The Scale Of The Blessedness: Or, Blessed Saints, Blessed Savior, And Blessed Trinity.
A continuation of Nearness To God The Felicity Of Creatures.
Adapted from a Sermon By
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! Psalm 65:4 ESV
By the entrance of sin into the world, man was first separated from God and happiness: God in righteous anger withdrew from his creature, man; and man, obeying the directions of his own wicked folly, runs farther away from his Maker God; He is born like a wild donkey's colt, Job 11. 12, unknowing and thoughtless: and like a colt he runs wild in the forest of this world, roving amongst a thousand vanities in search of happiness, but still far off from God. He seeks substantial and pleasant food, but he meets with broad barren sands in the wilderness, or with briers, and bitter weeds. He follows every foolish impulse, until he is led into many a pit and precipice: He rises again, and changes the chase: He runs perpetually from object to object, but finds everlasting disappointment: Shadows, and painted hopes, flatter, and tire, and delude him, until he lies down and despairs in death.
This is the case of mankind by nature; they live ignorant of God, and wilfully blind to their own happiness. It is a fatal blindness, and a wretched mankind! But blessed be God, that he has not renounced and abandoned all our race for ever, and fixed all of us in a state of eternal separation from him! Blessed be God, who has chosen and already called many of the wanderers to himself again! He has built dwellings for himself on earth; he has appointed means for our return, and invites all to approach him. King David had a full and lively sense of this, when he wrote the words of this song; Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts: From which this doctrine was derived in the first part of this sermon.
Doctrine. Nearness to God is the foundation of a creature's happiness.
This doctrine was highlighted, when we considered the three main ingredients of true happiness, that is to say, the contemplation of the noblest object, to satisfy all the powers of the understanding; the love of the supreme good, to answer the utmost desires of the will; and the sweet and everlasting sensation and assurance of the love of an almighty Friend, who will free us from all the evils which our nature can fear, and bestow upon us all the good which a wise and innocent creature can desire. In this way, all the capacities of man are occupied in their highest and most pleasant exercises and enjoyments. Now it is God alone, the great and ever-blessed God, who can provide us with all these materials of blessedness, who can refine our natures, and who can so engage and entertain all the powers and appetites of our improved natures.
Having seen the arguments and proofs supporting this doctrine, we now go on to make various reflections for our information and help. Now the meditations which have been reserved for today are as follows: the sacred scale of blessedness, or the several degrees of happiness, that Christians comes into, according to their advancing approaches toward God; and ultimately, in the end, we will find blessedness, in its highest perfection, to belong only to God himself.
We begin with the first degree of Blessedness.
I. Happy are they who, though they are sinners by nature, yet are brought so near to God, as to be within the sound and call of his grace. In this sense the whole nation of the Jews was a people near to God, for he showed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his judgments to Israel; and on this account they were happy, in ancient ages, above all kingdoms of the earth; Psal. 147. and 148.
In our day of fearful decline we still benefit from God’s generous dealings with the western world in the recent times.
Happy were those countries where the apostles of Christ planted the gospel, and brought grace and salvation near them, though they were before at a dreadful distance from God! Happy the inhabitants of Britain and America in the age of Isaac Watts and Jonathan Edwards! Though they were involved, with the rest of mankind, in the common ruins of our first defection from God, yet they were not left in the darkness of heathenism, on the very confines of hell: But God exalted them near to heaven and himself, in the ministrations of his word, and led them in a way to his everlasting enjoyment. He built his sanctuaries amongst them, and established his churches in the midst of them. They were invited to behold the beauty of the Lord, to return to their obedience and his love, and thus be made happy for ever.
This is a matter of divine choice and peculiar favour. Blessed Lands, whom he has chosen, and caused to approach thus far towards himself! And why was not the cultivated nation of China chosen too; And why not the poor savages of Africa, and the barbarous millions of the ancient American world? Why were they left so long in a dismal estrangement from God, Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will, Matt. 11. 26, whose judgments are unsearchable, Rom. 11. 33, and whose ways are inscrutable and mercy are past finding out.
Blessed are the people who hear and know the joyful sound; Psalm 89. 15. But there are decrees of this blessedness, even in lands which have enjoyed the gospel. Blessed are they above others, who dwell near places of true public worship, who sit under an enlightening, a powerful and persuasive ministry, who have opportunity to hear the word of God often, and who are able to read it.
