The Rest of Heaven!
Joshua Harrison, 1857
Then I heard a voice from Heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."
"Yes," says the Spirit, "they will REST from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." Revelation 14:13
REST is a blessed thing to die in the Lord, to spend a life . . .
of humble trust in His sacrifice,
of growing resemblance to His image,
of earnest zeal in His service,
and then "to fall asleep in Jesus."
To hold fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, and, as feebleness and decline admonish us that the time of our departure is at hand, to have the assurance I am "accepted in the Beloved" and for me "to die is gain"—this puts the crown on the whole course!
The hour of death is a solemn hour to all; it is especially solemn to him who holds the Christian faith, and with it has any shade of doubt as to his own standing. He feels that he has reached that solemn crisis at which either his hopes will be realized, and he will enter on joy unspeakable, eternal—or he will be driven, a miserable outcast, into the regions of eternal despair. Can you wonder that, when the moment of decision is so near, the alternative should assume proportionate solemnity, and he should ask himself, with deep earnestness: Am I safe?
He is all the more anxious to answer this question honestly, because he observes records but too numerous of failure and ruin. Of some it is declared, "They made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience;" of others, "They did run well, but were afterwards hindered;" of others, "Having put their hand to the plough, they looked back, and were counted unworthy of the kingdom of God." One is said to have come with bright, cheerful countenance, as if sure of a welcome, but on hearing the Savior's terms, to have gone away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Another seemed to be a good friend of the apostle Paul, but he had by and by to complain, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." Many who had deep convictions lost them through false shame, "for they loved the praise of men, more than the praise of God."
With such instances of failure before his eyes, he naturally glances back on his own course, not to discover grounds of merit, but to seek for proofs of faith. Memory, with inconceivable rapidity, traverses the whole of the past, collects it into one bright focus, and in a moment presents it before his eye. And if then he perceives that, as a professedly Christian man, he has all along by a foolish compromise endeavored to serve both God and mammon—has sought the comforts, but avoided the hardships of the Christian life—has been ashamed to confess his Master when His name was dishonored—has delegated to others the work and the self-denial.
Or, as a Christian minister, he has clouded the truth by reserve, and shunned to declare the whole counsel of God; or has allowed himself to be beguiled into the sunny fields of literature, not with the high purpose of infusing into some portion of it pure Christian thought, or drawing from it materials for striking illustrations, but simply to gratify his taste, when the harvest demanded his toil; or has wasted precious hours and golden opportunities in the mere trivialities of the religious world, although the requirements of his position should have led him to redeem time and concentrate strength, lest any should perish through neglect.
Or, as a Christian missionary, has allowed the influence of an enervating climate and familiarity with barbarous customs, not indeed to render him idle, but to take the bloom from his piety and the zest from his work—has been satisfied with the mere mechanical performance of duties which needed a heart all on fire with Divine love.
If, I say, in this final review of the past, he discovers that his profession has been but feebly supported by practice—will not torturing doubt cast a horror of great darkness over his spirit, and, if saved at last, will it not be as from the very brink of despair?
On the contrary, if in that critical hour he finds that his faith has manifested itself in works, and that the spirit of the Master has shone in the life of the disciple—if he sees that, although with imperfections which only Divine love could cover, he has fought against temptation, denied self, searched out and grappled with the evils of his own day, labored to save souls, fearlessly confessed his Savior, and striven, above all things, to promote the cause of truth and God—he recognizes in his own history the marks of real discipleship, and feels that "all is well."
Such results, he is sure, could have sprung from nothing but living faith. Possessing that faith—faith which justifies, faith which purifies—he knows that he is secure. For him death is disarmed of its terrors. Hope sheds its radiance over the darkness of the tomb, and perfect love casts out fear. While listening to the last farewell of earth, in his ear—it seems blended with the welcome of Heaven, and he exclaims, with holy exultation, "Thanks be unto God, who gives me the victory through my Lord Jesus Christ."
We always consider it a spirit-stirring spectacle when we behold a man earnestly pursuing to the end, the course which he has adopted—when his last words or acts betoken fidelity to the main purpose of his life, and show the ruling passion strong in death.
With feelings of admiration and thankfulness we behold the departing saint, whether his course has been more public or more private, steadfast even to the end—faith in Christ his only hope—the spread of the gospel the one desire of his heart—ceasing to work only when he ceases to breathe—and as he looks back upon a whole life of service, now drawing to a peaceful close, with deep humility, and yet with holy confidence, declaring, "The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:6-8
From the heart we exclaim, "Servant of God, well done! Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord!"
They are blessed because they die, that they may rest. And to the toil worn laborer, what can be more welcome than rest? Wearied by . . .
his burden of care and anxiety;
his warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil;
his efforts to realize the scriptural ideal of the Christian life;
his endeavors to turn men from sin's darkness to light—
how joyfully does he listen to the assurance that he shall "rest from his labors!"
