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DELIVERED BY THE REV. H. S. PLUMPTRE, A. M.
AT ST. MATTHEW'S CHAPEL, DENMARK HILL, CAMBIRWELL, ON SUNDAY, NOV. 14, 1830.
Rev. vii. 9, 10.—" After this I beheld, and to, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and hindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salration to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
Such is a brief description of that employment in which those are to be engaged, who, as St. John says, " are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Some out of every nation, people and language, are all to meet together in one united assembly to chaunt the praises of their common Redeemer, and "to ascribe glory and honour to him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever." All distinction of parties and sects which here divide and separate the nock of Christ, will then be annihilated; unity of purpose and unity of sentiment will characterize the heavenly worshippers: they will be "one with Christ, and Christ with them." The different members will be united under one head, never more to be separated; there will be "one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ."
Methinks I hear each person in this congregation say, Lord, grant that I may be among the number of those who may be permitted to sit down with thee in thy kingdom. Many a secret prayer, no doubt, is offered up for a participation in these heavenly glories. To gain admission into the everlasting mansions of the blessed, is, doubtless, the desire, if not the more immediate object pursued by all who are here assembled. Ask the most profligate wretch that ever has disgraced the earth, whither he hopes his soul will wing its flight at its separation from the body? Unless he deny the possession of a soul, he will tell you, to heaven. In short, go to each individual you chance to meet, and if he believe in the existence of a future state, ask him where he hopes
his eternal doom will be fixed; he will tell you without hesitation, and wonder at the folly of the question, in heaven. "Come ye blessed of my Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," is the sentence we all anticipate, or at least all desire. But what will be the astonishment of many to be told, that with their present natures, tempers, habits, and affections, heaven would have no attractions for them. We have no hesitation in declaring—a declaration not rashly assumed, nor unadvisedly uttered, that there are thousands in the world, who, if they were at this moment admitted within the portals of the heavenly Jerusalem, would be wholly incapable of enjoying those pleasures which are at God's right hand for evermore. This assertion may to some,' perhaps, appear startling; but it is true, and if it at all wear the aspect of novelty, it is new only to those who have not considered the nature of heavenly enjoyments, and their own carnal dispositions. The unrenewed unsanctified nature .of man never can be admitted into heaven, nor if it could would it be capable of appreciating its glory.
I know that there are those who think that the inculcation of this sentiment has a tendency rather to depreciate heaven in the sinner's sight, making him less desirous of its possession; and that the doctrine is calculated to operate rather as a discouragement than as an encouragement. I ask not what the tendency of the doctrine may be, but simply whether or not it be scriptural; having ascertained that it accords with the language of inspiration, we must boldly and unhesitatingly proclaim it, being content to leave the issue in God's hands. Of one tiling we are certain, that whatever doctrine emanates from the fountain of all wisdom must be pure, spiritual, and good, beneficial in its tendency; though it may be perverted by the fallacious subtilties of human reasoning. Now, that the doctrine in question is substantiated both by Scripture and experience, will I trust be apparent before we dismiss you to your respective abodes.
First of all then, unless drawn from the pages of revelation, the ideas of mankind in general on the subject of a future glorious state of existence are all erroneous. I speak not now merely of the unenlightened heathen, but also of the unenlightened nominal Christian. The light of nature usually so denominated, seems to have imparted even to the heathen world a notion of a future abode of happiness. The stores of classic literature, both Roman and Grecian, to which we are introduced long before we are properly acquainted with our mother tongue, and the pages of profane, which in some of our public schools have almost usurped the place of sacred history, abundantly testify that Elysian fields crowned the expectation of the virtuous and valorous in those days; and in the present day each particular tribe and cast dies in anticipation of enjoying its particular fancied state of blessedness. The followers of Mohammed have pictured to themselves a paradise of sensual pleasures, where the free indulgence in the gratification of every unhallowed lust constitutes the summit of their imaginary bliss. The poor Indian unsheltered and exposed to all the raging heat of a tropical mid-day sun, looks forward when he dies to some cool retreat, where he will be protected from the noon-day beam by shadowy groves, where he will repose on green fertile pastures, and refresh his wearied limbs in the transparent waters of acrystalfountain. Traverse the nations of the earth, and where you discern any notion of future blessedness, there also you will discern that it more or less consists in the completion and perfection of those delights which have constituted their blessedness on earth.
