Heavenly contemplation assisted by sensible objects
It is difficult to maintain a lively impression of heavenly things: therefore, I. Heavenly contemplation may be assisted by sensible objects; 1. If we draw strong suppositions from sense; and 2. If we compare the objects of sense with the objects of faith. II. Heavenly contemplation may also be guarded against a treacherous heart, by considering, 1. The great backwardness of the heart to this duty; 2. Its trifling in it; 3. Its wandering from it; and, 4. Its too abruptly putting an end to it.
The most difficult part of heavenly contemplation is, to maintain a lively sense of heavenly things upon our hearts. It is easier merely to think of heaven a whole day, than to be lively and affectionate in those thoughts a quarter of an hour. Faith is imperfect–for we are renewed but in part–and goes against a world of resistance; and, being supernatural, is prone to decline and languish, unless it be continually excited. Sense is strong according to the strength of the flesh; and, being natural, continues while nature continues. The objects of faith are far off; but those of sense are nigh. We must go as far as heaven for our joys. To rejoice in what we never saw, nor ever knew the man that did see, and this upon a mere promise of the Bible, is not so easy as to rejoice in what we see and possess. It must, therefore, be a point of spiritual prudence, to call in sense to the assistance of faith. It will be a good work, if we can make friends of these usual enemies, and make them instruments for raising us to God, which are so often the means of drawing us from him. Why hath God given us either our senses or their common objects, if they might not be serviceable to his praise? Why doth the Holy Spirit describe the glory of the New Jerusalem in expressions that are even grateful to the flesh? Is it that we might think heaven to be made of gold and pearl? or that saints and angels eat and drink? No, but to help us to conceive of them as we are able, and to use these borrowed phrases as a glass, in which we must see the things themselves imperfectly represented, till we come to an immediate and perfect sight. Besides showing how heavenly contemplation may be assisted by sensible objects, this chapter will also show how it may be preserved from a wandering heart.
First. In order that heavenly contemplation may be ASSISTED BY SENSIBLE OBJECTS, let me only advise to draw strong suppositions from sense, and to compare the objects of sense with the objects of faith.
1. For the helping of thy affections in heavenly contemplation, draw as strong suppositions as possible from thy senses. Think on the joys above, as boldly as Scripture hath expressed them. Bring down thy conceptions to the reach of sense. Both love and joy are promoted by familiar acquaintance. When we attempt to think of God and glory, without the Scripture’s manner of representing them, we are lost, and have nothing to fix our thoughts upon; we set them so far from us, that our thoughts are strange, and we are ready to say, what is above us is nothing to us. To conceive of God and glory only as above our conception, will beget but little love; or above our love, will produce little joy. Therefore put Christ no farther from you than he hath put himself, lest the divine nature be again inaccessible. Think of Christ as in our own glorified nature. Think of glorified saints as men made perfect. Suppose thyself a companion with John, in his survey of the New Jerusalem, and viewing the thrones, the majesty, the heavenly hosts, the shining splendor which he saw. Suppose thyself his fellow-traveller into the celestial kingdom, and that thou hadst seen all the saints in their white robes, with “palms in their hands;” and that thou hadst heard those “songs of Moses and of the Lamb.” If thou hadst really seen and heard these things, in what a rapture wouldst thou have been! And the more seriously thou puttest this supposition to thyself, the more will thy meditation elevate thy heart. Do not, like the Papists, draw them in pictures! but get the liveliest picture of them in thy mind that thou possibly canst, by contemplating the Scripture account of them, till thou canst say, “Methinks I see a glimpse of glory! Methinks I hear the shouts of joy and praise, and even stand by Abraham and David, Peter and Paul, and other triumphant souls! Methinks I even see the Son of God appearing in the clouds, and the world standing at his bar to receive their doom; and hear him say, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father;’ and see them go rejoicing into the joy of their Lord! My very dreams of these things have sometimes greatly affected me; and should not these just suppositions much more affect me? What if I had seen, with Paul, those ‘unutterable things?’ Or, with Stephen, had seen ‘heaven opened, and Christ sitting at the right hand of God?’ Surely that one sight was worth his storm of stones. What if I had seen, as Micaiah did, ‘the Lord sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left?’ Such things did these men of God see; and I shall shortly see far more than ever they saw, till they were loosed from the flesh, as I must be.” Thus you see how it excites our affections in this heavenly work, if we make strong and familiar suppositions from our bodily senses, concerning the state of blessedness, as the Spirit hath in condescending language expressed it.
