James Meikle, 1730-1799
The author wrote these meditations
Meditations 91 to 121
ON A GREAT STORM OF THUNDER, LIGHTNING, AND RAIN.
Lying off France, June 9, 1758.
Dark is the night—but dismal the flash that scatters the darkness. At times the whole heavens seem in a blaze, while electric streams of fire twinkle in our astonished eye, and dart across the skies. Then tremendous thunder roars, and whole clouds descend in heavy rain, while the noisy wind blows with impetuous force. Now, dare the atheist yet deny a God? Would not his conscience answer to the flames of fire, his troubled thoughts agree to the language of the thunder, that there is a Power above, who rules events below? When the night is so dark, the lightning so dreadful, the thunders so loud, and the rain so incessant—can any ascribe all to blind chance? No! the atheist himself must confess and tremble!
But, O sad effects of sin! what fills the pious soul with reverence, and a secret sense of the power and greatness of God, drives the wicked into sin. They fear—but they swear; they are troubled—but they transgress. How terrible, then, will that day be, when the Judge shall come in flaming fire, to take vengeance on his foes! When flames shall blaze all through the skies—and cities, kingdoms and continents, be cast into the burning embrace—when thunders bursting from every cloud admit of no interval—but with one continued roar terrify all the nations, until silenced and lost in the sound of the last trumpet—which the dead, hitherto undisturbed, shall hear!
When fire and water in contention—the elements at war are so terrible, how much more dreadful must the God of nature be, when, arrayed in solemn majesty, he comes to take vengeance on his enemies? Lest we forget his greatness, nature preaches to us, raging tempests and rending winds turn our remembrancers, flames of fire unfold our lesson before our eyes, and roaring thunders awaken our meditations. As in his temple everyone talks of his glory, so in his tent (for which he has stretched out the heavens) everything shows forth his power. Fire, rain, vapor, stormy wind, lightning, hail, snow, and thunder—all praise him. Then, since in all things, I may see God, may my soul ever go out after him, and above all things see him in the face of Jesus—as reconciled, and speaking peace to me!
ON BEING INTERRUPTED IN SECRET PRAYER.
Lying off France, June 13, 1758.
Nothing can still the agitation of my spirit—but the fore-thoughts of perfect and eternal liberty, into which the sons of God shall shortly be delivered. Little needs the world without, to disturb our retired moments; there is enough within to distract our meditations. But, O thrice happy day, which is approaching on the out-stretched wings of the promise—when I shall stand among a numerous throng of adorers, worshiping before the throne, with the eye of my soul fixed on him who sits thereon; and not one of the many thousands of eternity shall disturb my adorations. The eye of my mind, the flow of my affection, and the flame of my love—shall eternally fix on the divine object, from whom none shall draw one thought away.
Here on earth, my circumstance is doubly calamitous; for, though the busy throng should not break in on me, there is a throng of 'base distracting thoughts' already within me, that will not be at rest; but there, as nothing shall disturb without, so nothing shall distract within. Not one trespassing thought, not one trifling idea, not a moment lost, nor one expression unworthy of the sacred subject—but all enrapt to the sublimest height of ecstasy; and every adoration of God shall be in spirit and in truth—shall be without intermission through an indefatigable immortality; without interruption, through consummate perfection; without wearying, through inconceivable joy and delight; and without end, through an eternal duration.
ON THE ARMOR OF SOLDIERS.
Lying off Normandy, June 13, 1758.
When I behold the warlike race, and their glittering arms, how well they are outfitted for the field of battle, at no less than royal expense; it puts me in mind of him who is Prince of the kings of the earth, and has an army maintained at much immenser cost, equipped with much diviner armor, engaged in a more bloody war, against more desperate foes—but, supported by Almighty strength, are assured of conquest and a crown at last.
How are these men burdened with instruments of war wherever they go, for a soldier is but a poor man without his weapons! Even so the spiritual soldier must never be without his armor, for the better armed, he finds himself the stronger. Besides, this is the word of command by the Captain of the Lord's armies: "Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and stay alert in this, with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints." Ephesians 6:10-18 (HCSB)
But one thing I see—these men are not allowed to carry toys or trifles with them, only their arms, ammunition, and necessities; so "no man who wars" against hell, "entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier."
Again, these men are only safe, in setting their face always against their foes—there being no armor for the back; so there is not a promise in all the scripture for the saint that turns his back before the enemy; while, if they resist, even their grand enemy shall flee from them.
These poor privates, as well as their commanders, must be in the hottest battle, encounter all the dangers, and perhaps fall in the engagement; but the Captain of our salvation has for us both fought and foiled the foe, swept the field of battle, of principalities and powers—so that we are only called to return to the spoil.
Finally, how happy are Christ's soldiers, in comparison with these military men! The one is wounded often to death, the other is made always to triumph; the one has a scanty allowance every day; the other has access to all the fullness of God. The one is disbanded at last, and sent, when least able, to beg his bread, and die in poverty; the other shall at last receive a crown, and be taken to dwell with the king eternal, immortal, invisible, forever!
Let the potsherds of the earth strive with the potsherds of the earth for earthly things. May I fight on the side of Heaven, against sin and hell—for a heavenly crown, a crown of glory, a priceless inheritance for his children. It is reserved in heaven—pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay!
ALL THINGS MADE UP IN CHRIST.
Quiberon Bay, May 11, 1760.
Everyone is subject to so many losses here, that, unless he has a share in the bank of bliss, he may soon become impoverished of all his enjoyments, and be a bankrupt as to felicity. But what an enriching privilege is a saving interest in Jesus, whereby I am insured against all losses, and furnished for all misfortunes! For though in the world I may have tribulation; yet in him who overcame the world, I shall have joy. It is true my nearest and dearest friends may be removed by death; but in him I have a store of dearer and diviner relatives. My riches may fly away as on eagle's wings—but in him I have the 'treasures of eternity'.
So that it is but for a moment; and in the lowest things, that I can sustain any loss. My name may be reproached among men—but here is a divine antidote against that, that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life, who will confess it before his Father, and before assembled men and angels. My soul may be troubled, and my mind broken—but in him I have health and tranquility for both, for he alone gives quietness, and when he gives it, none can cause trouble. My soul desires much—but in Jesus is more than my soul can desire. My needs are great, and my necessities many—but in Jesus I find an overflowing abundance that supplies all. My situation for a time may be lonely and desolate—but in Jesus I find the divinest company, and the dearest converse. His presence is a paradise below. Sin and sinners may cause me daily sorrow—but in him who me saves from both, I have abundant consolation. The things of this world may all seem jointly to go against me—but in Christ the things of the next world shall all assuredly go for me. I may wander from one place of the world to another, and be persecuted here and there for his sake; but he, who is everywhere present, shall be ever with me, and nothing shall be able to separate me from his love.
My comforts may all fall off, like the blasted blossoms of the orchard; but in him ten thousand more noble comforts shall flourish, and never fade nor wither. Every day may bring me new disappointments (and what else should I look for in a perishing world?) but in him I shall never be disappointed, even to eternity. Here infirmity may often break off my noblest exercises; but in a little while, I shall put on the immortality of bliss, and rest neither day nor night in his praises, yet never be wearied. Here doubts and darkness may distress me—but Jesus is my direction and my light. In a word, I may be a complication of needs and adversities, crosses and calamities, disappointments and distresses, sorrows and concerns; but, in a word again, whatever my exigence can demand, whatever my soul can desire—is fully, wholly, and eternally in Jesus! Therefore, though death in a few moments may advance to put an end to my life, and cut me off from the world below; yet then shall my felicity begin, when, to sum up all my bliss, enjoying the fellowship of the world above, I shall forever be with the Lord Jesus!
Quiberon Bay, May 30, 1760.
The observation of birthdays seems to be both ancient and universal—but by none more splendidly kept than those, who, not attending to the end of their creation, have but little reason to rejoice that ever they were born. Of old, a king's birthday, in its consequences, cost our Savior's forerunner his head; but at many such feasts now-a-days, the Savior himself is crucified afresh, and put to open shame.
Surely 'to be happy' is desirable; and who can claim this—but such as remember the day of their death oftener than the day of their birth, and choose rather to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting? If joy belongs to any on their birthday, surely it is to those, who not only know, that on such a day of the year they become one of the numerous family of mankind—but also can, by solid arguments, and on good grounds infer, that, by the second birth, they are of the family of the living God. Job and Jeremiah, in their anguish, cursed their day of their birth; yet when the storm passed over, their souls returned to their quiet rest, and irrepressible joy. However, he who only waits for the manifestation of that glorious life, which has neither change nor end, may, to the praise of God, with an exulting bosom, talk an opposite strain: "Let the day prosper wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a child conceived. Let that day be brightness, let God regard it from above, and let the light shine upon it. Let light, and the beaming hope of eternal life, beautify it to me. Let serenity dwell upon it, and the brightness of the day banish every gloom from it. As for that night, let the beauty of the day be spread upon it; let it be joined and added as a remarkable day to the days of the year, and let it come chief to me among the number of my months. Lo, let that night be solemn and sweet, while my anthem imitates the song above, and my soul, on wings of faith, mixes with the adoring multitude on high."
