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2. There is a blessedness in reversion

Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Matthew 5:3

Having done with the occasion, I come now to the sermon itself. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. Christ does not begin his Sermon on the Mount as the Law was delivered on the mount, with commands and threatenings, the trumpet sounding, the fire flaming, the earth quaking, and the hearts of the Israelites too for fear; but our Saviour (whose lips ‘dropped as the honeycomb’) begins with promises and blessings. So sweet and ravishing was the doctrine of this heavenly Orpheus that, like music, it was able to charm the most savage natures, yea, to draw hearts of stone to him.

To begin then with this first word, ‘Blessed’. If there be any blessedness in knowledge, it must needs be in the knowledge of blessedness. For the illustration of this, I shall lay down two aphorisms or conclusions.

[1] That there is a blessedness in reversion!

[II] That the godly are in some sense already blessed.

[1] That there is a blessedness in reversion: The people of God meet with many knotty difficulties and sinking discouragements in the way of religion. Their march is not only tedious but dangerous, and their hearts are ready to despond. It will not be amiss therefore to set the crown of blessedness before them to animate their courage and to inflame their zeal. How many scriptures bring this olive-branch in their mouth, the tidings of blessedness to believers! ‘Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing’ (Matthew 24:46). ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father’ (Matthew 25:34). Blessedness is the perfection of a rational creature. It is the whetstone of a Christian’s industry, the height of his ambition, the flower of his joy. Blessedness is the desire of all men. Aquinas calls it the ‘ultimate end’. This is the ‘white’ every man aims to hit; to this centre all the lines are drawn.

Wherein does blessedness consist? Millions of men mistake both the nature of blessedness and the way thither. Some of the learned have set down two hundred and eighty eight several opinions about blessedness, and all have shot wide of the mark. I shall show wherein it does not consist, and then wherein it does consist.

(1) Wherein blessedness does not consist. It does not lie in the acquisition of worldly things. Happiness cannot by any art of chemistry be extracted here. Christ does not say, ‘Blessed are the rich’, or ‘Blessed are the noble’, yet too many idolise these things. Man, by the fall, has not only lost his crown, but his headpiece. How ready is he to terminate his happiness in externals! Which makes me call to mind that definition which some of the heathen philosophers give of blessedness, that it was to have a sufficiency of subsistence and to thrive well in the world. And are there not many who pass for Christians, that seem to be of this philosophical opinion? If they have but worldly accommodations, they are ready to sing a requiem to their souls and say with that brutish fool in the gospel, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease . . .’ (Luke 12:19). ‘What is more shameful’, says Seneca, ‘than to equate the rational soul’s good with that which is irrational.’ Alas, the tree of blessedness does not grow in an earthly paradise. Has not God ‘cursed the ground’ for sin? (Genesis 3:17). Yet many are digging for felicity here, as if they would fetch a blessing out of a curse. A man may as well think to extract oil out of a flint, or fire out of water, as blessedness out of these terrestrial things.

King Solomon arrived at more than any man. He was the most magnificent prince that ever held the sceptre. For his parentage: he sprang from the royal line, not only that line from which many kings came, but of which Christ himself came. Jesus Christ was of Solomon’s line and race, so that for heraldry and nobility none could show a fairer coat of arms. For the situation of his palace: it was in Jerusalem, the princess and paragon of the earth. Jerusalem, for its renown, was called ‘the city of God’. It was the most famous metropolis in the world. ‘Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord’ (Psalms 122:4). For wealth: his crown was hung full of jewels. He had treasures of gold and of pearl and ‘made silver to be as stones’ (1 Kings 10:27). For worldly joy: he had the flower and quintessence of all delights — sumptuous fare, stately edifices, vineyards, fishponds, all sorts of music to enchant and ravish the senses with joy. If there were any rarity, it was a present for king Solomon’s court. Thus did he bathe himself in the perfumed waters of pleasure.

