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life. For they are here clothed with flesh, and that debased and corrupted. Now, in this state, though the mind act its conceptions by the body as its organ and instrument, yet is it variously straitened, encumbered, and impeded in the exercise of its native powers, especially towards things heavenly, by this prison of the flesh, wherein it is immured. There is an angelical excellency in the pure acting of the soul when delivered from all material instruments of them, or when they are all glorified and made suitable helps in its utmost spiritual activity. How and by what degrees our minds shall be freed from these obstructions in their beholding the glory of Christ shall be afterward declared.
2. Again, a new light, the light of glory, shall be implanted in them. There is a light in nature, which is the power of a man to discern the things of man; - an ability to know, perceive, and judge of things natural. It is that "spirit of a man" which "is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly," Proverbs 20:27.
But by the light hereof no man can discern spiritual things in a due manner, as the apostle declares, 1 Corinthians 2:11-16. Wherefore God gives a superior, a supernatural light, the light of faith and grace, unto them whom he effectually calls unto the knowledge of himself by Jesus Christ. He shines into their hearts, to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of his dear Son. Howbeit this new light does not abolish, blot out, or render useless, the other light of nature, as the sun, when it riseth, extinguisheth the light of the stars; but it directs it and rectifies it as unto its principle, object, and end. Yet is it in itself a light quite of another nature. But he who has only the former light can understand nothing of it, because he has no taste or experience of its power and operations. He may talk of it, and make inquiries about it, but he knows it not.
Now, we have received this light of faith and grace, whereby we discern spiritual things, and behold the glory of Christ in the imperfect manner before described. But in heaven there shall be a superadded light of glory, which shall make the mind itself "shine as the firmament," Daniel 12:3. I shall only say three things of it.
1. That as the light of grace does not destroy or abolish the light of nature, but rectify and improve it, so the light of glory shall not abolish or destroy this light of faith and grace, but, by incorporating with it, render it absolutely perfect.
2. That as by the light of nature we cannot clearly comprehend the true nature and efficacy of the light of grace, because it is of another kind, and is seen only in its own light; so by the light of grace we cannot absolutely comprehend this light of glory, being of a peculiar kind and nature, seen perfectly only by its own light. It does not appear what we shall be.
3. That this is the best notion we can have of this light of glory, - that, in the first instance of its operation, it perfectly transforms the soul into the image and likeness of Christ.
This is the progress of our nature unto its rest and blessedness. The principles remaining in it concerning good and evil, with its practical convictions, are not destroyed but improved by grace; as its blindness, darkness, and enmity to God are in part taken away. Being renewed by grace, what it receives here of spiritual life and light shall never be destroyed, but be perfected in glory. Grace renews nature; glory perfects grace; and so the whole soul is brought unto its rest in God. We have an image of it in the blind man whom our Saviour cured, Mark 8:22-25. He was absolutely blind, - born so, no doubt. Upon the first touch, his eyes were opened, and he saw, but very obscurely; - he saw men walking like trees. But on the second, he saw all things clearly. Our minds in themselves are absolutely blind. The first visitation of them by grace gives them a sight of things spiritual, heavenly, and eternal; but it is obscure and unsteady. The sight of glory makes all things clear and evident.
3. The body as glorified, with its senses, shall have its use and peace herein. After we are clothed again with our flesh, we shall see our Redeemer with our eyes. We know not here what power and spirituality there will be in the acts of our glorified bodies. Such they will be as shall bear a part in eternal blessedness. Holy Stephen, the first martyr, took up somewhat of glory by anticipation before he died. For when he was brought to his trial before the council, all that sat therein, "looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as the face of an angel," Acts 6:16. He had his transfiguration, escorting unto his measure, answerable unto that of our blessed Saviour in the mount. And by this initial beam of glory he received such a piercing vivacity and edge on his bodily eyes, that through all those inconceivable distances between the earth and the residence of the blessed, he looked steadfastly into heaven, and "saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God," Acts 7:55,56. Who, then, can declare what will be the power and acting of this sense of sight when perfectly glorified; or what sweetness and refreshment may be admitted into our souls thereby?
