[Here we continue our series that has the goal of increasing our love for God and the things of God, while decreasing our love for the world and the things of the world. This series will consist of three classic sermons by noted godly men of the past. In this issue, we begin the second of these sermons. In the first sermon, Thomas Chalmers taught that our love for the world cannot be expelled unless we replace it with love for a greater object: the love for God. Here in the second sermon, Samuel Davies tells us why we should prefer things eternal to things temporal.]—Ed.

 

Things Unseen to be Preferred to Things Seen

by Samuel Davies (1724 –1761)

"While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Cor. 4:18, AV).

Among all the causes of the stupid unconcernedness of sinners about religion, and the feeble endeavours of saints to improve in it, there is none more common or more effectual, than their not forming a due estimate of the things of time, in comparison of those of eternity. Our present affairs engross all our thoughts, and exhaust all our activity, though they are but transitory trifles; while the awful realities of the future world are hid from our eyes by the veil of flesh and the clouds of ignorance. Did these break in upon our minds in all their almighty evidence and tremendous importance, they would annihilate the most majestic vanities of the present state, obscure the glare of earthly glory, render all its pleasures insipid, and give us a noble sensibility under all its sorrows. A realizing view of these would shock the libertine in his thoughtless career, tear off the hypocrite’s mask, and inflame the devotion of the languishing saints. The concern of mankind would then be how they might make a safe exit out of this world, and not how they may live happy in it. Present pleasure and pain would be swallowed up in the prospect of everlasting happiness or misery hereafter. Eternity, awful eternity, would then be our serious contemplation. The pleasures of sin would strike us with horror, if they issue in eternal pain, and our present afflictions, however tedious and severe, would appear but light and momentary, if they work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

These were the views the apostle had of things, and these their effects upon him. He informs us in this chapter of his unwearied zeal to propagate the gospel amidst all the hardships and dangers that attend the painful discharge of his ministry. Though he bore about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, though he was always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, yet he fainted not; and this was the prospect that animated him, that his "light affliction, which was but for a moment, would work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (II Cor. 4:17). When we view his sufferings absolutely, without any reference to eternity, they were very heavy and of many years’ continuance; and when he represents them in this view, how moving is the relation! (See II Cor. 11:23–29). But when he views them in the light of eternity, and compared with their glorious issues, they sink into nothing; then scourging, stoning, imprisonment, and all the various deaths to which he was daily exposed, are but light, trifling afflictions, hardly worth naming; then a series of uninterrupted sufferings for many years are but afflictions that endure for a moment. And when he views a glorious futurity, human language cannot express the ideas he has of the happiness reserved for him; it is "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." A noble sentiment! And expressed in the sublimest manner the language of mortals can admit of.

It is glory, in opposition to affliction; a weight of glory, in opposition to light affliction; a massy, oppressive blessedness, which it requires all the powers of the soul, in their full exertion, to support; and in opposition to affliction for a moment, it is eternal glory; to finish all, it is a far more exceeding glory. What greater idea can be grasped by the human mind, or expressed in the feeble language of mortality! Nothing but feeling that weight of glory could enlarge his conception: and nothing but the dialect of heaven could better express it. No wonder that, with this view of things, "he should reckon that the sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed" (Rom. 8:18, AV).

The apostle observes, that he formed this estimate of things, while he looked not at the "things which are seen, but at those which are not seen." By the things that are seen, are meant the present life, and all the things of time: all the pleasures and pains, all the labours, pursuits, and amusements of the present state. By the things that are not seen, are intended all the invisible realities of the eternal world: all the beings, the enjoyments and sufferings that lie beyond the reach of human sight; as the great Father of spirits, the joys of paradise, and the punishment of hell. We look on these invisible things, and not on those that are seen. This seems like a contradiction; but is it easily solved by understanding this act, described by looking, to be the act not of the bodily eye, but of faith and enlightened reason. Faith is defined by this apostle to be "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1, AV). And it is the apostle’s chief design in that chapter, to give instances of the surprising efficacy of such a realizing belief of eternal, invisible things; see particularly Heb. 11:10, 13, 14, 16, 25, 26, 27. Hence to look not at visible, but at invisible things, signifies that the apostle made the latter the chief objects of his contemplations, that he was governed in the whole of his conduct by the impression of eternal things, and not by the present; that he formed his maxims and schemes from a comprehensive survey of futurities, and not from a partial view of things present; and, in short, that he had acted as an expectant of eternity, and not as an everlasting inhabitant of this wretched world. This he else where expresses in equivalent terms, "We walk by faith, and not by sight" (II Cor. 5:7).

Further, he assigns a reason why he had a greater regard to invisible things than visible in the regulating of his conduct: "…for the things which are seen, are temporal, but the things which are not seen," says he, "are eternal." An important reason indeed! Eternity annexed to a trifle would advance it into infinite importance, but when it is the attribute of the most perfect happiness, or of the most exquisite misery, then it transcends all comparison: then all temporal happiness and misery, however great and long-continued, shrink into nothing, are drowned and lost, like the small drop of a bucket in the boundless ocean.

My present design, and the contents of the text, prescribe to me the following method:

I. I shall give you a comparative view of visible and invisible things, that you may see the trifling nature of the one, and the importance of the other. This I choose to do under one head, because by placing these two classes of things in an immediate opposition, we may the more easily compare them, and see their infinite disparity. And,

II. I shall show you the great and happy influence a suitable impression of the superior importance of invisible to visible things would have upon us.

[We will continue (D.V.) with Mr. Davies’ study in the next issue.]

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