And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
~ Genesis 1:2-3, John 12:46, John 1:9, John 9:5, John 3:19
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
~ Proverbs 8:24-31, Psalm 90:2
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
~ Colossians 1:16-17
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
~ Proverbs 8:22-23, Revelation 13:8
Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
~ John 17:24, John 17:14-16, John 17:6, 8-10
If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
~ John 12:26, John 14:3
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
~ Ephesians 1:6, Ephesians 1:17, Ephesians 1:18
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
~ Colossians 1:27
The Glory of Christ, by John Owen. The following is the preface from his work.
The Glory of Christ, Meditations and Discourses on The Glory of Christ,
In His Person, Office and Grace:
With Differences Between Faith and Sight;
Applied unto the Use of Them that Believe. A Treatise, by John Owen.
Preface to the Reader.
To design of the ensuing Discourse is to declare some part of that glory of our Lord Jesus Christ which is revealed in the Scripture, and proposed as the principal object of our faith, love, delight, and admiration. But, alas! after our utmost and most diligent inquiries, we must say, How little a portion is it of him that we can understand! His glory is incomprehensible, and his praises are unutterable. Some things an illuminated mind may conceive of it; but what we can express in comparison of what it is in itself, is even less than nothing. But as for those who have forsaken the only true guide herein, endeavouring to be wise above what is written, and to raise their contemplations by fancy and imagination above Scripture revelation (as many have done), they have darkened counsel without knowledge, uttering things which they understand not, which have no substance or spiritual food of faith in them.
Howbeit, that real view which we may have of Christ and his glory in this world by faith, – however weak and obscure that knowledge which we may attain of them by divine revelation, – is inexpressibly to be preferred above all other wisdom, understanding, or knowledge whatever. So it is declared by him who will be acknowledged a competent judge in these things. “Yea, doubtless,” saith he, “I count all these things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” He who does not so has no part in him.
The revelation made of Christ in the blessed gospel is far more excellent, more glorious, and more filled with rays of divine wisdom and goodness, than the whole creation and the just comprehension of it, if attainable, can contain or afford. Without the knowledge hereof, the mind of man, however priding itself in other inventions and discoveries, is wrapped up in darkness and confusion.
This, therefore, deserves the severest of our thoughts, the best of our meditations, and our utmost diligence in them. For if our future blessedness shill consist in being where he is, and beholding of his glory, what better preparation can there be for it than in a constant preview contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the Gospel, unto this very end, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory? I shall not, therefore, use any apology for the publishing of the ensuing Meditations, intended first for the exercise of my own mind, and then for the edification of a private congregation; which is like to be the last service I shall do them in that kind. Some may, by the consideration of them, be called to attend unto the same duty with more diligence than formerly, and receive directions for the discharge of it; and some may be provoked to communicate their greater light and knowledge unto the good of many. And that which I design farther in the present Discourse, is to give a brief account of the necessity and use, in life and death, of the duty exhorted unto.
Particular motives unto the diligent discharge of this duty will be pressed in the Discourse itself. Here some things more general only shall be premised. For all persons not immersed in sensual pleasures, – not overdrenched in the love of this world and present things, – who have any generous or noble thought about their own nature, being, and end, – are under the highest obligation to retake themselves unto this contemplation of Christ and his glory. Without this, they shall never attain true rest or satisfaction in their own minds. He it is alone in whom the race of mankind may boast and glory, on whom all its felicities do depend. For, – I. He it is in whom our nature, which was debased as low as hell by apostasy from God, is exalted above the whole creation. Our nature, in she original constitution of it, in the persons of our first parents, was crowned with honour and dignity. The image of God, wherein it was made, and the dominion over the lower world wherewith it was intrusted, made it the seat of excellence, of beauty, and of glory. But of them all it was at once divested and made naked by sin, and laid grovelling in the dust from whence it was taken. “Dust thou are, and to dust thou shalt return,” was its righteous doom. And all its internal faculties were invaded by deformed lusts, – everything that might render the whole unlike unto God, whose image it had lose. Hence it became the contempt of angels, the dominion of Satan; who, being the enemy of the whole creation, never had any thing or place to reign in but the debased nature of man. Nothing was now more vile and base; its glory was utterly departed. It had both lost its peculiar nearness unto God, which was its honour, and was fallen into the greatest distance from him of all creatures, the devils only excepted; which was its ignominy and shame. And in this state, as unto anything in itself, it was left to perish eternally.
