"In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." John chapter 14 verse 2
THE quest of heaven has been largely repressed in the minds of people to day. Most of us would like to know something about it, but it is now a subject reserved for invalids and the aged. What can strong young men and women want to know about heaven? The attitude is intelligible in this age, which has neglected its Scriptures. Hymn writers have indulged in a certain amount of mawkish sentiment, which has undoubtedly contributed to the feeble conceptions of heaven entertained by many people. Most of us, too, heard descriptions of heaven in our childhood, which we have never been able to forget. Those ideas have not been subjected to the rigorous review of later maturity.
We have not read the teaching of the Scriptures for ourselves, with the result that we still think the childish conceptions which have persisted all through the years are the latest and most authentic teaching of Scripture on heaven. In consequence of these influences most people think of heaven as a place utterly different from our present conditions. There will be differences, of course, great differences, and most desirable ones, but there will be many points of similarity. No one will regret that heaven is a place without sorrow, tears, pain or distress; it has no fears or anxieties. The significance of such differences we cannot comprehend; because it is beyond our powers to conceive of life without these terrible burdens. At the same time heaven is something more than music. Constant singing and playing even for the most musical would be rather monotonous. Such a life would be feeble and futile after the strenuous and energetic demands of this present existence. The life that is to come must be congruous with the life that now is otherwise this life ceases to be a preparation for it.
So when I think of heaven for a child of God I think of heaven purged of every evil and desolating element and provided with every uplifting and ennobling circumstance. This life is essentially an apprenticeship, and, as such, is in fundamental unity with the life for which we are being prepared.
Some people look at heaven as they look at prospective retirement from business. They hesitate to retire because they do not know how they will spend their time. Such a condition arises in normal life from the neglect to cultivate properly the leisure hours. People want to be entertained; they do not cultivate the art of entertaining themselves. Character is largely determined by the use we make of leisure, and if leisure be wisely used we shall find our activities naturally expand when the time for retirement arrives. And the more the thought and spirit of heaven enter our hearts here, the more shall we be fitted to embrace its enjoyments there. The child of God humbly walking with God here may be quite sure there will be no dullness there. If fellowship with God is a present enrichment and peace, of its effects in the world to come we need entertain no doubt.
It will be assumed from the previous chapter that heaven is not unconnected with our spiritual condition, but I have no doubt in my own mind that it is no less a place. Space is a relationship of which we are conscious now, and I see no need to hesitate about heaven as a locality. There is no reason to suppose that this earth will not have a part in the future glory. Freed from sin and suffering, it would be a place with which few of us would be disposed to find fault.
What shall we do in heaven? Let us be quite sure that heaven will be adequate to our redeemed natures. Present conditions are very inadequate, but even so, life is very sweet. One person is crippled, another diseased, another is held back by obligations to dependants, many are conscious of great and laudable ambitions surging within them that they must for ever quench. Yet in spite of the disappointment and the burden, we hold on to life as something greatly to be desired. What will life be with these surging longings unfettered in their expression? Life, too, we know to be bigger than any one of us. Such is the broad expanse of intellectual activity that no one individual can explore it all. The man who studies the heavens will know little of the painting of pictures. When one thinks of the vast realms of knowledge in art, literature, science, history and philosophy one realises how infinitesimal is the intellectual treasure of the greatest minds among us. If this little earth on which we live can provide such fields of enterprise that were we to possess a hundred lives time would be insufficient to grasp its treasures of knowledge, need we be troubled as to what we shall do in heaven? Will heaven provide less than this earth?
Even in the individual life one realises how boundless is the horizon. The boy at school sees the goal of life in getting into business. The courting couple imagines it will be heaven when they are married. The goal captures their imagination. But marriage brings new horizons in the care and education of children. And even the young married couple who think their troubles will be over when they get the baby off their hands discover that big babies of 16 and 20 can cause a lot of anxiety. After middle age men begin to weave the vision of a glorious retirement. The emphasis today is on making money quickly and retiring early, but retirement does not bring the promised boon. Ultimately death opens her arms to offer the rest and content we have sought so long and we hide ourselves in its bosom.
Heaven, I believe, will provide an analogous experience, with one important difference. Every goal we reach in life, in the midst of its fruit, conceals a disappointment. There is always some defect, some unexpected fly in the ointment, the realisation is not quite so brilliant as the picture we painted in anticipation. Heaven will be an experience of horizons reached, as we know them here, but they will conceal no disappointment, rather shall we say with the Queen of Sheba, " the half was not told me." "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him." Every attainment will have not its secret disappointment but unexpected delight. Destiny will expand into horizons even more glorious. Every new possession will introduce us to realms yet to be possessed. Heaven will be a place of attainment and anticipation such as we cannot conceive. In this world we frequently meet those who are settled on their horizon. They know everything; they can be told nothing. They sun themselves in their own esteem while all around them rightly judge them in their folly. But the man who has given himself to master a subject lives in the consciousness, not of what .he has mastered, but what there is to be known. He never reaches the end of his study. So will be the research and realisation of heaven.
