Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
On Looking up Steadfastly into Heaven
By Jonathan Mitchell (16241668)
[Born in Yorkshire, England. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1668. A Discourse of the Glory to which God hath called Believers by Jesus Christ. 1677.]
THERE is no certainty of any thing in this world. Riches have wings, the top of honor is a slippery place, life itself is but a vapor. All things here lie within the reach of many devourers and destroyers, moth and rust, and thieves, pirates at sea, and other sons of violence at land. And what is saved from other destroyers is but reserved for the fire, that must be the end of all the possessions upon earth. All earthly possessions must turn into a blaze and end in smoke. At the great day of judgment there shall be an universal burning (all the earth on a light fire) in particular, previous days of judgment here (which are tastes and hansells of that) the Lord often contends by fire. Why, if men will not see by the light of the word, one would think they should see by the flames of devouring fire (though indeed seldom do men see by the latter, or by any destroying judgments, that have obstinately refused the light and voice of the former. But in itself it is a wonderful help to see, and it will be so to them that regard the word) the vanity, uncertainty and perishing nature of all things here. But to be sure our enjoyment of all things in this world (at best) hangs but upon the twine-thread of our life, which there are so many sharp edged tools (sicknesses, diseases, sad accidents) continually ready to cut asunder, we are not sure to have it continued one hour longer. Had we not need be sure of something when all these things shall fail, as Luke xvi. 9? Paul knows what he hath to trust to when this world turns him out of doors (he hath then an house to hide his head in), II, Cor. v. 1. Oh, it is a comfortable thing, when temporal habitations fail, to be sure of eternal ones! Imagine you were now to die, this moment leaving the world, how glad would you be to be sure of Heaven and of a better life! Why, that must be ere long, and you cannot think to be sure of it then, in a dying hour, if you do not labor to make it sure now in a time of health and peace. When David looks over the world and sees the vanity fading uncertainty of all portions (of riches, glory, honor, fair dwellings, etc.) here, what a thing is it to him to be sure of a God to receive him into arms of love and mercy when he dies, and of an happy waking in the morning of the Resurrection to eternal glory.
When you see men stand in slippery places, and one tumbling down after another (the rich tumbling into poverty, the great into contempt), then look to your feet and to your standing; what foothold have you, what sure bottom and foundation have you to stand steady upon, as Psal. xxvi. 12? The wicked stand in slippery places, but the godly that walk with God in integrity, stand in an even place. The covenant is sure, the state of grace is a sure standing. Indeed in regard of themselves they would fall as soon as any, but they have a sure hand to hold them.
Should not we make this use of the times we live in, to quicken us to make sure of Heaven? May we not get this meat out of the eater, this good out of all the evils and troubles that are in the world? Is it now a time to walk at peradventures with God, to live at uncertainties, to hang between Heaven and earth, to be to seek of a resting place when trouble fills the whole earth? When the Lords anger is burning up and down the world, and his fury poured out like fire everywhere, and the rocks thrown down by him. Had we not need make sure of his love, and be able to say, the Lord is good and my stronghold, etc.? When hypocrites cannot stand (as they cannot before God appearing in his dreadful and devouring wrath) had we need not make sure of sincerity of grace? You may bear up your head for a time, and go up and down carelessly, but sooner or later, one way or other, there will come such a devouring fire, such an appearance of wrath, such dreadful judgments as no false heart, no slight chaffy professor shall be able to stand before. He had need have gold tried in the fire, grace that is of golden solidity and purity. Dross and chaff will not bide the fire that is kindled in the day of Gods judgments; when He takes his fan into his hand to sever, purge out and burn up the chaff (the hypocrites and sinners in Sion) that is mixed with the wheat, and found on the floor of the visible church. When Jerusalems sins are ripe for judgment and God hath waited his time upon obstinate sinners and despisers of the Gospel (as He did on the Jews in and after Christs time), then a threshing and winnowing, fanning, and to the chaff a burning time comes. Then indeed the Lord will lose never a grain of sound wheat (it had need be sound and solid wheat that can bear the tossings of the fan and the blasts of the wind, and not be heaved and driven quite away). But chaffy hypocrites and sinners will not be able to stand or abide such a time, Amos, ix. 9, (for I will fan the house of Israel as corn is fanned, tossed in a fan) 10. Oh, we had need be sure to be good and sound wheat at such a time, be settled, strengthened, stablished in grace, well built and founded; as Peter prays for them here in text, to a time of great afflictions, sufferings, and troubles, I. Pet v. 9, 10, in a time when judgment was begun at the house of God, I. Pet iv. 17, and of fiery trials, v. 12. Oh, at such a time it is a suitable and a precious thing to have a lively inheritance, as he begins the Epistle, I. Pet i. 16. When the earth looks uncomfortably, when the face of things in this lower world hath terror, trouble, and blackness in it (and was it ever blacker than at this day?), it is then seasonable to be looking up steadfastly into Heaven, and to get a clear sight of the glory there and of our interest in it. Oh, we might make a gain of all the troubles of the times, did we turn them this way, to lift up our eyes to Heaven, and to awaken our souls to make sure of a portion there!