There are a variety of arguments against carnal feasting on my birth-day. Had I come into the world laughing, I might live feasting, and die rejoicing; but as I came in weeping, and breathed my first breathing in disquiet and cries, so it teaches me to live sober, and die serious. Since we are all born under the curse, why such a noisy commemoration of that day, when another sinner first burdened the earth, when another rebel against Heaven first breathed the common air? But if we are to acknowledge it as a mercy that we were born, as no doubt it is—yet it is not the way to show our gratitude to the Most High, by pampering our perishing clay. God will not be praised over our cups; then his name is often blasphemed. Such a practice is consistent in an idolatrous Belshazzar and his guests, towards gods who neither see nor hear—but he who is a Spirit will be spiritually honored.
A back-look on my life, may hinder carnal mirth on my birthday. Sin and vanity twisting with every day of my life, should make me consider on my birthday with more enlarged views than worldlings can take, how I have fallen from the noble end for which I was created, how I have sinned, and come short of the glory of God—I who have an immortal soul within me, who shall live to eternity.
One thing, however, I should consider, that since I came into this world, many thousands of my contemporaries have gone into the unseen eternal world. The forest of my acquaintances is fearfully thinned by the felling axe of death. It is a chilling thought, that so many of my companions, who lately made a figure in the mirthful world—are now enrapt up in an eternal gloom! Many of my school-fellows and comrades, of my friends and neighbors, are now no more! Yes, into my family, death has made five desolating visits—besides the redoubled blows, that made me fatherless and motherless. And though, in unbounded goodness, I survive, yet all these occurrences cry to me—that I also in a little while must die, and be no more.
In this contracted span, there are not many now who reach three-score years; yet, at such a calculation, my sun is at his height, my day arrived at noon. And shall I not yet put away the follies of youth, when I know not but my sun may go down at noon, never more to rise? Then henceforth may I be the man, yes, more, the Christian, and spend every year as my last, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord, laying hold on every opportunity to do good, observing the conduct of Providence towards me, and doubling my diligence in the duties of true religion. And, as I am drawing nearer the unseen world, so by thinking the oftener on it, I should prepare the better for it. And as noon is followed by night; so, with loins girt, and lamp burning, I should expect the evening of death, and the coming of my great Master!
TIME PAST NEVER RETURNS.
Under sail, June 16, 1758.
Foolish man thinks he is born to live to himself, and that he is master of his own time—to spend it as he pleases. But, alas! he is mistaken, for he should live to God, and spend his time to his glory. How watchful, then, should I be over my time!
First, because I cannot recall it when past. I cannot bring again my childish years, or fetch back my more advanced days. Now, on the sea, I cannot recall the time I spent on land; nor, when at land again, this time I spend at sea. Yes, I cannot lengthen out the minute, or make the passing moment stand still. I cannot say to time, as Joshua once did to the sun, "Stand still," for it is in continual progression. The sand-glass of my life pours down night and day; and though the gradual waste seems trifling, yet how soon shall the last sand be run out, and not a grain left! And then there is no turning of the glass again.
Secondly, As time cannot be recalled—so the things done in time cannot be undone. I cannot undo my deeds, unspeak my words, and unthink my thoughts. It would be less galling, did time fly off in a blank; but it is full of activity. So the soul is never idle—but is at work night and day, which we little think of. How would it mitigate our mournful reflections, if we could get our wicked deeds undone, and our bad actions annihilated! but still they are actions once done, and stand on record, to show either the mercy of God when we are pardoned, or to condemn us when we are judged. I said, time past never returns, for us to mend what we have done amiss. Misspent time is present to torment the wicked through eternity.
How cautious should I be in spending time which is so precious, and on which so much depends! The past is entirely lost, the present is on the wing, and the future is uncertain! The past is mine no more, the future never may be mine, and the present is mine but for a moment. In the time past I can do nothing, it has already fled. In the time present I can do little, as it is on the wing. And in the time to come, as it lies concealed, I know not what I may do.
So then, the present breathing, this very twinkling, the single moment, and 'naked now'—is mine without the least appendix of time past or to come—but in reflection on the one, and expectation of the other. The present only is mine, which, while I use it, vanishes; while I possess it, passes away. In a little while the angel shall lift up his hand to heaven, and swear, by him that lives forever and ever—that time shall be no more. And as past time never returns, so the works I leave unfinished in time, cannot be wrought out in eternity. The foolish virgins will find no oil to buy in the eternal world. There is no acceptable repentance in the pit. There is no work nor device in the silent grave.
I see, then, that every moment of time is of great consequence to one on whose time, eternity depends. O to spend that well which is so valuable, until acquitted in mercy at the end of time! Now, as time passes not to return, so all the things of time pass, both troubles and pleasures, never to return. But to render eternity, in all its glorious excellencies, a state of truest and sublimest happiness—it is a permanent, present, and abiding duration, and eternal now, that knows no after state, no futurity, or succession of revolving periods of time. Then, may it be my happiness, that when time passes from me, never to return—an eternity of glory, to consummate my bliss, may be present with me, never to pass away!
ON SHIPS STEERING DIFFERENT COURSES WITH THE SAME WIND.
Under sail, June 10, 1758.
It is surprising that one wind should carry ships to the different points of the compass, even to quite opposite points; but this is owing to the setting of the sails, and steering of the helm.
And is it not more surprising, that the same wind that forwards the saints heavenward, should drive the wicked nearer hell? If the godly have their fair wind of prosperity, then, like Jacob, they confess their smallness, and that God has done all for them; or, like David, come and sit before God, and pour out the worship of a grateful heart. Or if the saints (which is frequently the case) are tossed with the rough wind of adversity, then they hear the rod, and him who has appointed it—turn to him that smites them—and see that it is good that they have been afflicted, avowing, with that eminent saint, "Though he slays me, yet will I trust in him."
But the wicked, if prosperous—forget God, and become more worldly. If they have no changes, they fear not God; if Heaven bestows plenty on them, they consume it on their lusts. Nor does adversity make them any better; for, like Ahaz, in their distress they trespass yet more against the Lord; and, like the remnant of the Jews who were bent on idolatry—that very sin for which their land was laid desolate and their temple burnt. While suffering for sin—they continue in sin.
The crucified Jesus remains a stumbling-block to the Jews, and to the Greeks foolishness—but the power of God, and the wisdom of God, to the true Christian. The ordinances of grace soften and improve the saints for glory—but harden and prepare the sinners for wrath. The patience of God leads the one daily to repentance, the other to presumption. The terrors of the Lord deter the Christian from sinning—but drive the unsaved to despair.
Hence they may live together in one house, enjoy the same privileges, share in the same common mercies, rest in the same tranquility, and be partakers of the same outward comforts and happiness. Or, they may be visited with the same trials, walk under the same cross, drink of the same cup of adversity, and share the same afflictions. Yet out of both conditions the Christian shall extract food and medicine; while the the ungodly such poison and death. By either wind the Christian shall arrive at heaven and glory; while the unbeliever arrives at perdition and woe.
Hence may I, like the wise mariner, make the best of a contrary wind, of cross dispensations, and adverse providences; and, in spite of opposition, reach my happy port at last, having my soul brought into a submissive frame to every turn of life and lot, that providence may lay in my way.
ON BEING DRIVEN BACK TO HARBOR.
Lying off France, June 17, 1758.
There is an unseen rotation of circumstances accidental to all conditions of life, which we cannot provide against. Had we known yesterday that we would have been driven back today, we would not have left our station, nor undergone toil, danger, and damage. Even so, how many fruitless efforts have the sons of men made in pursuit of temporal things, where the people weary themselves for very vanity! So is his fate who sets out for happiness below; for after a thousand tackings and turnings to the 'empty creature' for satisfaction, still the wind of vanity and vexation of spirit, which spreads over the whole universe, and blows in the face of every son of man, brings him back, with boisterous squalls, to where he first set out—to see his folly, and confess his mistake.
So must the Christian count on meeting with crosses in his course, for it is through much tribulation that we must enter into the kingdom. Often in the day of darkness and tempest, the believer is apt to doubt his progress heavenward, and to think himself still in the port of a natural state; but as the seaman, who would reach his desired haven, however often he be blown back, must still put to sea again. Just so, the Christian, whatever storms and tempests roar around him, must still endeavor to believe on his all-sufficient Savior, who with equal ease can save the sinner from hell, as the saint from falling away.
Again, as it is safer for a ship in a storm to remain at sea, than make the shore, lest she be wrecked upon the rocks that lie along. Just so, every disciple of Jesus is to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, is to hold fast the form of sound words, is to avoid lukewarmness, hypocrisy and defection—lest thereby he be undone forever. Finally whatever the seaman does, the Christian must still hold on his course through storms and tempests until he arrives at the heavenly shore.
THE SPIRITS OF JUST MEN MADE PERFECT.
Lying off Normandy, June, 1758.
Many are the enjoyments of the heavenly bliss, many are the delights of the higher house; and the sweet society and company is no small part of the happiness of the redeemed. Where sobriety is fashionable, we too little esteem the saints, these excellent ones of the earth. But when we are among the blackest sons of vice, we learn to compute otherwise, and clearly see the worth of the saints. Accordingly, it is one branch of the blessedness of believers, that they shall be brought "to the spirits of just men." But, as even the godly are apt to be involved in contention, debates, and strife, and to have corruption breaking out now and then in them, which has often happened among dear brethren, and in the church of Christ, to the grief of many a heart, therefore it is added, "to the spirits of just men made perfect."