2. The other way in which our senses may promote this heavenly work, is by comparing the objects of sense with the objects of faith. As for instance: You may strongly argue with your heart from the corrupt delights of sensual men to the joys above. Think with thy self, “Is it such a delight to a sinner to do wickedly? and will it not be delightful indeed to live with God? Hath the drunkard such delight in his cups, that the fears of damnation will not make him forsake them? Will the licentious man rather part with his credit, estate and salvation, than with his brutish delights? If the way to hell can afford such pleasure, what then are the pleasures of the saints in heaven! If the covetous man hath so much pleasure in his wealth, and the ambitious man in places of power and titles of honor, what then have the saints in everlasting treasures, and in heavenly honors, where we shall be set above principalities and powers, and be made the glorious spouse of Christ! How delightfully will the voluptuous follow their recreations from morning till night, or sit at their cards and dice nights and days together! O the delight we shall have, when we come to our rest, in beholding the face of the living God, and in singing forth praises unto him and the Lamb!”
Compare also the delights above with the lawful and moderate delights of sense. Think with thyself, “How sweet is food to my taste when I am hungry; especially if it be, as Isaac said, ‘such as I love,’ which my temperance and appetite incline to? What delight, then, must my soul have in feeding upon ‘Christ, the living bread,’ and in ‘eating with him at his table in his kingdom!’ Was a mess of pottage so sweet to Esau in his hunger, that he would buy it at so dear a rate as his birthright? How highly, then, should I value this never-perishing food! How pleasant is drink in the extremity of thirst; scarcely to be expressed; enough to make the ‘strength of Samson revive!’ O how delightful will it be to my soul to drink of that ‘fountain of living water, which whoso drinketh shall thirst no more!’ How delightful are grateful odors to the smell; or music to the ear; or beautiful sights to the eye! what fragrance, then, hath ‘the precious ointment which is poured on the head’ of our glorified Savior, and which must be poured on the head of all his saints, and will fill all heaven with its odor! How pleasing will be those real beauties above! How glorious the ‘building not made with hands,’ the house that God himself dwells in, the walks and prospects in ‘the city of God,’ and the celestial paradise!”
Compare, also, the delights above with those we find in natural knowledge. These are far beyond the delights of sense; but how much farther are the delights of heaven! Think, then, “can an Archimedes be so taken up with his mathematical invention, that the threats of death cannot disengage him, but he will die in the midst of his contemplations? Should not I be much more taken up with the delights of glory, and die with these contemplations fresh upon my soul; especially when my death will perfect my delights, while those of Archimedes die with him? What exquisite pleasure is it to dive into the secrets of nature, and find out the mysteries of arts and sciences; especially if we make a new discovery in any one of them! What high delights are there, then, in the knowledge of God and Christ! If the face of human learning be so beautiful as to make sensual pleasures appear base and brutish, how beautiful, then, is the face of God! When we meet with some choice book, how could we read it day and night, almost forgetful of meat, drink, or sleep! What delights are there, then, at God’s right hand, where we shall know in a moment all that is to be known!”