In this condition – lost, poor, base, yea, cursed – the Lord Christ, the Son of God, found our nature. And hereon, in infinite condescension and compassion, sanctifying a portion of it unto himself, he took it to be his own, in a holy, ineffable subsistence, in his own person. And herein again the same nature, so depressed into the utmost misery, is exalted above the whole creation of God. For in that very nature, God has “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” This is that which is so celebrated by the Psalmist, with the highest admiration, Ps. 8: 3-8. This is the greatest privilege we have among all our fellow- creatures, – this we may glory in, and value ourselves upon. Those who engage this nature in the service of sensual lusts and pleasures, who think that its felicity and utmost capacities consist in their satisfaction, with the accomplishment of other earthly, temporal desires, – are satisfied with it in its state of apostasy from God; but those who have received the light of faith and grace, so as rightly to understand the being and end of that nature whereof they are partakers, cannot but rejoice in its deliverance from the utmost debasement, into that glorious exaltation which it has received in the person of Christ. And this must needs make thoughts of him full of refreshment unto their souls. Let us take care of our persons, – the glory of our nature is safe in him.
For, – II. In him the relation of our nature unto God is eternally secured. We were created in a covenant relation unto God. Our nature was related unto him in a way of friendship, of likeness, and complacency. But the bond of this relation and union was quickly broken, by our apostasy from him. Hereon our whole nature became to be at the utmost moral distance from God, and enmity against him; which is the depth of misery. But God, in infinite wisdom and grace, did design once more to recover it, and take it again near unto himself. And he would do it in such a way as should render it utterly impossible that there would ever be a separation between him and it any more. Heaven and earth may pass away, but there shall never be a dissolution of the union between God and our nature any more. He did it, therefore, by assuming it into a substantial union with himself, in the person of the Son. Hereby the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in it bodily, or substantially, and eternally. Hereby is its relation unto God eternally secured. And among all the mysterious excellencies which relate hereunto, there are two which continually present themselves unto our consideration.
1. That this nature of ours is capable of this glorious exaltation and subsistence in God. No creature could conceive how omnipotent wisdom, power, and goodness, could actuate themselves unto the production of this effect. The mystery hereof is the object of the admiration of angels, and will be so of the whole church, unto all eternity. What is revealed concerning the glory, way, and manner of it, in the Scripture, I have declared in my treatise concerning the Mystery of Godliness, or the Person of Christ. What mind can conceive, what tongue can express, who can sufficiently admire, the wisdom, goodness, and condescension of God herein? And whereas he has proposed unto us this glorious object of our faith and meditation, how vile and foolish are we, if we spend our thoughts about other things in a neglect of it! 2. This is also an ineffable pledge of the love of God unto our nature. For although he will not take it in any other instance, save that of the man Christ Jesus, into this relation with himself, by virtue of personal union, yet therein he has given a glorious pledge of his love unto, and valuation of, that nature. For “verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” And this kindness extends unto our persons, as participant of that nature. For he designed this glory unto the man Christ Jesus, that might be the firstborn of the new creation, that we might be made conformable unto him according to our measure; and as the members of that body, whereof he is the head, we are participant in this glory.
III. It is he in whom our nature has been carried successfully and victoriously through all the oppositions that it is liable unto, and even death itself. But the glory hereof I shall speak unto distinctly in its proper place, which follows, and therefore shall here pass it by.
IV. He it is who in himself has given us a pledge of the capacity of our nature to inhabit those blessed regions of light, which are far above these aspectable heavens. Here we dwell in tabernacles of clay, that are “crushed before the moth,” – such as cannot be raised, so as to abide one foot-breadth above the earth we tread upon. The heavenly luminaries which we can behold appear too great and glorious for our cohabitation. We are as grasshoppers in our own eyes, in comparison of those gigantic beings; and they seem to dwell in places which would immediately swallow up and extinguish our natures. How, then, shall we entertain an apprehension of being carried and exalted above them all? to have an everlasting subsistence in places incomprehensibly more glorious than the orbs wherein they reside? What capacity is there in our nature of such a habitation? But hereof the Lord Christ has given us a pledge in himself. Our nature in him is passed through these aspectable heavens, and is exalted far above them. Its eternal habitation is in the blessed regions of light and glory; and he has promised that where he is, there we shall be, and that for ever.