For wisdom: he was the oracle of his time. When the queen of Sheba came to pose him with hard questions, he gave a solution to all her doubts (1 Kings 10:3). He had a key of knowledge to unlock nature’s dark cabinet, so that if wisdom had been lost, it might have been found here, and the whole world might have lighted their understanding at Solomon’s lamp. He was an earthly angel, so that a carnal eye surveying his glory would have been ready to imagine that Solomon had entered into that paradise out of which Adam was once driven, or that he had found another as good. Never did the world cast a more smiling aspect upon any man; yet when he comes to give in his impartial verdict, he tells us that the world has vanity written upon its frontispiece, and all those golden delights he enjoyed were but a painted felicity, a glorious misery. ‘And behold all was vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 2:8). Blessedness is too noble and delicate a plant to dwell in nature’s soil.

That blessedness does not lie in externals, I shall prove by these five demonstrations.

(i) Those things which are not commensurate to the desires of the soul can never make a man blessed; but transitory things are not commensurate to the desires of the soul; therefore they cannot render him blessed. Nothing on earth can satisfy.

‘He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver’ (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Riches are unsatisfying:

Because they are not real. The world is called a ‘fashion’ (1 Corinthians 7:31). The word in the Greek signifies a mathematical figure, sometimes a show or apparition. Riches are but tinned over. They are like alchemy, which glisters a little in our eyes, but at death all this alchemy will be worn off. Riches are but sugared lies, pleasant impostures, like a gilded cover which has not one leaf of true comfort bound up in it.

Because they are not suitable. The soul is a spiritual thing; riches are of an earthly extract, and how can these fill a spiritual substance? A man may as well fill his treasure chest with grace, as his heart with gold. If a man were crowned with all the delights of the world, nay, if God should build him an house among the stars, yet the restless eye of his unsatisfied mind would be looking still higher. He would be prying beyond the heavens for some hidden rarities which he thinks he has not yet attained to; so unquenchable is the thirst of the soul till it come to bathe in the river of life and to centre upon true blessedness.

(ii) That which cannot quiet the heart in a storm cannot entitle a man to blessedness; but earthly things accumulated cannot rock the troubled heart quiet; therefore they cannot make one blessed. If the spirit be wounded, can the creature pour wine and oil into these wounds? If God sets conscience to work, and it flies in a man’s face, can worldly comforts take off this angry fury? Is there any harp to drive away the ‘evil spirit’? Outward things can no more cure the agony of conscience than a silken stocking can cure a gouty leg. When Saul was sore distressed (1 Samuel 28:15), could all the jewels of his crown comfort him? If God be angry, whose ‘fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him’ (Nahum 1:6), can a wedge of gold be a screen to keep off this fire? ‘They shall cast their silver in the streets; their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord’ (Ezekiel 7:19). King Belshazzar was carousing and ranting it. ‘He drank wine in the golden vessels of the temple’ (Daniel 5:3), but when the fingers of a man’s hand appeared, ‘his countenance was changed’ (verse 6), his wine grew sour, his feast was spoiled with that dish which was served in upon the wall. The things of the world will no more keep out trouble of spirit, than a paper sconce will keep out a bullet.

(iii) That which is but for a season cannot make one blessed; but all things under the sun are but ‘for a season’, therefore they cannot enrich with blessedness. Sublunary delights are like those meats which we say are a while in season, and then presently grow stale and are out of request. ‘The world passeth away’ (1 John 2:17). Worldly delights are winged. They may be compared to a flock of birds in the garden, that stay a little while, but when you come near to them they take their flight and are gone. So ‘riches make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven’ (Proverbs 23:5). They are like a meteor that blazes, but spends and annihilates. They are like a castle made of snow, lying under the torrid beams of the sun. Augustine says of himself, that when any preferment smiled upon him, he was afraid to accept of it lest it should on a sudden give him the slip. Outward comforts are, as Plato says, like tennis balls which are bandied up and down from one to another. Had we the longest lease of worldly comforts, it would soon be run out. Riches and honour are constantly in flight; they pass away like a swift stream, or like a ship that is going full sail. While they are with us they are going away from us. They are like a posy of flowers which withers while you are smelling it; like ice, which melts away while it is in your hand. The world, says Bernard,’ cries out, ‘I will leave you’, and be gone. It takes its salute and farewell together.