Compare, also, the delights above with the delights of morality and of the natural affections. What delight had many sober heathen in the rules and practice of moral duty, so that they took him alone for an honest man who did well through the love of virtue, and not merely for fear of punishment; yea, so much valued was this moral virtue, that they thought a man’s chief happiness consisted in it! Think, then, “What excellency will there be in our heavenly perfection, and in that uncreated perfection of God which we shall behold! what sweetness is there in the exercise of natural love, whether to children, parents, yoke-fellows, or intimate friends! Does David say of Jonathan, ‘Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women!’ Did the ‘soul of Jonathan cleave to David?’ Had Christ himself one ‘disciple whom he especially loved, and who was wont to lean on his breast?’ If, then, the delights of close and cordial friendship be so great, what delight shall we have in the friendship of the Most High, and in the dearest love of the saints! Surely this will be a stricter friendship than these, more lovely and desirable friends than ever the sun beheld; and both our affections to our Father and Savior, and especially theirs to us, will be such as we never knew here. If one angel could destroy a host, the affections of spirits must also be proportionably stronger, so that we shall then love a thousand times more ardently than we can now. As all the attributes and works of God are incomprehensible, so is this of love: he will love us infinitely beyond our most perfect love to Him. What, then, will there be in this mutual love!”
Compare also the excellencies of heaven with those glorious works of creation which our eyes now behold. What wisdom, power and goodness are manifested therein! How does the majesty of the Creator shine in this fabric of the world! “His works are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.” What divine skill in forming the bodies of men or beasts! What excellency in every plant! What beauty in flowers! What variety and usefulness in herbs, plants, fruits and minerals! What wonders are contained in the earth and its inhabitants; the ocean of waters, with its motions and dimensions; and the constant succession of spring and autumn, of summer and winter! Think, then, “If these things, which are but servants to sinful man, are so full of mysterious worth, what is that place where God himself dwells, and which is prepared for just men made perfect with Christ! What glory is there in the least of yonder stars! What a vast resplendent body is yonder moon, and every planet! What an inconceivable glory has the sun! But all this is nothing to the glory of heaven. Yonder sun must there be laid aside as useless. Yonder sun is but darkness to the lustre of my Father’s house. I shall myself be as glorious as that sun. This whole earth is but my Father’s footstool. This thunder is nothing to his dreadful voice. These winds are nothing to the breath of his mouth. If the ‘sending rain, and making the sun to rise on the just and on the unjust,’ be so wonderful, how much more wonderful and glorious will that Sun be which must shine on none but saints and angels?”
Compare also the enjoyments above with the wonders of Providence in the church and the world. Would it not be an astonishing sight to see “the sea stand as a wall on the right hand and on the left, and the dry land appear in the midst, and the people of Israel pass safely through, and Pharaoh and his host drowned?” or to have seen the ten plagues of Egypt? or the rock gushing forth streams? or manna and quails rained from heaven? or the earth opening and swallowing up the wicked? But we shall see far greater things than these; not only sights more wonderful, but more delightful! there shall be no blood, nor wrath, intermingled; nor shall we cry out, as the men of Beth-shemesh, “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?” How astonishing to see the sun stand still in the firmament, or “the dial of Ahaz go back ten degrees!” But we shall see when there shall be no sun; or rather shall behold for ever a Sun of infinitely greater brightness. What a life should we have, if we could have drought or rain at our prayers; or have fire from heaven to destroy our enemies, as Elisha; or miraculously cure diseases, and speak all languages, as the apostles! Alas, these are nothing to the wonders we shall see and possess with God; and all of them wonders of goodness and love! We shall ourselves be the subjects of more wonderful mercies than any of these. Jonah was raised but from a three days’ burial in the belly of a fish; but we shall be raised from many years’ decay and dust; and that dust exalted to the glory of the sun; and that glory perpetuated through eternity. Surely, if we observe but common providences, as the motions of the sun; the tides of the sea; the standing of the earth; the watering it with rain, as a garden; the keeping in order a wicked, confused world; with many others, they are all admirable. But what are these to the Sion of God, the vision of the divine Majesty, and the order of the heavenly host?
