By Aaron Hills
ETERNAL BLESSEDNESS OF THE RIGHTEOUS
It now is our pleasant task to say somewhat about the blessedness of heaven. It being altogether desirable, as the reward of well doing, men have not been tempted to write against it, nor have they shown any marked divergence of opinion respecting it. Heaven is the place of final rest and reward for the righteous, when, after the resurrection and the general judgment, they enter into the full blessedness of their final state.
I. What the Scripture reveals. The following passages may be taken as samples of the teaching of the Bible. "I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with beholding thy form" (Ps. 17: 15). "Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory" (Ps. 73: 24). "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14: 2, 3). "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4: 16, 17). "And I heard a great voice out of the throne, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His peoples, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God; and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, anymore; the first things are passed away" (Rev. 21: 3, 4). "Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). "The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. . . . And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the several gates were of one pearl; and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein; for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine upon it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb. . . . And there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie; but only they which are written in the Lamb's book of life. And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of Life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein; and His servants shall do Him service; and they shall see His face; and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light; and they shall reign forever and ever" (Rev. 21: 19-22: 5).
II. We learn from these passages that heaven is a place. This may conflict with the opinions of some who theorize Scripture away, and make heaven only a state of character. But heaven is a dwelling place as well as a state of mind and heart. Moral beings are to live in a somewhere, as well as in a somehow. It is unphilosophical to think otherwise. It would be difficult to conceive of spiritual beings clothed upon with their spiritual bodies, and not have some, rallying place. There is a capacity in them for localization, a capability for a material habitation. Even God, the infinite Spirit, localizes Himself, to assist us in our thought and worship. He teaches us to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven." Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." Such language cannot mean less than that there is some place which is peculiarly the residence of God and that thither Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. He surely did not give us such a picture of material glory, and a residence of more than earthly splendor, and awaken in the breasts of the homeless wanderers of earth, a longing for home, only to mock it at last.
Moreover the Savior taught that the company of the redeemed would be one vast assembly. He said: "They shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13: 29). The writer to the Hebrews says: "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the? Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb, 12: 22, 23). However much figurative language there may be in these representations, yet this idea of place is the pervasive atmosphere of every Scripture that speaks of heaven. It is essential to any helpful thought on the subject.
III. The location of heaven. Where this place may be is often the subject of much speculation. Some have conjectured that this earth will be ultimately fitted up as the abode of the glorified. We are indeed told that there shall be "a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness." This assertion is too restricted to assume so much, about which God has revealed so little. Three passages seem to negative the supposition entirely. "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory that I had with thee before the world was." "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world and I come to thee." "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am" (John 17: 5, 11, 24). The Apostle Paul said, that "Christ ascended up, far above all heavens" (Eph. 4: 10). Whither then, Christ ascended to be glorified with the Father, there shall His disciples be with Him, and there is heaven. Beyond these facts we know nothing of its location; but it seems not to be this world.
"A question closely connected with this is, whether the heaven of our race is to be the heaven of the universe. Only the inhabitants of this world, and the angelic hosts, are brought to view; but is there to be some grand gathering place of the universe, a grand center where all of the children of God, from all worlds, shall gather? Some Christian astronomer has suggested that the central star round which our system seems to revolve must be the heaven of the universe. It is a sublime conception; but the settlement of the question is utterly beyond our reach" (Fairchild).
IV. Heaven is a place of transcendent glory. How much of reality enters into the Bible description of heaven we cannot know. But there is a massing together of objects of material splendor, - such as foundations of precious stones, and jasper walls, and gates of pearl, and streets of gold. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it, and the throne of God is in the midst of it, symbol of government and authority. Out of this throne proceeds the river of water of life, on the banks of which grow the trees of immortality. It needs not the light of sun or moon; for the glory of God and of the Lamb shall bless it with eternal day. It all means, that God will use His infinite wisdom, and power, and creative skill to make a Capital for His universal empire worthy of Himself and His subjects. Making all allowance for figurative language, it cannot mean less than a place of unspeakable glory and grandeur; and that it is eminently fitted to afford delight to its holy inhabitants. The language of the description must necessarily be accommodated to human experience and power of comprehension; "but eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive" what the reality will be.
V. The "Nature of its blessedness. For the knowledge of this we depend partly on Scripture, and partly on reason, aided by the longings of our own troubled hearts. Among the sources of blessedness we may name.
1. The absence of all physical evils. It was not without a purpose that God told the toiling, suffering millions of earth that their spiritual and glorified bodies "shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more." "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." "There Jehovah shall be with us in majesty; and the inhabitant of that land shall not say, I am sick" (Isa. 33: 21-24). "And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Rev. 21: 4). No innocent babies will be tortured by disease; no broken hearts will writhe in anguish; there will be no hollow-eyed, gaunt-faced, famine pinched sons and daughters of toil; no decrepit man, bowing under the weight of toilsome years; no emaciated frame or pallid face, or exhausted nerves that have become the inlets of agony, and the channels of fiery pain. All shall be possessed of the immortal youth, and perennial vigor of the eternal health of heaven.
