By John Angell James, 1846


"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Cor. 4:18

"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Col. 3:2

My dear friends,
The subject of this address is heavenly-mindedness. It may seem, perhaps, that there is considerable sameness in these first three letters of the series which it is my intention to lay before you. That they are alike and related, I admit, but not that they are identical; and, indeed, they are selected on account of their relation to each other, and with the hope of mutually aiding to deepen, by the repetition and concentration of one train of thought, the impression which each by itself, and the three together, are intended to produce.

Heavenly-mindedness is an expression that explains itself, it is the minding of heaven; or the exercise of the thoughts and affections upon those invisible but eternal realities, which are declared by the Scriptures to await the Christian beyond the grave. Spirituality is one branch of holiness; and heavenly-mindedness is spirituality, exercised in reference to one specific object—the celestial state.

Alas! how little of this is there to be found even among professing Christians—
"How low their hopes of heaven above,
How few affections there."

The description given by the apostle of the predominant taste and pursuits of the men of the world—"They mind earthly things"—too well suits a large proportion of those who have 'professed' to come out from the world, and to be a people separated unto God. How engrossed are they, not only in the business, but in the cares, the love, and the enjoyment of earthly vanities. Who would imagine, to see their conduct, to hear their conversation, to observe their spirit—so undevout, and so worldly—that these were the men, who have heaven in their eye, their heart, their hope? Even to them, we would be inclined to think, that the Paradise of God is nothing more than a name, a sublime fiction, a sacred vision, which, with all its splendor, has scarcely power enough to engage their thoughts and fix their regards. How little effect has it to elevate them above a predominant earthly-mindedness, to comfort them in trouble, to minister to their happiness, or to mortify their corruptions. Can it be that they are seeking for, and going to glory, honor, and immortality—who think so little about it, and derive so small a portion of their enjoyment from the expectation of it?

What is heaven? The Bible, and the Bible only, can answer this question—and even this, though a revelation from God, but partially discloses the infinite and eternal reality. There is enough to excite, sustain, and animate hope—but far too little to gratify curiosity. Substantials are revealed, circumstantials are withheld. In the Bible heaven is represented, rather as a state of mind, than as a place. Where objects of sense and locality are spoken of, they are to be understood, for the most part, in a figurative, and not in a literal meaning.

The description of the celestial world, as we find it in the Word of God, has always appeared to me one of the most striking and convincing of the internal evidences of Christianity. The Elysium of the Greeks and Romans; the Paradise of Mahomet, and the various fantastic ideas of the world beyond the grave, entertained by modern pagans, are all of the earth, earthly; nothing more or better than earthly and sensual gratifications rendered immortal. How different the heaven of the New Testament; how pure, how spiritual, how unearthly, how divine! How strictly in harmony with the sublime and holy character of God! How befitting a creature, intelligent and holy! How completely different from everything which the unholy, sensual, and earthly mind of man would ever have devised! How far remote from the track of all his thoughts!

Heaven is usually called eternal life, that is—eternal happy existence—everlasting existence, with all that can render existence a blessing. But what are the elements of its felicity? As regards our own condition, they consist of a soul, possessed of perfect knowledge, perfect holiness, perfect liberty, perfect love; united with a body raised from the grave, incorruptible, immortal, and spiritual. As regards our relations to other beings, heavenly bliss means our dwelling in the immediate presence of Christ; the perfect vision, service, likeness, and enjoyment of God—the society and converse of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Connected with this, is the absence of everything that annoys, disturbs, or distresses us in this life. Such is the scripture-representation of heaven, as will be seen by consulting the following scriptures. Psalm 16:11; 17:15. John 3:14, 15, 36; 17:24. Rom. 2:7; 8:18. 1 Cor. 15. 2 Cor. 4:17. Philip 1:21; 3:21. Heb. 4:9; 12:22-24. 1 John 3:2. Rev. 7:9-17; 21.,22.

"My chief conception of heaven," said Robert Hall to Wilberforce, "is rest."—"Mine," replied Wilberforce, "is LOVE; love to God, and love to every bright and holy inhabitant of that glorious place." Hall was an almost constant sufferer from acute bodily pain; Wilberforce enjoyed life, and was all amiability and sunshine; so that it is easy to account "for their respective conceptions of this subject. What a mercy that both these conceptions are true." Yes, both are true; and the union of rest and love, perhaps, conveys, within a small compass, the most correct idea of the heavenly state.

