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17. (7) Be much in the evangelical work of praise. The more heavenly the employment, the more it will make the spirit heavenly. Praising God is the work of angels and saints in heaven, and will be our own everlasting work; and if we were more in it now, we should be liker to what we shall be then. As desire, faith, and hope, are of shorter continuance than love and joy; so also preaching, prayer, and sacraments, and all means for expressing and confirming our faith and hope, shall cease, when our triumphant expressions of love and joy shall abide for ever. The liveliest emblem of heaven that I know upon earth, is, when the people of God, in the deep sense of his excellency and bounty, from hearts abounding with love and joy, join together both in heart and voice, in the cheerful and melodious singing of his praises. These delights, like the testimony of the Spirit, witness themselves to be of God, and bring the evidences of their heavenly parentage along with them.
§ 18. Little do we know how we wrong ourselves, by shutting out of our prayers the praises of God, or allowing them so narrow a room as we usually do, while we are copious enough in our confessions and petitions. Reader, I entreat thee remember this; let praises have a larger room in thy duties: keep matter ready at hand to feed thy praise, as well as matter for confession and petition. To this end, study the excellencies and goodness of the Lord, as frequently as thy own wants and unworthiness; the mercies thou hast received, and those which are promised, as often as the sins thou hast committed. Praise is comely for the upright. Whoso offereth praise glorifieth God. Praise ye the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praises unto his name, for it is pleasant.(p) Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.(g) Had not David a most heavenly spirit, who was so much in this heavenly work? Doth it not sometimes raise our hearts, when we only read the song of Moses, and the psalms of
(p) Psalm xxxiii. 1. 1. 23. cxxv. 5. (9) Heb. xiii. 15.
David? How much more would it raise and refresh us, to be skilful and frequent in the work ourselves ! O the madness of youth, that lay out their vigour of body and mind upon vain delights and fleshly lusts, which is so unfit for the noblest work of man! And, O the sinful folly of many of the saints, who drench their spirits in continual sadness, and waste their days in complaints and groans, and so make themselves both in body and mind unfit for this sweet and heavenly work! Instead of joining with the people of God in his praises, they are questioning their worthiness, and studying their miseries, and so rob God of his glory, and themselves of their consolation. But the greatest destroyer of our comfort in this duty, is our taking up with the tune and melody, and suffering the heart to be idle, which ought to perform the principal part of the work, and use the melody to revive and exhilarate itself.
§ 19. (8) Ever keep thy soul possessed with believing thoughts of the infinite love of God. Love is the attractive of love. Few so vile, but will love those that love them. No doubt it is the death of our heavenly life, to have hard thoughts of God, to conceive of him as one that would rather damn than save us. This is to put the blessed God into the similitude of Satan. When our ignorance and unbelief have drawn the most deformed picture of God in our imaginations, then we complain that we cannot love him, nor delight in him. This is the case of many thousand Christians. Alas, that we should thus blaspheme God, and blast our own joys! Scripture assures us that God is love;(r) that fury is not in him;(s) that he hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.(t) Much more hath he testified his love to his chosen, and his full resolution to save them. O that we could always think of God, as we do of a friend! as of one that unfeignedly loves us, even more than we do ourselves; whose very heart is set upon us to do us good, and hath therefore provided for us an everlasting dwelling with
(r) 1 John iv. 16.
(5) Isa. xxvii. 4.
(1) Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
himself! it would not then be so hard to have our hearts ever with him! Where we love most heartily, we shall think most sweetly, and most freely. I fear most Christians think higher of the love of a hearty friend than of the love of God; and what wonder then if they love their friends better than God, and trust them more confidently than God, and had rather live with them than with God.