2. Heaven will be a mental gain. The thirst for knowledge, which it is impossible to gain here, will there be satisfied. The facts, which here defy the sharpest scrutiny, will there be easily discovered. The great soul-problems, that have vexed the thoughtful of all ages, will there find easy solution. The strange mysteries of providence that have tortured the soul, and been shrouded in clouds and darkness, will there be unravelled, to the perfect satisfaction of every heart. What we have seen of
God as through a glass darkly, we shall then see face to face. What we now know only in part we shall then comprehend in all its completeness. In the white light of eternity we shall have the perfect vision. "We shall know each other better, when the mists have rolled away"; and we shall know the angels, and know God and His Son Jesus Christ, "Whom to know is life eternal." What of knowledge by wearisome toil, we manage to acquire here, is often taken from us by forgetfulness; but there memory will cease to be treacherous, and what it acquires will be a gain for eternity. The faculties of the mind will all work with harmony and precision, and we can pursue our quest of knowledge with a scholar's zeal, without weariness or need of rest, through the ceaseless ages.
3. Heaven will bring a moral and spiritual gain. Though holiness is possible through grace, even here, and sanctification is the divinely appointed experience of every true child of God, yet there is need of constant watchfulness and constant exertion, lest we fall away from our grace, and even lose our first love. The very air we breathe is filled with the taint of vice. We are compelled to live and walk in the environment of wicked society. Solicitations to evil assail us on every hand, and sin seeks admission through every window of the soul.
The most subtle temptations assail us every hour, and Satan constantly spreads his snares for our advancing feet. The holiest of men while on earth are exposed to his fiery darts. He desires to have them that he may sift them as wheat, and brings to bear upon them all his dangerous devices. He even dared to assault the Son of God with his hellish machinations, and no disciple of His may hope to escape. But in heaven all this will be changed. Its pure air will carry no taint of corruption, no sound of evil, no echo of the footfall of hate. "There the wicked will cease from troubling." The enemy of all goodness, "The accuser of the brethren" can never mingle in its society or darken its streets. The redeemed shall walk there in a confirmed state of holiness, distressed by no fear of falling. Their robes shall be made "white in the blood of the Lamb," to remain unsullied forever. The holiness of heaven means the absence of all that could mar its beauty or disturb its joy. Hence no suspicion of any end to the duration of bliss shall cast its shadow upon them, for they have divine assurance that "they go no more out forever!"
4. Heaven will bring social gain. It must be a social state, because this is our nature as God made us. Our character and our history have been developed, through our relation with other moral beings. This is an important element in life; we must lose ourselves and our identity, before we can find satisfaction in solitude. "In thy presence is fullness of joy. At thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16: 11). There will be a perfect gratification of all holy desires. One of them will be the desire of social intercourse with all holy beings, and with those whom we have personally known and loved. Heaven will be replete with loving fellowships. Our imperfect judgments of each other here, - our lack of appreciation of real personal worth, sadly mars our social enjoyment. Our estimates of each other are warped by prejudice, and lessened by fear and distrust, and colored by the opinions of others. But there we shall look at others with a clarified vision. Above all we shall find that all are holy, and we can safely honor whom God honors, and trust whom God trusts. There love will be supreme. Through their common union with Christ, saints and angels will form a happy brotherhood. We "shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of God. We shall associate with Enoch, and Job, and Moses, and David and Isaiah and Daniel, and the glorious Apostles and the great souls of all the ages. "Yet the saints will have a joy and a song which the angels can share only by the power of sympathy, the joy of salvation and the song of redeeming love."
5. Another joy of heaven will be its limitless progress, its endless development, and its fullness of joy. It must be a progressive state, because growth and progress are the law of our being. With endless life before us, and a wide field of action opened to us, no limit can be set to the acquisition of knowledge, or progress in character and blessedness.
Even the rest of heaven will not be a mere cessation from activity, but a holy and most zealous service, wholly exempt from weariness and the hardship common to earthly toil. It is our nature to be doing, achieving, and bringing things to pass. Those who have been earnest enough to get to heaven will want to express their gratitude by activity and responsibility in grateful service for their Lord. It is a natural condition of blessedness. Holy love will make all duty a holy delight. Even here the saints may at times rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8). But there the heavenly worship kindled by the open vision of God and the Lamb, shall be full of a holy rapture, such as earth can never know.
6. Another source of the blessedness of heaven will be its endlessness. Our fadeless joys will never be shadowed by a suspicion that they will ever end. The possibility that it could ever end would chill the felicity of every adoring angel and saint. But they feel "the power of an endless life," and the career on which they have entered will never be finished. Ages will run on like hours among mortals; but thousands of ages will make no approach to a termination. It will be as true of them as of God Himself, that their "years shall have no end."
Such a blessed hope is encouraged by the following Scripture expressions: "eternal life," "everlasting habitations"; "a house eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5: 1). "A continuing city" (Heb. 13: 14); "eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9); "eternal glory" (1 Pet, 5: 10); "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1: 11).
Our capacities for holy enjoyment will expand with rapturous exercise. We shall learn to worship by worshipping, and to praise by praising, and to admire by beholding. In such a life with powers ever growing, and a future ever lighted with hope, the satisfaction of heaven will be perfect and its blessedness complete. The very excess of such glory and bliss is blinding to earthly vision. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived what it shall be."
"We know not, O we know not,