Other encouragements there are innumerable to stir us up unto diligence in the discharge of the duty here proposed, – namely, a continual contemplation of the glory of Christ, in his person, office, and grace. Some of them, the principal of them which I have any acquaintance with, are represented in the ensuing Discourse. I shall therefore here add the peculiar advantage which we may obtain in the diligent discharge of this duty; which is, – that it will carry us cheerfully, comfortably, and victoriously through life and death, and all that we have to conflict withal in either of then.
And let it be remembered, that I do here suppose what is written on this subject in the ensuing Discourse as being designed to prepare the minds of the readers for the due improvement of it.
As unto this present life, it is well known what it is unto the most of them who concern themselves in these things. Temptations, afflictions changes, sorrows, dangers, fears, sickness, and pains, do fill up no small part of it. And on the other hand, all our earthly relishes, refreshments, and comfort, are uncertain, transitory, and unsatisfactory; all things of each sort being embittered by the remainders of sin. Hence everything wherein we are concerned has the root of trouble and sorrow in it. Some labour under wants, poverty, and straits all their days; and some have very few hours free from pains and sickness. And all these things, with others of an alike nature, are heightened at present be the calamitous season wherein our lot is fallen. All things almost in sit nations are filled with confusions, disorders, dangers, distresses, and troubles; wars and rumours of wars do abound, with tokens of farther approaching judgements; distress of nations, with perplexity, men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth. There is in many places “no peace unto him that goes out, nor to him that comets in, but great vexations are on the inhabitants of the world: nation is destroyed of nation, and city of city; for God does vex them with all adversity.” [2 Chron. 15: 5,6.] And in the meantime, vexation with the ungodly deeds of wicked men does greatly further the troubles of life; the sufferings of many also for the testimony of their consciences are deplorable, with the divisions and animosities that abound amongst all sorts of Christians.
But the shortness, the vanity, the miseries of human life, have been the subject of the complains of all sort of considering persons, heathens as well as Christians; nor is it my present business to insist upon them. My inquire is only after the relief which we may obtain against all these evils, that we faint not under them, that we may have the victory over them.
This in general is declared by the apostle 2 Cor. 4, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” But for this cause “we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day be day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen see eternal.”
Our beholding by faith things that see not seen, things spiritual and eternal, will alienate all our afflictions, – make their burden light, and preserve our souls from fainting under them. Of these things the glory of Christ, whereof we treat, is the principal, and in due sense comprehensive of them all. For we behold the glory of God himself “in the face of Jesus Christ.” He that can at all times retreat unto the contemplation of this glory, will be carried above the perplexing prevailing sense of any of these evils, of a confluence of them all. “Crus nil sentit in nervo, dum animus est in coelo.”
It is a woeful kind of life, when men scramble for poor perishing reliefs in their distresses. This is the universal remedy and cure, – the only balsam for all our diseases. Whatever presseth, urgeth, perplexeth, if we can but retreat in our minds unto a view of this glory, and a due consideration of our own interest therein, comfort and supportment will be administered unto us. Wicked men, in their distress (which sometimes overtake even them also), are like “a troubled sea, that cannot rest.” Others are heartless, and despond, – not without secret repinings at the wise disposals of Divine Providence, especially when thee look on the better condition (as they suppose) of others. And the best of us all are apt to wax faint and weary when these things press upon us in an unusual manner, or under their long continuance, without a prospect of relief. This is the stronghold which such prisoners of hope are to turn themselves unto. In this contemplation of the glory of Christ they will find rest unto their own souls. For, –
1. It will herein, and in the discharge of this duty, be made evident how slight and inconsiderable all these things are from whence our troubles and distresses do arise. For they all grow on this root of an over-valuation of temporal things. And unless we can arrive unto a fixed judgement that all things here below are transitory and perishing, reaching only unto the outward man, or the body, (perhaps unto the killing of it), – that the best of them have nothing that is truly substantial or abiding in them, – that there are other things, wherein we have an assured interest, that are incomparably better than they, and above them, – it is impossible but that we must spend our lives in fears, sorrows, and distractions. One real view of the glory of Christ, and of our own concernment therein, will give us a full relief in this matter. For what are all the things of this life? What is the good or evil of them in comparison of an interest in this transcendent glory? When we have due apprehensions hereof, – when our minds are possessed with thoughts of it, – when our affections reach out after its enjoyments, – let pain, and sickness, and sorrows, and fears, and dangers, and death, say what they will. we shall have in readiness wherewith to combat with them and overcome them; and that on this consideration, that they are all outward, transitory, and passing away, whereas our minds are fixed on those things which are eternal, and filled with incomprehensible glory.