Blessed are they who are born of religious parents, and trained up in the early forms of piety; these are still brought nearer to God; they are nursed up, as it were, in his churches, and dwell in his courts. And blessed are those who are devoted to the service of the sanctuary, like the priests and Levites of old, who were brought nearest to God, among all Israel; for their civil employment, as well as their religious duty, led them continually toward God, heaven, and happiness. But all these glorious privileges are not sufficient to ensure eternal blessedness, unless we come one step further in approaching to God.
We come to the second degree of Blessedness.
II. Happy are those souls who have been taught to improve their outward advantages of nearness to God, so as to obtain reconciliation with him by the blood of Christ. This is the great end of all the privileges mentioned before, which either Jew or gentile were partakers of: This was the purpose of all the approaches that God made towards them. Peace and salvation were preached to those who were far off and to them who were near, Eph. 2. 17, and Christ died to reconcile both to God; and that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father; Eph.2. 16, 17, 18. Why are all the alluring glories of the Lord displayed before us, in his gospel, but that we might be drawn to love him? Why are these wondrous manifestations of his grace made to us, but that we might become the objects of his love, and taste of his special goodness?
Happy persons, who are weary of their old estrangement from God, who have heard and have received the offers of his mercy, who have made their solemn approaches to God by Jesus the Mediator, and are joined to the Lord in a sweet and everlasting covenant! Happy creatures, who behold the beauties of their Maker's face with double pleasure, who love him with all their souls, and begin to taste the love of his heart too! This is a matter of special privilege. Blessed are those who are thus chosen by divine grace, and whom he has caused to approach to himself by the converting power of his own Spirit! Let them come and heartily join his churches; let them take up their places, and dwell in his courts on earth, and so doing come ever closer to his court of heaven.
Would that sinners would once be convinced that there are divine pleasures in religion, and joys which the stranger cannot share! Prov. 14. 10. O that they would be once brought to believe, that happiness consists in approaching to God! That they would but give credit to the report of wise and holy men, who have lived in humble communion with God many years! What a sacred and superior pleasure it is, above all the joys of the senses, to love the great and blessed God, and to know that he loves me! To walk all the day in the light of his presence! To have him near me as a counsellor, whose advice I may ask in every difficulty of life! To be ever near him as my guard, and to fly from every danger to the wing of his protection! To have such an almighty Friend with me in sickness and sorrow, in anguish and mortal agonies, and ready to receive my departing spirit into the arms of his love!
Would that the formal and nominal Christian, who attends divine worship, would but once be persuaded, that if he come one step nearer to God, his happiness will receive almost an infinite increase! Let the shadows lead him to the substance; let the dim image in the mirror allure him to commune with the original beauty, and the ordinances of grace bring him near to the God of grace! Let him no longer content himself with pictures of happiness, but give himself up entirely to the Lord, and be made possessor of solid and substantial happiness. Blessed is the man who has renounced sin and the world, and his heart is overpowered by divine goodness, and brought near to God in his holy covenant.
Yet there are degrees of blessedness among the saints on earth. Blessed is every soul whose state and nature are changed, who is not a stranger, but a son; but more blessed are those sons who are most like their heavenly Father, and keep closest to him in all their ways! Blessed are they above others in the holy family, who seldom wander from their God, whose hearts are always in a heavenly frame, and whose graces and virtues brighten and improve daily, and make a continual and joyful advance toward the state of glory!
Third degree of Blessedness.
III. Now let us raise our thoughts, and wonder at the blessedness of the saints and angels in the upper world: and blessed are those spirits, whether they belong to bodies or not, whom the Lord has chosen, and caused to approach so near him, as to dwell and remain in his higher courts! They are fully satisfied with the goodness of his house, even of his holy temple. The saints are established as pillars in this temple of God, and shall no more go out. They approach him in their glorious methods of worship, without the need for types and ordinances: They see God face to face; 1 Cor. 13. 12. Though ordinances in the church on earth are means of drawing near, yet in that very thing they are also tokens of some degree of distance. The saints above are constantly before the throne, or night and day serving the Lord, as it is expressed metaphorically in the book of Revelations; Rev. 7. 15. though in truth there is no night there; for they who dwell with God, dwell in everlasting light: They approach to their Maker in wonderful acts of worship, without any interposing cloud to hide his face from them, without bars and fetters to hold them at a distance, without wanderings, without sins, and without temptations.
