Shall We Know One Another in Heaven?
J.C. Ryle, 1870
I pity that man who never thinks about Heaven. I use that word in the broadest and most popular sense. I mean by "Heaven" the future dwelling-place of all true Christians, when the dead are raised, and the world has passed away. Cold and unfeeling must that heart be, which never gives a thought to that dwelling-place! Dull and earthly must that mind be, which never considers "Heaven!"
We may die any day. "In the midst of life, we are in death." We must all die sooner or later. The youngest, the fairest, the strongest, the cleverest — all must go down one day before the scythe of the King of Terrors. This world shall not go on for ever as it does now. Its affairs shall at last be wound up. The King of kings will come, and take his great power, and reign over all. The judgment shall be set, the books shall be opened, the dead shall be raised, and the living shall be changed.
And where do we all hope to go then? Why, if we know anything of true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — then we hope to go to "Heaven." Surely there is nothing unreasonable in asking men to consider the subject of Heaven.
Now, what will Heaven be like? The question, no doubt, is a deep one, but there is nothing presumptuous in looking at it. The man who is about to sail for Australia or New Zealand as a settler, is naturally anxious to know something about his future home, its climate, its employments, its inhabitants, its ways, and its customs. All these are subjects of deep interest to him.
In the same way, you are leaving the land of your nativity — and you are going to spend the rest of your life in a new world. It would be strange indeed if you did not desire information about your new abode.
Now surely, if we hope to dwell for ever in that "better country, even a heavenly one" — then we ought to seek all the knowledge we can get about it. Before we go to our eternal home — we should try to become acquainted with it.
There are many things about Heaven revealed in Scripture which I purposely pass over. That it is a prepared place for a prepared people; that all who are found there will be of one mind and of one experience:
chosen by the same Father,
washed in the same blood of atonement,
and renewed by the same Spirit;
that universal and perfect holiness, love, and knowledge will be the eternal law of the kingdom — all these are ancient things, and I do not mean to dwell on them. Suffice it to say that Heaven is the eternal presence of everything that can make a saint happy — and the eternal absence of everything that can cause sorrow. Sickness, and pain, and disease, and death, and poverty, and labor, and money, and care, and ignorance, and misunderstanding, and slander, and lying, and strife, and contention, and quarrels, and envies, and jealousies, and bad tempers, and infidelity, and skepticism, and wickedness, and superstition, and heresy, and schism, and wars, and fightings, and bloodshed, and murders, and law-suits — all, all these things shall have no place in Heaven. On earth, in this present time, they may live and flourish. In Heaven even their footprints shall not be known.
Hear what the inspired apostle John says:
"Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life!" Revelation 21:27
"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." Revelation 22:5
"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:16-17
"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3-4
Hear what that glorious dreamer, John Bunyan, says, though writing with an uninspired pen: "Now I saw in my dream that these two men went in at the gate. And behold! as they entered, they were transfigured, and they were arrayed with clothing which shone like gold. Some met them with harps and crowns, which were given to the Pilgrims. The harps were given for worship — and the crowns were given as a token of honor.
Then I heard in my dream that all the bells in the City rang again for joy, and that it was said to the Pilgrims, "Enter into the joy of your Lord!"
I also heard Christian and Hopeful themselves singing with a loud voice, saying, "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power — be unto Him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever!"
Now just as the gates were opened to let the men in, I looked in after them — and, behold, the City shone like the sun! The streets also were paved with gold, and on them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps to sing praises with! There were also some angelic beings with wings, and they sang back and forth without intermission, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord!" After that, they closed up the gates. When I had seen all of this — I wished that I myself was among them."
But I will not dwell on these things. I purposely pass by them all. I wish to confine myself in this paper to one single point of deep and momentous interest. That point is the mutual recognition of saints in the next world. I want to examine the question, "Shall we know one another in Heaven?"
Now, what says the Scripture on this subject? This is the only thing I care to know. I grant freely that there are not many texts in the Bible which touch the subject at all. I admit fully that pious and learned divines are not of one mind with me about the matter in hand. I have listened to many fanciful reasonings and arguments against the view that I maintain. But in theology I dare not call any man master and father. My only aim and desire is to find out what the Bible says, and to take my stand upon its teaching.
