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I have no other use for a preface to this book, but to give you a
mislike the title, as if it imported that the author is dead, let him know that I die daily, and that which quickly will be, almost is : it is suited to my own vse; they that it is unsuitable to, may pass it by. If those men's lives were spent in serious, preparing thoughts of death, who are now studying to destroy each other, and tear in pieces a distressed land, they would prevent much dolorous repentance.
The exercise of three sorts of love, to God, to others, and to myself afford me a threefold satisfaction, conjunct, to be willing to depart.
I. I am sure my departure will be the fulfilling of that will which is love itself, which I am bound, above all things, to love and please, and which is the beginning, rule, and end of all. Antonine could hence fetch good thoughts of death.
II. The world dieth not with me when I die; nor the church, nor the praise and glory of God, which he will have in and from this world unto the end : and if I love others as myself, their lives and comforts will now be to my thoughts, as if I were to live myself in them. God will be praised and honored by posterity when I am dead and gone. Were I to be annihilated, this would comfort me now, if I lived and died in perfect love.
III. But a better glorious world is before me, into which I hope, by death, to be translated, whither all these three sorts of love should wrap up the desires of my ascending soul; even the love of myself, that I may be fully happy; the love of the triumphant church, Christ, angels, and glorified man, and the glory of all the universe, which I shall see; and above all, the love of the most glorious God, infinite life, and light, and love, the ultimate, amiable object of man's love; in whom to be perfectly pleased and delighted, and to whom to be perfectly pleasing forever, is the chief and ultimate end of me, and of the highest, wisest, and best of creatures. Amen.
Phil. i. 23.
For I am in a straight betwixt two, &c.
I write for myself, and therefore, supposing the sense of the text, shall only observe what is useful to my heart and practice.
It was a happy state into which grace had brought this apostle, who saw so much, not only tolerable, but greatly desirable, both in living and dying. To live, to him, was Christ, that is, Christ's interest or work. To die would be gain, that is, his own interest and reward. His strait was not whether it would be good to live or good to depart, both were good, but which was more desirable was the doubt.
1. Quest. But was there any doubt to be made between Christ's interest and his own? Ans. No, if it had been a full and fixed competition; but by Christ, or Christ's interest, he meaneth his work for his church's interest in this world; but he knew that Christ also had an interest in his saints above, and that he could raise up more to serve him here; yet, because he was to judge by what appeared, and he saw a defect of such on earth, this did turn the scales in his choice; and for the work of Christ and his church's good, he more inclined to the delay of his reward, by self-denial; yet knowing that the delay would tend to its increase. It is useful to me here to note,
That, even in this world, short of death, there is some good so much to be regarded, as may justly prevail with believers to prefer it before the present hastening of their reward.
I the rather note this, that no temptation carry me into that extreme, of taking nothing but heaven to be worthy of our minding or regard, and so to cast off the world in a sinful sort, on pretence of mortification, and a heavenly mind, and life.
1. As to the sense, the meaning is not that any thing on earth is better than heaven, or simply, and in itself, to be preferred before it. The end is better than the means as such, and perfection better than imperfection.
But the present use of the means may be preferred sometimes before the present possession of the end, and the use of means for a higher end may be preferred before the present possession of a lower end, and every thing hath its season. Planting, and sowing, and building, are not so good as reaping, and fruit-gathering, and dwelling, but in their season, they must be first done.
II. Quest. But what is there so desirable in this life?
Answ. 1. While it continueth, it is the fulfilling of the will of God, who will have us here; and that is best which God willeth.
II. The life to come dependeth upon this, as the life of man in the world upon his generation in the womb; or as the reward upon the work; or the runner's or soldier's prize upon his race or fighting; or as the merchant's gain upon his voyage. Heaven is won or lost on earth. The possession is there, but the preparation is here. Christ will judge all men according to their works on earth. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” must go before "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course,” goeth before “the crown of righteousness which God, the righteous judge, will give.” All that ever must be done for salvation by us, must here be done. It was on earth that Christ himself wrought the work of our redemption, fulfilled all righteousness, became our ransom, and paid the price of our salvation, and it is here that our part is to be done.
And the bestowing of the reward is God's work, who, we are sure, will never fail. There is no place for the least supicion or fear of his misdoing, or failing, in any of his undertaken work. But the danger and fear is of our own miscarrying, lest we be not found capable of receiving what God will certainly give to all that are disposed receivers. To distrust God is heinous sin and folly, but to distrust ourselves we have great cause.
So that if we will make sure of heaven, it must be by giving all diligence to make firm our title, our calling, and our election, here on earth. If we fear hell, we must fear being prepared for it.
And it is great and difficult work that must be here done. It is here that we must be cured of all damning sin ; that we must be regenerate and new born ; that we must be pardoned and justified by
faith. It is here that we must be united to Christ, made wise to salvation, renewed by his Spirit, and conformed to his likeness. It is here that we must - overcome all the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, and perform all the duties towards God and man, that must be rewarded. It is here that Christ must be believed in with the heart to righteousness, and with the mouth confessed to salvation. It is here that we must suffer with him, that we may reign with him, and be faithful to the death, that we may receive the crown of life. Here we must so run that we may obtain.
III. Yea, we have greater work here to do than mere securing our own salvation. We are members of the world and church, and we must labor to do good to man. We are trusted with our Master talents for his service, in our places to do our best to propagate his truth and grace and church; and to bring home souls, and honor his cause, and edify his flock, and further the salvation of as many as we can. All this is to be done on earth, if we will secure the end of all in heaven.
Use. 1. It is, then, an error (though it is but few, I think, that are guilty of it,) to think that all religion lieth in minding only the life to come, and disregarding all things in this present life, all true Christians must seriously mind both the end and the means, or way. If they mind not, believingly, the end, they will never be faithful in the use of means. If they mind not, and use not diligently, the means, they will never obtain the end. None can use earth well that prefer not heaven, and none come to heaven, at age, that are not prepared by well using earth. Heaven must have the deepest esteem, and habitual love, and desire, and joy ; but earth must have more of our daily thoughts for present practice. A man that traveleth to the most desirable home, hath a habit of desire to it all the way, but his present business is his travel; and horse, and company, and inns, and ways, and weariness, &c., may take up more of his sensible thoughts, and of his talk, and action, than his home.
Use 2. I have ost marvelled to find David, in the Psalms, and other saints, before Christ's coming, to have expressed so great a sense of the things of this present life, and to have said so little of another ; to bave made so great a matter of prosperity, dominions, and vic