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Indeed, he that knoweth not what is to come, hath no true knowledge of what is present: for the worth and use of present things is only in their respect to things eternal: and there is no means where there is no end. What wisdom then remains in unbelievers, when all their lives are misemployed, because they know not the end of life? and when all their actions are utterly debased, by the baseness of those brutish ends, to which they serve and are referred. Nothing is truly wise or honourable that is done for small and worthless things. To draw a curious picture of a shadow, or elegantly write the history of a dream, may be an ingenious kind of foolery; but the end will not allow it the name of wisdom: and such are all the actions of the world, (though called heroic, valiant and honourable) that aim at transitory trifles, and tend not to the everlasting end. A bird can neatly build her nest, but is not therefore counted wise. How contrary is the judgment of the world to Christ's! When the same description that he giveth of a fool, is it that worldlings give of a wise and happy man; "One that layeth up riches for himself, and is not rich towards God;" Luke xii. 20, 21. Will you persuade us that the man is wise, that can climb a little higher than his neighbours, that he may have the greater fall? That is attended in his way to hell with greater pomp and state than others? That can sin more syllogistically and rhetorically than the vulgar; and more prudently and gravely run into damnation; and can learnedly defend his madness, and prove that he is safe at the brink of hell? Would you persuade us that he is wise, that contradicts the God and rule of wisdom, and that parts with heaven for a few merry hours, and hath not wit to save his soul? When they see the end, and are arrived at eternity, let them boast of their wisdom, as they find cause: we will take them then for more competent judges. Let the eternal God be the portion of my soul; let heaven be my inheritance and hope; let Christ be my Head, and the promise my security, let faith be my wisdom, and love be my very heart and will, and patient, persevering obedience be my life; and then I can spare the wisdom of the world, because I can spare the trifles that it seeks, and all that they are like to get by it.
What abundance of complaints and calamity would foresight prevent! Had the events of this one year been (con
ditionally) foreseen, the actions of thousands would have been otherwise ordered, and much sin and shame have been prevented. What a change would it make on the judgments of the world? How many words would be otherwise spoken; and how many deeds would be otherwise done; and how many hours would be otherwise spent, if the change that will be made by judgment and execution were well foreseen! And why is it not foreseen, when it is foreshewn? When the omniscient God, that will certainly perform his word, hath so plainly revealed it, and so frequently and loudly warns you of it? Is he wise, that after all these warnings will lie down in everlasting woe, and say, 'I little thought of such a day I did not believe I should ever have seen so great a change?'
Would the servants of Christ be used as they are, if the malicious world foresaw the day when "Christ shall come with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment on all that are ungodly?" Jude 14, 15. When he shall "come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that do believe;" 2 Thess. i. 10. When "the saints shall judge the world;" 1 Cor. vi. 2, 3. and when the ungodly seeing them on Christ's right hand, must hear their sentence on this account, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it (or, did it not) to one of the least of these, (my brethren,) you did it unto me;" Matt. xxv. Yet a few days, and all this will be done before your eyes; but the unbelieving world will not foresee it.
Would malignant Cain have slain his brother, if he had foreseen the punishment, which he calleth afterwards intolerable; Gen. iv. 13. Would the world have despised the preaching of Noah, if they had believed the deluge? Would Sodom have been Sodom, if they had foreseen that a hell from heaven would have consumed them? Would Achan have meddled with his prey, if he had foreseen the stones that were his executioners and his tomb? Would Gehazi have obeyed his covetous desire, if he had foreseen the leprosy? Or Judas have betrayed Christ, if he had foreseen the hanging himself in his despair? It is foreseeing faith that saves those that are saved; and blind unbelief that causeth men's perdition.
Yea, present things as well as future are unknown to foolish unbelievers. Do they know who seeth them in their
sin? And what many thousands are suffering for the like, while they see no danger? Whatever their tongues say, the hearts and lives of fools deny that there is a God that seeth them, and will be their judge; Psal. xiv. 1. You see then that you must live by faith, or perish by folly.