Heaven, we may be sure, will be adequate for us, full of life and interest, but it will be activity without anxiety, labour without dread and fear. For the vast majority of men work is the pressing necessity without which they must starve. To hurry over a present task may mean the acceleration of their unemployment. They work with the suspicion that others are making more than their due out of their toil. Anxiety, fear and suspicion ruin the joy of labour in our modern world. But with these great ogres banished from the mind and hear, labour will assuredly be rest and activity, the synonym of peace. Life will not be a speculation and a dread, it will be enterprise without fear of failure and loss.
What will be the joy of heaven? The Scriptures present heaven as the harvest of redemption. None but the redeemed will be there, and their redemption will not be in themselves but in the Lord who has purchased them with His own blood. A nation is always eager to praise its admirals and generals who are victorious in battle. Panegyrics are delivered to extol the virtues of those who have guarded the nation from the enemy and saved it from the hand of the spoiler. There will be nothing incongruous, therefore, in the thought of heaven with its joy centred in Jesus Christ. Every one in His presence will be there by virtue of His Sacrifice on Calvary. "Unto Him that loved us and washed us in His blood " will be the theme of every lip and heart as He will be the cynosure of every eye. What the redeemed owe to Him will only be manifested in all its extent in the greater light of heaven itself and marvel as we may here at His grace, we shall be staggered there as light is thrown upon the titanic conquest of the Evil One at Calvary. Fellowship with Him will be the source of all our joy, there we shall see his face, and there we shall drink the new wine with Him in the Father's Kingdom. There we shall praise the Lamb upon His Throne, there we shall find the fullness of joy for evermore in Him Whose Blood has become our salvation.
Some questions of course are naturally provoked in our hearts. Shall we he happy even with Christ if some of our loved ones are not there? The Rev.H.R.L. Sheppard, in his book "The Impatience of a Parson," says, "How is it conceivable that any man could covet heaven for himself if it is likely that those he loves may be eternally refused admission? Am I singular in admitting that heaven would be hell for me unless they were with me? I would rather descend into the abyss to be by their side than enjoy the reward of a heaven offered to me by someone who was purposing to exclude my fellows from all possibility of ultimate happiness." The title of the book is well illustrated in the wild choice of words in this passage. Hell is to be considered later, but here let me express my surprise that a Christian man should solemnly affirm that he would rather be in hell with those who have rejected Christ than be in heaven with the Christ who has redeemed him. It is surely questionable what friends a Christian man can have amongst those who will not acknowledge His Lord and Saviour as theirs too. And heaven is not a reward of our good works, it is the infinite mercy of God granted to those who have accepted the salvation offered to man in Jesus Christ at Calvary. These things, one would suppose, were common convictions in the pulpit.
But in what sense will Christ be the centre of our joy? The idea seems to be prevalent that God and Christ will find the fullness of joy in being lauded by the redeemed while the latter will be satisfied to spend their time offering their praise. Such a conception reveals a defective understanding of the nature and quality of the present exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. His sceptre is not of tyranny but of service; He is exalted not in pride but in humility. If He is on the throne it is because He is the humblest of Beings, if He reigns He reigns in obedience and service. Our feeble minds cannot conceive of precedence except in pride, or of sovereignty except in dominion. But He reigns because He is eternally the King-Servant of all; He is first because He is also the last. Let us dismiss from our minds the crudity of sovereignty as we see it on the earth, let us think of it as we see it in the noble humility with our Lord was sustained .at the Cross and in His Resurrection.
Yet when I try to envisage the Lord as the centre of heaven I find that thrones and crowns are utterly inadequate to satisfy my soul. I think He will be the centre of heaven as mother is the centre of the home. The child home from school has first thought for the mother. When greetings are over there is the simple enjoyment of the tea table, and subsequent games and happy laughter in the family circle. The child does not sit gazing in its mother's face or holding her hand, but she pursues her delights with a simple heart. But were the mother not there the toys would cease to please; the little heart would be heavy. Somehow mother gives the zest to the home; she is the centre of its joy. And the mother? While the child revels in the delights that grip its imagination and seems to have no care for the one who has suffered for it and still serves it, her heart is full of joy as she presses on with the tasks of the home. All the mending, the cleaning and all those simple hidden ministries that are the source of so much joy and comfort for the family. So, I think, we shall revel in heaven, happy in each other, eager in all the pursuits that are opened up to us but all the while finding in Him, our Lord, the source of all our joy. Were He not there, heaven could not be. And all the while that you and I, by His grace, enjoy the privilege of the eternal home, His thought for us will be fused in service, eternal ministries conveying to us the endless blessings of Redemption.
And when this idea grips my soul I long to be there.
I trust that, of His mercy, I shall be. Will you?
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