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Our Conversation in Heaven.
PHILIP iii. 20. ift Part.
For our conversation is in heaven.
HESE words are the conclusion of the ac
count which St. Paul renders of himself, to justify that particular part of his conduct and proceeding his leaving so strangely, and deserting his Jewesh rites and ceremonies, to which he was known to have been formerly so much attached, and in defence of which he had been so warmly and so remarkably engaged. This, as it had been matter of provocation against him amongst his own countrymen the Jews, so was it no less an occasion of surprize to the Gentiles ;-that a person of his great character, interest and reputation,- -one who was descended from a tribe of Israel, deeply skilled in the professions, and zealous in the observances of the straitest sect of that religion;-who had their tenets instilled into him from his tender years, under the institution of the ablest masters;-a Pharisee himself,-the son of a Pharisee, and brought up at the feet of Gamaliel,—one that was so deeply interested, and an accessory in the persecution of another religion, just then newly come up ;—a religion, to which his whole sect, as well as himself, had been always the bitterest and most inveterate enemies, and were constantly upbraided as such, by the first founder of it :- That a person so beset, and hemmed in with interests and prejudices on all sides, should, after all, turn proselyte to the very religion he had hated ;- -a religion too, under the most universal contempt of any then in the world,....the chiefs and leaders of it men of the lowest birth and education, without any advanta
ges of parts or learning, or other endowments to recommend them:-That he should quit and abandon all his former privileges, to become merely a fellow-laborer with these ;-that he should give up the reputation he had acquired amongst his brethren, by the study and labors of a whole life;that he should give up his friends, his relations and family, from whom he estranged and banished himself for life :-This was an event so very extraordinary,—so odd and unaccountable,- -that it might well confound the minds of men to answer for it.It was not to be accounted for upon the common rules and measures of proceeding in human life.
The apostle, therefore, since no one else could so well do it for him, comes, in this chapter, to give an explanation why he had thus forsaken so many worldly advantages,--which was owing to a greater and more unconquerable affection to a better and more valuable interest;- -that in the poor persecuted faith, which he had once reproached and destroyed, he had now found such a fulness of divine grace,-such unfathomable depths of God's infinite mercy, and love towards mankind, that he could think nothing too much to part with,in order to his embracing christianity; -nay, he accounted all things but loss,
that is, less than nothing, for the excellency of the knowledge of JESUS CHRIST.
The apostle, after this apology for himself, proceeds, in the second verse before the text, to give a very different representation of the wordly views and sensual principles of other pretending teachers, who had set themselves up as an example for men to walk by, against whom he renews this caution:-) -For many walk, of whom I have told you often,and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies to the cross of CHRIST,- -whose end is destruction, whose
god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things-Phronountes
relish them, making them the only object of their wishes,taking aim at nothing better, and nothing higher. But our conversation, says he in the text, is in heaven. We Christians, who have embraced a persecuted faith, are governed by other considerations,-have greater and nobler views. Here we consider ourselves only as pilgrims and strangers ;-our home is another country, where we are continually tending: There our hearts and affections are placed: And when the few days of our pilgrimage shall be over, there shall we return, where a quiet habitation and a' perpetual rest is designed and prepared for us forever. Our conversation is in heaven, from whence, says he, we also look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto him. It is observable, that ́ St. Peter represents the state of Christians, under the same image of strangers on earth, whose city and proper home is heaven :- -He makes use of that relation of citizens of heaven, as a strong argument for a pure and holy life,-beseeching them, as pilgrims and strangers here, as men whose interests and connections are of so short a date, and so trifling a nature,-to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, that is, unfit it for its heavenly country, and give it a disrelish to the enjoyment of that pure and spiritualized happiness, of which that region must consist, wherein there shall in no wise enter any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination. The apostle tells us, that without holiness, no man shall see God; by which, no doubt, he means, that a virtuous life is the only medium of happiness and terms of salvation,---VOL. III. Аа
which can only give us admission into heaven.But some of our divines carry the assertion farther, that without holiness,-without some previous similitude, wrought in the faculties of the mind. corresponding with the nature of the purest of beings, who is to be the object of our fruition hereafter;—that it is not morally only, but physically impossible for it to be happy ;-and that an impure and polluted soul, is not only unworthy of so pure a presence as the Spirit of God, but even incapable of enjoying it, could it be admitted.
And here, not to feign a long hypothesis, as some have done, of a sinner's being admitted into heaven, with a particular description of his condition and behavior there, we need only consider, that the supreme good, like any other good, is of a relative nature, and consequently the enjoyment of it must require some qualification in the faculty, as well as the enjoyment of any other good does ;- -there must be something antecedent in the disposition and temper, which will render that good-a good to that individual, otherwise, though (it is true) it may be possessed, -yet it never can be enjoyed—
Preach to a voluptuous epicure, who knows of no other happiness in this world but what arises from good eating and drinking,——such a one, in the apostle's language, whose god was his belly;-preach to him of the abstractions of the soul, tell of its flights, and brisker motion in the pure regions of immensity ;-represent to him that saints and angels eat not,—but that the spirit of a man lives forever upon wisdom and holiness, and heavenly contemplations:-Why, the only effect would be, that the fat glutton would stare a while upon the preacher, and in a few minutes fall fast asleep,-No; if you would catch his attention, and make him take in your discourse
greedily, you must preach to him out of the Alcoran,-talk of the raptures of sensual enjoyments, and of the pleasures of the perpetual feasting which Mahomet has described;-there you touch upon a note which awakens and sinks into the inmost recesses of his soul;--without which, discourse as wisely and abstractedly as you will of heaven, your representations of it however glorious and exalted, will pass like the songs of melody, over an ear incapable of discerning the distinction of sounds.
We see, even in the common intercourses of society, how tedious it is to be in the company of a person whose humor is disagreeable to our own, though, perhaps, in all other respects, of the greatest worth and excellency.- How then can we imagine, that an ill-disposed soul, whose conversation never reached to heaven, but whose appetites and desires, to the last hour have grovelled upon this unclean spot of earth ;-how can we imagine it should hereafter take pleasure in GOD, or be able to taste joy or satisfaction from his presence, who is so infinitely pure, that he even putteth no trust in his saints,nor are the heavens themselves (as Job says) clean in his sight? The consideration of this, has led some writers so far, as to say, with some degree of irreverence in the expression,-that it was not in the power of GOD to make a wicked man happy, if the soul was separated from the body, with all its vicious habits and inclinations unreformed; which though, a very able divine in our church has pursued so far, as to declare his belief, that could the happiest mansion in heaven be supposed to be allotted to a gross and polluted spirit, it would be so far from being happy in it, that it would do penance there to all eternity :By which he meant, it would carry such appetites along with it, for which there could be found no