Now, if the company of sinners, such as I live among, be so disagreeable, how pleasant will the fellowship of these sanctified ones be—in the presence of the great Master of the heavenly family! Here sinners are, alas! everywhere most numerous; but then and there, not one sinner shall stand in the great congregation, not one wicked person in the assembly of the just. And as man, being a social creature, delights in company and converse with one another (so says the proverb, "As iron sharpens iron, so the face of a man his friend,") will not the saints kindle in their love to God, from the love of one another, by a sacred emulation who shall love him most, who has loved them with an everlasting and unchanging love? Hence am I instructed in this world whom to choose as members of my friends; and what value to put on those who are pious; since, amidst all his failings, still "the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor."
GOING TO BATTLE.
Now everything is preparing to engage the enemy, all hands are busy—though whatever the outcome may be, none can tell.
But all souls are culpably idle. Careless of our eternal interests at other times, no wonder we are careless at our last! We know not how soon we shall be in the terrors of death—as we are soon to be in the horrors of battle. How shocking to see men unusually merry, when rushing into great danger! To live without faith, and die without the fear of God, is not the character of the Christian—who rejoices with trembling, and knows the terrors of the Lord. How stupid never to prepare for death—which, whether prepared for or not, may soon overtake some—and in a little while, will overtake all of us! Probably in a few hours, some of us will be arrived at our long home—some disembodied souls stand before the solemn judgment! I shudder at the thought!
Our sympathizing friends know nothing of our dangerous situation in the contending moments, while oceans ruffled with storm and tempest rage around us, high winds and hurricanes roar above us, and the angry foes pour in death on us, with a noise terrible as the thunder, and awful as the lightning. How would our tender parents weep and wring their hands, to see us in such danger, or in the cold embrace of death! Everything is tossed down into the holds, that could hinder us in the battle. So at death we would give up all the joys of life to live a little longer; and must leave all to die. Woe to the disputes of nations; woe to the pride of kings, which kindles this bloody uproar, and calls us all to battle!____ But the drum!!!___ ___ ___(The author appears to have been interrupted by the commencement of the action.)
ARGUMENTS TO RESIGNATION.
June 17, 1759.
To encourage to submission and resignation, let me consider and believe these truths, and then see if I have any cause to complain, be cast down, or fear.
1. That the just Lord, who rules in the midst of his people—will do no iniquity.
2. That he loves his children with a love more indulgent, and every way more excellent, than they can have for themselves.
3. That when he removes a comfort, or causes some of our blessings to wither, like Jonah's gourd; our souls would receive greater damage by their being continued with us, than by their being cut off from us.
4. That when any affliction is sent, we would be greater losers by going without it, than by groaning under it.
5. That whatever befalls us, if we belong to God, both his glory and our good shall thereby sooner or later be advanced.
6. That no changes in the world can alter his love towards us, in which he rests.
7. That it is not safe for us, to have what God thinks fit to take away, or to escape what he is pleased to impose. Therefore humble submission befits us, whether Providence removes our relations, or other joys—or heaps troubles on us.
8. That as God now sees—so we ourselves shall, one time or other, see and confess—that all these afflictions which befell us in the world, were highly necessary for preparing us for the everlasting kingdom.
9. That whatever affliction takes from us, or whatever bitter cup it puts into our hand; still there is enough in God to make up for the loss of the one, and overcome the bitterness of the other.
10. That it is better to get afflictions with a blessing, than mercies with a curse. As Israel had their meat in the wilderness with a curse; their request granted—but leanness was sent into their soul.
11. That it is not safe to contend with God, nor quarrel with the divine conduct, which cannot err.
12. That submission and resignation in all things, and at all times, to the divine disposal—is our indispensable duty.
13. That God, out of what at present seems the greatest evil—can bring the greatest good—and often turns our sorrow into singing.
14. That besides the good which accrues to us here from afflictions, they work for us, by the divine blessing, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, being convinced they are temporary—but at the things which are not seen, being confident they are permanent and eternal.
SAINTS HAVE NO CAUSE TO COMPLAIN.
Dec. 24, 1760.
"You are ever with me, and all that I have is yours"—is a privilege which may compose the believer's bosom in the most gloomy days, and amidst the most distressing vicissitudes of lot. For in this promise, which is sweeter than honey, and the honey-comb, the ear of faith may hear God speaking thus, "Believer, can you, who have the treasures of eternity reserved for you—look sad, or grudge the temporal happiness of any! Neither should it vex you too much, that your situation is not such as you desire in this transient world; seeing you are ever to be with me, where all my perfections shine, and all my glory beams forth."
O how happy, then, are the saints of God, who may put on a cheerful countenance even in the general conflagration. And if so, how much more under a few disappointments which are sent for wise ends, and redound to their spiritual good in their outcome. Invested with this celestial charter, well may we smile—though all nature frowns; and well may we rejoice—though an angry world rages. By this we dwell in the sunbeam, and walk in endless light—and need not be greatly troubled at the loss of all things. But what do I say? For how can the heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, loose anything at all? How can he who fills heaven and earth, be lost? Ah! cruel unbelief only attempts the horrid sacrilege to steal Christ from the heart—but such a promise as this bids defiance to the monster; and while we expect its full accomplishment (nor let the time seem long) the day dawns, which ends the dark night of our sinning and suffering, and translates us to the realms of bliss. Eternity only can declare what it is to be with him, whose presence makes a heaven, and whose love is better than life; and what it is to enjoy all the fullness of the Godhead, as far as glorified creatures can.
Hamoaze, Dec. 28, 1760.
Still, my soul, in spite of all your fears, remember that the day-spring of eternity will appear at the appointed time. Sin's gloomy night is far spent, and the morning drawing near, when all the thick shadows will dissolve in endless light. A few revolutions will bring the longed-for day, when he shall appear without sin unto salvation. A general shout shall welcome his second coming, and united hallelujahs attend the triumphant Judge (when sin and sinners are no more) to the highest heaven, where the bliss of saints and angels is complete, without the least shadow of change. O how sweet the warblings of celestial song, how fair the beauties of eternal noon, and how divine the glories of the throne!
What must the promised land be in the eternal possession—when the account of the two faithful spies, faith and hope, backed by the divine record—is so ravishing! Creation can scarcely furnish fine enough materials for comparison, much less for our bliss itself. There gold is but the dust of our feet, pearls the gates of our city, and gems the foundations of our walls. The sun is but an extinguished candle in the diviner blaze of glory. The stream and tree of life, at which we feed, continue us immortal. But all this is only the beginning of our happiness, for God reveals himself to every glorified saint in ways not known before, and then what transport fills the soul, what floods of pleasure rise, and deluge every power of mind! O how shall I lie dissolved in ecstacy through love's eternal day! But this abundance of joy shall not have the effect it has on earthen vessels here, to crack and crush them—but shall strengthen all my inward man, that I may praise like angels, and love like seraphim!
What raptures shall arise from that intimate communion my soul shall then enjoy with God, though now my words cannot express it, and my thoughts cannot conceive of it! Then there shall not be the least remains of sin in my soul, not a wandering thought, which now at my best times troubles me; nor a frown in the countenance of God, and therefore no more grief or sorrow. Then I shall fear him out of the purest love; serve him, and not be afraid; approach and come close to his throne, and yet not be accused of presumption. I shall see him, and not die; and enjoy the nearest and sweetest fellowship with him forever, without being in danger of a wound from spiritual pride. Then will God in very deed dwell with men, and in men; and then, O how full shall my soul be of God, and how satisfied with the society of the heavenly inhabitants! God stamped on every soul, dwelling in every bosom, possessing every thought, the subject of every song, and the object of all our love—renders the whole celestial multitude happy, extremely and eternally happy!
INFINITE AND ETERNAL PROPERTIES OF THE BLISS ABOVE.
Jan. 4, 1761.
Had I but one moment's glance of the glorious sun, which, while I began to gaze, were concealed, never to be seen again, such a view would only kindle an anxious curiosity—but not satisfy one longing desire. Even so, a passing glimpse of the celestial glory would only set on edge—but never satisfy the holy appetite of the heaven-born soul. There is an immortality in my soul, and there is an eternity in my portion. Vast are the demands of the renewed mind, such as the whole creation cannot satisfy; but in God's sacred super-abundance, in his infinite fullness, there is enough and to spare.
What divine harmony in all respects takes place above! God, the enjoyment of whom is paradise and bliss—is infinite—and every faculty of the soul is capacitated, in the highest degree, to enjoy much of God; and our divine communion and fellowship also is eternal. What keeps the worldling in perpetual anguish—but because his portion here is neither complete nor permanent? Yes, what would the bliss above be, if either infinity or eternity could be separated from it? For what would avail the possession of crowns and kingdoms, nay, of more substantial bliss—if but for a moment? and what would perpetuity itself profit, if spent but in gazing on a glow-worm, or enjoying a temporary good?