Let us hear what the apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians. "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?" (1 Thessalonians 2:19). These words must surely mean that the apostle expected to recognize his beloved Thessalonian converts in the day of Christ's second advent. He rejoiced in the thought that he would see them face to face at the last day; that would stand side by side with them before the throne, and would be able to say, "Here am I, and the seals which you gave to my ministry."
Let us hear what the same apostle says, in the same epistle, for the comfort of mourners. "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus, those who have fallen asleep in him." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
There would be no point in these words of consolation if they did not imply the mutual recognition of saints. The hope with which he cheers wearied Christians is the hope of meeting their beloved friends again. He does not merely say, "Sorrow not, for they are at rest — they are happy — they are free from pain and trouble — they are better off than they would be here below." No! he goes a step further. He says, "God shall bring them with Christ, when he brings them back to the world. You are not parted forever. You will meet again!"
I commend these three passages to the reader's attentive consideration. To my eye, they all seem to point to only one conclusion. They all imply the same great truth — that saints in Heaven shall know one another. They shall have the same body and the same character that they had on earth — a body perfected and transformed like Christ's in his transfiguration, but still the same body. They shall have a character perfected and purified from all sin, but still the same character. But in the moment that we who are saved shall meet our several friends in Heaven, we shall at once know them, and they will at once know us.
There is something to my mind unspeakably glorious in this prospect — few things so strike me, in looking forward to the good things yet to come. Heaven will be no strange place to us when we get there. We shall not be oppressed by the cold, shy, chilly feeling that we know nothing of our companions. We shall feel at home. We shall see all of whom we have read in Scripture, and know them all, and mark the peculiar graces of each one. We shall look upon . . .
Noah, and remember his witness for God in ungodly times;
Abraham, and remember his faith;
Isaac, and remember his meekness;
Moses, and remember his patience;
David, and remember all his troubles.
We shall sit down with Peter, and James, and John, and Paul — and remember all their toil when they laid the foundations of the Church. Blessed and glorious will that knowledge and communion be! If it is pleasant to know one or two saints, and meet them occasionally now — then what will it be to know them all, and to dwell with them forever!
There is something unspeakably comforting, moreover, as well as glorious in this prospect. It lights up the valley of the shadow of death. It strips the sick-bed and the grave of half their terrors. Our beloved friends who have fallen asleep in Christ are not lost — but only gone before. The children of the same God and partakers of the same grace — can never be separated very long. They are sure to come together again when this world has passed away. Our pleasant communion with our kind Christian friends is only broken off for a small moment, and is soon to be eternally resumed. These eyes of ours shall once more look upon their faces, and these ears of ours shall once more hear them speak. Blessed and happy indeed will that meeting be — better a thousand times than the parting!
We parted in sorrow — and we shall meet in joy. We parted in stormy weather — and we shall meet in a calm harbor. We parted amidst pains and aches, and groans, and infirmities — we shall meet with glorious bodies, able to serve our Lord forever without distraction. And, best of all, we shall meet . . .
never to be parted,
never to shed one more tear,
never to put on mourning,
never to say good-bye and farewell again!
Oh! it is a blessed thought, that saints will know one another in Heaven!
How much there will be to talk about! What wondrous wisdom will appear in everything that we had to go through in the days of our flesh! We shall remember all the way by which we were led, and say, "Wisdom and mercy have followed me all the days of my life.
In my sicknesses and pains,
in my losses and crosses,
in my poverty and tribulations,
in my bereavements and separations,
in every bitter cup I had to drink,
in every heavy burden I had to carry
— in all these, was perfect wisdom!"
We shall see it at last, if we never saw it before — and we shall all see it together, and all unite in praising Him who "led us by the right way to a city of habitation." Surely, next to the thought of seeing Christ in Heaven — there is no more blessed and happy thought than that of seeing one another!
Shall we get to Heaven at all? This, after all, is the grand question which the subject should force on our attention, and which we should resolve, like men, to look in the face. What shall it profit you and me to study theories about a future state — if we do not know whether we shall be saved or damned at the last day? Let us arouse our sleepy minds to a consideration of this momentous question.
