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[Notes and summary of a sermon by Thomas Boston]

Tweedsmuir communion Sabbath evening, June 17, 1716.
2 Corinthians 4:18
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.

An introduction must move the hearer from their present position into a view of the text at hand. Boston does this by recognizing their present position, they have just completed communion, into “the wilderness of this world” (as Bunyan puts it):

You have now been eating your gospel passover, and should therefore be preparing for your journey through the wilderness.

The act of sitting at the Lord’s Table is an act of commitment. To eat with the Lord is to leave Egypt and go out into the wilderness. Yet, such a move will present difficulties. Boston notes the obvious difficulties involved and at the same time notes the remedy proposed by the text:

You have enlisted under the standard of Jesus Christ, and should march on to follow your leader. You will meet with difficulties in the way, that will make you in danger of fainting, standing still, and giving it over, as a journey which you are able to accomplish. To prevent this, you must take your aim right, and still keep your eye upon it; looking not to the things which are seen, but to the things which are not seen.

Thus having introduced the situation and the remedy proposed by the text, he introduces the structure

In the text there are three things to be considered.

First there is the matter of attention, which he presents both positively (what is to be seen) and negatively, what is to be avoided:

The mark which the Christian is to keep in view in his journey through the wilderness. The traveller will always be looking to something, and it is of great importance for the journey that he takes his view right.


Negatively, He is not to look at the things which are seen. He must not look to, but overlook and disregard, those things that fall under his senses. The things of this world, by which natural men are led. It is Christ’s call to his people, to leave the world with him, and for him, to lift their eyes and hearts from these things, and live like those of another world.

Thus, we must look to the goal and avoid those things which detract from the goal. The objects of this sight are not open to human vision, but only the eye of faith:

God, and grace, and glory, which cannot be seen with our eyes, yet to them we must look.

Second, he terms this decision “reasonable”. This is the point which draws objection, which Boston duly notes:

What, is the man mad, says the carnal worldling? What is he looking for? What does he see? Why truly he sees other smiles that move him, other frowns that he seriously regards. And good reason, for the smiles and frowns to which worldly men look, are but temporal for a season; the world’s favour and enmity also will soon be over. But the smiles and frowns to which the Christian looks are eternal; they will last for ever. Does he not then act most rationally?

This language, especially when coupled with the language of the introduction, puts on in my of Pilgrim’s Progress and the figure of Passion and Patience. Passion exhibited a madness in refusing to wait for the better and permanent treasure.

Notice the “reasonable” is not placed in distinction to “faith”. This is not faith vs. empiricism. The contrast to faith is bare sensory input. The modernist tendency is/was to put sense & reason as unalterably fastened. As modernism has worn thin, there is the recognition that sense may be flawed and even unreasonable (not that post-modernism has been amenable to Christian faith); but at least that prejudice of the Enlightenment in favor of unprejudiced observation has been called to task.

Boston measures “reasonable” by reference to the end: How is it not reasonable to wait a short time for an eternal treasure?

Third, the needed perseverance can only be had by faith

The fruit of this believing view. It makes him follow Christ through good and bad report, while others turn their backs upon him. Particularly it keeps him from the ill of afflictions. It is a cordial to keep him from fainting under all pressures from the world. There is a thorn hedge in his way, but he breaks through it, seeing the paradise that is on the other side, ver. 16.

I especially like that quick image of a thorn hedge. The desired end is on the other side. Having worked through his introductory observations, he sets out the doctrine, the thing to be learned:

Doctrine.—They that would get safely through this world to Immanuel’s land, must so look to things that are not seen, as to overlook, and put on a holy regardlessness of the things that are seen.

First, Boston presses the point that there is an unseen world, the world to come: Our Savior has already entered into that unseen world:

If we look to the upper part of the unseen world, there is a weight of glory that would infinitely counterbalance the best things here. It is called, “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

We really have no choice in the matter; we are necessarily pressing on to that unseen world: “The saints in glory are come to their journey’s end, the damned to theirs, we are only upon the way.”

It does seem odd, when one thinks distinctly upon the matter that the matter is not of more importance. When pressed upon the point, the answers are that somehow I will avoid the end, I will game the end or I will simply die and not even know it is the end. Boston understands this trouble for he writes,

The things that are seen in our journey are apt to entangle us, to lead us wrong, and make the end miserable. If we stand to look and gaze upon them, we are ready to be frightened, or flattered out of our way, to our ruin ….