But it is otherwise here; for when wafted to the higher house, to the heaven of heavens, I shall find myself in the midst of ineffable glories, and plunged among infinite beatitudes, and all the unbounded emanations of a Deity, whose every perfection may through endless ages employ the whole multitude of glorified admirers. But while his eternal excellencies captivate my ravished powers, and all his goodness passes before me, how would my finite mind be pained that I can comprehend so little of this almighty all, if not comforted on the other hand with this—that I shall go on, and grow in knowing God through eternity! O eternity, eternity! how much shall my soul know of God before ten thousand years are spent! and yet these cannot diminish the eternal duration one moment! And, as my portion, even after all that I shall have seen, adored, and enjoyed—will remain full and overflowing, being infinite. Just so, the time of possession, communion, and enjoyment—even after ages of bliss are elapsed—will always continue the same, being eternal.
Hamoaze, January 11, 1761.
Sometimes our situation may be solitary, our friends being cut off from us by death, or we from them by distance. Or, our company may be such, as the safety of our souls forbids us to converse with them. It has become customary with us to complain of this, and to cry out for the communion of the saints; and indeed it must be owned, that as iron sharpens iron, so does the face of a man his friend. Yet, if grace is at work to find God in every circumstance, even this prejudice may be turned into a spiritual advantage. When my company is such that I shun to sit with them, then I dwell alone, and seek after communion with God himself; and while faith gets a view of his divine love, and dazzling perfections, I can never lack matter for meditation.
Thus the right improvement of a cross, which in itself is heavy and afflicting, even sojourning in Mesech with the sons of consummate folly—may produce the greatest blessing—even communion with the Most High God! And, though I am not to expect a voice from heaven to carry on a dialogue with me, yet, by his Spirit speaking in the scriptures, and breathing on my soul, I may converse with God, and talk of the glories of the world to come. Yes, this situation, though in itself mournful, is not barren of useful instructions; for I learn,
1. What a pleasant place the church and Zion of God is, where saints may talk together of redeeming love, until their hearts burn within them.
2. That the expectants of the better country are too shy to tell to one another what God has done for their souls, that all may give him praise.
3. That one Christian is readier to receive hurt from the worldly and carnal discourse of another professor, than from the belchings of the profane. For the profane man drives him to God—but speech of the worldly professor harms him.
4. That no confusion or confinement can hinder the rightly-exercised soul from walking at large in the promise, and with God. I may have neither field nor garden to walk into; and yet walk over the fields of bliss, and take a tour through the paradise of God. My situation may, in a great measure, forbid the use of my voice in my devotions, yet I may cry and be heard in the highest heavens.
5. Admire and adore the goodness of God, who turns all things to the believer's advantage, who, when associated with men that seem incarnate devils, may entertain heavenly meditation, and maintain communion with the God of angels.
6. To put a proper estimate on the saints; to choose all friends of such; and to be ready to break off other themes and begin the divine subject among them.
7. To look forward to that day when the wicked shall fall off round about us, as the failing leaves from a frostbitten tree, and we shall rise to dwell among glorious angels, and perfected saints, where we shall talk of him and to him forever—and not a wretch break in to mar our dearest, our divinest theme.
ON GOING BEYOND THE LINE.
Plymouth Sound, March 14, 1761.
Commanded by our Sovereign, with cheerfulness we leave our native land, and pursue our course through raging and extensive oceans, to unknown climates abroad, though we may meet with enemies, be overtaken with diseases, and must pant beneath a scorching sun. Why then, O my soul! afraid, at your heavenly Sovereign's command, to pass the line of time into the wide ocean of eternity, and unknown worlds above; seeing you have his divine promise for your protection in the hour of death, and the sure hope of a divine friend with you, who is Lord of all the unknown regions of glory?
The saint should even rejoice in the prospect of death, which turns out to his immense, his everlasting gain. For here in this present world, he may have little or nothing—but there is his infinite inheritance. Here be may be an exile—but there he is at home. Here he is a stranger—there he is among his friends. Here he is often mourning without the sun—but there he is eternally with God.
One, from the large quantity of stores and provisions of all kinds which is brought aboard, might well conclude we were destined for some distant part of the world. O! then, seeing I have such a long voyage before me, and must live in worlds to come, how is my soul provided? what have I in hand, what have I in hope? have I the promise, and Christ in the promise in hand? and its full accomplishment in the full enjoyment of him in hope? Were I only to land on the shores of time, die like the beasts, and be no more—to be unprovided would not be a crime. But to launch into eternity without the provisions proper for an immortal soul, is more desperate madness than for ships to sail to the farthest Indies without bread and water.
It concerns me to go abroad, and not know if ever I shall return to my native land, or see a friend I have in life. But faith's enlarged view shall dissipate the gloom, for the sun shines as brightly on the other side of the line as this; the stars twinkle alike richly in all quarters; and heaven, surrounding the whole globe, is alike near to all places. Yes, God being everywhere present—he that lives in God cannot be separated from him, or die outside of him, by distance from his country and his friends. But at the hour of dissolution, he shall go to be forever with the Lord, where he shall be allowed the nearest approaches, and most intimate communion with him who dwells in inaccessible light and glory!
ON A POPISH PROCESSION, TO PREVENT THE RETURN OF AN EARTHQUAKE.
Madeira, April 2, 1761.
Of all curses, those that are spiritual are most terrible; and none more dismal than to be given up to strong delusions to believe a lie. Do these men think that the Deity is like children—pleased with pomp, and novelty, and show? When the power of religion decays, it goes more and more into bodily exercises, which profit little, and into external forms and farces. Will a few boys, creeping on their hands and feet, before you through the streets, make the heart-searching God believe you are truly humbled? Do you substitute the walking bare-footed along a stony pavement—the same as walking with God by faith? Do you imagine you shall avert divine wrath by gently whipping your naked bodies? Is such treatment of the body equal to a real sorrow for, and turning from sin? Do you think God has ceased to be a spirit, and no more demands to be worshiped in spirit and in truth—but, like the idols of old, with the fooleries of men?
Are the graces of the Holy Spirit converted into bodily-gestures? Can your being veiled in a mournful manner deceive him who sees through the thick darkness? Do you think that the carrying a piece of wood, in the form of a cross, through your city, will awe the earthquake into eternal silence? Will God look down favorably on the image of your saint and patroness which you have made in breach of his own express command? Our blessings must come through him who suffered on the cross, and for his sake—but we must expect nothing from the cross itself. Of old the doctrine of the cross was foolishness to Jews and heathen Greeks; but now the cross, while its divine doctrine is dropped, is very folly among nominal Christians.
Now, if God, who has another time to judge, should, in his general forbearance and common mercy, not send a second earthquake, how will they be persuaded of the prevalency of their procession, and thus be hardened in their superstition and delusion!
O with what fervor, for it is the interest of Christ; with what constancy, for souls are precious; with what tenderness, for they are our fellow-creatures and brethren—should all the reformed churches pray for the destruction of the man of sin, and the fall of Babylon, that nations who have nothing but shadows for substance, rites for religion, and the inventions of men for the doctrines of truth—may walk in the light, and enjoy the liberty of the glorious gospel! But shall I forget the special favor of Heaven to me? for it was not by chance that I was born in a Protestant land—but by the good will of him who has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of the habitation of every individual under the sun.
SAILING IN THE TORRID ZONE.
April 11, 1761
What extremes are found on this little ball that is hung upon nothing! Here nations tremble among mountains of ice, and deluges of snow. There kingdoms pant under a scorching sun, and breathe in a sultry air; while other nations (though perhaps not better pleased with their situation than the former) have but a moderate degree of either. It fares the same way with the rational world as it does with the terrestrial globe; here some live in dire poverty; there others live in luxury and wealth; while others have the desirable sufficiency, and yet, like the inhabitants of the temperate zone, are scarcely content with their situation, or thankful for the mercies of their lot. The inhabitants of one country think that another country abounds with the plenty of the universe; but he who tries all, finds a deficiency in each.
But whatever difference there be among men with respect to the bounds of their habitation, surely the whole world dwells either under Sinai's tremendous thunderings, or Zion's peaceful voice. The situation of the one is terrible—but of the other triumphant. And what is awfully surprising, is, that though the thunders are both loud and long, yet, being asleep in sin, they hear them not, and so bless their state, until the terrors of death, rouse every organ with the deepest anguish, to be attentive to the everlasting thunderings of an avenging God. But the still small voice, being accompanied with divine power, speaks into the very hearts of those, who, by believing on the mediator of the new covenant, have come to the heavenly Mount Zion.
A warm sun, and a bright day, are big words among the northern nations, who have often a cloudy sky, a short noon, and a long cold night. So affluence and plenty are words of a big meaning to those whom poverty follows, and from whom pity flies. But it is better to struggle with losses and crosses—if by such the graces of the soul be kept alive—than to lie on a bed of down, fall asleep in carnal security, and never more awake. It is dangerous to swim in warm seas, where sharks swim, or along shores where alligators devour; and doubly so to wallow in wealth and ease, where lusts and Satan destroy.
The European beauty would not exchange her fair face with a swarthy complexion, for all the treasures of the south; and should the Christian who is all-glorious within, choose a condition that may cast a blemish on his better part, like Jeshurun, who, when he waxed fat, kicked; and in his greatness forgot him that made him great? More venomous creatures crawl in those countries which never felt a cold day, than in such as annually feel a pinching winter. So, generally speaking, more corruptions (pride, lust, carnal security, anger, etc.) abound among such as are finely clothed; and fare sumptuously every day, than among those that sit down to one meal, and know but little how to provide the next.