(iv) Those things which do more vex than comfort cannot make a man blessed; but such are all things under the sun, therefore they cannot have blessedness affixed to them. As riches are compared to wind (Hosea 12:1) to show their vanity, so to thorns (Matthew 13:17) to show their vexation. Thorns are not more apt to tear our garments, than riches to tear our hearts. They are thorns in the gathering, they prick with care; and as they pierce the head with care of getting, so they wound the heart with fear of losing. God will have our sweetest wine run dregs, yea, and taste of a musty cask too, that we may not think this is the wine of paradise.

(v) Those things which (if we have nothing else) will make us cursed, cannot make us blessed; but the sole enjoyment of worldly things will make us cursed, therefore it is far from making us blessed. ‘Riches are kept for the hurt of the owner’ (Ecclesiastes 5:13). Riches to the wicked are fuel for pride: ‘Thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches’ (Ezekiel 28:5); and fuel for lust: ‘when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery’ (Jeremiah 5:7). Riches are a snare: ‘But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in perdition’ (1 Timothy 6:9). How many have pulled down their souls to build up an estate! A ship may be so laden with gold that it sinks; many a man’s gold has sunk him to hell. The rich sinner seals up money in his bag, and God seals up a curse with it. ‘Woe to him that ladeth himself with thick clay’ (Habakkuk 2:6). Augustine says that Judas for money sold his salvation, and the Pharisees bought their damnation; so that happiness is not to be fetched out of the earth. They who go to the creature for blessedness go to the wrong box.

If blessedness does not consist in externals, then let us not place our blessedness here. This is to seek the living among the dead. As the angel told Mary concerning Christ, ‘He is not here, he is risen’ (Matthew 28:6), so I may say of blessedness, It is not here, it is risen; it is in a higher region. How do men thirst after the world, as if the pearl of blessedness hung upon an earthly crown! O, says one, if I had but such an estate, then I should be happy! Had I but such a comfort, then I should sit down satisfied! Well, God gives him that comfort and lets him suck out the very juice and spirits of it, but, alas, it falls short of his expectation. It cannot fill the hiatus and longing of his soul which still cries ‘Give, give’ (Proverbs 30:15); just like a sick man. If, says he, I had but such a meat, I could eat it; and when he has it, his stomach is bad, and he can hardly endure to taste it. God has put not only an emptiness, but bitterness into the creature, and it is good for us that there is no perfection here, that we may raise our thoughts higher to more noble and generous delights. Could we distil and draw out the quintessence of the creature, we should say as once the emperor Severus said, who grew from a mean estate to be head of the greatest empire in the world: I have, says he, run through all conditions, yet could never find full contentment.

To such as are cut short in their allowance, whose cup does not overflow, but their tears be not too much troubled; remember that these outward comforts cannot make you blessed. You might live rich and die cursed. You might treasure up an estate, and God might treasure up wrath. Be not perplexed about those things the lack of which cannot make you miserable, nor the enjoyment make you blessed.

(2) Having shown wherein blessedness does not consist, I shall next show wherein it does consist. Blessedness stands in the fruition of the chief good.

(i)) It consists in fruition; there must not be only possession, but fruition. A man may possess an estate, yet not enjoy it. He may have the dominion of it, but not the comfort, as when he is in a lethargy or under the predominance of melancholy. But in true blessedness there must be a sensible enjoyment of that which the soul possesses.

(ii) Blessedness lies in the fruition of the chief good. It is not every good that makes a man blessed, but it must be the supreme good, and that is God. ‘Happy is that people whose God is the Lord’ (Psalm 144:15). God is the soul’s rest (Psalm 116:7). Now that only in which the soul acquiesces and rests can make it blessed. The globe or circle, as is observed in mathematics, is of all others the most perfect figure, because the last point of the figure ends in that first point where it began. So, when the soul meets in God, whence it sprang as its first original, then it is completely blessed. That which makes a man blessed must have fixed qualifications or ingredients in it, and these are found nowhere but in God the chief good.