Following the order of the representation given in the address on Spirituality of Mind, I observe, that heavenly-mindedness means the spontaneous, frequent, delightful, practical bent of our reflections toward eternal life. A heavenly-minded man is one who, as a convinced, condemned sinner, having obtained a title to eternal life, through faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ, and a fitness for it, in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, considers himself as a pilgrim and stranger upon earth—regards heaven as his native country, and as instinctively turns his thoughts to it, as he who in a distant part of the world, feels his mind and heart attracted to his home. Scarcely a day passes during which no thought of his mind, no glance of the eye of faith, turns to the glory to be revealed.

In his solitary musings in the house, or by the way, the object is present to his mind to occupy his thoughts, to refresh and delight his spirit—and when he is with others like-minded with himself, it is his delight to converse upon the country to which they are traveling. Precious to him are those parts of Scriptural revelation which speak of the life to come, and exhibit to him, amid the darkness of his way, the distant lights of his father's house. Sermons that represent the holiness and happiness of heaven are delightful to his heart; books that describe it are congenial with his taste; and the songs of Zion, which sounds like the echo of its divine harmonies, excite all his hallowed sensibilities, and elevate his spirit to catch some of the falling rays of the excellent glory. The beautiful symbols of heavenly bliss, the city too bright with inherent splendor to need the sun; the walls of jasper, the gates of pearl, and streets of pure gold, like unto clear glass; the crown of life; the harp of gold; the palm of victory; the white robe; the song of salvation sounding from the countless multitude of the redeemed; all by turns seize and fix his imagination; while his enlightened judgment and his holy heart, letting go these brilliant images, repose upon the realities they are intended to portray—the presence of God, the vision of the Lamb, the sinless purity, the eternal rest, the communion of the blessed, the fellowship of angels.

The heavenly-minded man not only employs his thoughts, but sets his affections on things above. His hope and his heart are there. He does not wish it, it would not be proper that he should, instantly to dissolve his ties with earth, and leaving his family and connections fly the next moment to his eternal home—he is willing to wait as long as it is his heavenly Father's will to detain him upon earth—but he is willing to leave all and go to God, whenever it is judged proper by him to decide the matter—that he should go up to the mount and die. His hopes of heaven do much to destroy his love of life—and fear of death. If nature shrinks, as it sometimes will, at the approach of dissolution, he looks beyond the gloomy passage, and anticipates by a lively hope, the moment when "lifting his last step from the wave, having passed the stream of death, he shall linger and look wondrously back upon its dark waters, then gilded with the light of immortality, and rippling peacefully on the eternal shore."

It is not in suffering only that he feels a longing after immortality, for it is no indication of heavenly-mindedness to wish to depart in order to get rid of trouble. Impatience to die is often felt by those who have ceased to feel any attractions in life, and the grave is coveted as a shelter from the 'storms of earth'. There is nothing holy in such wishes; nothing heavenly in such impatience; it is only nature groaning after rest, and not grace longing for its perfection. Perhaps the most holy frame is to have no will or wish about the matter—but a readiness to live or die as God shall appoint. If, however, a preference may be cherished, and the soul rises into a longing to depart, the only ground on which it can with propriety be indulged is—an earnest desire to get rid of sin—to be near and like Christ—to serve God more perfectly—and to glorify him more entirely. And such desires after immortality, when no tie binds us to earth, are legitimate and holy.

Happy moments there sometimes are, alas! how rare, in the experience of the spiritual Christian, when such are his views of the desirableness of heaven, that he feels as if he should be glad to break down the prison-walls of his spirit, and let her go forth into the liberty of her eternal felicity. The celebrated John Howe once had such a view of heaven, and such a desire to depart, that he said to his wife—"Though I think I love you as well as it is fit for one creature to love another, yet if it were put to my choice, whether to die this moment, or live through this night; and living this night would secure the continuance of life for seven years longer, I would choose to die this moment." Still the glory of a Christian is to be neither weary of the world nor fond of it; to be neither afraid of death nor impatient after it; to be willing to go to heaven the next hour from the greatest comforts—or to wait for it through many lingering years, amid the greatest hardships, the most self-denying and laborious duties, and the severest and most complicated sufferings.

