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I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the
body I cannot tell ; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell : God knoweth ;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell : God knoweth ;) how that be was caught up into Paradise, and beard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
E have endeavored to elucidate the
expressions of our apostle in the text, and to demonstrate that the silence of scripture, on the subject of a state of celestial felicity, suggests nothing that has a tendency to cool our ardor in the pursuit of it; but rather, on the contrary, that this very veil which conceals the Paradise of God from our eyes, is, above all things, calculated to convey the most exalted ideas of it. We now proceed,
III. To conclude our discourse, by making some application of the subject.
Now, if the testimony of an apostle, if the decisions of scripture, if the arguments which have been used, if all this is deemed insufficient, and if, notwithstanding our acknowledged inability to describe the heavenly felicity, you should still insist on our attempting to convey some idea of it, it is in our power to present you with one trait of it, a trait of a singular kind, and which well deserves your most serious attention. It is a trait which immediately refers to the subject under discussion : I mean the ardent desire expressed by St. Paul, to return to that felicity, from which the order of Providence forced him away, to replace him in the world.
Nothing can convey to us a more exalted idea of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, than the effects which it produced on the soul of St. Peter. That apostle had scarcely enjoyed a glimpse of the Redeemer's glory on the holy mount, when behold he is transported at the sight. He has no longer a desire to descend from that mountain ; he has no longer a desire to return to Jerusalem ; he has forgotten every thing terrestrial, friends, relations, engagements: Lord it is good for us to be here : if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, Matt. xvii. 4. and to the extremity of old age he retains the impression of that heavenly vision, and exults in the recollection of it: He received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory: This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice, which came from heaven, we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount, 2 Pet. i. 17, 18.
The idea of the celestial felicity has made a similiarly indelible impression on the mind of St. Paul. More than fourteen years have elapsed since he was blessed with the vision of it. Nay for fourteen years he has kept silence. This object, nevertheless, accompanies him wherever he goes, and, in every situation, his soul is panting after the restoration of it. And in what way was he to look for that restoration ? Not in the way of extasy, not in a rapture. He was not to be translated to heaven, as Elijah, in a chariot of fire. Necessity was laid upon him of submitting to the law imposed on every child of Adam: It is appointed to all men once to die, Heb. ix. 27. But no matter; to that death, the object of terror to all mankind, he looks forward with fond desire.
But what do I say, that death simply was the path which St. Paul must tread, to arrive at the heavenly rest? No, not the ordinary death of most men; but death violent, premature, death arrayed in all its terror. Nero, the barbarous Nero, was then upon the throne, and the blood of a Christian so renowned as our apostle, must not escape so de termined a foe to Christianity. No matter still. “ Let loose all thy fury against me, ferocious tiger, longing to glut thyself with Christian blood : I defy thy worst. Come, executioner of the sanguinary commands of that monster; I will mount the scaffold with undaunted resolution: I will submit my head to the fatal blow with intrepidity and joy.” We said, in the opening of this discourse, Paul, ever since his rapture, talks only of dying, only of being absent from the body, only of finishing his course, only of departing. We that are in his tabernacle do groan, being burdened : . willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord, 2 Cor. v. 4, 8. Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which
I have received of the Lord Jesus, Acts xx. 24. having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better, Pbil. i. 23. We often find men braving death, when at a distance, but shrinking from the nearer approach of the king of terrors. But the earnestness of our apostle's wishes is heightened in proportion as they draw nigh to their centre: when he is arrived at the departing moment, he triumphs: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the fuith. Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge. shall gire me at that day, 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
My brethren, you are well acquainted with St. Paul. He was a truly great character. Were we not informed by a special Revelation that he was inspired by the Spirit of God, we must ever entertain high ideas of a man, who had derived his extensive knowledge from the pure sources of the Jewish dispensation : who had ennobled his enlarged and capacious mind by all that is more sublime in Christianity ; of a man, whose heart had always obeyed the dictates of bis understanding: who opposed Christianity with zeal, so long as he believed Christianity to be false ; and who bent the full current of his zeal to the support of Christianity, from the moment he became persuaded that it was an emanation from God.
St. Paul was a man possessed of strong reasoning powers, and we have in his writings many monuments which will convey down to the end of the world, the knowledge of his intellectual superiority, Nevertheless, this man so enlightened, so sage, so rational; this man who knew the pleasures of heaven by experience, no longer beholds any thing on the earth once to be compared with them, or that
€ould, for a moment, retard his wishes. He concludes, that celestial joys ought not to be conisdered as too dearly purchased, at whatever price it may have pleased God to rate them, and whatever it may cost to attain them. “ I reckon," says he, “ I reckon what I suffer, and what I may still be called to suffer, on the one side: and I reckon, on the other, the glory of which I have been a witness, and which I am still to enjoy ; I reckon, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us :" Rom. viii. 18. Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, Phil. i. 23.
But who is capable of giving an adequate representation of his transports, so as to make you feel them with greater energy, and, were it possible, to transfuse them into your hearts? Represent to yourself a man, who has actually seen that glory, of which we can give you only borrowed ideas. Represent to yourself a man, who has visited those sacred mansions, which are in the house of the Father, Jo. xiv. 2. a man who has seen the palace of the sovereign of the universe, and those thousands, those thousand thousands which surround his throne : Dan. vii. 10; a man who has been in that new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven, Rev. iii. 12. in that new heaven, and that new earth, Rev. xxi. l. The inhabitants of which are angels, archangels, the seraphim; of which the lamb is the sun and the temple, Rev. xxi. 22, 23. and where God is all and all, 1 Cor. xv. 28. Represent to yourself a man, who has heard those harmonious concerts, those triumphant choirs, which sing aloud day and night: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory, Isa. vi. 3. a man who has heard those celestial multi