But again, are the distant beams (for even under the meridian line the sun is millions of miles removed from us) of a world of fire, so excessively hot and scorching? Then what must the wrath of the Almighty be? Though all the sky were full of scorching suns, they could convey no idea of God's terrible indignation. Who, then, can describe his terrors, or the fierceness of his wrath? Immensity can only measure its extent, and eternity its duration; well then may it awe a finite worm into silence!
UNDER THE DIRECT MERIDIAN.
London 9, April 16, 1761.
Stretching towards the south, we are at last arrived at the true meridian, where our eyes need not travel through spacious skies, or journey towards the chambers of the south, to find the glorious sun; seeing from the summit of the skies he shoots down his perpendicular beams, and gives the brightest day. This appearance would look strange in the northern isles, and therefore invites to some meditation. Then, as one who is always sailing to the south, though sometimes he may be overtaken with calms, or contrary winds, yet sooner or later will reach the line; so the Christian who steers his course heavenward, though he may have many heavy obstructions, from without, and from within—as the contrary winds of strong temptation, the bursting squalls of inbred corruption, and the no less dangerous calms of spiritual sloth and carnal security—shall, in spite of all, reach the meridian of glory. Indeed, the poor sailor may perish before he can come to his port; but the believer, having his anchor within the veil, though earth and hell, and remaining sin—the worst of all the three, often threaten his ruin—shall safely arrive at the haven which he desires to see, and then shall he remember the perils of his passage, and dangers of the sea, only in grateful songs to his divine Deliverer.
Never was I apparently so near the sun as now, and yet never did the sun seem so high above me. So it is with the Christian; the more he knows of God, and the nearer he is permitted to approach to his throne—God is the higher in his esteem, and the more glorious in his adoring eye—while he himself is the lower in his own sight, yes, ready to sink into nothing while admitted to unclouded views of the divine majesty. And this, and this only, is the desirable situation below, when the soul, in deep humility, adores the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, wholly emptied of himself, and fully replenished with God.
Again, only under the meridian can I set my face every way, and look up and see the sun, because he shines straight above my head, and all in the same latitude share the same amazing noon. Just so, in the land of glory shall the Sun of righteousness shine in all the brightness of his uncreated beauty, into every soul, and be no more a rising, a setting, or a clouded sun—but eternally dwell in the full view of all his numerous adorers. The Deity, in his most ample revelations, in his most satisfying manifestations, shall fill all the higher house; yes, every entranced adorer sees God in one another, for seraphim and cherubim flame in his brightness; angels and archangels sing and shout in his day, and all the saints shine in his similitude. Nothing is there (for the fearful and final separation has taken place, O tremendous day!) but God and goodness—but innocence and peace—but sanctity and joy—but harmony and song, transport and delight, love and illumination.
Here our bright day has an enfeebling influence, and our high sun-beams almost insufferably hot; but there (O! shall such a one as I be ever there?) I shall bask in his noon-day beams, and share the effulgence of his inconceivable divinity, yet not dissolve into death—but thereby be invigorated for the whole task of an eternal adorer!
Is this globe of light and ball of fire, so amazingly majestic, that heathen nations have given him divine honor as a God? then how incomprehensibly great, how ineffably glorious must Jehovah be, whose bare word spoke such beauty into being! And is my eternal noon to be by the brightness of his presence, the emanations of his love, and the glory of his power? Yes, is even Jehovah himself to be my light and day, my life and bliss, my portion and song? What then, though some few dark nights intervene, since this day is on the wing, when my views shall all be bright, because in his light I shall see light clearly? O these transporting, these transforming views, that shall forever entertain every enquiring, enlarged faculty of soul! Henceforth let my soul dwell by faith in endless noon, until over all my shadows this endless noon prevails.
UNDER THE MERIDIAN, THE SUN AND MOON HIGH.
April 19, 1761.
When the starry heavens engaged my attention in the northern climates, many of their bright inhabitants, and the moon herself, seemed low to me; but here, under the meridian, not only the sun but the moon in her proper hour possesses the summit of the sky, and the bright beauties which seemed to be in some low station, partake in the same exaltation. Now, is not this a lively picture of that happy and triumphant state that the church shall be exalted to at last? Christ has ascended up on high, not for himself (for as God he is over all blessed forever) but as our representative, and in our name, that where he is, there we may be also. And as his Father has a seat on his throne for his beloved Son, so has the Son promised that those who overcome shall sit with him in his throne. Yes, every saint shall partake of his Redeemer's glory, for if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him; and if we confess him, before an abandoned world, he will also confess us before assembled men and angels.
Then, although the moon suffer an eclipse, it is not to be thought that the planet is destroyed, for she shall yet reflect many a bright beam, and, to some parts of the world, run in an elevated orbit; so it is with saints in particular, and the church in general, they may be both low and little in the account of carnal men—but they are not the less noble in themselves, nor of smaller account with God. The certainty of this exalted state may well support us under the deepest abasements; for because he lives, we shall live also, and every member shall rejoice with his glorified Head. What though the saints now suffer under diversified trials, like the inhabitants of the frozen north, who have only a peep of day through the whole winter—but are harassed with a burst of tempests, or a covering of snow, or a field of ice; since they may look a little forward, and see themselves placed in these happy regions where their divine Sun sheds eternal noon, and makes them shine forth as stars in the kingdom of their Father!
A SQUALL OF RAIN, LIGHTNING, AND THUNDER.
April 20, 1761.
The other day, when the meridian sun brightened a cloudless sky with amazing effulgence, and all round about was light and beauty—I did not dream that such a tremendous night would so soon ensue. The winds blowing with amazing vigor, the disquieted ocean roaring beneath, the glaring lightnings flashing over the whole heaven, the broken clouds pouring out floods of water, and the rolling thunders echoing the majesty of the Eternal, through the conscious void—make up the solemn scene. In like manner, trouble and disappointment will often break in on the most beautiful prospect of earthly felicity, and raise a hurricane amidst the most perfect calm. Hence, we should learn, amidst the possession or expectation of any earthly bliss, or temporal good—to hold all we have or hope for, at the kind hand of the Sovereign Disposer of all things—of whose conduct we should never complain.
Again, if the least contest among the elements, produces such dreadful effects, how terrible must the state of sinners be, who wage eternal war with Omnipotence, and shall have the arrows of the Almighty within them, the poison whereof drinks up their soul!
No place or latitude can at times boast of so delightful a day—but at other times no place undergoes a more dismal night; so let churches in general, and saints in particular, stand in awe to sin, and beware of presuming on their privileges, saying, 'The temple of the Lord are we. We have Abraham to our father.' For of all people, none are more severely punished than those who have approached nearest to him: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for all your sins." Capernaum, which was lifted up to heaven, is threatened to be thrust down to hell, for abusing these singular blessings. And Jerusalem, the beloved city, where the holy temple stood, and where God was served, and manifested his glorious presence; yet for her sins, she was punished more severely.
Woe, then, a triple woe, to the poor apostate, who has once tasted of the good word of God, and has been made partaker of the Holy Spirit, and tasted of the heavenly gift, and the powers of the world to come—when he falls into the hands of an offended, angry, and avenging judge! Oh! with what care should he who thinks he stands, look to his ways, that he may never fall!
This heavy rain reminds me of the deluge. The fire and thunder reminds me of Sodom's overthrow. The first shows me how the old world perished, the last how this world shall be destroyed. The bellowing wind proclaims shipwreck to the sailor, and the sudden squall bids me be always ready for the worst event. The whole scene summed up together, preaches to me the goodness, the power, and providence of God.
May 10, 1761.
It was a saying of Moses, the man of God, when one told him that two men prophesied in the camp, "Are you envious for my sake? I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets." The holy man took it not amiss that others had of the some spirit he had, to perform the same functions, and shine in the same character. What a shame is it, then, that the children of God should envy one another for the excellencies of their gifts and graces! If God is greatly glorified by any, should I be greatly displeased that it is not by me? Shall I contend with God about his distribution of blessings, and begrudge his liberality to any more than myself? Does one minister darken another in preaching, or one saint excel another in prayer? Who of Christ's servants can be darkened if their Master shines? Or who of his saints will not bless him for his goodness to others as well as to themselves?
It is as base to be peevish because of the excellencies of others; as to be proud of our own. Our great, our universal struggle should be to set up God on high, and our great joy should be to see him set on high—whoever is the happy instrument. Ah, how base to bow the ear to vulgar applause, and listen to, or lust after, empty fame! In the natural body, is the one hand affronted that the other hand wears the ring? And among David's worthies, were the thirty chagrined that they did not attain to the first three? Then why should saints and the servants of God, envy one another! Surely, it is rare to have singular gifts and graces, and not know of it; and it is almost impossible to know it, and not be puffed up in a greater or less degree. O what a degree of humility should the spiritual worthy pray for, lest at any time he be puffed up with pride!
Should the servant of Jesus take it ill that hearers flock more after others, rather than himself; seeing it is, at least should be, still Christ they are running after? Can it vex him, if he speaks in sincerity, because some are masters of more eloquence than he?
