of passing from mansion to mansion, and from one situation to another, in order to pursue the employments and enjoy the blessedness of the heavenly world. But how they will be able, with ease and celerity, to traverse the immense circuit of heaven, and see the various situations of the innumerable multitudes of holy and happy creatures, we must continue ignorant until our great and last change. Many other things might be mentioned, which we cannot know this side of eternity. But as God has seen fit to conceal them from his children, they may rest satisfied that it is best they should remain in ignorance, until they arrive at that world where they shall see as they are seen, and know as they are known. Their present ignorance of what they shall be, is undoubtedly designed to try their faith and confidence in God, and to teach them entire submission to his disposing will. Let us now turn our attention to brighter prospects, and consider,
III. What the children of God do know concerning themselves in a future state. The apostle confidently asserts that they are not altogether ignorant of what they shall be when they shine forth in the kingdom of their Father. “But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him ; for we shall see him as he is.” It may seem by this mode of expression, that the children of God shall not know what they shall be, until the day of judgment. “But we know that, when he shall appear," &c. This branch of the text might have been rendered, “when it shall appear.” That is, when our state shall appear, then we shall know that we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. But our state will appear as soon as we leave the world, and long before the great and last day. This leads me to observe,
1. That the children of God do now know where they shall be hereafter. Divine inspiration assures them that, when they die, “ Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” The prophet, speaking of the death of the righteous, says, “ They shall enter into peace.” Our Saviour told his disciples, for their consolation, when he was going to leave them, “ In my Father's house are many mansions : if it were not so, I would have told
I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also.” And when he was expiring on the cross, he graciously declared to the poor penitent, believing malefactor, “ This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” He represented the departed spirit of Lazarus, as being carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. The primitive christians used to say, “We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” Paul, who taught this doctrine, firmly believed it. “For,” says he, “ I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.” And we are expressly told, that "the general assembly and church of the first-born” in heaven, is composed of "the spirits of just men made perfect.” Among these we find Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Elias, mentioned by name. Indeed, we have abundant evidence to believe that all who have died in the Lord are now in heaven with their divine Redeemer. Notwithstanding all that has been said about the soul's sleeping between death and the resurrection, and about this world's being the final abode of the blessed, the children of God may be assured that heaven will be the place of their eternal residence, whither their souls shall be safely conducted as soon as they shall drop their clayey tabernacles.
2. They know in this world what manner of persons they shall be in the next. In this world, they resemble God, in some measure; but in that which is to come, they shall be entirely conformed to his moral image. “But we know," says the apostle, “ that when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” The children of God are in a state of progression. Their path is like the rising sun, which shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. The word of God and the ordinances of the gospel are calculated and designed, to promote their spiritual edification, and carry them forward in their christian course, until they arrive at sinless perfection. Accordingly, we read, “ Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." As soon as the sons of God shall reach the heavenly world, they will be perfectly purified from all moral pollution, and never have another sinful emotion or exercise of heart. They will be holy as God is holy, and perfect as he is perfect. They know, therefore, that when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. Hence,
3. They know that when they shall leave this present evil world, they shall be completely blessed. For,
In the first place, their moral likeness to God will give them as clear and full knowledge of all the divine perfections and conduct, as their limited capacities will admit. This is plainly asserted in the text. “But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Seeing here signifies knowing, and seeing God as he is, signifies knowing him clearly and fully, without the least error or mistake. In this world, the children of God see him through a glass darkly, but in the next, they will see him face to face. Their present ignorance of him chiefly arises from the contrariety of their hearts to his great and amiable character ; but when they shall become perfectly conformed to his moral image, they will naturally see him as he is, and have a clear, just and full view of all the displays which he has made of himself. Such knowledge David expected to derive from his future conformity of heart to God. “I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness.” And our Lord declared, “ Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” When the children of God become perfectly like him in holiness, they will delight to contemplate upon all his works of creation, providence and grace, and to discover more and more of the connection, the harmony, the wisdom and benevolence, which run through the whole. As soon as the blindness of their hearts is completely removed, the eyes of their understanding will be opened to see that “the Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works." This will clear up the dark and mysterious dispensations of providence towards themselves and others, rectify their former errors and misapprehensions, and pour into their holy and enlarged minds a flood of light and joy. And these holy and beatific views of God will prepare them,
In the next place, for all the services and employments of the heavenly world. As their knowledge of God increases, their hearts will be enlarged in his holy and reasonable service. They will be as willing to serve and glorify God, as the angels of light. They will cheerfully unite with the heavenly hosts in all their acts of homage, adoration and praise. They will never be weary, as they were in this world, in the duties of devotion ; but will joyfully join those pure and perfect spirits, who rest not day and night, in celebrating the astonishing displays of divine glory.