2. The minds of men are apt by their troubles to be cast into disorder, to be tossed up and down, and disquieted with various affections and passions. So the Psalmist found it in himself in the time of his distress; whence he calls himself unto that account, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me?” And, indeed, the mind on all such occasions is its own greatest troubler. It is apt to let loose its passions of fear and sorrow, which act themselves in innumerable perplexing thoughts, until it is carried utterly out of its own power. But in this state a due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind, bring it into a sedate, quiet frame, wherein faith will be able to say unto the winds and waves of distempered passions, “Peace, be still;” and they shall obey it.
3. It is the way and means of conveying a sense of God’s love unto our souls; which is that alone where ultimately we find rest in the midst of all the troubles of this life; as the apostle declares, Rom. 5: 2-5. It is the Spirit of God who alone communicates a sense of this love unto our souls; it is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” Howbeit, there are ways and means to be used on our part, whereby we may be disposed and made meet to receive these communications of divine love. Among these the principal is the contemplation of the glory of Christ insisted on, and of God the Father in him. It is the season, it is the way and means, at which and whereby the Holy Ghost will give a sense of the love of God unto us, causing us thereon to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” This will be made evident in the ensuing Discourse. This will lift the minds and hearts of believers above all the troubles of this life, and is the sovereign antidote that will expel all the poison that is in them; which otherwise might perplex and enslave their souls.
I have but touched on these things, as designing to enlarge somewhat on that which does ensue. And this is the advantage we may have in the discharge of this duty with respect unto death itself: It is the assiduous contemplation of the glory of Christ which will carry us cheerfully and comfortably into it, and through it. My principal work having been now for a long season to die daily, as living in a continual expectation of my dissolution, I shall on this occasion acquaint the reader with some few of my thoughts and reliefs with reference unto death itself.
There are sundry things required of us, that we may be able to encounter death cheerfully, constantly, and victoriously. For want of these, or some of them, I have known gracious souls who have lived in a kind of bondage for fear of death all their days. We know not how God will manage any of our minds and souls in that season, in that trial; for he acts towards us in all such things in a way of sovereignty. But these are the things which he requireth of us in way of duty: – First, Peculiar actings of faith to resign and commit our departing souls into the hand of him who is able to receive them, to keep and preserve them, as also to dispose of them into a state of rest and blessedness, are required of us.
The soul is now parting with all things here below, and that for ever. None of all the things which it has seen, heard, or enjoyed, be it outward senses, can be prevailed with to stay with it one hour, or to take one step with it in the voyage wherein it is engaged. It must alone by itself launch into eternity. It is entering an invisible world, which it knows no more of than it has received by faith. None has come from the dead to inform us of the state of the other world; yea, God seems on purpose so to conceal it from us, that we should have no evidence of it, at least as unto the manner of things in it, but what is given unto faith By divine revelation. Hence those who died and were raised again from the dead unto any continuance among men, as Lazarus, probably knew nothing of the invisible state. Their souls were preferred by the power of God in their being, but bound up as unto present operations. This made a great emperor cry out, on the approach of death, “O animula, tremula, vagula, blandula; quae nunc abibis in loca horrida, squalida”, &c. – “O poor, trembling, wandering soul, into what places of darkness and defilement art thou going?” How is it like to be after the few moments which, under the pangs of death, we hare to continue in this world? Is it an annihilation that lies at the door? Is death the destruction of our whole being, so as that after it we shall be no more? So some would have the state of things to be. Is it a state of subsistence in a wandering condition, up and down the world, under the influence of other more powerful spirits that rule in the air, visiting tombs and solitary places, and sometimes making appearances of themselves by the impressions of those more powerful spirits; as some imagine from the story concerning Samuel and the witch of Endor, and as it is commonly received in the Papacy, out of a compliance with their imagination of purgatory? Or is it a state of universal misery and woe? A state incapable of comfort or joy? Let them pretend what they please, who can understand no comfort or joy in this life but what they receive by their senses; – they can look for nothing else. And whatever be the state of this invisible world, the soul can undertake nothing of its own conduct after its departure from the body. It knows that it must be absolutely at the disposal of another.