To the man, indeed, who has known nothing of toil or suffering—there is no charm in the prospect of rest. Let his Christianity be of the cast which . . .
lulls to sleep, rather than stimulates,
forbids no luxury,
demands no sacrifice,
exacts no work,
which seems only designed to render this world more comfortable by taking away all fear for the future
—what does he care for the promise of rest?
Is he not resting already?
Can ease or quiet be more profound?
But let him know what it is to watch, to wait, to suffer, to labor, to struggle—and then, as the haven to the storm-tossed mariner, or home to the wounded soldier, or the Sabbath to the man of toil—such to him is the heavenly rest.
May we not with equal truth affirm that the rest when it comes, is all the sweeter because of the previous labor? As earthly things are the types of heavenly, from the one we may perhaps on this point judge of the other. Now, when a man retires from active duty, the pleasure with which he settles down in that retirement depends very much on his preceding course. If he has accomplished, or even attempted, nothing worthy of remembrance—nothing which he can look back upon with satisfaction or gratitude—his very rest lacks some of the first elements of enjoyment. He may be the statesman whose indecisive and wavering administration is pronounced a failure—or the admiral, who without positive disgrace has missed the opportunity of doing his country service. He may be the ambassador, who has fallen into grave error, and endangered the peace of the world—or the humblest tradesman, whose one mistake has been to suppose that wealth is everything. In each of these cases the leisure which ensues is such as few would covet.
But if retirement has been preceded by honorable toil, by willing self-denial, or by deeds worth living for—then not only has the power to enjoy been augmenting, but the recollections of past labor brighten and sweeten present rest. May we not believe that this law of earth is also a law of Heaven? We would not, indeed, even hint that regret or shame can for a moment darken that world of perfect joy; but still, is it not certain that the capacity of enjoying the rest of Heaven must be very different in the man whose life has been passed in comparative indolence—and in the man whose days have been all spent in the service of God? Both may receive from the great Judge their "penny," but that "penny" will not be the same to both. And hence it is not without significance that the eulogy is first pronounced, "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus;" and then the assurance is added, "they shall rest from their labors, and their works follow them."
And unspeakably blessed to such is this rest. For it is as far removed as possible from mere quiescence or inglorious ease. All that is burdensome or distressing in work or warfare will be escaped from; there will be . . .
no conflict between the flesh and the spirit,
no enemies to watch and repel,
no scenes of misery and vice to oppress the heart,
no opposition from those who have been the objects of toil and prayer,
no fatigue or exhaustion from labor,
no seasons of darkness or fear, of discouragement or despondency from weariness, trouble, and sin
—there will be perfect, everlasting deliverance!
But this rest is by no means opposed to activity. May we not rather say that activity forms an integral part of that rest? Doom the man of energetic character to a sphere of absolute quiet, and he is as restless as the caged eagle, which frets at inaction, but in the boldest flight finds its recreation and delight.
To minds that are delivered from all distracting cares, and all the weakness of the flesh, who are surrounded by congenial society, and summoned to congenial employments—activity is rest. And such is the rest of Heaven. It is not quiescence, but satisfaction. There are grand purposes to accomplish, but no burden to cause distress or fatigue.
REST! What is our highest conception of it? Is it not this:
that our nature should be restored to its original perfection;
delivered from each trace of feebleness, disease, or sin;
every power acting without effort;
thought, purpose, desire, conduct—all spontaneously conformed to the Divine will and answering to the Divine ideal!
Moreover that we should be placed in a world in every respect corresponding with our perfected nature . . .
where no scene or object could jar with our sense of absolute beauty and enjoyment;
where fellowship, influence, occupation, would be all on the side of holiness;
and where the purity within and around would enable us to act with unconstrained freedom, and yet without danger or fear.
Finally, that we should be surrounded by circumstances in which no craving or aspiration should be unsatisfied, where . . .
intellect should discover unalloyed, eternal truth;
social affection find friends that never disappoint;
the heart should exult in the presence of Jesus, and
the soul be filled with the beatific vision of God!
Would not this constitute perfect satisfaction? Well, this is the blessedness of Heaven, where . . .
all is harmonious within, and all congenial without;
there is ceaseless activity, and yet eternal rest!
This is the portion of the faithful dead; and this is to be our portion. This is the consummation to which our adorable Master is graciously leading us. This is the glorious outcome of our poor, feeble, fitful, unprofitable service. Who would not labor for such a Master? Who would not make light of earthly trials, in view of such a glorious eternal inheritance? Who would not toil in prospect of such a rest?
Then I heard a voice from Heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."
"Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." Revelation 14:13