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The term or end of religion, eternal life, considered in a
double notion: First, as it signifies the essential happi. ness of the soul—The second, as it takes in many glorious appendices—The noble and genuine breathings of the godly soul after, and springing up into the formerIn what sense she may be said to desire the latterA general answer given to this query-A serious exhor. tation to Christians, to live more spiritually, more suitably to the nature of souls, redeemed souls, resulting from the whole discourse.
I am now come to the last thing whereby this most noble principle is described, viz. the term, or end of it; and that is said here in the text to be everlasting life. This is the highest pitch of perfection, unto which the new creature is continually growing up; which the apostle Paul hath expressed with as much eloquence as words are able to magnify it, calling it the “ measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:" this is that unbounded ocean which this living fountain, by so many incessant issues and unwearied streamings, perpetually endeavours to empty itself into, or rather to unbosom itself in. Now what this is, we must confess with the apostle John, and indeed we have more reason to make such a confession than he had, that it doth not yet appear, viz. neither fully nor distinctly: but yet, since I am thus cast upon the contemplation of it, it will be a pertinent piece of pleasure a little to inquire into it: and though it surpass the power and skill of all created comprehensions to take the just dimensions, and faithfully give in the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of it; yet we may essay to walk about this heavenly Jerusalem, as the Psalmist speaks of the earthly, "and tell the towers thereof, mark her walls, consider her palaces,” that we may tell it to the generation following:
We will first consider eternal life in the most proper notion of it, as it implies the essential happiness of the soul; and so it is no other than the soul's pure, perfect, and established state. By a state I do designedly disparage that grosser notion of a place, as that which scarcely deserves to enter into the description of such a glory, or, at best, will obtain but a very low room there: by purity, I purposely explode that carnal ease, rest, immunity, affluence of sensual delights, accommodated only to the animal life; which last, Mahometans, and the former, too many professed Christians, and the Jews almost generally, dream of, and judge heaven to be. By perfection, I distinguish it from the best state which the best men upon earth can possibly be in. So, then, I take eternal life, in the primary and most proper notion of it, to be full, and perfect, and everlasting enjoyment of God, communion with him, and a most blissful conformity of all the powers and faculties of the soul to his eternal goodness, truth and love, as far as it is or may become capable of the communications of the Divinity. This life was, at the highest rate imaginable, purchased by our ever blessed Lord and Saviour in the days of his flesh, and here in the text promised to every believing soul. Now, inasmuch as we are ignorant both of the present capacity of our own faculties, how large they are, and much more ignorant how much more large and ample they may be made, on purpose to receive the more rich and plentiful communications of the Divine life and image, therefore can we not comprehend either the transcendent life, happiness and glory, or that degree of sanctity and blessedness which the believing soul may be advanced unto in another world. The popish schoolmen nicely dispute about the sight of God, and the love of God, to wit, in whether of these the formal blessedness of the soul consisteth, ill separating those whom God hath so firmly joined together, as if it were possible that either a blind love, or a jejune and unaffectionate speculation, could render a soul entirely happy: but it is much safer to say, that the happiness and eternal life of the soul standeth in the possession or fruition of God; and this doth necessarily import the proper perfection of every faculty. Nothing can be the true happiness of a spirit, that is either inferior or extrinsical to it; it must be something divine, and that wrought into the very nature and temper of it. I doubt not to affirm, that if the soul of man were possibly advanced, so as to receive adoration or divine power, yet if it were, in the mean time, void of divine dispositions and a godlike nature, it were far from being glorified and made happy as to its capacity. What health is to the body, that is holiness to the soul; which haply the apostle alludes to, when he speaks of the “spirit of a sound mind," 2 Tim. i. 7.
There is another notion of eternal life which some contend for, by which they mean not barely the essential happiness of the soul, but that, with the addition of many suitable and glorious circumstances, the essential happiness of the soul, as it is attended with the appendices of a glorified body, the beholding of Christ, the amicable society of angels, freedom from temptations, the knowledge of the secrets of nature and providence, and some such like; to which may be also added, though of a lower degree, open absolution, or a visible deliverance of the saints out of the overthrow of the wicked at the conflagration of the world, power over devils, eminence of place, enjoyment of friends, and some other like. Now let us briefly consider what tendencies there are in the religious soul towards each of these: and here I must crave leave to speak jointly both of the end, and of the motion thereunto; though it may be thought that the former only falls fairly under our present consideration.
First then, I suppose that eternal life in the first sense of it is intended here, to wit the essential happiness of the soul, or its perfect and everlasting enjoyment of God. For the description is here made of religion itself in the abstract, or that principle of divine life which Christ Jesus implanted in the soul, and being so considered, it is hard to conceive how that should spring up into any of these appendant circumstances, or into any thing but the completion and perfection of itself; though the religious soul, taken in the concrete, possibly may. And indeed, though we should allow, which we shall take into consideration under the next head, that many of those high scriptural phrases which are brought to describe the future condition of believing souls, do principally respect the appendices of its essential happiness (as a kingdom, a house 'not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, an inheritance reserved, a place prepared, and the like, yet it seems very unnatural to interpret this phrase, “life," and “eternal life," any otherwise than of that which I call the essential happiness of the soul: but if we interpret it of this, the sense is
very fair and easy; thus this principle of divine life is continually endeavouring to grow up to its just altitude, to advance itself unto a triumphant state, even as all other principles of life do naturally tend towards a final accomplishment, and ultimate perfection. Carnal self, or the animal life, may be indeed said to be a well of water too, poisonous water; but that springs up into a sensual life, popular applause, self-accommodations; or if you will, in the apostle's phrase, into the fulfilment of the lusts of the flesh. This I speak