Wherefore no man can comfortably venture on and into this condition, but in the exercise of that faith which enables him to resign and give up his departing soul into the hand of God, who alone is able to receive it, and to dispose it into a condition of rest and blessedness. So speaks the apostle, “I am not ashamed; for I know whom I hare believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him again that day.”
Herein, as in all other graces, is our Lord Jesus Christ our great example. He resigned his departing spirit into the hands of his Father, to be owned and preserved by him, in its state of separation: “Father, into thy hinds I commend my spirit,” Luke 23:46; as did the Psalmist, his type, in an alike condition, Ps. 31:5. But the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ herein, – the object and exercise of it, what he believed and trusted unto in this resignation of his spirit into the hand of God, – is at large expressed in the 16th Psalm. “I have,” said he, “set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” He left his soul in the hand of God, in full assurance that it should suffer no evil in its state of separation, but should be brought again with his body into a blessed resurrection and eternal glory. So Stephen resigned his soul, departing under violence, into the hands of Christ himself. When he died he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
This is the last victorious act of faith, wherein its conquest over its last enemy death itself does consist. Herein the soul says in and unto itself, “Thou art now taking leave of time unto eternity; all things about thee are departing as shades, and will immediately disappear. The things which thou art entering into are yet invisible; such as ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor will they enter into the heart of man fully to conceive.’ Now, therefore, with quietness and confidence give up thyself unto the sovereign power, grace, truth, and faithfulness of God, and thou shalt find assured rest and peace.”
But Jesus Christ it is who does immediately receive the souls of them who believe in him. So we see in the instance of Stephen. And what can be a greater encouragement to reign them into his hands, than a daily contemplation of his glory, in his person, his power, his exaltation, his office, and grace? Who that believes in him, that belongs unto him, can fear to commit his departing spirit unto his love, power, and care? Even we also shall hereby in our dying moments see by faith heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God ready to receive us. This, added unto the love which all believers have unto the Lord Jesus, which is inflamed by contemplation of his glory, and their desires to be with him where he is, will strengthen and confine our minds in the resignation of our departing souls into his hand.
Secondly, It is required in us, unto the same end, that we be ready and willing to part with the flesh, wherewith we are clothed, with all things that are woeful and desirable thereunto. The alliance, the relation, the friendship, the union that are between the soul and the body, are the greatest, the nearest, the firmest that are or can be among mere created beings. There is nothing like it, – nothing equal unto it. The union of three persons in the one single divine nature, and the union of two natures in one person of Christ, are infinite, ineffable, and exempted from all comparison. But among created beings, the union of these two essential parts of the same nature in one person is most excellent. Nor is anything equal to it, or like it, found in any other creatures. Those who among them have most of life have either no body, as angels; or no souls but what perish with them, as all brute creatures below.
Angels, being pure, immaterial spirits, have nothing in them, nothing belonging unto their essence, that can die. Beasts have nothing in them that can live when their bodies die. The soul of a beast cannot be preserved in a separate condition, no, not by an act of almighty power; for it is not, and that which is not cannot live. It is nothing but the body itself in an act of its material powers.
