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TRUE SAINTS, WHEN ABSENT FROM THE BODY, ARE PRESENT
WITH THE LORD,
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from
the body, and to be present with the Lord.
The apostle in this place is giving a reason why he went on with so much boldness and immoveable steadfastness, through such labours, sufferings, and dangers of his life, in the service of his Lord, for which his enemies, the false teachers among the Corinthians, sometimes reproached him as being beside himself, and driven on by a kind of madness. In the latter part of the preceding chapter, the apostle informs the Christian Corinthians, that the reason why he did thus, was, that he firmly believed the promises that Christ had made to his faithful servants of a glorious future eternal reward, and knew that these present afflictions were light, and but for a moment, in comparison of that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. The same discourse is continued in this chapter; wherein the apostle further insists on the reason he bad given of his constancy in suffering, and exposing himself to death in the work of the ministry, even the more happy state he expected after death. And this is the subject of my text; wherein may be observed,
1. The great future privilege, which the apostle hoped for; that of being present with Christ. The words in the
* Preached on the day of the funeral of the Rev. Mr. David Brainerd , Missionary to the Indians, from the Honourable Society in Scotland for the propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of a Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey; who died al Northampton in New England, October 9, 1747, in the 30th year of bis age, and was interred on the leih following.
original properly signify dwelling with Christ, as in the same country or city, or making a home with Christ.
2. When the apostle looked for this privilege, viz. when he should be absent from the body. He signifies the same thing in his epistle to the Philippians, chap. i. 22, 23. if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose, I wot not. For I am in a strait between two; having a desire to part, and to be with Christ.”
3. The value the apostle set on this privilege. It was such, that for the sake of it, he chose to be absent from the body. He was willing rather, or (as the word properly signifies) it was more pleasing to him, to part with the present life, and all its enjoyments, for the sake of being possessed of this great benefit.
4. The present benefit which the apostle had, by his faith and hope of this future privilege, viz. that hence he received courage, assurance, and constancy of mind : agreeable to the proper import of the word that is rendered, “ we are confident."
The apostle is now giving a reason of that fortitude and immoveable stability of mind with which he went through those extreme labours, hardships, and dangers, which he mentions in this discourse; so that, in the midst of all, he did not faint, was not discouraged, but had constant light, and inward support, strength, and comfort in the midst of all: agreeable to the 16th verse of the foregoing chapter. “ For which cause, we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” And ihe same is expressed more particularly in the 8th, 9th, and 10th verses of that chapter : “ We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken ; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” And in the next chap. ver. 4–10. “ In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as un. known, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed ; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.'
Among the many useful observations that might be raised from the text, I shall at this time only insist on that which lies most plainly before us in the words ; viz.--The souls of true saints, when they leave their bodies at death, go to be with Christ.-And they
Go to be with Christ, in the following respects :
I. They go to dwell in the same blessed abode with the glorified human nature of Christ.
The human nature of Christ is yet in being. He still continues, and will continue to all eternity, to be both God and man. His whole human nature remains : not only his human soul, but also his human body. His dead body rose from the dead; and the same that was raised from the dead, is exalted and glorified at God's right band; that which was dead is now alive, and lives for evermore.