(4.) Consider that things visible are so transitory, and of so short continuance, that they do not deserve the name of things; being nothings, and less than nothing, and lighter than vanity itself, compared to the necessary Eternal Being, whose name is I AM. There is but a few days difference between a prince and no prince; a lord and no lord; a man and no man, a world and no world. And if this be all, let the time that is past inform you how small a difference this is. Rational foresight may teach a Xerxes to weep over his numerous army, as knowing how soon they were all to be dead men. Can you forget that death is ready to undress you; and tell you, that your sport and mirth is done; and that now you have had all that the world can do for those that serve it, and take it for their part? How quickly can a fever, or the choice of a hundred messengers of death, bereave you of all that earth afforded you, and turn your sweetest pleasures into gall, and turn a lord into a lump of clay! It is but as a wink, an inch of time, till you must quit the stage, and speak, and breathe, and see the face of man no more. If you foresee this, O live as men that do foresee it! I never heard of any that stole his winding-sheet, or fought for a coffin, or went to law for his grave. And if you did but see (as wise men should) how near your honours, and wealth, and pleasures do stand unto eternity, as well as your winding-sheets, your coffins, and your graves, you would then value, and desire, and seek them regularly and moderately as you do these. Oh! what a fading flower is your strength! How soon will all your gallantry shrink into the shell! Si vestra sunt tollite ea vobiscum.' Bern. But yet this is not the great part of the change: the terminus ad quem' doth make it greater. It is awful, for persons of renown and honour to change their palaces for graves, and turn to noisome rottenness and dirt: to change their power and command for silent impotency, unable to rebuke the poorest worm, that saucily feedeth on their hearts or faces. But if you are believers, you can look further, and foresee much more.
largest and most capacious heart alive, is unable fully to conceive what a change the stroke of death will make.
For the holy soul so suddenly to pass from prayer to angelical praise, from sorrow unto boundless joys; from the slanders and contempt, and violence of men, to the bosom of Eternal Love; from the clamours of a tumultuous world, to the universal harmony, and perfect uninterrupted love and peace! O what a blessed change is this; which believing now we shall shortly feel.
For an unholy, unrenewed soul, that yesterday was drowned in flesh, and laughed at threatenings, and scorned reproofs, to be suddenly snatched into another world; and see the heaven that he hath lost, and feel the hell which he would not believe to fall into the gulf of bottomless eternity, and at once to find that joy and hope are both departed; that horror and grief must be his company, and desperation hath locked up the door! O what an amazing change is this! If you think me troublesome for mentioning such ungrateful things, what a trouble will it be to feel them! May it teach you to prevent that greater trouble, you may well bear this. Find but a medicine against death, or any security for your continuance here, or any prevention of the change, and I have done: but that which unavoidably must be seen, should be foreseen.
But the unseen world is not thus mutable; eternal life is begun in the believer. The church is built on Christ the rock; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Fix here, and you shall never be removed.
(5.) Hence followeth another difference: the mutable creature doth impart a disgraceful mutability to the soul that chooseth it. It disappointeth and deceiveth; and therefore the ungodly are of one mind to-day, and another to-morrow. In health they are all for pleasure, and commodity, and honour; and at death they cry out on it as deceitful vanity. In health they cannot abide this strictness, this meditating, and seeking, and preparing for the life to come; but at death or judgment they will be of another mind. Then O that they had been so wise as to know their time! they had lived as holy as the best! They are now the bold opposers and reproachers of a holy life; but then they would be glad it had been their own: they would eat their words, and will be down in the mouth, and stand to never a word
And O that
they say, when sight, and sense, and judgment shall convince them.
But things unchangable do fix the soul. Piety is no matter for repentance. Doth the believer speak against sin and sinners; and for a holy, sober, righteous life? He will do so to the last: death and judgment shall not change his mind in this, but much confirm it. Rom. viii. 35-37. And therefore he perseveres through sufferings to death: "For this cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things that 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 are eternal;" 2 Cor. iv. 16—18. III
(6.) Lastly, let this move you to live by a foreseeing faith, that it is of necessity to your salvation. Believing heaven must prepare you for it before you can enjoy it. Believing hell is necessary to prevent it; Mark xvi. 16. John iii. 18. 36. "The just shall live by faith, but if any man draw back (or be lifted up) the Lord will have no pleasure in him;" Heb. x. 38. Hab. ii. 4. Take heed that there be not in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, to depart from the living God;" Heb. iii. 12. "And be not of them that draw back to perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul;" Heb. x. 39. It is God that saith, "They shall all be damned that believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness;" 2 Thess. ii. 10-12.
May I now, in the conclusion, more particularly exhort you, 1. That you will live upon things foreseen. 2. That you will promote this life of faith in others, according to your several capacities.
Princes and nobles live not always: you are not the rulers of the unmovable kingdom; but of a boat that is in a hasty stream, or a ship under sail that will speed both pilot and passengers to the shore. Dixi, estis Dii: ut moriemini ut homines.' It was not the least or worst of kings that said, “I am a stranger upon earth;" Psal. cxix. 19. Vermis sum, non homo :"I am a worm and no man ;" Psal. xxii. 6. You are the greater worms, and we the little ones: but we must all say with Job, "The grave is our house,