Would to God that erroneous sentiments on these points were restricted
to heathen lands; but alas! in this nominally Christian country, error though not so preposterous still abounds. Heaven we all aspire to: we all hope, no matter whether on good or bad grounds, that there will be our resting place. But ask in what the happiness of heaven consists, and you will be proposing for solution an absolute enigma: all the reply that you will be able to obtain is, that it is a place of happiness. It unquestionably is so, a place of unspeakable happiness, but not such as mankind in general imagine, or such as in their unrenewed state they would desire to possess; they could no more enter into the fruition of heaven than a dead man could relish the choicest dainties that were presented to him. And what is the reason? Because the joys of heaven are solely of a spiritual nature, can only be spiritually discerned, and spiritually relished. Take the description of them as given in the text. There the redeemed of the Lord represented as "standing before
the throne clothed with white robes, and singing, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb:" and in the fifteenth verse they are described as "being before the throne of God, and serving him day and night in his temple:" and in the nineteenth chapter St. John states, that "he heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Hallelujah; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God." Every description which the Scriptures afford us of the employment of the saints in heaven, proves to us that it consists in singing the everlasting praises of God and the Lamb; and this constitutes the happiness of heaven.
Now let me ask, What delight, what satisfaction, what consolation will he derive from such an employment, whose mind is wholly occupied on earthly things? What happiness will the man of the world, the sensualist who is living in one continued round of dissipation, seeking only the gratification of his unhallowed appetite, experience from being told, that in heaven he is to stand before the throne of God, and instead of joining in the chorus of any indecent or profane song, he is to join in the chorus of celestial choristers, chauntingthe everlasting praises of the Redeemer? How would he treat such a declaration? With ridicule and contempt: he would convert the whole into an impious jest to which no credit was to be attached; or if it were, with an equal degree of audacity and profaneness, would beg to be excused from a participation in any such enjoyments. So again, ask the drunkard, the swearer, the blasphemer, the covetous idolater, the notorious sinner of any description, whether he would wish to stand before the throne of God day and night, and sing hallelujahs to the Larab of God? No proposition could be made so monstrous; no employment could be more painfully anticipated: the very idea of standing in the presence of his Maker, would overwhelm him with horror: in his present state nothing could be more dreadful than to exchange the fellow- I ship of his profligate companions, for that of the glorified saints and martyrs; else why does he shun with such avidity . the society of those who order their conversation aright, and endeavour to walk with God here on earth?
But we find this aversion to God, though perhaps in a somewhat modified shape, naturally existing in the heart of any man born into the world; for the language of inspiration hath i designated the human heart as positive enmity against God; and daily experience and observation prove, that after a lapse of eighteen hundred years, the nature of humanity is unaltered: it reluctantly engages in any of those ser-' vices which have a more immediate tendency to bring it into affinity with its Maker. Take for instance the public worship of God: this approaches I nearer than any thing else on earth to that which constitutes the employment of the saints in heaven. We go up to the house of God to present our supplications before him at the throne of grace —to proclaim his everlasting name— to unite together as one congregated family, in one common ascription of praise and glory to the great Jehovah; so that our churches here below are miniature representations of the great universal church above. Yet, alas! what reluctance, what backwardness is there to approach the courts of the Lord's house; what numerous trifling excuses are invented for the neglect of
this duty; and even when we do set ourselves to seek the face of God, it is done with such evident reluctance—it becomes such an act of compulsion, that the whole is considered as a periodical task, rather than a peculiar inestimable privilege; such coldness and dulness, such wandering distracted thoughts pervade even our most hallowed services, that we are only astonished at that forbearance which can even tolerate such pretended petitioners.