And therefore there is a certain place, a particular part of the external creation, to which Christ is gone, and where he remains. And this place is that which we call the highest heaven, or the beaven of heavens : a place beyond all the visible heavens. Eph. iv. 9, 10. “ Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth ? He that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens.' This is the same which the apostle calls the third heaven, 2 Cor. xii. 2; reckoning the aërial heaven as the first, the starry heaven as the second, and the highest heaven as the third. This is the abode of the holy angels: they are called “the angels of heaven," Matt. xxiv. 36. “ The angels which are in heaven," Mark xiii. 32. “ The angels of God in heaven,” Matth. xxii. 30. and Mark xii. 25. They are said “always to behold the face of the Father which is in heaven," Matth. xviii, 10. And they are elsewhere often represented as before the throne of God, or surrounding his throne in heaven, and sent from thence, and descending from thence on messages to this world. and thither it is that the souls of departed saints are conducted, when they die. They are not reserved in some abode distinct from the highest beaven ; a place of rest, which they are kept in, till the day of judgment; such as some imagine, which they call the hades of the happy: but they go directly to heaven itself. This is the saints' home, being their Father's house: they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and this is the other and better country to which they are travelling, Heb. xi. 13–16. This is the city they belong to; Philip. iii. 20. “Our conversation, (or, as the word properly signifies, citizenship) is in heaven.”. Therefore this undoubtedly is the place the apostle has respect to in my text, when he says, 16 We are willing to forsake our former house, the body, and to dwell in the same house, city or country, wherein Christ
dwells ;” which is the proper import of the original. What can this house, or city, or country be, but that house, which is elsewhere spoken of as their proper home, and their Father's house, and the city and country to which they properly belong, and whither they are travelling all the while they continue in Ibis world, and the house, city, and country, where we know the human nature of Christ is ? This is the saints' rest; here tbeir hearts are while they live; and here their treasure is : “ The inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, that is designed for them, is reserved in heaven;” (1 Pet. i. 4.) and therefore they never can have their proper and full rest till they come here. So that undoubtedly their souls, when absent from their bodies, (when the scriptures represent them as in a state of perfect rest,) arrive hither. Those iwo saints, who left this world without dying, viz. Enoch and Elijah, went to heaven. Elijah was seen ascending up to heaven, as Christ.was. And to the same resting place, there is all reason to think, those saints go, who leave this world by death. Moses, when he died in the top of the Mount, ascended to the same glorious abode with Elias, who ascended without dying. They are companions in another world; as they appeared together at Christ's transfiguration. They were together at that time with Christ in the Mount, when there was a specimen or sample of his glorification in heaven. And doubtless they were also together afterwards with him, when he was actually and fully glorified in heaven. And thither undoubtedly it was, that the soul of Stephen ascended, when he expired. The circumstances of his death demonstrate it, Acts vii. 53, &c. “ He being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man, (i. e. Jesus in his human nature,) standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.-And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Before his death he had an extraordinary view of the glory that his Saviour had received in heaven, not only for himself, but also for all his faithful followers; that he might be encouraged, by the hopes of this glory, cheerfully to lay down his life for his sake. Accord. ingly he dies in the hope of this, saying, “ Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” By wbich doubtless he meant, “ receive my spirit to be with thee, in that glory, wherein I have now seen thee, in heaven, at the right hand of God.” And thither it was that the soul of the penitent thief on the cross ascended. Christ said to him, “ To-day shalt thou be with me in para conformity is begun while they are in the body.
Here beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image ; but when they come to see him as he is, in heaven, then they become like him in another manner. That perfect sight will abolish all remains of deformity, disagreement, and sinful unlikeness; as all darkness is abolished before the full blaze of the sun's meridian light. As it is impossible that the least degree of obscurity should remain before such light; so it is impossible the least degree of sin and spiritual deformity should remain with such a view of the spiritual beauty and glory of Christ, as the saints enjoy in heaven, when ihey see that Sun of righteousness without a cloud. They themselves shall not only shine forth as the sun, but shall be as little suns, without a spot. For then is come the time when Christ presents his saints to himself, in glorious beauty;“ not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;" and baving holiness without a blemish.
Then the saints' union with Christ is perfected. This also is begún in this world. The relative union is both begun and perfected at once, when the soul first being quickened by him Closes with Christ by faith. The real union, consisting in the vital union and that of hearts and affections, is begun in this world and perfected in the next. The union of the heart of a believer to Christ is begun when it is drawn to him by the first discovery of divine excellency, at conversion: and consequent on this drawing and closing of his heart with Christ, is established a mutual vital union with Christ; whereby the believer becomes a living branch of the true vine, living by a communication of the sap and vital juice of the stock and root; and a member of Christ's mystical body, living by a communi. cation of spiritual and vital influences from the head, and by a kind of participation of Christ's own life. But while the saints are in the body, there is much remaining distance between Christ and them. There are remainders of alienation, and the vital union is very imperfect; and.so consequently are the communications of spiritual life and vital influences. There is much between Christ and believers to keep them asunder, much indwelling sin, much temptation, an heavymoulded frail body, and a world of carnal objects, to keep off the soul from Christ, and hinder a perfect coalescence. But when the soul leaves the body, all these clogs and hindrances shall be removed, every separating wall shall be broken down, and every impediment taken out of the way, and all distance shall cease; the heart shall be wholly and perfectly drawn, and most firmly and for ever attached and bound to him, by a perfect view of his glory. And the vital union shall then be brought to perfection; the soul shall live perfectly in and upon Christ, being perfectly filled with his spirit, and animated by