How the Christian might know whether heaven be the prize he chiefly desires
Use Second. Try whether they be heavenly things or earthly thou chiefly pursuest. Certainly, friends, we need not be so ignorant of our souls’ state and affairs, did we oftener converse with our thoughts, and observe the haunts of our hearts. We soon can tell what dish pleaseth our palate best; and may you not tell whether heaven or earth be the most savoury meat to your souls? And if you should ask how you might know whether heaven be the prize you chiefly desire, I would put you only upon this double trial.
- Trial. Art thou uniform in thy pursuit? Dost thou contend for heaven, and that which leads to heaven also? Earthly things God is pleased to retail —all have some, none have all; but in heavenly treasure he will not break the whole piece, and cut it into remnants. If thou wilt have heaven, thou must have Christ; if Christ, thou must like his service as well as his sacrifice. No holiness, no happiness. If God would cut off so much as would serve men’s turns, he might have customers enough. Balaam himself likes one end of the piece, he would ‘die like a righteous man,’ though living like a wizard as he was. No, God will not deal with such pedling merchants; that man alone is for God, and God for him, who will come roundly up to God’s offer, and take all off his hands. One fitly compares holiness and happiness to those two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Happiness, like Rachel, seems the fairer—even a carnal heart may fall in love with that; but holiness, like Leah, is the elder and beautiful also, though in this life it appears with some disadvantage—her eyes being bleared with tears of repentance, and her face furrowed with the works of mortification; but this is the law of that heavenly country, that the younger sister must not be bestowed before the elder. We cannot enjoy fair Rachel—heaven and happiness, except first we embrace tender-eyed Leah—holiness, with all her severe duties of repentance and mortification. Now, sirs, how like you this method? Art thou content to marry Christ and his grace; and then—serving a hard apprenticeship in temptations both of prosperity and adversity—enduring the heat of the one and the cold of the other—to wait till at last the other be given into thy bosom?
Trial. If, indeed, heaven and heavenly things be the prize thou wrestlest for, thou wilt discover a heavenly deportment of heart, even in earthly things. Wherever you meet a Christian, he is going to heaven. Heaven is at the bottom of his lowest actions. Now observe thy heart in three particulars, in getting, in using, and in keeping earthly things, whether it be after a heavenly manner.
(1.) Particular. [Observe thy heart] in getting earthly things. If heaven be thy chief prize, then thou wilt be ruled by a heavenly law in the gathering of these. Take a carnal wretch, and what his heart is set on he will have, though it be by hook or crook. A lie fits Gehazi’s mouth well enough, so he may fill his pockets by it. Jezebel dares [to] mock God, and murder an innocent man, for an acre or two of ground. Absalom, ‘for the sake of governing,’ what will he not do? God’s fence is too low to keep a graceless heart in bounds, when the game is before him; but a soul that hath heaven in its eye is ruled by heaven’s law, and dares not step out of heaven’s road to take up a crown, as we see in David’s carriage towards Saul. Indeed, in so doing he should cross himself in his own grand design, which is the glory of God, and the happiness of his own soul in enjoying of him. Upon these very terms the servants of God have refused to be rich and great in the world, when either of these lay at stake. Moses threw his court-preferment at his heels, refusing ‘to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.’ Abraham scorned to be made rich by the king of Sodom, Gen. 14:23, that he might avoid the suspicion of covetousness and self-seeking; it shall not be said another day that he came to enrich himself with the spoil, more than to rescue his kinsmen. Nehemiah would not take the tax and tribute to maintain his state, when he knew they were a poor peeled people, ‘because of the fear of the Lord.’ Dost thou walk by this rule? wouldst thou gather no more estate or honour than thou mayest have with God’s leave, and will stand with thy hopes of heaven?
(2.) Particular. [Observe thy heart] in using earthly things. Dost thou discover a heavenly spirit in using these things?
(a) The saint improves his earthly things for an heavenly end. Where layest up thy treasure? dost thou bestow it on thy voluptuous paunch, thy hawks and thy hounds, or lockest thou it up in the bosom of Christ’s poor members? what use makest thou of thy honour and greatness, to strengthen the hands of the godly or the wicked? And so of all thy other temporal enjoyments—a gracious heart improves them for God. When a saint prays for these things, he hath an eye to some heavenly end. If David prays for life, it is not that he may live, but live and praise God, Ps. 119:175. When he was driven from his regal throne by the rebellious arms of Absalom, see what his desire was and hope, ‘The king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation,’ II Sam. 15:25. Mark, not ‘show me my crown, my palace,’ but ‘the ark, the house of God.’