Then again, take the day which the Lord hath ordered to be consecrated to his own immediate service—a day on which an assembled world ought to breathe forth one devout aspiration of praise and thanksgiving—a day of rest prefiguring the eternal sabbath of heaven; yet how is it regarded? Even where it is not openly violated, it is viewed as an unseasonable interruption to business or pleasure—a day of weariness rather than of relaxation; and the exclamation, " When will this sabbath be gone," betrays the restlessness of a mind oppressed with the burden of the sabbatical yoke.
Again, it is by prayer that we hold communion with God, reveal our wants to him, and obtain every essential requisite for their diminution ;— prayer is the golden chain which connects earth with heaven; it is the key which unlocks the portals of the inexhaustible treasure-house: yet how unwillingly do we engage in this delightful employment; and when we have forced ourselves to bend the knee, and lift up the heart in the posture of adoration, how lifeless are our warmest devotions, how difficult for any long time to retain the attitude we have assumed: we pray, as though we prayed not: "we have not, because we ask amiss." If then so great is the reluctance to draw nigh to God now, how shall we endure to behold his presence hereafter? Will those who are slow and backward in their offerings of adoration in the courts of the Lord here below, have greater pleasure in. mingling their hallelujahs with the congregated assembly of holy angels? Constituted as they are at present, I trow not.
Take again that part of public worship which consists in singing the praises of God; if this constitute the chief happiness of the heavenly hosts above, ought it not to form a very prominent ingredient in our happiness here below? Yet is this the case? There is no part of our divine service more misunderstood, none more neglected. Of those who assemble together, by far the greater portion appear to think that the singing the praises of God is a part of the service in which they have no concern, and ought to be confined solely to those who are especially appointed to conduct this part of worship; forgetting that they are only provided as leaders for the rest of the congregation to follow, and not with a view of monopolizing the whole singing. To our shame be it spoken, ours is almost the only church in which the voice of praise and thanksgiving does not resound from the united lips of the congregation. This has occasioned a foul blot in the annals of our church, and causes the good which we really possess to be evil spoken of.
Once more: behold the word of God. The very name implies a communication from God, some revelation of himself to his created beings: yet who searches the records of Jehovah with that earnestness and intensity of desire which the all-importance of the subject demands? How few can exclaim, "O how I love thy law, it is my meditation all the day long." The truth is, the volume which contains the words of eternal life is regarded by many only as an obsolete work, scarcely adapted fur modern study; or at best, it is reserved merely for Sunday perusal. Many, from having learnt it by rote in their youth, presume that they are already acquainted with its contents, and deem any farther examination of its pages a work of supererogation. If then to all this we add the usual gratifications and delights which are most congenial to the natural minds of men, and observe that they are sensual, or at best intellectual, is not the truth of my assertion proved, that mankind in general have no relish for the delights of heaven, and in their present condition would be miserable if admission within its portals were possible?
What inference, then, do we draw from the consideration of the foregoing particulars? That which is deeply
important—that some extraordinary change must be effected within us, ere we can be enumerated among the multitudes recorded in the text, arrayed "in white robes with palms in their hands." To this proposition I do not anticipate any objection on your part, but possibly we shall not be so unanimous when we come to define in what this change consists. How common is this sentiment—I confess that I am not at this moment fit to appear in the presence of my God, but I hope to be rendered so ere I die, or at my death—intimating thereby that death effects this important change. What an awful delusion! If death could make that alteration in the soul that it does in the body the argument might be plausible: but death, by which I mean the first death, which we must all die, leaves the soul untouched. For what is death? Nothing but a sleep, and is often so termed in Scripture; and the restoration to life is called an awakening. Christ says of Lazarus, that "he sleepeth, and that he must go and awake him." Job has a remarkable expression alluding to the same fact: "Man lieth down, and riseth not; till the heavens be no more they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep." As well then when we retire to our beds at night, may we expect to rise up the following morning with newly created souls, as that death will have any effect upon them beyond causing a separation from those bodies to which they are united; in that same state in which they are found at the visitation of death, in the very same state will they be found at the visitation of judgment. It is true that a change must take place in the heart of every sinner before he can be rendered capable of eternal happiness; but it is also equally true, that this change cannot be effected by death, but solely and entirely by the Spirit of God while we are yet alive. It was this conviction that drew from our Lord that saying, worthy of all men to be received-—" Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven;" to which we may add, that if admission were possible, enjoyment would be impracticable.