O for that noble disposition of blessing God with a cheerfulness for the singular gifts of others whereby he is glorified—which should be my whole aim! Let others excel in setting you upon high, though you should always refuse my service. Let the spiritual temple be built, though I should never lay one stone in the edifice. Give liberally, very liberally, to all your saints and servants, and my eye shall never be evil because your is good. It is enough to be a cup in your house, though others be bowls and flaggons. Surely the loyal subject will give his joyful acclamation at the coronation of his king, though not permitted to place the crown on his head, or perform any of the ceremonies. Is there any dissonance among the stars (nor should there be among the saints) because one star excels another in glory?
Such and such gifts, or such and such degrees in these gifts, which I strive for, might hurt me. Fire may be kept in a brazen vessel, which would burn a wooden one. Boiling water might crack a glass bottle—but not a stone bowl. So these qualifications which I think would make me all vigor and spirit, might hurt my spirit in more spiritual things. Few, like Moses, could carry a command so vastly great, with a vastly greater meekness; or have the humility to cover his face when it shines, and reflect the glory God-ward. Though I could pray like an apostle, and speak like an angel; yet, if the least pride springs from the performance, it were better to speak like a babbler, and pray like a babe in grace.
I should press after grace continually, and grace in the highest degree—without which the noblest gifts will be but noise and smoke, without heat; while the weakest gifts, with true grace, may edify both myself and others. I should rest satisfied in the all-wise disposal of Providence, who gives to all as he pleases; since, though there be diversities of gifts, it is the same Spirit who knows best how to divide, and to whom. And if God is exalted, though I should exert myself, and would choose to excel; yet I should not take it amiss, that in that excellent work everyone excels me, and out-does my utmost. Finally, though my capacity may be weak, and my faculties shallow, yet hereby may all my deficiencies be made up—if I am rich in faith, to draw out of his fullness for my exigence; if I am rich in humility and gratitude, to disclaim anything in myself, and give him all the praise; and if I am rich in love to God, to pour out my whole soul on him, while he kindly dwells in my heart, and replenishes every power with his presence.
May 30, 1761.
When I dropped some thoughts on my last birthday, I was uncertain that I should see another—but now I am certain that this day I shall never see again. I am another year nearer to the unseen world. Surely my years, like figures in arithmetic, rise in their value as their numbers increase, and the last redoubles the whole. So much experience of the vanity of all things—so many providences ever working for me—such fatherly chastisements—such rich displays of grace—such divine admonitions—so many tender mercies—such sweet, sweet outlettings of God's love—leaves a heavy charge at my door, if I walk not answerably to them all.
Though I am alive, and O that I could live to him in whom I love; yet several of my friends have wept and wrung their hands for their expiring friends, in the short period of this past year. And O how soon must I feel the mortal dart fixed in my own heart—and every sickening pulse proclaim the approach of my last moments!
Then only thus shall I get my heart fenced against the terrors of death—by having my life hidden with Christ in God, and my conversation in heaven. So should I anticipate my future happiness, begin eternity in time, and, like Enoch, walking with God, would get my soul fed with such an ardent flame of heavenly love, that I would have a desire to be depart, and to be with him. What a happy state would this be—for death would drop his sting, the grave would cease to gloom, and solemn eternity excite a song of triumph! Thus, while unprepared mortals tremble at the thoughts of death, I, longing for perfect freedom from sin, and eternal communion with God—in a kind of holy impatience, would cry out—Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why do the wheels of his chariot tarry?
THOUGH WE WALK ON EARTH, OUR CONVERSATION SHOULD BE IN HEAVEN.
July 7, 1761.
The traveling man has little on the fatiguing road but his weary feet; his heart being set on his family, his friends, his home; his affections on his native country, and his desires terminating on his journey's end.
Am not I a traveler heavenward—a pilgrim—a sojourner on earth? What then have I here on this perishing earth; or whom have I here, to captivate my affections, and hinder them from being set on high? If I have any treasure, it must be in heaven, for nothing on earth is worthy of the name, seeing all terrestrial things take wings, and fly away; or if they remain, it is but to be consumed in the general conflagration. Though my body should dwell in this world—my heart should be an inhabitant of the better country: and it is highly reasonable that it should be so, for my hope, my joy, my all are there.
1. My eternal Father is there, the beloved of my soul, and the husband of my espousals. The sanctifier of my affections, and the kindler of my love, is there.
2. All my godly friends are there, even the whole family of my heavenly Father—angels, archangels, cherubim, seraphim, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Who would not then dwell in such an assembly, and love such a divine society?
3. My house and home are there, and it must be an estranged heart indeed that never thinks on his own house, and never longs for home.
4. My inheritance is there, and a goodly portion it is, and pleasant lines they are, that are fallen to me. The heirs of this world only farm from father to son, and death determines the lease. But there everyone inherits for himself, and that for eternity.
5. The objects of my faith, the subjects of my song, and the darlings of my love, are all there. What soul would not dwell among such divine delights, walk in such a paradise, and breathe in the very air of sanctity and bliss?
O what a loss do I sustain by my ignorance of the divine life, and by the carnality of my mind! But is such a happiness attainable below? Yes! The Christian, even here, may have his heart and life in heaven. Then, 1. He who lives anywhere; must buy and sell, and do business with the men of his place. Just so, may I buy the merchandise of bliss without money, and without price; and carry on the noblest business with the highest One in the most interesting concerns of my soul. 2. Where one lives he necessarily walks and talks, eats and drinks, sleeps and wakes. Just so, may my soul by faith walk over the fields of light, and talk with the Author of my bliss, the fountain of my joy, and the center of my love. There I may eat of the hidden manna, pluck off the drop-ripe apples of the tree of life, and drink of those rivers of pleasures that eternally overflow in his presence; yes, and fall asleep amidst the numerous beauties above, and awake with God in the morning.
Now, as one traveling home, only attends to his journey, and provides his food for the way; (nor would his friend help him, if he would load him with gold bars, or silver ore;) so a few of the necessities of life are sufficient for my support, until I arrive at that better life that shall need no such assistance.
Then, seeing my house, my home, my friends, my bliss, my joy, my inheritance, my crown, my life, my light, my glory, my Savior and my God—are all on high, and nothing here in this present world, but a waste and howling wilderness, through which I travel with danger and dismay. In heaven—may my longings tend, my wishes wing, and may my desires center, my affections be fixed, and my whole soul dwell—that at death nothing may remain but to leave this house of clay, and at once be a free and immortal citizen of my heavenly kingdom!
GREAT LOVE IN GOD, THAT WE MAY LOVE GOD.
July 19, 1761.
O how ardently would I love God, who is loveliness itself! Gladly would I have my heart filled with divine breathings after him—who is all beauty and wholly desirable! But, alas! I know not what it is to love God, which is the highest attainment of men, and the best exercise of the brightest seraphs. I have heard a soul-warming fame of his likeness in his people; and where it is most perfect, it gives them such a celestial tincture, such an heavenly hue, that they are like angels dwelling among men, or saints, whose lives are already in heaven.
But woe is me! my ignorance, my ignorance! I know so little of you—so how can I know your likeness! Alas! my chains are heavy, and my wings are weak; my affections sensual, and my spiritual desires languid. Yet I have some sunshine and serenity in my winter—and though I cannot love you as I would, yet I am filled with longing after some of this divine flame of love, that shall turn all the out-goings of my soul Godward; and turn the world, in all its beguiling and bewitching vanities, eternally out of doors. O that I knew where, how, and in what I might love you! May I love you anywhere, and everywhere! at home, or abroad, on sea or land, among friends or foes, among men or devils, among saints or sinners, in life or death, in time or in eternity!
But again, how or after what manner may I love you? May I delight myself in you, meditate on you, walk before you, imitate your divine perfections, talk of your glory, mention your righteousness, recount your mercies, and sing aloud of your love! May I praise you, pray to you, plead with you, depend upon you, and roll myself wholly over on you!
But again, in what may I love you? May I love you in your Son and in yourself, in the unity of Godhead, and in the trinity of persons, in your perfections and attributes in the largeness of your love, and in the brightness of your glory! May I love you in your angels, in your people, and in all your other creatures! May I love you in your power and in your providence, in your counsel and in your conduct, in your chastisements and in your comforts, in your favors and in your frowns, when you wound or make whole, when you give and when you take away; in all your secret decrees and in all your open dispensations! May I love you in your gospel, and in your ordinances, in your law and in your testimonies, in your scriptures and in your sacraments, in your promises and in their performance, and even in my own soul! O to see you, O to know you—in your grace, and in your glory!
Again, may I love you at all times and all seasons, in youth or in old age, in my family or in the field, in company or alone, lying down or rising up, going out or coming in, in health or sickness, in wealth or in poverty, in a prison or in a palace, in reproach or applause, in the body or among the spirits of just men made perfect!
O astonishing condescension! that one under so many deformities and deficiencies, may love continually so great a Being in all his glorious excellencies! Will a king accept of the love of a subject, especially if loaded with infamy and reproach, reduced to poverty, and languishing with disease? And yet, though I am poor, reproached, and infirm—God does not despise my love—but welcomes even its few ascending sparks. O! then, what a field of love is this, God looking out at so many windows, shining in so many excellencies, and still calling—"son, give me your heart! Soul, give me your love!" O what must that love be, which reigns in the heart of God! Oh! were my soul dipped in the celestial Jordan, I would be cleansed from the leprosy of earthly-mindedness, and carnal affections, which always renders the persons infected, unclean, and incapable of holding communion with the Most High God.
