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SEEK THINGS above.
COLOSS. iii. 1, 2.—If ye then be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above; not on things on the earth.
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
THESE words contain an earnest exhortation to a divine life, and a spiritual and heavenly conversation. In which there are two things to be considered:
First, the duty we are exhorted to, which is heavenlymindedness. Seek the things which are above,' and 'set your affections on things above."
Secondly, the arguments by which the apostle urgeth and presseth this exhortation: If ye be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above;' and seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.'
To explain the nature of this duty, I shall consider the act, and the object.
I. 1. For the act, here are two words used to express it, “seek, and set your affections; and these two words comprehend, not only the power of our understandings, and wills, and affeetions, and an earnest attention and application of mind to these things; but the activity of our endeavours about them.
Here is implied an act of our understandings, that we should mind and think upon these things; that we should often consider them, and meditate upon them; that heaven should be much in our thoughts, and the glory and excellency of that state which we hope to attain to, and by what ways and means we may come to be made partakers of that blessed inheritance. It implies likewise an act of our affections; that we heartily love and desire the things that are above, with that ardency and vehemency of affection, which is proportionable to the worth and excellency of them; and activity and industry in the prosecution of these things, if by any means we may attain them. And this is implied in the words seek the things which are above.' When we know there are such treasures in heaven, so great a reward laid up for good men, joys so unspeakable
and full of glory;' and when our understandings have dwelt so long upon these things, as to work upon our affections, these, like so many springs of motion, will set our endeavours on work, for the obtaining of what we so much love and desire, and will make us inquisitive, with the young man in the gospel, what good thing we shall do, that we may inherit eternal life;' by what means we may best secure our title to heaven and happiness; and very industrious to acquire those qualities and dispositions, which will fit us for heaven, and the blessed sight and enjoyment of God; nay, by which we may begin this happy state here, by our conversation in heaven, whilst we are sojourning here below, as 'pilgrims and strangers in the earth.' It implies a clear preference of the things above, to the things of the earth. When heaven and earth come in competition, the happiness of the next life and the enjoyments of this, the interest of your souls and of your bodies, the things which are not seen and are eternal,' and 'the things which are seen and are but temporal;' a holy, and heavenly, and virtuous life, and a sensual and sinful course, choose the better part,' stick to that which is the true and lasting interest; prefer the care of your souls to that of your bodies; things eternal, to things temporal; and a holy and virtuous life, which leads to heaven, to those sinful and vicious practices, which will sink men into perdition.
I. 2. Let us consider the object of this act, what it is that we are to seek and set our affections upon; and that is, the things which are above.'
The glorious God and Father of all, and his blessed and eternal Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit of God; these are the great objects of our contemplation and adoration. And then the holy angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect,' who are examples to us, of doing the will of God here on earth, as it is done by them in heaven;-the blessed state and condition which we aspire after in the next life, with all the joys and glories of it, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man; the dispositions to be acquired, and the actions and duties to be performed by us, as necessary qualifications and means for the obtaining of this happiness, and bringing us to the possession of it;— all these are comprehended in the latitude of the object, the things which are above.'
And to seck, and mind, and set our affections' upon these is to do those things, which the consideration of each of these respectively calls for; so to meditate on God, and mind him, as to fear, and love, and serve him; to seek his glory as our last end, and the enjoyment of him as our chief good; to seek his favour above all things, and to sue to him, as the fountain of all grace, and the giver of every good and perfect gift,' and of all blessings temporal, spiritual, and eternal, by the powerful intercession of his Son, the great and only mediator between God and man, to be obtained for us, and to be wrought in us by the powerful virtue and operation of the Holy Spirit ;-so to mind the angels and blessed saints above, as to aspire after their society, by imitating their virtues, and being followers of those, who through faith and patience have inherited the promises :-so to meditate on our future blessedness, as to raise our hearts and affections above this world, and effectually to engage us to fit ourselves for that blessed state and condition, that we may be meet to be made partakers of that glorious inheritance:'-and lastly, so to mind all the duties and means necessary and conducing to our salvation, as effectually to perform them; to order our lives, and all the actions of them, with a regard to eternity; in a word, to omit and neglect nothing that may further and promote the great design of our eternal salvation, and to do nothing that may contradict or hinder it—this is to seek and set your affections upon the things that are above.' I now proceed to the
Second thing I propounded; which was, to consider the force of the arguments which are used to persuade us to this duty. Here are three arguments in the text to this purpose: two of them are express, and the third of them implied.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above. That is, If ye believe his resurrection, if ye will be conformed to him in it, if ye be made partakers of the power and virtue of it.
II. 1. If ye believe the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ was the great seal of his ministry, and confirmation of his doctrine; and one great branch of his doctrine was heavenly mindedness, that we should lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven,' because where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also;' that we should first seek the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof.'
II.1. 2. If we will bear a conformity and resemblance to him in his resurrection. He is our great pattern and example, which the gospel propounds to us; and that we may have the nearer conformity to him, the apostle doth not only propose the virtues of his life to our imitation, but where we cannot literally imitate, the apostle urgeth spiritual conformity; that those things which he did and suffered in his body, we should do and suffer spiritually; as Christ died for sin,' so we should 'die to sin;' as he literally rose again from the dead,' so, in conformity to him, we should be spiritually raised to newness of life.' As he ascended into heaven,' so we should ascend thither also in our hearts and affections. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.' [Col. ii. 12.] Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.' [Rom. vi. 4, 5.] To be raised from the dead, is in order to a new life. So the apostle tells us, ver. 9, 10, 11. • Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin; but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.' As the resurrection of Christ was in order to a better and happier life, to his ascension into heaven, and his living with God; so in conformity to Christ, our spiritual resurrection should be in order to a heavenly and divine life. And what is the meaning of all this? but that men are apt to imitate those whom they love, and do affect to resemble them as much as they can. And therefore to endear our duty to us, the mortification of our lusts, and a holy life, the apostle tells us, that hereby we bear a conformity to Christ, the great object of our love and imitation.
II.1. 3. If ye be made partakers of the power and virtue of his resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is not only a pattern, but hath a power and efficacy in it, to raise us to a spiritual and heavenly life. When Christ rose, he did not rise alone, but many of the bodies of the saints who were dead, rose with
him, to signify to us the power of his resurrection. It communicated a virtue to those, who had an interest in the merits of his death and sufferings, whereby they are enabled to live a new and a heavenly life. I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.' [John xi. 25.]—' And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward, who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.' [Eph. i. 19.] That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I may attain the resurrection from the dead.' [Phil. iii. 10, 11.] And you being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him.' [Col. ii. 13.] Now this power is derived to us by believing on him, who raised up Jesus from the dead, that he is also able to raise us, who are dead in trespasses and sins, to a divine and heavenly life.' The
II. 2. Second argument is contained in these words, seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.' Which words declare to us the exaltation of Christ's human nature and his being advanced to be the king and governor of his church, having all power and judgement committed to him. Christ's ascension, and his sitting at the right hand of God, is called, his entering into his glory.' 'Ought he not to have suffered these things, and then to enter into his glory?' [Luke xxiv. 26.] that is, to be invested with all power and authority for the good of the church. But most particularly the apostle describes this, And set him at his own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principalities, and powers, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but that which is to come; and hath put all things under his fect, and given him to be head over all things to the Church.' [Ephesians i. 20, 21, 22.1
And now the force of this argument is from the relation that is between the head and the members, between Christ and Christians. The members have an affection for the head, which makes them aspire heavenward; and the head hath an influence upon the members. If I be lifted up from the earth,' says our Lord, I will draw all men unto me.' This