Only the nature of man, in all the works of God, is capable of this convulsion. The essential parts of it are separable by death, the one continuing to exist and act its especial powers in a separate state or condition. The powers of the whole entire nature, actin gin soul and body in conjunction, are all scattered and lost by death. But the powers of one essential part of the same nature – that is, of the soul – are preserved after death in a more perfect acting and exercise than before. This is peculiar unto human nature, as a mean partaking of heaven and earth, – of the perfection of angels above, and of the imperfection of the beasts below. Only there is this difference in these things: – Our participation of the heavenly, spiritual perfections of the angelical nature is for eternity; our participation of the imperfections of the animate creatures here below is but for a season. For God hath designed our bodies unto such a glorious refinement at the resurrection, as that they shall have no more alliance unto that brutish nature which perisheth forever; for we shall be “isangeloi”- like unto angels, or equal to them. Our bodies shall no more be capable of those acts and operations which are now common to us with other living creatures here below.
This is the pre-eminence of the nature of man, as the wise man declares. For unto that objection of atheistical Epicureans, “As the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath: so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast. All go unto one place: all are of the dust, and all turn to the dust again,” – he grants that, as unto their bodies, it is for a season in them we have a present participation of their nature; but, says he, here lies the difference, “Who knows the spirit of a man that goes upward, and the spirit of the beast that goes downward to the earth?” Eccles. 3: 21. Unless we know this, unless we consider the different state of the spirit of men and beasts, we cannot be delivered from this atheism; but the thoughts hereof will set us at liberty from it. They die in like manner, and their bodies go equally to the dust for a season; but the beast hath no spirit, no soul, but what dies with the body and goes to the dust. If they had, their bodies also must be raised again unto a conjunction with them; otherwise, death would produce a new race of creatures unto eternity. But man hath an immortal soul, saith he, a heavenly spirit, which, when the body goes in the dust for a season, ascends to heaven (where the guilt of sin and the curse of the law interpose not), from whence it is there to exist and to act all its native powers in a state of blessedness.
But, as I said, by reason of this peculiar intimate union and relation between the soul and body, there is in the whole nature a fixed aversion from a dissolution. The soul and body are naturally and necessarily unwilling to fall into a state of separation, wherein the one shall cease to be what it was, and the other knows not clearly how it shall subsist. The body claspeth about the soul, and the soul receiveth strange impressions from its embraces; the entire nature, existing in the union of them both, being unalterably averse unto a dissolution.
Wherefore, unless we can overcome this inclination, we can never die comfortably or cheerfully. We would, indeed, rather choose to be “clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life,” that the clothing of glory might come on our whole nature, soul and body, without dissolution. But if this may not be, yet then do believers so conquer this inclination by faith and views of the glory of Christ, as to attain a desire of this dissolution. So the apostle testifies of himself, “I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better” than to abide here, Phil. 1: 23. Saith he, “Ten epitumian echoon”, – not an ordinary desire, not that which worketh in me now and then; but a constant, habitual inclination, working in vehement acts and desires. And what does he so desire? It is “analusai”, – “to depart,” say we, out of this body, from this tabernacle, to leave it for a season. But it is such a departure as consists in the dissolution of the present state of his being, that it should not be what it is. But how is it possible that a man should attain such an inclination unto, such a readiness for, such a vehement desire of, a dissolution? It is from a view by faith of Christ and his glory, whence the soul is satisfied that to be with him is incomparably better than in its present state and condition.
He, therefore, that would die comfortably, must be able to say within himself and to himself, “Die, then, thou frail and sinful flesh: ‘dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.’ I yield thee up unto the righteous doom of the Holy One. Yet herein also I give thee into the hand of the great Refiner, who will hide thee in thy grave, and by thy consumption purify thee from all thy corruption and disposition to evil. And otherwise this will not be. After a long sincere endeavour for the mortification of all sin, I find it will never be absolutely perfect, but by this reduction into the dust. Thou shalt no more be a residence for the least remnant of sin unto eternity, nor any clog unto my soul in its acting on God. Rest therefore in hope; for God, in his appointed season, when he shall have a desire unto the work of his hands, will call unto thee, and thou shalt answer him out of the dust. Then shall he, by an act of big almighty power, not only restore thee unto thy pristine glory, as at the first creation, when thou wast the pure workmanship of his hands, but enrich and adorn thee with inconceivable privileges and advantages. Be not, then, afraid; away with all reluctance. Go into the dust, – rest in hope; ‘for thou shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days.’” That which will enable us hereunto, in an eminent manner, is that view and consideration of the glory of Christ which is the object of the ensuing Meditation. For He who is now possessed of all that glory underwent this dissolution of nature as truly and really as ever we shall do.