What a blessed state! What a glorious happiness! They behold the beauty of the Lord, transported in divine contemplation, infinitely various and immortal. They feed upon his goodness with all the raptures of refined love, and are held in long ecstasy under the permanent sensations of the love of God.
Yet in this state of perfect glory, there are doubtless some different degrees of nearness to God, and therefore there are different ranks and orders of blessed spirits. This is evident amongst the angels beyond all contradiction; for though all of them behold the face of God continually; Matt, 18. 10. yet Gabriel seems to be a favourite angel, standing in the presence of God, and occupied in the noblest errands to men; Luke 1. 19. And we read of seraphs and cherubs, angels and archangels, thrones, dominions, and principalities; which speaks plainly of a celestial hierarchy, or superior and subordinate ranks of glory and power.
And why may it not be so amongst the saints on high, those sons of Adam who are made to resemble angels? They are so many stars that shine with various degrees of splendour, as they are placed nearer to the Sun of Righteousness, and receive and reflect more of his beams. This could be supported by many more arguments, but let us instead consider only a few convincing questions.
Can we ever imagine that Moses the meek, the friend of God, who was, as it were, his confident on earth, his faithful prophet to institute a new religion, and establish a new church in the world; who, for God's sake, endured forty years of banishment, and had forty weary years in a wilderness; who saw God on earth face to face, and the glow was left on his face: Can we suppose that this man has taken his seat no nearer to God in paradise, than Samson and Jephthah, those rash champions, those rude and bloody ministers of providence?
Or can we think that the apostle Paul, the greatest of the apostles, who laboured more than they all, and was in more abundant sufferings than the rest; who spent a long life in daily services and deaths for the sake of Christ, is not fitted for, and advanced to a rank of blessedness superior to that of the crucified thief, who became a Christian but a few moments, at the end of a life of impiety and plunder?
Can we think that a holy man, who has known much of God in this world, and spent his age on earth in contemplation of the divine excellencies, who has acquired a great degree of nearness to God in devotion, and has served him, and suffered for him, even to old age and martyrdom, with a lively and faithful zeal: can we think that this man, who has been trained up all his life to commune with God, and is fitted to receive divine communications above his fellows, will dwell no nearer to God in the future, and share no larger a degree of blessedness, than the babe in Christ who has never progressed to solid food? Can it be, that the great Judge who comes, and his reward is with him, to render to every one according to his works, will make no distinction between Moses and Samson, between the apostle and the thief, between the aged martyr and the infant, in the world to come?
And yet, after all, it may wondered, whether the poorest saint among the sons of Adam, has not some sort of privilege above any rank of angels, by being related in our human nature to our Emmanuel, to Jesus the Son of God. But this leads us to the fourth degree of blessedness,
IV. Let us stand still again, and wonder yet more at the blessedness of the man Christ Jesus in his approach to God.
1. His very union to God is continual blessedness. He is constituted near to God by an unspeakable union. What joys, what unknown delights above our language, and above our thoughts, possess the holy soul of the man Jesus; for he is the nearest creature to the blessed God; for he is one with godhead; John 10. 30. The son of David, according to the flesh, is joined in a personal union to the eternal God, and so he is over all, God blessed for evermore; Rom. 9. 5
There was a time indeed, when the divine nature so far withheld its influences, as to let him feel sorrows and sharp agonies, when he came to make himself a sacrifice for our sins, and exposed his holy nature to pain and shame: he consented for a season to have God absent, but cried out terribly under the anguish of it, and will have no more trials of this kind. Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; Rom.6. 9. The man who was born of the virgin, will now have the eternal Son of God for ever manifesting himself in him, and to him, according to this divine union.
This is that glorious piece of human nature, that one man, whom God has chosen, from all the rest of mankind, to bring so near to himself. This is that flesh, and that soul which were chosen by God the Father's decree, from among all possible, and all future flesh and souls, to be made for ever one with God: and they are for ever one. This wondrous union has and must have everlasting pleasure in it, vastly beyond our nearest unions and approaches to God, even in our most exalted state in grace or glory. This is an approach to God indeed, and blessed is the man whom you have so chosen, O Lord, and thus caused to approach to you, that he may dwell, not only in your courts, but in your bosom, in yourself for ever and ever: Blessed is this man, and may he be for ever blessed!
