Page images
PDF
EPUB

his likeness? what are those manifestations of himself which God will vouchsafe to make to the blessed in heaven, that will have this glorious effect? and wherein does the nature of that effect consist ?

To these great inquiries, and which are indeed too great for any one on this side heaven to give a full and satisfactory answer to; and perhaps even for those happy souls too that experience those joys and glories which are beyond expression, even by the tongues of angels, and which St. Paul, when he was caught up into the third heaven, and there admitted to some glimpse of, assures us were unutterable *: to such great inquiries as these, such an answer only can be given and expected, as is agreeable to our imperfect notions of those wondrous things, with the greatest modesty, and not too curious a search, and so far only as the holy scriptures shall give us light.

To see God then as he is, and face to face, is no doubt a figurative expression, and not to be understood in a literal sense ; for God is a pure spirit, without body, parts, or members; and what we read in scripture of his hands and eyes and face, and the like, is only by way of condescension to our narrow capacities, who are not, here below, able to conceive of him as he really is, or have an exact idea of his nature, but must be dealt with according to our weak apprehensions, and what is said of him must be after the manner of men, clothed in a human dress, and a veil cast over his native splendours and glories, that we may not be dazzled and confounded by too great a brightness. This beatific vision of God, therefore, in heaven,

X 2 Cor. xii. 4.

must consist in our then having a clear notion or apprehension of the divine nature, in its proper excellence and beauty, and encircled with all its rays of glory; and which St. Paul expresses in the place before mentioned, by our knowing him, even as we are known ; that is, distinctly and intimately, without any of that obscurity or confusion of mind which we find when we think closely of him here.

He who is light and love will then manifest himself to us, as our Lord's expression is, and that in the most perfect manner we are capable of receiving. Particularly he will shew us in a way not now to be conceived, how essentially wise, how powerful, how good he is, how holy and just and true, and make us understand clearly his omniscience, omnipresence, infinity, and necessary self-existence from all eternity. And he will likewise vouchsafe to shew us the admirable harmony and agreement of these divine perfections, how each reflects a glory upon the other, and how wonderful the operations of them have been in all ages of the world, from the creation of it at first, throughout his whole government and paternal care of it ever since. He will also shew us the secrets of his providence, the whole chain of causes, and their effects in all his various and most wise and good dispensations. And he will let us too into the knowledge of his mysteries, so far as we are capable of comprehending them, and which then we shall be infinitely more than now, and our capacity still enlarging for ever; and he will acquaint us with the nature and polity of that his heavenly kingdom, and withhold nothing from us that will any way conduce to our most consummate felicity.

In some such manner as this, we may suppose, we shall see and know, and that with the utmost clearness and perspicuity, the most adorable and for ever blessed God in heaven; this will be the eternal object of our view and contemplation in that glorious place. An object able to bear the most curious inspection of the clearest and most quicksighted mind, and to answer it with the fullest satisfaction and joy to all eternity.

For how can we choose but rejoice, and be exceeding glad, and feel an inexpressible delight, when we shall thus see God as he is! when with all our faculties vigorous and active, free from the distractions and thick fogs of mortality, we shall distinctly view and contemplate the glories of the divinity, agreeing together in the most perfect harmony, and exerted in the works of goodness and munificence to the whole creation! when we shall fully comprehend the mystery of godliness, as the apostle styles it; the wondrous incarnation of the eternal Son of God, that he might suffer the most bitter things, and die a most exquisitely painful and ignominious death, to make atonement for rebellious mankind : how the most holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity were severally concerned in this stupendous work of mercy, and how those Three are One.

When we shall have a comprehensive view of the infinitely wise and good methods of God's government of the universe, the amazing turns that have been brought to pass by his unerring hand in this lower world, and the whole glorious economy of heaven; when this shall be our portion, how shall we be able to contain our joy, and how shall we be able to express it! And if to this we add the delightful surprise we shall be in at our first entrance into this our Master's joy ; when from the ignorance and the troubles of this world we come to such extensive knowledge, and the enjoyment of such exceeding bliss; and reflect upon the incomparable love and endearment with which these manifestations are communicated to us by our great and glorious Creator, most compassionate Redeemer, and that divine Spirit who was our Teacher and Guide and Comforter whilst we lived upon this earth; and observe the rejoicings of the whole blessed company of heaven in this our happy change, and enjoy the comforts of such a wise and holy and sincerely friendly society : this will raise our joy to the most intense degrees of exultation and triumph, and even transports and ecstasies of delight y!

And the blessed effect of this our fulness of joy will be, that we shall become like God, when we shall thus see him as he is, and be changed into the same image from glory to glory. That is, we shall be so filled with love and admiration by that most charming sight, which the more closely we view the more delightful it will be, and our souls made still more and more capacious for the reception of a following greater manifestation, that our life will be hid with Christ in God, (as the apostle's sublime expression is, and which we crave leave to borrow and apply to the glorious transformation of a beatified soul into the divine image and likeness.) We shall be so intimately united to him by the most ardent love, and full satisfaction and joy, and he

y“Si mihi tranquilla et placata omnia fuissent, incredibili, qua nunc fruor, lætitiæ voluptate caruissem.” As Tully said after his return from banishment.

will so freely communicate of those perfections of his to us, which we are capable of receiving ; that we shall become as like him as creatures can be, in holiness and purity, in happiness and glory, according to his own mighty working in us, who, and who only, is able thus to resemble us to himself, and impress his divine image upon us, and make it last for ever.

And when we are arrived to this pitch of perfection, and feel the joys that do attend it, and know how durable they shall be, how pure and unallayed, how like to those of God himself, and that they shall be perpetually flowing in upon us, and eternally increasing ; this will still more increase the blissful flood, and sweetly carry us away out of ourselves, and as it were swallow us up in a deluge of delight.

But this is a contemplation too bright for minds immured in flesh to look long and close upon; the splendours of it flash with too strong a glory for weak-sighted mortals to bear without confusion; wherefore leaving to speak further of what can never be fully known till it is enjoyed, nor even then perhaps fully explained, I shall proceed to the consideration of what is more within our reach, and assign the due measures of the regulation of this noble passion of joy.

SECT. IV.

How the passion of joy is to be regulated. To govern joy has been thought by some wise men to be a lesson not very easy to teach as it should be taught, and much less easy to learn. For it is something of the nature of this passion to be

« PreviousContinue »