It was a privilege (who would not have longed to partake of it?) to have seen Him with our bodily eyes in the days of his flesh, as did the apostles and his other disciples. Howbeit he was not then glorified himself in the manifestation of his glory; nor they who saw him, in the change or transformation of their nature. How great this privilege was, himself declares unto those that so saw him, Matthew 13: l7, "Verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see;" whereunto we shall speak immediately. And if this were so excellent a privilege as that we cannot but congratulate them by whom it was enjoyed, how excellent, how glorious will it be, when with these eyes of ours, gloriously purified and strengthened beyond those of Stephen, we shall behold Christ himself immediately in the fulness of his glory! He alone perfectly understands the greatness and excellency hereof, who prayed his Father that those who "believe in him may be where he is, so to behold his glory."
These are some of the grounds of this first difference between our beholding the glory of Christ by faith here, and by immediate vision hereafter. Hence the one is weak, imperfect, obscure, reflexive; the other direct, immediate, even, and constant; - and we may stay a little in the contemplation of these things.
This view of the glory of Christ which we have now spoken unto is that which we are breathing and panting after; that which the Lord Christ prays that we may arrive unto; that which the apostle testifies to be our best; - the best thing or state which our nature is capable of, - that which brings eternal rest and satisfaction unto our souls.
Here our souls are burdened with innumerable infirmities, and our faith is clogged in its operations by ignorance and darkness. This makes our best estate and highest attainments to be accompanied with groans for deliverance: "We which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body," Romans 8:23. Yea, whilst we are in this tabernacle, we groan earnestly, as being burdened, because we are not "absent from the body, and present with the Lord," 2 Corinthians 5:2,4,8. The more we grow in faith and spiritual light, the more sensible are we of our present burdens, and the more vehemently do we groan for deliverance into the perfect liberty of the sons of God. This is the posture of their minds who have received the first fruit of the Spirit in the most eminent degree. The nearer any one is to heaven, the more earnestly he desires to be there, because Christ is there. For the more frequent and steady are our views of him by faith, the more do we long and groan for the removal of all obstructions and interpositions in our so doing. Now groaning is [the expression of] a vehement desire, mixed with sorrow, for the present want of what is desired. The desire has sorrow, and that sorrow has joy and refreshment in it; - like a shower that falls on a man in a garden in the spring; it wets him, but withal refresheth him with the savour it causeth in the flowers and herbs of the garden where he is, and this groaning, which, when it is constant and habitual, is one of the choicest effects of faith in this life, respects what we would be delivered from, and what we would attain unto. The first is expressed, Romans 7:24, the other in the places now mentioned. And this triune, with an intermixture of some sighs from weariness by the troubles, sorrows, pains, sicknesses of this life, is the best we can here attain unto.
Alas! we cannot here think of Christ, but we are quickly ashamed of, and troubled at, our own thoughts; so confused are they, so unsteady, so imperfect. Commonly they issue in a groan or a sigh: Oh! when shall we come unto him? when shall we be ever with him? when shall we see him as he is? And if at any time he begins to give more than ordinary evidences and intimations of his glory and love unto our souls, we are not able to bear them, so as to give them any abiding residence in our minds. But ordinarily this trouble and groaning is amongst our best attainments in this world, - a trouble which, I pray God, I may never be delivered from, until deliverance do come at once from this state of mortality; yea, the good Lord increase this trouble more and more in all that believe.
The heart of a believer affected with the glory of Christ, is like the needle touched with the loadstone. It can no longer be quiet, no longer be satisfied in a distance from him. It is put into a continual motion towards him. This motion, indeed, is weak and tremulous. Pantings, breathing, sighings, greenings in prayer, in meditations, in the secret recesses of our minds, are the life of it. However, it is continually pressing towards him. But it obtains not its point, it comes not to its centre and rest, in this world.
But now above, all things are clear and serene, all plain and evident in our beholding the glory of Christ, - we shall be ever with him, and see him as he is. This is heaven, this is blessedness, this is eternal rest.
The person of Christ in all his glory shall be continually before us; and the eyes of our understandings shall be so gloriously illuminated, as that we shall be able steadily to behold and comprehend that glory.
But, alas! here at present our minds recoil, our meditations fail, our hearts are overcome, our thoughts confused, and our eyes turn aside from the lustre of this glory; nor can we abide in the contemplation of it. But there, an immediate, constant view of it, will bring in everlasting refreshment and joy unto our whole souls.