O dearest Lord! you have blown up a spark of love in my bosom, which lives in spite of all the waters of corruption; nourish and increase this fire, until in the day or eternity it breaks forth into a spotless flame! And then (O blessed day!) I shall even be refreshed with the perfection of my love, when I find it so spotless, vigorous, and divine, that not only I—but God, its glorious fountain, and eternal object, shall be pleased with my love; when its quality shall be suitable to that state of consummate perfection, its quantity such as replenishes the most enlarged powers of glorified souls, and its duration through all evermore!
Now, since you are seen in all things, and cannot but be loved wherever you are seen—how is it that I am not wholly taken up with your love, and lost in transport and delight—in the divine survey of your excellencies? Can a poor soul like mine not find sufficient matter for meditation, where a whole heaven of perfected adorers find enough for their most enlarged capacities through eternity, and to spare?
Now, here is the wonder, that God is not only lovely in himself, and in all things whereby he reveals himself—but also permits, yes, commands me to love him, making my indispensable duty my daily privilege, and my highest privilege my daily duty.
O the condescension of the high and lofty One, the chief among ten thousand—that I may love him, and not be reproved; that I may kiss him, and not be despised!
As he is the greatest, so is he the most generous of lovers, not only ever returning love for love—but for my spark of love, returning his flame of love; and for my faint desires, returning his captivating love. And as he is a noble, a superlative lover, so he does all things answerable to this divine character. His decrees are love: "I have loved you with an everlasting love." His counsels are love, "I counsel you to buy from me gold." His cords are love, with which he savingly draws us to himself. His rod is love, with which he corrects, for "whom he loves he chastens." His providences are pregnant with love. His promises are pure love. His name is love. His offices are love, for to teach and instruct, to plead and intercede, to lead, rule, and defend, to help and heal, to counsel and comfort—are certainly offices of love. His relationships are love—a kinsman Redeemer, a friend, a brother, a father, a husband—are kindly names, and full of affection, especially in him. His banquet is a feast of love. His banner is a banner of love. His chariot is paved with love. And he himself is altogether lovely.
May I, then, love such a lovely and loving one—and not be deemed audacious! May I claim the darling of heaven as mine, and maintain, with all the warmth of immortal love, "This is my Beloved, and this is my friend," and not be accounted an offender among all the enamored adorers of the heavenly house!
But, O where shall I find, or where shall I fetch—a love worthy to be bestowed on this lover—who has not his equal on earth, or in heaven? O, that I could glow like angels in their celestial ardors, and burn like seraphs in their deathless flames!
O how strange! That the mighty One of eternity accepts the love of a perishing worm! That a vile sinner is allowed to be a lover of him whose name is holy!
May dust and ashes not only talk—but carry on an interchange of love, with the eternal Father? Yes! For you not only allow me to love you—but to know that I am loved by you, in an infinitely higher manner than I can love you. Yours is an ocean of love—mine a drop from your fullness. Yours is the sun—mine a spark kindled in your beams. Yours is the eternal emanation of sovereign love—mine the reflection of heaven-born gratitude—for I love you, because you first loved me; and as you were first, so are you highest in your love.
It was much for your people to be loved like your angels, archangels, your seraphs, and all your bright armies of light. Yet you have loved your people with a love above that; for in that matchless prayer, the divine Redeemer says, "That the world may know that you have loved them—as you have loved me!" What a wonderful love is this! But what a worthless lover am I!
O happy, thrice happy heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ! whom he invites to a seat with him on his throne! Surely, under a sense of so much love, and yet power to love so little, I would die, did I not wait for my removal to the region of pure love, where my powers of mind, enlarged and strengthened for the transports of eternity, shall be wholly exercised in love. O that divine freedom I wait for, that glorious liberty of immortal lovers that I pant after—where my eye shall view all of his glories, and my ear shall be all attentive to the account of his excellencies! Surely, my song and soul shall be full of love to him! Yes, nothing but love—centering on him, and singing of him, with the highest degree of ardor—shall employ my every power forever!
And here, dear Lord, while I walk on the dark mountains, let it be regarded as a kind of love to think—since I cannot love you as I should and would—how perfectly I shall love you in those blissful regions, in those days of future glory, and in your heavenly presence! With what fresh ardor, and unimaginable delight, I shall adore the God of love, who is not only altogether lovely—but pours out full floods of love on the 'emmets of creation'—and welcomes the trifling returns of love from the 'dust' of his footstool.
PROVIDENCE TO BE APPROVED OF.
Portsmouth Harbor, Oct. 31, 1761.
Nothing is harder to attain to, than an entire resignation to the disposal of Providence; and in this very thing I condemn myself. But, O how absurd to quarrel with God about his conduct towards his creatures! Did I ever demand a reason why God sends Gabriel on this or that errand, and not some other of the bright multitudes of bliss? Dared I ever find fault with the immense distance of the stars or the huge magnitude of the sun? Did it ever give me uneasiness, if foreign nations were scenes of revolutions and wars?
But if any trying providences come home to me, I am up, if not in arms, yet in astonishment, at God—and wonder why he deals so and so! Now, God's right over, and propriety in me, is as full and sovereign as over any other of his creatures. And so I should be as well pleased with what he carves out for me, as I am with what he does for others. I never complained of the age of the world in which I was born (nay—but have blessed God for it;) and why should I, of the time of life that this or that event concerning me takes place? I pant after some things which in themselves are good—but God postpones them, as I think. But the truth is, the proper time of God's giving, and my receiving, has not come. And yet in the greatness of my folly, I grow impatient, like the farmer, that for an early harvest, reaps corn not fully ripe.
Now, my will shall be swallowed up in yours, since I am more your property than mine own. And as I would not direct Omniscience how to dispose of his angels—so will I never tell him how to deal with the inhabitants of his earth, though I am one of the number. Yet, O Most High! as you will be inquired of by your people for these free mercies which you will bestow, and even importuned (as once by wrestling Jacob) for blessings, and the performance of your promises; so I implore your divine interposition in my behalf—if it is your holy will, and that you would bring me again to my homeland, that I may hear blessings instead of blasphemy, and see your glory in churches. O let my absent moments from Zion be numbered up, and finished; my wanderings counted, and completed; my company changed, and my song be to the God of my mercy in the courts of his holiness; and make me yet see some of the days of the Son of man, in commemorating the sufferings and death of my divine Redeemer! In your tender mercy—hear, help, and give an answer of peace.
But, Lord, if you shall (and for your glory I would gladly live) be more glorified in my resignation to your holy will, and my remaining in the state I am in, than in my possessing those things I long after—I cast myself over on you; and to your kind and wise disposal say, Amen.
BRIGHT VIEWS AND BOLD LANGUAGE ABOVE.
Under sail for Lisbon, Nov. 29, 1761.
Often at the description of divine things, by a masterly pen, or a truly poetical genius, I have been astonished; and admired the enlarged views of those, and their sublime thoughts, who, like myself—but dwelt in clay. Then I thought—What must the songs of the new Jerusalem be, when a stanza or two, wrote by a poor mortal, laboring with corruption, and bewailing his ignorance of sacred things, yields so much pleasure and delight!
I shall, then, for a moment, suppose myself arrived at the regions of glory, and welcomed by the King eternal to the heavenly world. But how am I at once transported with the harmony of bliss, while I am indulged to look into the library of heaven, and read all the songs of eternity itself! First, then, a celestial hymn spreads before me, whose majestic style astonishes, whose soft and flowing numbers ravish, which was sung by the morning-stars together, by all the sons of God, when the earth was created. And next, an matchless song, composed by the first bards of light, and sung by part of the celestial choir, when the son of God condescended to be born. Then a triumphant anthem, sung and echoed round the whole court of heaven by all the multitudes of light, when the Son of God ascended conqueror over all his foes, and sat down on high at the right hand of God.
But the most amazing and inimitable piece, for abundance of subject, for excellency of matter, for beauty of expression, for ardency of love, for intimacy of communion, and for refined and exalted thought—is the divine wedding song, which, at the marriage supper of the Lamb, when the whole family of heaven is assembled to divide no more, shall be sung by every guest at the feast of love, at the table of bliss.
Besides these, here are some reviving hymns, composed by angels rejoicing over repenting sinners. What exalted joy sparkles in that angelic composition over a penitent Manassah—and every returning prodigal! Gabriel, in this matchless ode, sings of the eternity of God, in such strains as would astonish all the bards of time. In that song of praise, Raphael dwells on the trinity of persons—while Michael celebrates the majesty and power of the Eternal, with such energy of thought as would darken the brightest poets which the world ever saw. In another song, a mighty seraph sings matchlessly of sacred love, and all heaven echoes amen to his divine praise. Yes, now every saint is a poet, every believer a sweet bard!
O how sweet are the songs of the higher temple! how soft the harmony of eternal day! What hallelujahs rise from the angels of God! what hosannas from the church of the first born! What concord and symphony are in the songs above! How dark, compared to these, were the brightest descriptions of God I ever heard below! How dull are my former ardors to those which now I feel! How faint and languid my love to what now kindles in my bosom! Here in glory, is the refined expression, here the noble idea, here the exalted turn of thought, here the true sublime of divine poetry, and here the enlarged, the unveiled view of divine things, of heavenly glories—to embolden and enliven every song. Here we talk of God at his throne, and while we commend him, we behold the beauties of his face! While we exalt him, we enjoy him, and so can never cease extolling him!