Finally, their perfect likeness to the Deity will prepare them for the full and everlasting enjoyment of him.' While they love him for every perfection of his nature, for every work of his hands, for every dispensation of his providence, for every act of his grace, and even for every display of his justice, they must necessarily derive complete satisfaction from every being, and creature, and object, in the universe. And this satisfaction must be raised to perfect felicity, by knowing that they are greatly beloved by their Creator, their Redeemer, their Sanctifier, and all their holy fellow creatures in heaven.
Such mutual love between God and the children of God, will be the consummation of their blessedness. And surely this is enough for them to know, before they have finished their course, and are prepared to take possession of the inheritance of the saints in light.
It now remains to improve and to apply the subject.
1. It appears from what has been said, that all the knowledge which christians have of themselves in a future state, they wholly derive from divine revelation. The gospel, which has brought life and immortality to light, teaches them that after they leave the body they shall exist; that they shall be where God is; that they shall be like him; that they shall see him as he is, and be happy; but they could never have discovered these things by the mere light of nature. This is evident from their total ignorance of every thing respecting their future state, which God has not revealed in his word. They have no knowledge of the means by which they shall be able to move, to see, or to converse, in the world of spirits. And in respect to these things, all the rest of mankind are equally ignorant, though some have exerted all their intellectual powers and faculties to discover them. Christians are entirely indebted to divine revelation for all that they know about the invisible world, more than those who are sitting in the region of the shadow of death. The apostle hence concludes, that if they could once lose their belief of the gospel, they would thereby lose all their hopes of future happiness, and become of all men the most miserable. This is a good reason why David and all good men should so highly venerate and esteem the word of God, which contains such' important truths, and opens such glorious prospects beyond the grave.
2. We may learn from what has been said, why some christians die in so much light and joy, and some in so much darkness and distress. Some of the patriarchs, and some of the apostles, died in the lively exercises of faith and hope. They believed what God had revealed concerning the holiness and happiness of heaven; they beheld the promises afar off, and embraced them. And some christians, since their days, have died in the same believing and joyful manner. They have felt and conversed like Jacob, and Joseph, and David, and Simeon, and Paul, in the near and full view of eternity. They have looked upon the bright side of death, which banished all gloomy and distressing apprehensions of the king of terrors. And it appears from what christians do or may know about their future state, that they may see something worth dying for, and really desire to be absent from the body, that they may be present with the Lord. They may, like Stephen, have such views of Christ and of the glories of heaven, as to fear no evil in passing through the dark valley, and exchanging time for eternity. But such triumphant deaths have always, perhaps, been very rare. More generally, real christians approach the grave, and the borders of the invisible world, with a fearful and trembling heart. And this may be partly owing to their looking upon death on the dark side, and pondering upon what they do not and cannot know about exchanging worlds. When they look into the grave, they have not faith and fortitude enough to look through it into the world of light. This is not unfrequently the case of those who have lived apparently, and perhaps really, very holy and exemplary lives. Probably the great adversary takes advantage of their natural timidity, and paints upon their imaginations all the dark and unrevealed things respecting an invisible and untried state. This we may charitably hope is one cause, at least, why many visibly pious persons die in so much darkness and distress.
3. Christians may and ought to infer from what has been said, the great importance of making their calling and election sure. This is a duty which they are extremely apt to neglect, and to plead inability as an excuse for their negligence. But their excuse is groundless, because God has graciously given them in his word plain and infallible marks of a filial spirit
, by which they may certainly know that they are born again, and are heirs of the kingdom of glory. The apostle speaks plainly and conclusively upon this subject. “For," he says,
as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs : heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” It is very easy to understand and to apply this rule of trial. Any man may know that he loves his friend, by the exercise of a