"A little while the fetters hold no more;
The spirit long enthralled is free to soar,
And takes its joyful flight,
On radiant wings of light,
Up to the throne, to labor or adore!"
"They rest not day and night."—Rev. 4:8.
What a seeming paradox is this! We last contemplated
Heaven under the beautiful and significant figure of a state of rest—here
it is spoken of as a state of unrest! "They rest"—"they rest
not." It is what the old writers quaintly designate, "The rest without a
rest." The combination of these two similitudes involves no
inconsistency; they bring together two different but not antagonistic
elements of earthly happiness, which will have their highest
exemplification in the bliss of a perfect world. The emblem suggests TWO
VIEWS OF A FUTURE HEAVEN—
First, It is a state of ceaseless activity in the
service of God.
Constituted as we now are, a condition of listlessness and inactivity is
most inimical to true happiness. Indeed, if we can judge from the references
in Scripture to the constitution of higher and nobler natures, we are led to
infer that activity is a great moral law among the loftiest orders of
intelligent beings. Angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, the
"burning ones and the shining ones," are "ministering spirits,"
engaged in untiring errands of love to redeemed man, and probably also to
other provinces in God's vast empire. More, with reverence be it said, the
Great God Himself is ever putting forth the unceasing activities of
His omnipotence. "He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps."
"My Father," said Christ, "works hitherto, and I work." It is
sublimely said of Him, "He faints not, neither is weary," (Ps. 121:4;
John 5:17; Isa. 40:28.)
The human spirit has the same lofty heritage. Activity is
linked with pure and unsullied enjoyment. The very curse of labor and the
sweat of the brow—the birthright of toil—is the birthright of mercy. A
philosopher of ancient times said, if he had truth in his grasp, he would
open his hand and let it fly away that he might enjoy the pursuit of it.
Transfer this to heaven. There the law and love of activity will
still be a governing principle among the spirits of the glorified; and in
this we shall be assimilated to the "living ones," whose very name
indicates the ardor of their holy being. "They rest not!" There will
be no more of the lassitude and languor of earth. Here our bodies are
clogs and hindrances to mental activity. There the glorified frame
will be a help and auxiliary to the ecstatic soul. Here the remains
of indwelling corruption is like the chained corpse which criminals of old
were compelled to drag behind them. It elicits the mournful cry, "O
wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?"
(Rom. 7:24.) That soliloquy will be heard no more in the "better country."
There, every chain will be unloosed, and the uncaged spirit soar upwards
unhampered by the impediments of its earthly fetters.
Glorious description! "They serve Him day and night,"
(Rev. 7:15.) No more pauses from weariness or faintness; no more fitful
frames and feelings. It has been said of God's people in the present world,
"Though they do not weary of their Master's work, they often weary
in the work." Their experience is impressively given in the Song of
Solomon, when the Church, or believer in his earthly state, is represented
as saying, "I sleep, but my heart wakes" (Cant. 5:2)—worldly cares
and business and engrossments chaining down the soul, and inducing a
state of drowsy insensibility. But there, they shall not require to
"lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees,"
(Heb.12:12;) no more waking up refreshed from the repose of exhausted
nature—no more complaining that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is
weak," (Matt. 26:41.) If any of us have felt the pleasurableness of
doing good, even in a present imperfect, chequered world, what will—what
must this feeling be, in a state of holy activity, with no sin or
weakness to repress our ardor or dampen our energies?
And let us note the chief ingredient, the grand element,
in this state of ceaseless employment. It will be THE SERVICE OF GOD.
"They rest not day nor night," uttering the threefold ascription to a
Triune-Jehovah—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—"Holy, holy, holy, is the
Lord God of hosts," (Isa. 6:3.) If activity be an essential element in
true happiness, surely that happiness will be enhanced by the
attractiveness of the service in which it is our privilege to be engaged. An
earthly servant, possessed of an honorable nature, would feel himself
obligated to perform work faithfully and conscientiously even to a bad
master; but how would his joy in the performance of his duty be increased by
the consciousness that he was serving some lofty and beneficent spirit who
was an ornament to his station and revered by all? If we carry this law to
the pinnacle of all greatness and moral excellence, surely here will be the
crown and consummation of creature-happiness—cheerful duty in the service of
Him whose favor is life!
What is the truest source of joy to an earthly child? Is
it not by active duty, as well as by passive obedience, fulfilling his
parent's wishes? Will he not even suffer much for the parent he
loves? The earthly relationship is in this, as in many other
respects, a beautiful type of the heavenly. What pure and unsullied
delight will it afford the sainted spirit to be engaged constantly in doing
the will of Him who is better and kinder than the best of earthly parents!
Look at Him who, being "very man" as well as "very God," understood all the
tenderest sensibilities of the human heart! What was the great (shall we
say, the only) joy which brightened the pilgrimage of the Man of
Sorrows? What was the one source of purest, ineffable delight to Him, as he
toiled on His blood-stained path? Was it not the elevating consciousness of
doing His heavenly Father's will?—"My food is to do the will of Him that
sent me, and to finish His work!" (John 4:34.)
We are always most willing to serve those we love most.