The heavenly-minded man goes farther than this, and prepares for future glory. Considering heaven not merely as an object of delightful contemplation of devout imagination, or of holy revery—a sublime and splendid picture for a visionary piety to gaze upon—but as a state of moral being, action, and service, for which a fitness is required—he diligently cultivates those dispositions which the Word of God assures him belong to, and are to be exercised in the celestial state. He has a post to fill, a situation to occupy, a service to perform in heaven, and for which he knows the necessary qualifications must be acquired on earth.

Death is only a physical change, and as far as we can understand, produces no moral effect. Grace is the preparation for glory, and he who has most grace, is most fitted for glory. The man who is going to occupy a place in the palace, endeavors to acquire courtly manners, and to provide himself with a court dress. So the eminently spiritual Christian considers himself as going in to dwell in the palace of the King of kings, and his great business upon earth is to prepare himself with the qualifications and dress of the celestial court. And as he clearly perceives that the prevailing dispositions of heaven are purity and love, he labors to grow in holiness and charity. If asked, in any situation or circumstance, or at any period, what are you engaged in or employed about? his answer is, "I am dressing for heaven; making myself ready to go in and dwell with Christ. Having a post to fill in the divine palace, I am preparing for it by the mortification of sin, and a growth in grace."

Such is heavenly-mindedness—but, alas! where is it to be found? I know where it ought to be found—in every professing Christian. His principles demand it, his profession requires it, his prospects justify it. "If we should give a stranger to Christianity an account of the Christian's hopes, and tell him what Christians are, and what they expect to enjoy before long, he would sure promise himself to find so many 'angels' dwelling in human flesh, and reckon when he came among them, he should be as amid the heavenly choir; every one full of joy and praise. He would expect to find us living on earth as the inhabitants of heaven—as so many pieces of immortal glory, lately dropped down from above, and shortly returning there again. He would look to find everywhere in the Christian world 'incarnate glory', sparkling through the overshadowing veil; and wonder how this earthly sphere should be able to contain so many great souls." And oh, how astonished, surprised, and disgusted would he be to witness the earthly-mindedness, and to hear the worldly conversation of the great bulk of professing Christians—as if heaven were nothing more than a splendid painting to adorn their temples of religion, and to be looked at once a week; but not a glorious reality to be ever before their eyes, to form their character, to regulate their conduct, support them in trouble, and furnish their chief happiness!

What a source of strong consolation and ineffable delight is a heavenly mind to its possessors! This is what the apostle calls "rejoicing in hope of the glory of God." Could we actually look into the celestial world, and see its felicities and honors; could we hear the very sounds of paradise, and have the songs of the redeemed continually, or at intervals, undulating on our ear; could the rays of the excellent glory, literally fall upon our path—how constantly would we go on our way rejoicing, as we reflected that each step brought us nearer to this world of light and love; and of purity and immortality! How soft would be the cares, how tolerable the sorrows, how easy the most difficult duties, so soon to be laid aside amid such rest and such happiness! This sight of heaven would irradiate the darkest scenes of earth, and prevent us from being seduced by the beauties of the fairest worldly trifle.

Who could weep while heaven was spreading out its glories to comfort us, and opening its doors to receive us! Who could think much of that sickness—which was sustained beneath the vision of an incorruptible inheritance; or of those losses—which came upon them in sight of an infinite portion that never fades away! There would need no amusement or recreation to make us happy, while listening to the song of salvation—nor of any other pleasure to cheer us. This mixture of the view of heaven with the scenes of earth, would change the aspect of everything, and give truth to the expressions of the poet—
"The men of grace have found,
 Glory begun below."

And what more than a heavenly mind, a vigorous, lively, and influential faith—is necessary to give something like a reality to this? Heaven does exist; all these glories are above us and before us, though we see them not; and it is only to believe them as they may be, and ought to be believed, and we shall rejoice in them with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Vivacious thoughts of them would, in measure, produce the same kind of happiness as seeing them. Happy would we be amid all the cares, and labors, and sorrows, and trials of earth, if in meditation, and by faith and hope, we could thus dwell on the borders of the promised land. It would be to pitch our tent on Mount Pisgah, and constantly to have the promised land spreading out in boundless and beautiful perspective before us.