In true blessedness there must be meliority; that which fills with blessedness must be such a good as is better than a man’s self. If you would ennoble a piece of silver, it must be by putting something to it which is better than silver, as by putting gold or pearl to it. So that which ennobles the soul and enriches it with blessedness, must be by adding something to it which is more excellent than the soul, and that is God. The world is below the soul; it is but the soul’s footstool; therefore it cannot crown it with happiness.

Another ingredient is delectability: that which brings blessedness must have a delicious taste in it, such as the soul is instantly ravished with. There must be in it spirits of delight and quintessence of joy, and where can the soul suck those pure comforts which amaze it with wonder and crown it with delight, but in God? ‘In God’, says Augustine, ‘the soul is delighted with such sweetness as even transports it.’ The love of God is a honeycomb which drops such infinite sweetness and satisfaction into the soul as is ‘unspeakable and full of glory.’ (1 Peter 1:8). A kiss from God’s mouth puts the soul into a divine ecstasy, so that now it cries out, ‘It is good to be here.’

The third ingredient in blessedness is plenty; that which makes a man blessed must not be too scanty. It is a full draught which quenches the soul’s thirst; and where shall we find plenty but in Deity? ‘Thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures’ (Psalm 36:8); not drops but rivers! The soul bathes itself and is laid, as it were, asteeping in the water of life. The river of paradise overflowed and empties its silver streams into the souls of the blessed.

In true blessedness there must be variety. Plenty without variety is apt to nauseate. In God there is ‘all fullness’. (Colossians 1:19). What can the soul want, but it may be had in the chief good? God is ‘the good in all good things’. He is a sun, a shield, a portion, a fountain, a rock of strength, an horn of salvation. In God there is a complication of all excellencies. There are every moment fresh beauties and delights springing from God.

To make up blessedness there must be perfection; the joy must be perfect, the glory perfect. ‘Spirits of just men made perfect’ (Hebrews 12:23). ‘Blessedness must run through the whole.’ If there be the least defect, it destroys the nature of blessedness, as the least symptom of a disease takes away the wellbeing and right temperature of the body.

True blessedness must have eternity stamped on it. Blessedness is a fixed thing; it admits of no change or alteration. God says of every child of his, ‘I have blessed him and he shall be blessed.’ As the sunshine of blessedness is ‘without clouds’, so it never sets. ‘I give unto them eternal life’ (John 10:28). ‘And so shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Eternity is the highest link of blessedness. Thus we have seen that this diamond of blessedness is only to be found in the Rock of Ages. ‘Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.’

If there is such a blessedness in reversion, be convinced of the truth of this; set it down as an article of your faith. We live in times wherein many are grown atheists. They have run through all opinions, and now of professors they are turned epicures; they have drunk in so much of the poison of error that they are quite intoxicated and fallen asleep, and begin to dream there is no such state of blessedness after this life; and this opinion is to them above the Bible. When men have the spiritual staggers, it sadly presages they will die. Oh, it is a dangerous thing to hesitate and waver about fundamentals; like Pythagoras, who doubted whether there was a God or no; so, whether there be a blessedness or no. Doubting of principles is the next way to the denying of principles. Let it be a maxim with every good Christian, there is a blessedness in reversion. ‘There remains a rest for the people of God’ (Hebrews 4:9).

Revolve this truth often in your mind. There are many truths swim in the brain, which do not sink into the heart, and those do us no good. Chew the cud. Let a Christian think seriously with himself, there is a blessedness feasible and I am capable of enjoying it, if I do not lay bars in the way and block up my own happiness. Though within I see nothing but guilt, and without nothing but curses, yet there is a blessedness to be had, and to be had for me too in the use of means.