Thus is this grand mystery of godliness developed; what the combined efforts of human wisdom never could have discovered, God himself hath revealed by a communication from his only begotten Son, emphatically called his Word. Are we then wrong in our assertion, that for a large portion of mankind in their present state, an entrance into the eternal mansion of the blessed is impracticable? For " there shall in no wise," says St. John, "enter into heaven any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie." Are we not warranted in our declaration, that of the many thousands who are ex' pressing their hope at last to join the celestial company of angels and archangels, there are multitudes to whom it must [be said, Ye ask ye knovt not what: the bliss you are anticipating is so totally opposed to all your carnal notions of happiness, that disappointment must be the result; there must first be the implantation of a new principle in your soul, or heaven can neither be attained nor enjoyed. It is only a heavenly principle which can qualify us for heavenly employments; until this is communicated we may read of the delights of paradise, but can never possess them. A man may travel from pole to pole, or perambulate the boundaries of the earth; still he carries his principles with him: alteration of time and place effect no real alteration in his soul; "the unjust is unjust still, the filthy is filthy still." Such precisely is the case with a man travelling to eternity; however depraved his principles have been here on earth, such they will be at his death, unless in the intermediate space he is changed by the Holy Spirit of God, and becomes "a new creature in Christ Jesus." Whereas, an individual of holy, heavenly, pious principles, has had all the esscatial requisites for the fruition of glory imparted to him ; he only awaits his dismissal from earth to join the company of heaven; while the other will be gathered to those of kindred principles, with whom he has been assimilated before his death, and with whom he must for ever dwell after death, the devil and his angels. It is in vain for us to deceive ourselves with the expectation that we shall die more innocent than we are at this hour; it is one of
those deceptions which Satan successfully practises to lull our souls into a fatal security: amused and flattered by these specious promises, thousands have sunk into their graves with lives unaltered and hearts unsanctified. Every day we live we are only adding to the list of our offences; we can therefore only expect a larger balance against us; and who can cancel the debt but He alone on whom was " laid the iniquity of us all."
Brethren, I would propose one question, involving our mutual eternal interests. Were Jesus Christ to appear in the midst of this congregation, to make the final separation between the goats and the sheep, how many of us would be found fitted for and capable of enjoying the delights of heaven? I make this enquiry; but you know not, and I know not—God alone can answer the question; he alone can determine how many of his children he has within these walls: but how anxiously should each of us say, Lord is it I ?—am I among the number of those to whom it is thy good "pleasure to give the kingdom?" What evidence am I enabled to afford that I have any saving interest in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ? Of one thing I trust you are row convinced, that the impress of God must in some measure be stamped upon your souls here, or you can never be assimilated with him hereafter. Here then we have a grand criterion by which we may ascertain the state of our future eternal existence. Do you delight in the public and private worship of your God, and join with gladdened hearts the united voices of the congregation, in singing the everlasting praises of Jehovah? Do you welcome the dawn of each returning Sabbath, as a day of peculiar rest and blessedness of your souls? Do you rejoice in the opportunities afforded you of holding communion with your God; and in all those devotional acts which constitute the very essence and vitality of religion? In a word, "are your minds set upon righteousness, O ye congregation, and do ye judge the thing that is right?" Then the " kingdom of God is within you;" you may anticipate with confident expectation the realization and consummation of that eternal blessedness, the foretaste of which