Add to these, those particular providences which thou hast thyself enjoyed and recorded through thy life, and compare them with the mercies thou shalt have above. Look over the mercies of thy youth and riper age, of thy prosperity and adversity, of thy several places and relations; are they not excellent and innumerable, rich and engaging? How sweet was it to thee, when God resolved thy doubts; scattered thy fears; prevented the inconveniences into which thy own counsel would have cast thee; eased thy pains; healed thy sickness; and raised thee up, as from death and the grave! Think, then, “Are all these so sweet and precious, that without them my life would have been a perpetual misery? Hath his providence on earth lifted me so high, ‘and his gentleness made me so great?’ How sweet, then, will his glorious presence be! How high will his eternal love exalt me! And how great shall I be made in communion with his greatness! If my pilgrimage and warfare have such mercies, what shall I find in my home and in my triumph? If God communicates so much to me while I remain a sinner, what will he bestow when I am a perfected saint! If I have had so much at such a distance from him, what shall I have in his immediate presence, where I shall ever stand before his throne!”
Compare the joys above with the comforts thou hast here received in ordinances. Has not the Bible been to thee as an open fountain, flowing with comforts day and night? What suitable promises have come into thy mind; so that, with David, thou mayst say, “Unless thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction!” Think, then, “If his word be so full of consolation, what overflowing springs shall we find in God himself! If his letters are so comfortable, what will the glory of his presence be! If the promise is so sweet, what will the performance be! If the testament of our Lord, and our charter for the kingdom, be so comfortable, what will be our possession of the kingdom itself!”
Think farther, “What delights have I also found in the word preached! When I have sat under a heavenly, heart-searching teacher, how has my heart been warmed! Methinks I have felt myself almost in heaven. How often have I gone to the congregation, troubled in spirit, and returned joyful! How often have I gone doubting, and God hath sent me home persuaded of his love in Christ! What cordials have I met with to animate me in every conflict! If the face of Moses shine so gloriously, what glory is there in the face of God! If ‘the feet of them that publish peace, that bring good tidings of salvation, be beautiful,’ how beautiful is the face of the Prince of Peace! If this treasure be so precious in earthen vessels, what is that treasure laid up in heaven! Blessed are the eyes that see what is seen there, and the ears that hear the things that are heard there. There shall I hear Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, Peter, Paul; not preaching to gainsayers, in imprisonment, persecution and reproach; but triumphing in the praises of him who hath raised them to honor and glory.”
Think also, “What joy is it to have access and acceptance in prayer; that I may always go to God, and open my case, and unbosom my soul to him, as to my most faithful friend! but it will be a more unspeakable joy, when I shall receive all blessings without asking, and all my necessities and miseries will be removed, and when God himself will be the portion and inheritance of my soul.”
As for the Lord’s supper, “What a privilege is it to be admitted to sit at his table, to have his covenant sealed to me there! But all the life and comfort there, is to assure me of the comforts hereafter. O the difference between the last supper of Christ on earth, and the marriage supper of the Lamb at the great day! Then his room will be the glorious heavens; his attendants, all the hosts of angels and saints: no Judas, no unfurnished guest comes there; but the humble believers must sit down by them, and their feast will be their mutual loving and rejoicing.”
Concerning the communion of saints, think with thyself, “What a pleasure is it to live with intelligent and heavenly Christians! David says of such, they were ‘all his delight.’ O what a delightful society, then, shall I have above! Had I but seen Job on the dunghill, what a mirror of patience! and what will it be to see him in glory! How delightful to have heard Paul and Silas singing in the stocks! how much more to hear them sing praises in heaven! What melody did David make on his harp! but how much more melodious to hear that sweet singer in the heavenly choir! What would I have given for an hour’s free converse with Paul, when he was just come down from the third heaven! But I must shortly see those things myself, and possess what I see.”