The serious meditation of this will be a forcible argument to make the sinner break off his sins by repentance and sweat hard till he find the golden mine of blessedness. I say, it would be the break-neck of sin. How would a man offer violence to himself by mortification and to heaven by supplication, that at last he may arrive at a state of blessedness? What, is there a crown of blessedness to be set upon my head? A crown hung with the jewels of honour, delight, magnificence? a crown reached out by God himself? and shall I by sin hazard this? Can the pleasure of sin countervail the loss of blessedness? What more powerful motive to repentance than this? Sin will deceive me of the blessing! If a man knew certainly that a king would settle all his crown revenues on him after a term of years, would he offend that regal Majesty and cause him to reverse or alter his will? There is a blessedness promised to all that live godly. ‘This is the promise he has promised us, even eternal life’ (1 John 2:25). We are not excluded, but may come in for a child’s part. Now shall we, by living in sin, provoke God and forfeit this blessedness? O what madness is this! Well may the apostle call them ‘foolish and hurtful lusts’ (1 Timothy 6:9), because every lust does what in it lies to cut off the entail of mercy and block up the way to happiness. Every sin may be compared to the ‘flaming sword’, which keeps the heavenly paradise that the sinner cannot enter.

Let us so deport ourselves, that we may express to others that we do believe a blessedness to come, and that is by seeking an interest in God. For the beams of blessedness shine only from his face. It is our union with God, the chief good, that makes us blessed. Oh, let us never rest till we can say, ‘This God is our God for ever and ever’ (Psalm 48:14). Most men think because God has blessed them with an estate, therefore they are blessed. Alas, God often gives these things in anger. ‘God grants a thing when he is angry which he does not will to give when he is tranquil.’ He loads his enemies with gold and silver; as Plutarch reports of Tarpeia, a vestal nun, who bargained with the enemy to betray the Capitol of Rome to them, if she might have the golden bracelets on their left hands, which they promised; and being entered into the Capitol, they threw not only their golden bracelets, but their bucklers too upon her, through the weight whereof she was pressed to death. God often lets men have the golden bracelets, the weight whereof sinks them into hell. Oh, let us pant after things heavenly, let us get our eyes fixed, and our hearts united to God, the supreme good. This is to pursue blessedness as in the chase.

Let us proclaim to the world that we do believe a blessedness to come by living blessed lives; walk as becomes the heirs of blessedness. A blessed crown and a cursed life will never agree. Many tell us they are bound for heaven, but they steer their course a quite contrary way. The Devil is their pilot, and they sail hell-ward, as if a man should say he were going a voyage to the east, but sails quite westward. The drunkard will tell you he hopes for blessedness, but he sails another way; you must go weeping to heaven, not reeling. The unclean person talks of blessedness, but he is fallen into that ‘deep ditch’ (Proverbs 23:27), where he is like sooner to find hell than heaven. A beast may as well be made an angel as an unclean person in his leprosy enter into the paradise of God. The covetous person (of whom it may be said, ‘he is a worm and no man’, for he is ever creeping in the earth) yet would lay a claim to blessedness; but can earth ascend? Shall a lump of clay be made a bright star in the firmament of glory? Be assured they shall never be blessed who bless themselves in their sins. If, says God, the sinner ‘bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst; the Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and the Lord shall blot out his name under heaven’ (Deuteronomy 29:19). A man can no more extract blessedness out of sin than he can suck health out of poison. O let us lead blessed lives, and so ‘declare plainly that we seek a country’ (Hebrews 11:14).

To you that have any good hope through grace that you have a title to blessedness, let me say as the Levites did to the people, ‘Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever’ (Nehemiah 9:5). What infinite cause have you to be thankful that the lot of free grace is fallen upon you! Though you had forfeited all, yet God has provided a haven of happiness, and he is carrying you thither upon the sea of Christ’s blood, the gale of his Spirit blowing your sails. You are in a better condition through Christ, than when you had the robes of innocence upon you. God has raised you a step higher by your fall. How many has God passed by and looked upon you! Millions there are who shall lie under the bitter vials of God’s curses, whereas he will bring you into his banqueting-house and pour out the flagons of wine and feast you eternally with the delicacies of heaven. O adore free grace; triumph in this love of God. Spend and be spent for the Lord. Dedicate yourselves to him in a way of resignation, and lay out yourselves for him in a way of gratulation. Never think you can do enough for that God who will shortly set you ashore in the land of promise.

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