Thirdly, There is required hereunto a readiness to comply with the times and seasons wherein God would have us depart and leave this world. Many think they shall be willing to die when their time is come; but they have many reasons, as they suppose, to desire that it may not yet be, – which, for the most part, arise merely from fear and aversion of death. Some desire to live that they may see more of that glorious world of God for his church, which they believe he will accomplish. So Moses prayed that he might not die in the wilderness, but go over Jordan, and see the good land, and that goodly mountain and Lebanon, the seat of the church, and of the worship of God; which yet God thought meet to deny unto him. And this denial of the request of Moses, made on the highest consideration possible, is instructive unto all in the like case. Others may judge themselves to have some work to do in the world, wherein they suppose that the glory of God and the good of the church are concerned; and therefore would be spared for a season. Paul knew not clearly whether it were not best for him to abide a while longer in the flesh on this account; and David often deprecates the present season of death because of the work which he had to do for God in the world. Others rise no higher than their own private interests or concerns with respect unto their persons, their families, their relations, and goods in this world. They would see these things in a better or more settled condition before they die, and then they shall be most willing so to do. But it is the love of life that lies at the bottom of all these desires in men; which of itself will never forsake them. But no man can die cheerfully or comfortably who lives not in a constant resignation of the time and season of his death unto the will of God, as well as himself with respect unto death itself. Our times are in his hand, at his sovereign disposal; and his will in all things must be complied withal. Without this resolution, without this resignation, no man can enjoy the least solid peace in this world.
Fourthly, As the times and seasons, so the ways and means of the approaches of death have especial trials; which, unless we are prepared for them, will keep us under bondage, with the fear of death itself. Long, wasting, wearing consumption, burning fevers, strong pains of the stone, or the lice from within; or sword, fire, tortures, with shame and reproach from without, may be in the way of the access of death unto us. Some who have been wholly freed from all fears of death, as a dissolution of nature, who have looked on it as amiable and desirable in itself, have yet had great exercise in their minds about these ways of its approach: they have earnestly desired that this peculiar bitterness of the cup might be taken away. To get above all perplexities on the account of these things, is part of our wisdom in dying daily. And we are to have always in a readiness those graces and duties which are necessary thereunto. Such are a constant resignation of ourselves, in all events, unto the sovereign will, pleasure, and disposal of God. “May he not do what he will with his own?” Is it not right and meet it should be so? Is not his will in all things infinitely holy, wise, just, and good? Does he not know what is best for us, and what conduceth most unto his own glory? Does not he alone do so? So is it to live in the exercise of faith, that if God calls us unto any of those things which are peculiarly dreadful unto our natures, he will give us such supplies of spirited strength and patience as shall enable us to undergo them, if not with ease and joy, yet with peace and quietness beyond our expectation. Multitudes have had experience that those things which, at a distance, have had an aspect of overwhelming dread, have been far from unsupportable in their approach, when strength has been received from above to encounter with them. And, moreover, it is in this case required that we be frequent and steady in comparing these things with those which are eternal both as unto the misery which we are freed from and that blessedness which is prepared for us. But I shall proceed no farther with these particulars.
There is none of all the things we have insisted on – neither the resignation of a departing soul into the hand of God, nor a willingness to lay down this flesh in the dust, nor a readiness to comply with the will of God, as to the times and sons, or the way and manner of the approach of death – that can be attained unto, without a prospect of that glory that shall give us a new state far more excellent than what we here leave or depart from. This we cannot have, whatever we pretend, unless we have some present views of the glory of Christ. An apprehension of the future manifestation of it in heaven will not relieve us, if here we know not what it is, and wherein it does consist, – if we have not some previous discovery of it in this life. This is that which will make all things easy and pleasant unto us, even death itself, as it is a means to bring us unto its full enjoyment.
Other great and glorious advantages, which may be obtained in the diligent discharge of the duty here proposed, might be insisted on, but that the things themselves discoursed of will evidently discover and direct us unto the spring and reasons of them; besides, weakness, weariness, and the near approaches of death do call me off from any farther labour in this kind.