Once more, think of praising God in concert with his saints: “What if I had been in the place of those shepherds who saw and heard the heavenly host singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men!” But I shall see and hear more glorious things. How blessed should I have thought myself, had I heard Christ in his thanksgivings to his Father! How much more, when I shall hear him pronounce me blessed! If there was such joy at bringing back the ark, or at rebuilding the temple; what will there be in the New Jerusalem! If the earth rent when the people rejoiced at Solomon’s coronation; what a joyful shout will there be at the appearing of the King of the church! If, ‘when the foundations of the earth were laid, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy;’ what a joyful song will there be, when the world of glory is both founded and finished, when the top-stone is laid, and when ‘the holy city is adorned as the bride, the Lamb’s wife!'”
Compare the joys thou shalt have in heaven with what the saints have found in the way to it, and in the foretastes of it. When did God ever reveal the least of himself to any of his saints, but the joy of their hearts corresponded to the revelation? In what an ecstasy was Peter on the mount of transfiguration! “Master,” says he, “it is good for us to be here: let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” As if he had said, “O let us not go down again to yonder persecuting rabble; let us not return to our mean and suffering state. Is it not better to stay here, now we are here? Is not here better company and sweeter pleasure?” How was Paul lifted up with what he saw! How did the face of Moses shine when he had been talking with God! These were all extraordinary foretastes; but little to the full beatific vision. How often have we read and heard of dying saints who have been full of joy; and when their bodies have felt the extremity of sickness and pain, have had so much of heaven in their spirits that their joy has far exceeded their sorrows! If a spark of this fire be so glorious even amidst the sea of adversity; what then is glory itself! O the joy that the martyrs have felt in the flames! They were flesh and blood, as well as we; it must therefore be some excellent thing that filled their spirits with joy while their bodies were burning. Think, reader, in thy meditations, “Sure it must be some wonderful foretaste of glory that made the flames of fire easy, and the king of terrors welcome. What then is glory itself! What a blessed rest, when the thoughts of it made Paul desire to depart and be with Christ; and make the saints never think themselves well till they are dead! Shall Saunders embrace the stake, and cry, ‘Welcome, cross!’ And shall I not more delightfully embrace my blessedness, and cry, ‘Welcome, crown?’ Shall Bradford kiss the fagot, and shall I not kiss the Savior? Shall another poor martyr rejoice to have her foot in the same hole of the stocks in which Mr. Philpot’s had been before her? And shall not I rejoice that my soul shall live in the same place of glory where Christ and his apostles are gone before me? Shall fire and fagot, prisons and banishment, cruel mockings and scourgings, be more welcome to others than Christ and glory to me? God forbid!'”
Compare the glory of the heavenly kingdom with the glory of the church on earth, and of Christ in his state of humiliation. If Christ’s suffering in the room of sinners had such excellency, what is Christ at his Father’s right hand! If the church under her sins and enemies have so much beauty, what will she have at the marriage of the Lamb! How wonderful was the Son of God in the form of a servant! When he is born, a new star must appear, and conduct the strangers to worship him in a manger, heavenly hosts with their songs must celebrate his nativity; while a child, he must dispute with doctors; when he enters upon his office, he turns water into wine, feeds thousands with a few loaves and fishes, cleanses the lepers, heals the sick, restores the lame, gives sight to the blind, and raises the dead. How wonderful, then, is his celestial glory! If there be such cutting down of boughs, and spreading of garments, and crying Hosanna, for one that comes into Jerusalem riding on an ass; what will there be when he comes with his angels in his glory! If they had heard him “preach the Gospel of the kingdom,” confess, “Never man spake like this man;” they, then, that