It was the looking in the Garden without the eyes of faith, the eyes that trusted God which led to our woe:

And now that we are on our journey through this ensnaring world, it concerns us highly to take our view right; for if we follow the sight of the eyes in our head, it will lead us into the snare of everlasting ruin.

This brings us to the second development of the doctrine:

Second, To speak of the unseen things to which we are to look and keep in view

Boston explains, “You will see many things in your way at which you must not look, but at things unseen you ought to look.” He gives eight things to see and to avoid.

1. The land, “Look at the unseen world, the better, the heavenly country. You will see a fair faced world, a bulky vanity, upon which most men are strongly bent. But as you love your souls do not stand looking at it.”

2. God, “Look at the unseen God. You will see idols in abundance by the way, craving you to fall down and worship them. But you must look at the unseen God”. God “in whom our happiness lies”.

3. The way: there is a way of this world which leads to destruction. The way to the unseen land is personal, “Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is the unseen personal way to heaven”. Since the way there is personal, the way of proceeding all this way is likewise personal, “He that has no more religion than what eye can see, will be seen by all the world at length to have none at all. Faith, love, and all the duties of internal worship are unseen religion. Look to this, if ever you would see heaven; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

4. The “society of heaven”: There full and uninterrupted communion with God is enjoyed; and this shall constitute the eternal happiness of the glorious inhabitants.”

5. Treasure: Not even gold — which is but for paving streets. “But it is a treasure of glory. Even “a far more exceeding and an eternal weight of glory.” A matchless treasure for preciousness, for variety, solidity, and security, so that it can neither be exhausted nor lost. It will make you rich to the most extensive desires and everlasting satisfaction of your souls.”

6. Pleasure: “Look to the unseen, pure and lasting pleasures and honours of heaven. You will see insipid pleasures, empty honours, and short lived joys, which the men of the world are most actively pursuing, with all the earnestness of children running after butterflies. Yet these things when obtained are little worth, and far from being a recompense for their toil.”

7. There is a rest despite all the trial of this world: “Look at the unseen rest of heaven. You will see crosses, tribulations, and perhaps bloody persecutions by the way, and feel them also. By these the god of this world will set himself to terrify you and draw you out of your way. But you must look at the unseen rest, peace, refreshment, and ease of Immanuel’s land. ‘In the world, says Jesus, ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.'”

8. This life will necessarily be one of discontentment: it cannot provide any satisfaction: we eat, but we will be hungry. Yet, there is a perfect satisfaction: “Look at the fulness and complete happiness of heaven. You will see many wants and miseries in this world. The flesh will always be wanting something. What shall I eat? And what shall I drink? And wherewithal shall I be clothed? And many are so completely engaged in answering these questions, that they entirely forget the things not seen. But do you look at the fulness and complete happiness before you. They that can get forward will soon obtain a rich supply of all their wants. There is no want in Immanuel’s land.”

Use of the Doctrine:

1. “He is the wisest man that quits the world’s certainty for hope. … It is better to have God’s bond, than the world’s hand payment; for when the latter is spent and gone, the other will tell out for ever.” Passion & Patience from Pilgrim’s Progress.

2. “You will see your way through this ill world best, if you will shut your eyes…. The sight of our eyes is apt to betray us into a thousand snares. You have been taking an unseen guide, follow not then the sight of your eyes, for they will make the world’s molehills mountains before you. And remember they are best guided that follow Christ, as the blind man follows his guide.”

3. The temptations and trials of this world are all cheats and deceits: “They will get best through the world’s snares, that look least at them. A holy contempt of the world’s good and its ill, of its frowns and flatteries, is a noble preservative against them.”

Use Two: Don’t Forget this Doctrine:

1. “When your former lusts come back to you, like Potiphar’s wife to Joseph, offering you deadly poison in a golden cup. Look not to the things that are seen. It will be bitterness in the end, if you do.”

2. Don’t be slothful: there is no true rest here.

3. Be careful of your companions: “And remember, if you intend heaven you must forsake the company of those whose faces you see are not thitherward.”

4. When you are tried and persecuted, don’t look to the things which are seen.