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OUR CONVERSATION IN HEAVEN.
PHIL. III. 20.
For our conversation is in heaven.
These words are the conclusion of the account which St. Paul renders of himself, to justify that particular part of his conduct and proceeding,-his leaving so strangely, and descrting his Jewish rites and ceremonies to which he was known to have been formerly so much attached, and in defence of which he had been so warmly and so remarkably engaged. This, as it had been matter of provocation against him amongst his own countrymen the Jews, so was it no less an occasion of surprise to the Gentiles ;--that a person of his great character, interest, and reputation-one who was descended from a tribe of Israel, deeply skilled in the professions, and zealous in the « observances of the strait" est sect of that religion ;", who had their tenets instilled into him from his tender years, under the institution of the ablest masters ,- pharisee him self,—the son of a pharisee,mand brought up at the feet of Gamaliel ; one that was so deeply interest. ed, and an accessary in the persecution of another religion just then newly come up ;-a religion to which his whole sect, as well as himself, had been always the bitterest and most inveteratę enemies ; and were constantly upbraided as such, by the first
founder of it :-that a person so beset and hemm'd in with interests and prejudices on all sides, should, after all, turn proselyte to the very religion he had hated ;-a religion too, under the most universal contempt of any then in the world; the chiefs and leaders of it men of the lowest birth and education, without any advantages of parts or learning, or other endowments to recommend them :-that he should quit and abandon all his former privileges lo become merely a fellow-labourer with these ;--that he should give up the reputation he had acquired amongst his brethren by the study and labours of a whole life ;-that he should give up his friends, his relations, and family, from whom he estranged and banished himself for life :-this was an event so very extraordinary, so odd and unaccountable, that it might well confound the minds of men to answer for it. It was not to be accounted for
upon. the common rules and measures of proceeding in human life.
The apostle, therefore, since no one else could so well do it for him, comes, in this chapter, to give an explanation why he had thus forsaken so many worldly advantages, which was owing to a greater and more unconquerable affection to a better and more valuable interest ;-that, in the poor persecuted faith, which he had once reproached and destroyed,,he had now found such a fulness of divine grace, such unfathomable depths of God's infinite mercy and love towards mankind, that he could think nothing too much to part with, in order to his embracing christianity :-Day, he accounted all things but loss, that is, less than nothing, for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The apostle, after this apology for himself, proceeds, in the second verse before the text, to give a very different representation of the worldly views and sensual principles of other pretending teachers, -who had set themselves up as an example for men to walk by, against whom he renews this cau.
-For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies to the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly thingsogwv8v7es, relish them, making them the only object of their wishes, taking aim at nothing better, and nothing higher ; but our conversation, says he in the text, is in heaven. We christians, who have embraced a persecuted faith, are governed by other considerations have greater and nobler views : here we consider ourselves only as pilgrims and strangers. Our home is in another country, where we are continually tending ; there our hearts and affections are placed; and when the few days of our pilgrimage shall be over, there shall we return, where a quiet habitation and perpetual rest is designed and prepared for us forever !-Our conversation is in heaven; from whence, says he, we also look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working' whereby he is able to subdue ail things unto him. It is observable, that St. Peter represents the state of christians under the ame image of strangers on earth, whose city and proper home is heaven. He makes use of that relation of citizens of heaven, as a strong argument for a pure and holy life,-beseeching them as pilgrims and strangers here ; as men whose interests and connections are of so short a date, and so trifling a nature.--to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul (that is, unfit it for its heavenly country) and give it a disrelish to the enjoyment of that pure and spiritualized happiness of which that religion must consist, wherein there shall in no-wise enter any thing that defileth ; neither whatsoever worketh abomination. -The apostle tells us, That without holiness, no man shall see God ;-by which, no doubt he means, that a virtuous life is the only medium of happiness and terms of salvation, which can only give us ad. mission into heaven.-But some of our divines carry the assertion further, That without holiness, without some previous similitude wrought in the faculties of the mind, corresponding with the nature of the purest of beings, who is to be the object of our fruition hereafter ;-that it is not morally only, but physically impossible for it to be happy ; -and that an impure and polluted soul is not only unworthy of só pure a presence as the Spirit of God, but even incapable of enjoying it could it be admitted.
And here, not to feign a long hypothesis, as some have done, of a sinner's being admitted into heaven, with a particular description of his condition and behaviour there,—we need only consider, that the supreme good, like any other good, is of a relative nature, and, consequently, the enjoyment of it must require some qualification in the faculty, as well as the enjoyment of any other good does ;-there must be something antecedent in the disposition and temper, which will render that good a good to that
individual ;-otherwise, though it is true) it may be possessed,-yet it never can be enjoyed.
, Preach to a voluptuous epicure, who knows of no other happiness in this world but what arises from good eating and drinking ;--such a one, in the apostle's language, whose god is his belly ;-preach to him of the abstractions of the soul, tell of its flights and brisker motion in the pure regions of immensity ;-represent to him that saints and angels eat not,--but that the spirit of a man lives forever upon wisdom and holiness, and heavenly contemplations :--why, the only effect would be, that the fat glutton would stare a while upon the preacher, and in a few minutes fall fast asleep.-No; if you would catch his attention, and make him take in your discourse greedily,--you must preach to him out of the Alcoran,-talk of the raptures of sensual enjoyments, and of the pleasures of the perpetual feasting which Mahomet has described ;-there you touch upon a note which awakens and sinks into the inmost recesses of his soul ;-without which, discourse as wisely and abstractedly as you will of heaven, your representations of it, however glorious and exalted, will pass like the songs of melody over an ear incapable of discerning the distinction of sounds.
We see, even in the common intercourses of society,-how tedious it is to be in the company of a person whose humour is disagreeable to our own, *though, perhaps, in all other respects of the greatest worth and excellency !-How then can we imagine that an ill-disposed soul, whose conversation never reached to heaven, but whose appetites and desires, to the last hour, have grovell’d upon this unclean