behold his majesty in his kingdom will say, “There was never glory like this glory.” If, when his enemies came to apprehend him, they fell to the ground; if, when he is dying, the earth quakes, the veil of the temple is rent, the sun is eclipsed, the dead bodies of the saints arise, and the standers-by acknowledge, “truly this was the Son of God;” O what a day will it be when the dead must all arise and stand before him! when he “will once shake, not the earth only, but the heavens also!: when this sun shall be taken out of the firmament, and be everlastingly darkened with his glory! and when every tongue shall confess him to be the Lord and King! If, when he rose again, death and the grave lost their power; if angels must “roll away the stone,” terrify the keepers till they are “as dead men,” and send the tidings to his disciples; if he ascend to heaven in their sight; of what power, dominion and glory is he now possessed, and which we must for ever possess with him! When he is gone, can a few poor fishermen and tent-makers cure the lame, blind and sick, open prisons, destroy the disobedient, raise the dead, and astonish their adversaries? what a world will that be, where every one can do greater works than these! If the preaching of the Gospel be accompanied with such power as to discover the secrets of the heart, humble the proud sinner, and make the most obdurate tremble; if it can make men burn their books, sell their lands, and bring in the price and lay it down at the preacher’s feet; if it can convert thousands, and turn the world upside down; if its doctrine, from the prisoner at the bar, can make the judge on the bench tremble; if Christ and his saints have this power and honor in the day of their abasement, and in the time appointed for their suffering and disgrace, what then will they have in their absolute dominion and full advancement in their kingdom of glory!
Compare the glorious change thou shalt have at last, with the gracious change which the Spirit hath here wrought on thy heart. There is not the smallest sincere grace in thee, but is of greater worth than the riches of the Indies; not a hearty desire after Christ, but is more to be valued than the kingdoms of the world. A renewed nature is the very image of God; Christ dwelling in us, and the Spirit of God abiding in us; it is a beam from the face of God; the seed of God remaining in us; the only inherent beauty of the rational soul: it ennobles man above all nobility; fits him to understand his Maker’s pleasure, do his will, and receive his glory. If this grain of mustard-seed be so precious, what is “the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God!” If a spark of life, which will but strive against corruptions, and flame out a few desires and groans, be of so much worth, how glorious then is the fountain of this life! If we are said to be like God when we are pressed down with a body of sin; surely we shall be much more like God when we have no such thing as sin within us. Is the desire after, and love of heaven, so excellent; what then is the thing itself? Is our joy in foreseeing and believing so sweet; what will be the joy of full possession? How glad is a Christian when he feels his heart begin to melt, and be dissolved with the thoughts of sinful unkindness! Even this sorrow yields him joy. O what then will it be, when we shall know, and love, and rejoice, and praise in the highest perfection! Thine with thyself, “What a change was it to be taken from that state wherein I was born, and in which I was riveted by custom, when thousands of sins lay against me; and if I had so died, I have been damned for ever! What an astonishing change, to be justified from all these enormous crimes, and freed from all these fearful plagues, and made an heir of heaven! How often, when I have thought of my regeneration, have I cried out, O blessed day! and blessed be the Lord that ever I saw it! How, then, shall I cry out in heaven, O blessed eternity! and blessed be the Lord that brought me to it! Did the angels of God rejoice to see my conversion? surely they will congratulate my felicity in my salvation. Grace is but a spark raked up in the ashes, covered with flesh from the sight of the world, and sometimes covered with corruption from my own sight; but my everlasting glory will not be so clouded, nor my light be ‘under a bushel, but upon a hill,’ even upon mount Sion, the mount of God.”