20. (9) Carefully observe and cherish the motions of the Spirit of God. If ever thy soul get above this earth, and get acquainted with this heavenly life, the Spirit of God must be to thee, as the chariot to Elijah; gea, the very living principle by which thou must move and ascend.' ( then grieve not thy guide, quench not thy life, knock not off thy chariot wheels! You little think how much the life of all your graces, and the happiness of your souls, depend upon your ready and cordial obedience to the Spirit. When the Spirit urges thee to secret prayer, or forbids thee thy known transgressions, or points out to thee the way in which thou shouldst go, and thou wilt not regard; no wonder if heaven and thy soul be strange. If thou wilt not follow the Spirit, while it would draw thee to Christ and thy duty; how should it lead thee to heaven, and bring thy heart into the presence of God? What supernatural help, what bold access, shall the soul find in its approaches to the Almighty, that constantly obeys the Spirit! And how backward, how dull, how ashamed, will he be in these addresses, who hath often broke away from the Spirit that would have guided him !-Christian Reader, dost thou not feel sometimes a strong impression to retire from the world, and draw near to God? Do not disobey, but take the offer, and hoist up thy sails while this blessed gale may be had. The more of the Spirit we resist, the deeper will it wound; and the more we obey, the speedier will be our pace.
§ 21. (10) I advise thee, as a farther help to this heavenly life, not to neglect the due care of thy bodily health. Thy body is a useful servant, if thou give it its due, and no more than its due; but it is a
most devouring tyrant, if thou suffer it to have what it unreasonably desires; and it is as a blunted knife, if thou unjustly deny it what is necessary to its support. When we consider how frequently men offend on both extremes, and how few use their bodies aright, we cannot wonder if they be much hindered in their converse with heaven. Most men are slaves to their appetite, and can scarce deny any thing to the flesh, and are therefore willingly carried by it to their sports, or profits, or vain companions, when they should raise their minds to God and heaven. As you love your souls, make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof;(u) but remember, to be carnally minded is death; because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.(w) Tbere are a few, who much hinder their heavenly joy, by denying the body its necessaries, and so making it unable to serve them: if such wronged their flesh only, it would be no great matter, but they wrong their souls also; as he that spoils the house injures the inhabitants. When the body is sick, and the spirits languish, how heavily do we move in the thoughts and joys of heaven!
(u) Rom. xiii. 14.
(w) Rom. viï. 6–8, 19, 13.
The Nature of heavenly Contemplation; with the Time,
Place, and Temper, fittest for it.
§ 1. The duty of heavenly contemplation is recommended to the
reader, $ 2. and defined. $ 3–6. (I.) The definition is illustrated. $7. (II.) The time fittest for it is represented, as, 8 8.(1) stated; $ 9-12 (2) frequent; § 13. and (3) seasonable every day, particularly every Lord's day; § 14--17. but more especially when our hearts are warmed with a sense of divine things; or when we are afflicted, or tempted; or when we are near death. $ 18. (III.) The fittest place for it, is the most retired : $ 19. (IV.) And the fittest temper for it is, $ 23.(1) when our minds are most clear of the world, § 21. (2) and most solemn and serious.
§ 1. Once more I entreat thee, Reader, as thou makest conscience of a revealed duty, and darest not wil fully resist the Spirit; as thợu valuest the high delights of a saint, and the soul-ravishing exercise of heavenly contemplation; that thou diligently study, and speedily and faithfully practise the following directions. If, by this means, thou dost not find an increase of all thy graces, and dost not grow beyond the stature of common Christians, and art not made more serviceable in thy place, and more precious in the eyes of all discerning persons, if thy soul enjoy not more communion with God, and thy life be not fuller of comfort, and hast it not readier by thee at a dying hour; then cast away these directions, and exclaim against me for ever as a deceiver.
2. The duty which I press upon thee so earnestly, and in the practice of which I am now to direct thee, is, The set and solemn acting of all the powers of thy soul in meditation upon thy everlasting rest. More fully to explain the nature of this duty, I will here illustrate a little the description itself,—then point out the fittest time, place, and temper of mind, for it.