2. His knowledge of God is much more intimate, more extensive, and more perfect, than any other creature can attain: for as he is exalted to the highest station and dignity that can belong to a creature, so we may be assured the all-wise God has furnished him with faculties of the noblest capacity, answerable to so exalted a station: and Christ has the highest advantage to fill all those capacities with inconceivable treasures of knowledge, by dwelling so near to God, and being so intimately united to Divine Wisdom. The sublime extent of his understanding is vastly superior to all that we know, or can know; for our union to God is but a distant copy, his is the bright, but unsurpassable original. Our nearness to God bears no proportion to that of the man Jesus; for his union to the godhead is of a superior kind. He has therefore a vaster comprehension of all truth, and a sweeter relish in the survey of it, than any created spirit, angelic or human; and thereby this part of his blessedness becomes far superior to theirs.
3. All the outgoings of his holy soul towards God, all his desires, his love, and delight, are more noble in their kind, and more intense in their degree, than those of any other creature. He who dwells so near to the godhead, sees vastly more beauty, excellency, and loveliness in the Deity, than men or angels can do at their distance; and therefore his love is raised to unknown joys and heights.
All his worship of the Father consists of nobler acts, and nearer approaches, than it is possible for any other creature to perform or partake of. Jesus, the man, worshipped here on earth, and he worships above in glory: He loves the godhead, as infinitely more amiable than himself; he trusts in it as more powerful; acknowledges God is above him in every glory, in every beauty infinitely superior to him; and this is divine worship; for a creature is still beneath God, and the acknowledgment of it is the worship due from him. Now Christ pays this acknowledgment with greater humility than the meanest worm of the race of Adam; for the nearer he is to God, the better he knows the true distance of a creature: and because he does it with greater humility, therefore with sweeter delight; for the lower a creature lies before God, the nearer does God approach it. The High and Holy One, who inhabits eternity, and dwells in the high and holy place, dwells also with the humble soul; Isaiah 57. 15. But this leads us to a further degree of the blessedness of the man Christ Jesus; and that is,
4. He has a fuller, a richer, and a more transporting sense of the love of God, since God makes nearer approaches to him, and makes known more of his infinite goodness, and communicates more of his love. We may venture to say, that God loves the human nature of Christ better than he does any other creature; and this human nature has a stronger, and more intimate consciousness of the divine love, and a sweeter sensation of it, than saints or angels can have, because of the personal union between the son of man, and the eternal God: which union, though we know not precisely what it is, yet we know to be sufficient to give him the name Emmanuel, God with us; which distinguishes it most gloriously from all our unions to God, and raises his dignity, his character, and his advantages, even as man, to so sublime a degree above that of all other creatures.
By his exaltation, and his dwelling so near to God, his powers are inconceivably enlarged, and made capable of taking in higher degrees of joy. Sights of God stretch the faculties of the soul, and enlarge it to receive more of God; Our Redeemer has this eternal sight. We see the glory of God chiefly in the face of Christ Jesus his Son, but he sees the glory of God in his own face and brightness; Christ himself is the brightness of his Father's glory; Heb. 1. 2, 3.
5. As Christ is the medium of our nearness to God, as he is the head of all those who approach to God, and the Mediator through whom all approach, so his blessedness is above ours; for in some sense, and by way of eminence, he enjoys and feels all that we enjoy and feel, and vastly more too; for he is the medium through which we approach and we enjoy, as well as a person who himself, and for himself, approaches and enjoys: As when a stream of living water is carried from the spring by channel, the channel is brightened as it flows; so, if we may illustrate things heavenly and divine, by things on earth, and to bring them down to our ideas by material comparisons, our Lord Jesus, who is authorized to bestow life and joy on the saints, and through whom all grace, glory, and blessedness, are conveyed to them, feels, and tastes, and relishes, eminently and in a superior way, all the joy and the blessedness that he conveys to our souls; and all better than we can do, for he is nearer the fountain; he takes a divine and unknown satisfaction in every blessing which he communicates to us.
When Christ, at the head of all the elect saints, will at the great day draw near to the Father, and say, Here am I, and the children you have given me; those blessed ones whom you have chosen, that they may approach you by me; I have often approached you for them, and behold I now approach with them to the courts of your upper house. What kind of joy and glory will this be! How unspeakably blessed is our Lord Jesus; what grounds for rejoicing with wonder now and forevermore!
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!