Once more, compare the joys which thou shalt have above, with those foretastes of it which the Spirit hath given thee here. Hath not God sometimes revealed himself extraordinarily to thy soul, and let a drop of glory fall upon it? Hast thou not been ready to say, “O that it might be thus with my soul continually!” Didst thou never cry out with the martyr, after thy long and mournful expectations, “He is come! he is come!” Didst thou never, under a lively sermon of heaven, or in thy retired contemplations on that blessed state, perceive thy drooping spirits revive, and thy dejected heart lift up thy head, and the light of heaven dawn on thy soul? Think with thyself, “What is this earnest to the full inheritance? Alas, all this light, that so amazeth and rejoiceth me, is but a candle lighted from heaven to lead me thither through this world of darkness! If some godly men have been overwhelmed with joy till they have cried out, ‘Hold, Lord, stay thy hand; I can bear no more!’ what then will be my joys in heaven, when my soul shall be so capable of seeing and enjoying God, that though the light be ten thousand times greater than the sun, yet my eyes shall be able for ever to behold it!: Or if thou hast not yet felt these sweet foretastes, (for every believer hath not felt them,) then make use of such delights as thou hast felt, in order the better to discern what thou shalt hereafter feel.
Secondly. I am now to show how heavenly contemplation may be PRESERVED FROM A WANDERING HEART. Our chief work here is to discover the danger, and that will direct to the fittest remedy. The heart will prove the greatest hinderance in this heavenly employment; either, by backwardness to it;–or, by trifling in it;–or by frequent excursions to other objects;–or, by abruptly ending the work before it is well begun. As you value the comfort of this work, these dangerous evils must be faithfully resisted.
1. Thou wilt find thy heart as backward to this, I think, as to any work in the world. O what excuses will it make! What evasions will it find out! What delays and demurs, when it is ever so much convinced! Either it will question whether it be a duty or not; or if it be so to others, whether to thyself. It will tell thee, “This is a work for ministers that have nothing else to study; or, for persons that have more leisure than thou hast.” If thou be a minister, it will tell thee, “This is the duty of the people; it is enough for thee to meditate for their instruction, and let them meditate on what they have heard.” As if it was thy duty only to cook their meat and serve it up, and they alone must eat it, digest it, and live upon it. If all this will not do, thy heart will tell thee of other business, or set thee upon some other duty; for it had rather go to any duty than this. Perhaps it will tell thee, “Other duties are greater, and therefore this must give place to them, because thou hast no time for both. Public business is more important; to study and preach for the saving of souls must be preferred before these private contemplations.” As if thou hadst not time to care for thy own salvation, for looking after that of others; or thy charity to others were so great, that it obliges thee to neglect thy own eternal welfare; or as if there was any better way to fit us to be useful to others, than making this proof of our doctrine ourselves. Certainly heaven is the best fire to light our candle at, and the best book for a preacher to study; and if we would be persuaded to study that more, the church would be provided with more heavenly lights; and when our studies are divine and our spirits divine, our preaching will also be divine, and we may be called divines indeed. Or if thy heart will have nothing to say against the work, it will trifle away the time in delays, and promise this day and the next, but still keep off from the business. Or it will give thee a flat denial, and oppose its own unwillingness to thy reason. all this I speak of the heart, so far as it is still carnal; for I know, so far as it is spiritual, it will judge this the sweetest work in the world.
What is now to be done? Wilt thou do it if I tell thee? Wouldst thou not say in a like case, “What should I do with a servant that will not work, or with a horse that will not travel? Shall I keep them to look at?” Then faithfully deal thus with thy heart; persuade it to the work, take no denial, chide it for its backwardness, use violence with it. Hast thou no command of thy own thoughts? Is not the subject of thy meditations a matter of choice, especially under the guidance of thy judgment? Surely God gave thee, with thy new nature, some power to govern thy thoughts. Art thou again become a slave to thy depraved nature? Resume thy authority. Call in the Spirit of Christ to thine assistance, who is never backward to so good a work, nor will deny his help in so just a cause. Say to him, “Lord, thou gavest my reason the command of my thoughts and affections; the authority I have received over them is from thee; and now, behold, they refuse to obey thine authority. Thou commandest me to set them to the work of heavenly meditation, but they rebel and stubbornly refuse the duty. Wilt thou not assist me to exercise that authority which thou hast given me? O send down thy Spirit, that I may enforce thy commands, and effectually compel them to obey thy will!: Thus thou shalt see thy heart will submit, its resistance be overcome, and its backwardness be turned into cheerful compliance.