Nor is it our comfort only that would be promoted by a heavenly mind, but our sanctity also. "Every man who has this hope in him," says the apostle, "purifies himself even as he is pure." 1 John 3:3. Heaven, being a holy state, yes, the very perfection of holiness; does, by a natural process, render those holy who meditate upon it, believe it, hope for it, and long for it. Men's hopes always affect their conduct, and transform their characters into a likeness to the nature of the objects of their desires and expectations. How effectually guarded from temptation to lust, worldly-mindedness, and malice—is he whose affections are strongly fixed upon a state of purity, spirituality, and love! Who that is drinking happiness from the crystal river that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, can take up with the filthy puddle of worldly amusements? What mortification of sin, what conquest of besetting corruption, what eradication of evil tempers, what suppression of unholy disposition goes on, when the soul fixes the 'eye of faith' on unseen and eternal realities!

Yes, what discoveries of hidden and unsuspected sins are made, when the light of heavenly glory is let into the soul! In looking so much to earth, and earthly-minded men, we become so familiarized with sin, as to lose our clear perceptions, our accurate discrimination of its evil nature, and our accurate sensibilities to its criminality and odiousness. We lose our self-abhorrence for our own sins, by the view of so much evil without and around us. And we recover our keenness of vision, and tenderness of conscience, only by lifting up our eyes to that pure and blessed region, where no sin dwells, and holiness is in perfection; and where,
One view of Jesus as he is,
Will strike all sin forever dead.

You will much wish to know how such a heavenly state of mind may be promoted.

You must be WILLING to have it. Willing! you exclaim, with somewhat of surprise, "Who is not willing? Who would not enjoy such a holy and heavenly frame?" You, perhaps, who ask the question! Comparatively few are willing to be heavenly-minded. The great bulk even of professing Christians do not want this state of the soul. They want to enjoy earth; they are ever seeking new devices by which to be more and more gratified by things seen and temporal; they are ever seeking to invest earth with new charms, and to throw greater attractions over the scenes that surround them. They do not wish to have the luxuriance of their earthly affections repressed, or the exuberance of their worldly joys restrained. It is no part of their plan, or wish, or effort, or prayer—to have one single terrestrial delight limited or displaced by such as are heavenly! Very few are willing then, to be heavenly-minded—and if not willing, they will never attain to it!

You must be not only willing but DESIROUS of this frame. It must appear to you a state to be coveted and longed for; and for which you would be willing to part with some worldly joys, and the pleasures of earth—to endure the discipline of trial, and the influence of sorrow. Your heart must be set upon it—your soul must pant after it.

It must appear to you not only desirable, but ATTAINABLE. No such idea must be in your mind as that it is too high an elevation of piety for you to reach, too difficult an acquirement for you to make. Do not imagine that it is the devotion of the cloister and the monastery, and which can be cultivated only by the recluse. Spiritual and heavenly Christians have been found, too rarely I admit, amid all the cares of a large family, and all the urgency of an extensive trade. Besides, if you cannot attain to as much of this celestial temper as some others, may you not have much more of it than you already possess? Do not even your circumstances allow of improvement and increase?

Use the right means for acquiring it. BELIEVE its reality. Your faith is too weak to be influential. It is not so much a deep conviction, a full persuasion, a confident anticipation—but only 'a mere opinion'. You have the name of heaven upon your lips, but not the grand idea, the glorious reality in your mind—the infinite, the transcendent conception, does not occupy and fill the soul. You are too much a stranger to the force of that expression, "lay hold on eternal life."

Acquire a clear and satisfactory evidence of your personal interest in the joys and glories of immortality. "Give all diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end." Unite the full assurance of hope, with the full assurance of understanding and of faith. What is our own, more interests us, though it be little—than what belongs to another, though it be far greater. The heir of a small estate has his mind and heart far more occupied about his little inheritance—than about the vast domain bordering it, of some wealthy peer. Realize your personal interest in heaven. If you are indeed a child of God, seek the witness of the spirit to your sonship; and if a child of God, then you are to heir of God, and joint heir with Christ! After reading the gracious promises, and surveying the boundless prospects of eternal glory—indulge the thoughts that these are all yours! Yours to be admitted to the presence of God and Christ, and to dwell there forever! Yours to be like God and Christ in purity, love, knowledge, and immortality! Yours to be the everlasting companion of all holy angels and blessed spirits. Call the joys of heaven your own—and they will then be infinitely more attractive than they now are!