This beholding of the glory of Christ given him by his Father, is, indeed, subordinate unto the ultimate vision of the essence of God. What that is we cannot well conceive; only we know that the "pure in heart shall see God." But it has such an immediate connection with it, and subordination unto it, as that without it we can never behold the face of God as the objective blessedness of our souls. For he is, and shall be to eternity, the only means of communication between God and the church.
And we may take some direction in our looking into and longing after this perfect view of the glory of Christ, from the example of the saints under the Old Testament. The sight which they had of the glory of Christ - for they also saw his glory through the obscurity of its revelation, and its being veiled with types and shadows - was weak and imperfect in the most illuminated believers; much inferior unto what we now have by faith, through the Gospels. Yet such it was as encouraged them to inquire and search diligently into what was revealed, 1 Peter 1:10,11. Howbeit, their discoveries were but dark and confused, such as men have of things at a great distance, or "in a land that is very far off," as the prophet speaks, Isaiah 33:17. And the continuance of this veil on the revelation of the glory of Christ, whilst a veil of ignorance and blindness was upon their hearts and minds, proved the ruin of that church in its apostasy, as the apostle declares, 2 Corinthians 3:7,13,14. This double veil (the covering covered, the veil veiled) God promised to take away, Isaiah 25:7; and then shall they turn to the Lord, when they shall be able clearly to behold the glory of Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:16.
But this caused them who were real believers among them to desire, long, and pray for, the removal of these veils, the departure of those shadows, which made it as night unto them in comparison of what they knew would appear, when "the Sun of Righteousness should arise with healing in his wings." They thought it long ere "the day did break, and the shadows flee away," Song of Solomon 2:17; 4:6. There was an "apokaradokia", as the apostle speaks, Romans 8:19, - a thrusting forth of the head with desire and expectation of the exhibition of the Son of God in the flesh, and the accomplishment of all divine promises therein. Hence he was called the Lord whom they sought and delighted in, Malachi 3:1.
And great was the spiritual wisdom of believers in those days. They rejoiced and gloried in the ordinances of divine worship which they did enjoy. They looked on them as their chiefest privilege, and attended unto them with diligence, as an effect of divine wisdom and love, as also because they had a shadow of good things to come. But yet, at the same time, they longed and desired that the time of reformation were come, wherein they should all be removed; that so they might behold and enjoy the good things signified by them. And those who did not so, but rested in and trusted unto their present institutions, were not accepted with God. Those who were really illuminated did not so, but lived in constant desires after the revelation of the whole mystery of the wisdom of God in Christ; as did the angels themselves, 1 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 3:9,10.
In this same of heart and suitable acting of their souls there was more of the power of true faith and love than is found among the meet at this day. They saw the promises afar off, and were pervaded of them, and embraced them, Hebrews 11:13. They reached out the arms of their most intent affections to embrace the things that were promised. We have an instance of this frame in old Simon, who, so soon as he had taken the child Jesus in his arms, cried out, "Now, Lord, let me depart," now let me die; this is that which my soul has longed for, Luke 2:28,29.
Our present darkness and weakness in beholding the glory of Christ, is not like theirs. It is not occasioned by a veil of types and shadows, cast on it by the representative institutions of it, - it does not arise from the want of a clear doctrinal revelation of the person and office of Christ; but, as was before declared, it proceedeth from two other causes. First, From the nature of faith itself, in comparison with vision. It is not able to look directly into this excellent glory, nor fully to comprehend it. Secondly, From the way of its propose which is not substantial of the thing itself, but only of an image of it, as in a glass. But the sight, the view of the glory of Christ, which we shall have in heaven, is much more above that which we now enjoy by the gospel, than what we do or may so enjoy is above what they have attained under their types and shadows. There is a far greater distance between the vision of heaven and the sight which we have now by faith, than is between the sight which we now have and what they had under the Old Testament. Heaven does more excel the Gospel state than that state does the Law. Wherefore, if they did so pray, so long for, so desire the removal of their shadows and veils, that they might see what we now see, that they might so behold the glory of Christ as we may behold it in the light of the gospel; how much more should we, if we have the same faith with them, the same love (which neither will nor can be satisfied without perfect fruition), long and pray for the removal of all weakness, of all darkness and interposition, that we may come unto that immediate beholding of his glory which he so earnestly prayed that we might be brought unto!