2. Thy heart will also be likely to betray thee by trifling, when it should be effectually meditating. Perhaps, when thou hast an hour for meditation, the time will be spent before thy heart will be serious. This doing of duty as if we did it not, ruins as many as the omission of it. Here let thine eye be always upon thy heart. Look not so much to the time it spends in the duty, as to the quantity and quality of the work that is done. You can tell by his work, whether a servant has been diligent. Ask yourself, “What affections have yet been exercised? How much nearer am I to heaven?” Think not, since thy heart is so trifling, it is better to let it alone: for, by this means thou wilt certainly banish all spiritual obedience; because the best hearts, being but sanctified in part, will resist, so far as they are carnal. But rather consider well the corruptions of thy nature; and that its sinful indispositions will not supersede the commands of God; nor one sin excuse another; and that God has appointed means to excite our affections. This self-reasoning, self-considering duty of heavenly meditation, is the most effective means both to excite and increase love. Therefore neglect not the duty till thou feelest thy love constrain thee, any more than thou wouldst stay from the fire till thou feelest thyself warm; but engage in the work till love is excited, and then love will constrain thee to further duty.
3. Thy heart will also be making excursions from thy heavenly meditation to other objects. It will be turning aside, like a careless servant, to talk with every one that passes by. When there should be nothing in thy mind but heaven, it will be thinking of thy calling, or thy afflictions, or of every bird, or tree, or place thou seest. The cure is here the same as before: use watchfulness and violence. Say to thy heart, “What! did I come hither to think of my worldly business, of persons, places, news or vanity, or of any thing but heaven, be it ever so good? ‘Canst thou not watch one hour?’ Wouldst thou leave this world and dwell for ever with Christ in heaven, and not leave it one hour to dwell with Christ in meditation? ‘Is this thy love to thy friend?’ Dost thou love Christ, and the place of thy eternal, blessed abode, no more than this?” If the ravening fowls of wandering thoughts devour the meditations intended for heaven, they devour the life and joy of thy thoughts; therefore drive them away from thy sacrifice, and strictly keep thy heart to the work.
4. Abruptly ending thy meditation before it is well begun, is another way in which thy heart will deceive thee. Thou mayest easily perceive this in other duties. In secret prayer, is not thy heart urging thee to cut it short, and frequently making a motion to have done? So in heavenly contemplation, thy heart will be weary of the work, and will stop thy heavenly walk before thou art well warm. But charge it in the name of God to stay, and not do so great a work by halves. Say to it, “Foolish heart! if thou beg a while, and goest away before thou hast thine alms, is not thy begging a lost labor? If thou stoppest before the end of thy journey, is not thy travel lost? Thou camest hither in hope to have a sight of the glory which thou must inherit; and wilt thou stop when thou art almost at the top of the hill, and turn back before thou hast taken thy survey? Thou camest hither in hope to speak with God; and wilt thou go before thou hast seen him? Thou camest to bathe thyself in the streams of consolation, and to that end didst unclothe thyself of thy earthly thoughts; and wilt thou only touch the bank and return? Thou camest to ‘spy out the land of promise;’ go not back without ‘one cluster of grapes to show thy brethren,’ for their encouragement. Let them see that thou hast tasted of the wine by the gladness of thy heart; and that thou hast been anointed with the oil, by the cheerfulness of thy countenance; and hast fed of the milk and honey, by the mildness of thy disposition and the sweetness of thy conversation. This heavenly fire would melt thy frozen heart, and refine and spiritualize it; but it must have time to operate.” Thus pursue the work till something be done, till thy graces be in exercise, thy affections raised, and thy soul refreshed with the delights above; or, if thou canst not attain these ends at once, be the more earnest at another time. “Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.”