With what bounding joy, then, shall we embark in heaven on errands of active
service, when we shall there have unfolded to us (what we here know so
little of) the unspeakable love of Him who for us spared not His own, His
only Son! Oh, what a motive will there be here for all the energies
of the glorified body, and all the faculties of the glorified spirit—to
love, and serve, and honor, and adore Him, around whom our deepest
affections are centered, and our heart of hearts entwined—getting ever
nearer Him and more like Him—gazing more intently on His
matchless perfections—diving more into the ocean-depths and mysteries of His
love, and becoming the channels of conveyance of that love to others! Then,
indeed, will duty be turned into enjoyment, and supreme and
unswerving devotedness to His service be its own best reward.
It will be a consecration, too, not only of unfettered,
unclogged, unwearied powers; there will be the still further element of a
PURE AND SINGLE-EYED DEVOTEDNESS, which earth never knew. Here, alas! in the
holiest activities of the present state of being, there are ever, even when
we ourselves may be insensible to them, the existence of mingled motives.
Wretched SELF, in its thousand insidious forms, so imperceptibly creeps in,
marring and mutilating our best endeavors to please God. Our best offerings
are full of blemishes—our best thoughts are polluted with low, groveling
cares. But there, SELF will forever be dethroned. This usurping Dagon
will then be broken forever in pieces before the presence of the true Ark,
in that temple wherein "there is nothing that defiles." God's glory will
then be the one grand, absorbing, and terminating object of all desires and
all aspirations—then, for the first time in reality, shall we come to
realize and exemplify that great truth, which many from their infancy have
had on their lips—"Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him
Thus will active and ceaseless occupation in the service
of God form one of the sweetest employments and sources of happiness in the
upper sanctuary. "They rest," in a blessed absence from all sin, all
suffering, all trial. "They rest not," in the lofty engagements of
holiness. Believers are called in this world by the name of "servants,"
"workmen," "husband-men." They will still retain these same designations of
active duty. "His servants," we read, "shall serve Him," (Rev.
22:3.) God, in every portion of His wide universe, seems to work by creature
agency. He does not require to do so. A simple volition of His sovereign
will would suffice to fulfill His counsels as effectually as if never an
angel sped on his embassy of love! But as on earth He accomplishes His
purposes in His Church by human agency, and as in Heaven He employs
angelic agency—those who "excel in strength" "doing His
commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word"—so it would seem,
as if in merciful consideration for the happiness of His glorified saints,
He is to make this a permanent law through eternity; so that Heaven will be
only a development of the present condition of Grace—with this single, but
important difference, that there will be no sin.
Indeed, it is this very idea of Heaven as a state of
action, that brings out the beauty of the former representation as a
state of rest. Rest, to be enjoyed, supposes previous activity or
labor; and although it can have no such relation in a place where weariness
and fatigue are unknown, we can readily carry out the beautiful idea of
Pollok, in his "Course of Time," of the ransomed spirit retiring from the
loud hallelujahs around the throne, to hold its silent meditations apart by
"the living fountains of waters"—this, however, only for a time—once
more to return with unflagging and unabated energy to resume the song, and
speed on new errands of love.
Reader, is this your anticipation of Heaven?—Heaven, not
as it is pictured in the dreams of the sentimental or contemplative
Christian—not a drowsy Mohammedan paradise—a state of torpor and inaction;
but as it is known to angels, who are now, though unseen to us, traveling
down to our world in ceaseless agencies of love and comfort? Do we realize
this, and in realizing the grand truth, are we training for these lofty
duties?—ready to take the angels' place, or to join the angels' company, on
similar ministries to some other distant provinces of creation? What the
poet has said of the present life is as true of its glorious counterpart
hereafter— "Life is real, life is earnest."
Rest not until you have attained a well-grounded
assurance that this future state of active blessedness is to be yours—that
you are looking for it, preparing for it, ready for it. Test your fitness
for the Heaven that is before you by the question, Do I delight now
in energetic employment in the service of my God? Is prayer a season of
refreshing? Does praise call into willing and gladsome exercise all the
renewed affections of a heaven-born nature? Is the Sabbath a joyful
pausing-place in life's chequered journey—not a mere interlude of repose for
the tired and jaded body after the incessant toils and cares of the week,
but the day which summons into exercise the loftier activities of my nobler
being? Do I spend it under the feeling of Eternity being an everlasting
Sabbath, and that everlasting Sabbath occupied in some personal ministry
of holiness and love?
In this present life there should, at least, be
assimilations to the life hereafter. Though not in degree, it
should be the same in kind. If activity in a little child gives
indication of the energy and resolution of the man, so activity in
the service of God, in a state of grace, will be the pledge and earnest of
nobler activities in a state of glory.
"O blessed rest! when we 'rest not day and night, saying,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!'—when we shall rest from sin, but not
from worship—from suffering and sorrow, but not from joy! O blessed day!
when I shall rest with God—when I shall rest in knowing, loving, rejoicing,
and praising!—when my perfect soul and body shall together perfectly enjoy
the most perfect God—when God, who is love itself, shall perfectly love me,
and rest in His love to me, and I shall rest in my love to Him—when He shall
rejoice over me with joy, and joy over me with singing, and I shall
rejoice in Him." (Baxter.)