But, alas! my dark views of future things convince me that I am still in the body. Yet great things I may expect in that state of perfection. And though now I cannot serve God, nor sing to God, as I would, and as I should—yet there is a day on the wing when I shall join the anthem of love, and, being loosed from all my present fetters, shall sing through eternity with the bards of paradise, "To him who loved us, died for us, rose again, and reigns on high—be honor and might, power and dominion, blessing and glory, forever and ever, Amen!"
River Tagus, at Lisbon, December 26, 1761.
Hitherto I have looked upon myself as young, and coming to my prime of my life. But henceforth I shall consider myself as in my declining years. I am certain how long I have lived in the world—but quite uncertain how soon I must leave the world; and therefore should be preparing for my final departure, and daily be ripening for the regions of bliss.
Nothing would be a more forbidding prospect, than the verdure of spring to clothe the fields in harvest; but nothing would be more pleasant, than to see maturity keep pace with the approach of autumn. So should I grow daily riper for the great harvest, as the time of ingathering draws daily nearer and nearer. Leaves are pleasant in the infant orchard—but fruits are expected from the full grown trees. So in the young converts, the breathings of grace are sweet; but aged saints are expected to abound in fruits of righteousness. My love, like Ezekiel's holy waters, the longer it runs, should rise the higher, and spread the wider, until lost in its divine ocean above.
The longer we live with our friends, we grow better acquainted, more intimate with, and fonder of them. Just so, the longer I enjoy communion with God, the more ardently should I breathe after uninterrupted communion with him. As my years decline, and my outward man wastes away, so should my graces bloom, and my inner man grow strong; and when it is almost dark night with my life, it should be bright noon with my expectations. O how pleasant is it, that the longer I live in the world—the closer I rise to heaven! If I make progress in my spiritual pilgrimage, the world and all its vanities—which is the wilderness I am traveling away from—will become less and less to me. I will daily see more of the tops of the heavenly mountains, of the towers of the New Jerusalem, toward which I am traveling.
A state of grace is a glorious condition at all times; but a growth in grace is a sweet proof and heavenly consequence of being in a state of grace. My affections should be more and more loosed from the creature, while the pins of my earthly tabernacle are loosening every day. I should at all times have my heart in heaven—and especially when walking with one foot in the grave! Now, though the time of my death seems far distant; yet thousands at my age have died—who had as many pretensions to longevity as I.
My walking with God will not shorten my life—but brighten it, and make my sun set with all the sweetness of a cloudless evening. Enoch walked with God for three hundred years. In this manner, he began heaven upon earth—so that he grew immortal, and ascended deathless to the very throne of God. O how pleasant is it to feed on the fruits of Paradise, while entering into the land of promise; and as it were, to be a citizen of heaven, before I go to dwell forever there.
A young man, and a holy life; one in his prime, and all his graces flourishing—is lovely to behold. But a grey head, and a carnal worldly heart, is a wounding sight! Henceforth, be gone bewitching vanities, and all the enchantments of the world! the last years of my life are not to be trifled away with you! Death attends me! The grave awaits me! Eternity is at hand! Therefore, may my purified affections, river-like, enlarge as they approach the ocean; and on the wings of faith and love, may I often fly to the hills of spices, where your glories shed their beams. May I walk in the liberty of spiritual meditation in the land of bliss, that so death, when it comes, may have no more to do than lay my slumbering ashes in the silent grave—and loose my soul to be a free inhabitant in her blessed abode.
THE EXPECTED CHANGE.
Jan. 10, 1762, Lisbon River.
Whatever horrors may beset the carnally-minded, when they think of their death; yet no prospect affords me such pleasure as that of my death and final change! I have exceeding great cause to rejoice, when I compare what I now am and suffer—with what I shall then enjoy and be! Now my joys are future, and in expectation—for I walk by faith, and live on hope. But then they shall be present, and in possession—for I shall dwell in light, and feed on fruition! Now I am daily struggling with death and sin—but then I shall eternally triumph over both! Now I toil along a tiresome road—but then I shall walk above these skies in the very heavens! Now my eyes rove from vanity to vanity—but then they shall see, yes, fix on the King in his glory, on the King of kings in his divinest glory! Now I dwell among fire-brands, and surrounding sinners daily give me pain—but then I shall dwell among the multitudes of the redeemed, see angels and archangels increase the throng, cherubim and seraphim join the song, and not one sinner among all the heavenly multitudes!
Now I often bewail myself as a frail inhabitant of feeble clay—but then I shall find myself possessed of all the vigor of immortality—of all the briskness of eternal life! Now I am often puzzled about the providences of my lot—but then I shall approve, and see a divine beauty shining through the whole conduct of providence, in the light of glory. Now, in the noblest subjects my ignorance often leaves me greatly in the dark—but then shall I know, and that even as I am known. Now I have foes without, and foes within, the sin of my nature, and the idols of my heart, enemies from earth and hell to grapple with—but then, triumphing over every foe, I shall sing the conquest of the Captain of my salvation, the victories of the divine Conqueror, and never cease from this matchless, this unexhaustable theme! Now sometimes, I am debarred from the precious ordinances and sacred courts of God—but then shall I be a pillar in the temple of God, and go no more out—and always worship at his throne! Now the cruel hand of death comes among my friends and family, and leaves me like a sparrow on the house-top alone, or mourning in the wilderness—but then not one of all the numerous inhabitants shall so much as say, "I am sick," because they are an assembly of sinless ones.
Now my Sun often conceals himself, so that I go mourning without him; but then in the light of his countenance, in the brightness of his glory, shall I walk on forever! Now I am crawling along the road of life in company with fellow-worms, who dwell in cottages of clay, and are crushed before the moth—but then, dignified with his divine likeness, I shall dwell with the Ancient of days, and enjoy the dearest and most intimate communion with Jehovah and the Lamb forever! Now my time is wasting away, and I may be very near my latter end—but then an endless eternity shall be mine, and my bliss be as durable as it is desirable; and as permanent as it is pleasant. O! then, who would not prepare and wait for a change that is so pregnant with glory and bliss?
ARGUMENTS FOR FAITH IN GOD.
Jan. 22, 1762. Under sail for England.
The noblest way to glorify God, is to be strong in the faith, like Abraham, the friend of God. And as this confers most honor on the divine Promiser, so it conveys the greatest quietness to the soul. But, as I am more fearful than many of the faithful, and cannot attain to that confidence in God that the most part of believers have, let me strengthen my faith by the scriptures of truth, which can never be broken.
First, then, these sacred records hold out a chain of the nearest and clearest relations between God and the happy soul which has a saving interest in him. He is a Judge, the Judge of all the earth; and can I dread wrong judgments at his hand? He is the orphan's stay, the strength of the poor, and the stranger's shield; what then may not the orphan, the poor, and the stranger expect from him?
Again, he is a Father; and what may not I expect from such a Father, who, in the tenderest manner has said again and again, "Son, all that I have is yours"—a Father, who has heaven and earth at his disposal, and the hearts of all men in his hand—a Father, whose divine affection infinitely exceeds that of the best human father to his most engaging son, or of the most loving mother to her most amiable babe—a Father, whose wisdom knows infinitely well both what and when to give; whose eyes and ears are continually open to their calamities and complaints; whose love and grace waits to bestow; whose promise is no dead word—but reliable and pregnant with good—a Father, who has given the most amazing instance of love, in that he kept not back his Son—but delivered him up for us all; and if he gives me his salvation—he gives me the graces of his Spirit, promises me his heaven and his glory, in a word, gives me himself. What then, will he withhold, what will he deny?
Surely, I have hitherto had too low thoughts of the goodness of God. Yet I may assure myself with as much certainty as the sun is in the heavens, that all the promises of God shall have their full, their perfect, their complete accomplishment toward me, and at the time that is most proper in the eye of Infinite Wisdom. Henceforth no doubt shall disturb my bosom; I will patiently wait on the Lord, who not only promises great things—but performs whatever he promises; knowing assuredly that though now I too much imitate murmuring Israel in the wilderness, yet, like them, when I arrive at the land of promise, the Canaan above, I shall profess before the whole assembly of bliss, that there has not failed any good thing whereof the Lord had spoken, or given promise—all has come to pass.
THE TRAVELER AT HOME.
September 7, 1776.
These many years have I dwelt in my native country, and in my own house. Through the perils of war, the dangers of the sea, extremity of cold in one part, and scorching heat in another, have my life and health been preserved, to my own surprise; while numbers saw their native land no more. But, as a traveler, what have I seen? Just sin and vanity in every land, grief and pain in every bosom, the fruits of the fall, and the havoc of the curse in all nations. I dwell in my own house, and bless the bounty of Providence, which, from floating on a restless ocean, has given me a settled habitation. But I look forward, and see that I have a long, a difficult, a solemn journey before me—not from one kingdom to another—but from one world to another. Hence (not forgetful of all his mercies that accompanied me in all my wanderings) to lay up my treasure in the better country, to prepare for my approaching eternal change, to improve for my future society, and to ripen for heaven and glory—shall employ the remainder of my life, that I may finish my course with joy. Amen.