Give yourselves time for reading, meditation, and prayer. You must keep the world within due bounds—as to the time it occupies in your thoughts and life. If you allow it to take and keep the occupancy of the whole day, from the time you open your eyes in the morning, until you close them at night—you cannot grow in this grace of heavenly-mindedness. If you don't resist the world's engrossing, absorbing power—your soul must suffer, your salvation be endangered, your heaven be lost. Oh, will you, with glory, honor, immortality above you, and before you—allow yourselves to be so engaged with worldly trifles—as to have no time to think of them, or to look at them! With the splendor of heavenly and eternal glory beaming upon your path, blazing around you, will you be so taken up with the world, as to hurry by and not turn aside to see this great sight!

Oh, Christians, believers—at least professed believers in immortality—is it thus you treat that heaven which occupied the thoughts of God from eternity, which was procured by the death of Christ upon the cross, which is the substance of revealed truth, and the end of all God's dispensations of providence and grace to man! What! no time to retire and meditate on eternal life! Will you—can you—dare you, bring yourself to utter such an expression as this, "I am really so taken up with my business, that I cannot retire to meditate and pray." Then I must tell you, you have no time to be saved; although plenty of time to be lost!

Go into your closet, and with your Bible as the telescope that brings eternal glories near—meditate, meditate upon heaven! Survey its glories—go over them in detail and in succession. Dwell upon the presence of God; upon being with Christ; upon perfect love, perfect purity, perfect liberty, perfect knowledge, perfect bliss. Contemplate their infinity, their immensity, their eternity. Oh, what thoughts, what topics, what sources of delight! What sublime, elevating subjects for the child of dust, of sin, of sorrow, of mortality—to indulge in! What a reflection upon us, that we should need to be admonished to turn our thoughts that way; that with heaven open before us, we should need to be reminded, "There is immortal glory, look at it!" And yet after all, should feel that we are so preoccupied and engaged with earthly trifles, that we have no time to survey the wondrous scene!

Dwell much upon the nearness of heaven. What is remote has less power over the thoughts than that which is near at hand. How near is all this glory to your soul! Nothing separates you from it, but the thin partition of flesh and blood—a moment of time, a point of space, may be all that intervenes between you and immortality! When you lie down to rest any night—you know not but that you may be in heaven before the next morning! When you rise up in the morning—you know not but that you may be in heaven before night! If you are true Christians, you are ever in the 'vestibule of the heavenly temple', waiting for the opening of the door, to be admitted to the holy of holies! The heirs of glory are every moment going in to be forever with the Lord, and you will soon go with them. Heaven is ever as near to you as God is—for it is the enjoyment of his presence, and he compasses you about on every side. At any given moment of your existence, you know not but that the next may be the commencement of your eternal career of holiness, knowledge, and happiness. Did you realize the nearness of heaven, how would it tend to keep up the frame of mind I am so anxious to promote.

As heaven consists of enjoying the divine presence, and of holiness and love, together with the joy arising from them—let us seek more intimate communion with God now, and labor after more purity, more benevolence, more spiritual peace. This would make us think of heaven, and long for it—when we had these, its first fruits—in our soul now. We cannot go up into heaven, without heaven first coming down into us! Holiness in the soul of man is a part of heaven, and the 'greater heaven above' will put forth an attraction to draw up to itself this 'lesser heaven below'. Fire ascends to the sun; rivers run to the ocean; matter gravitates to its center—so holiness in the soul aspires to heaven, to which it belongs.

And withal you must be much in private, earnest, and believing prayer for the supply of the Holy Spirit. Who is sufficient for these things, but he whose sufficiency is of God the Spirit? To make the future predominate over the present; the invisible over the visible; the immaterial over the material; and heaven over earth—is an achievement of faith, to which he only is equal, who is taught and helped of God. "He who has wrought us for this self-same thing," says the apostle, "is God, who also has given unto us the earnest of the Spirit." 2 Cor. 5:5.

Believers in Christ Jesus! Children of God! Heirs of immortal glory! traveler to Zion! Possessors of eternal life! Look not at the things which are seen and temporal, but at the things which are unseen and eternal. Think of what is before you in the world to which you are going! Let your character and your destiny be in harmony. Born from heaven, and bound to it, let your thoughts and affections be in heaven! "We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body!"