Heaven, we must always remember, is not a place where all sorts and kinds of people will go as a matter of course. The inhabitants of Heaven are not such a discordant, heterogeneous rabble as some men seem to suppose. Heaven, it cannot be too often remembered, is a prepared place for a prepared people. The dwellers in Heaven will be all of one heart and one mind — all of one faith and one character. They will be ready for mutual recognition. But, are we ready for Heaven? Shall we ourselves get to Heaven?
Why should we not get to Heaven? Let us set that question also before us, and fairly look it in the face. There sits at the right hand of God One who is able to save to the uttermost — all who come unto God by him, and One who is as willing to save as he is able. The Lord Jesus Christ has died for sinners on the cross, and paid the mighty debt with his own blood. He is sitting at God's right hand, to be the Advocate and Friend of all who desire to be saved. He is waiting at this moment to be gracious.
Surely if we do not get to Heaven — the fault will be all our own. Let us arise and lay hold on the hand that is held out to us from Heaven. Let us never forget that promise, "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
The prison-doors are set wide open — let us go forth and be free.
The lifeboat is alongside — let us embark in it and be safe.
The bread of life is before us — let us eat and live.
The Savior stands before us — let us hear his voice, believe, and make sure our interest in Heaven.
Have we a good hope of going to Heaven, a hope that is Scriptural, reasonable, and will bear investigation? Then let us not be afraid to meditate often on the subject of "Heaven," and to rejoice in the prospect of good things to come.
I know that even a believer's heart will sometimes fail when he thinks of the last enemy and the unseen world. Jordan is a cold river to cross at the very best — and many tremble when they think of their own crossing. But let us take comfort in the remembrance of the other side. Think, Christian reader, of seeing your Savior, and beholding your King in his beauty! Faith will be at last swallowed up in sight — and hope in certainty. Think of the many loved ones gone before you — and of the happy meeting between you and them. You are not going to a foreign country — you are going home! You are not going to dwell among strangers, but among friends. You will find them all safe, all well, all ready to greet you, all prepared to join in one unbroken song of praise. Then let us take comfort, and persevere. With such prospects before us, we may well cry, "It is worth while to be a Christian!"
I conclude all with a passage from Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" which well deserves reading.
Pliable asked Christian, "Tell me further, Christian — what are these glorious things — and how are they to be enjoyed?"
"I can better understand them with my mind — than speak of them with my tongue!" said Christian. "But since you are desirous to know — I will describe them to you, from my Book."
"And do you think that the words of your Book are really true?" asked Pliable.
"Yes, absolutely — for it was written by Him who cannot lie!" answered Christian.
"What are these glorious things of which you speak?" questioned Pliable.
"There is an eternal kingdom, and everlasting life — to be given to us, where we will dwell forever!" replied Christian.
"And what else is there?" asked Pliable.
"We will be given crowns of glory, and garments which shine like the sun!"
"This is wonderful!" exclaimed Pliable. "And what else will there be?"
"There will be no more crying, nor sorrow — for He who reigns over that place, will wipe all tears from our eyes!" responded Christian.
"And what company shall we have there?" Pliable inquired.
Christian answered, "There we shall be with Seraphim and Cherubim, creatures which will dazzle your eyes to look upon! There, also, you shall meet with thousands, and tens of thousands — who have gone ahead of us to that Place. They are all loving and holy — each one fully accepted by God — and standing in His presence. In a word — there we shall dwell with all the redeemed people of God, having golden crowns and golden harps! We shall also see those who — for the love which they bore to the Savior — were cut in pieces, burned in the flames, eaten by beasts, or drowned in the seas. They are all perfect, and clothed with immortality!"
"Just hearing of this, is enough to ravish one's heart!" said Pliable. "How are these things to be enjoyed — and how can we obtain them?"
Christian responded, "The Lord, the Governor of that country, has recorded in His Book — that if we are truly willing to have it — He will bestow it upon us freely."
"Well, my good companion," said Pliable, "I am thrilled to hear of these things! Come — let us quicken our pace!"
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Feel free to read the whole of John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" as you listen along with the superb audio recording!