John Stoughton

Heaven is represented in the New Testament as a social state. Jesus speaks of it as His Father's house where there "are many mansions." Paul alludes to "the family of Heaven," and to "the innumerable company, the spirits of the just made perfect, and the assembly of the church of the first-born." John brings before us an immense multitude, redeemed out of every nation, kindred, people, and tongue; constituting, with the angelic hosts, the community of the skies.

Man is formed for social life. Unfitted for the solitude of the desert—his energies expand, his character improves, his joys are multiplied and heightened in society. The distinguishing principles of human nature will no doubt be preserved in Heaven, and social tendencies will there find perpetual and undisturbed sources of gratification.

Some people conceive of Heaven as the furthest possible removed from earth—as affording a contrast to it in every respect. But does not the Scripture revelation of the future, under all kinds of images drawn from the present life, rather lead us to believe, that hereafter our condition will resemble what it is now, so far as that can be consistently with perfect holiness and perfect bliss? Is not this, too, most in harmony with the beautiful belief, that the eternal life of the Christian is one only spent in different worlds and under different conditions? Is it not also most rational and probable in itself? And certainly it is a view most calculated to interest our minds, and to attach our thoughts to the subject.

Some have the habit of representing Heaven in a way which, though they may think it very grand and sublime, is very uninviting to human creatures. Vast as must be the difference, in many respects, between the glorified condition of the saints and everything they have experienced here—yet I doubt whether there may not be more resemblance between the two states—the earthly and the heavenly—than some suppose.

Sins and infirmities will, of course, be excluded from that better world—the enjoyments and perfections of sincere Christians will be immensely heightened—but, if we look on the brightest and purest spots of human nature, and human life as it is here, we may be led to form, I think, reasonable conjectures as to some things that will be hereafter.

The society of Heaven will comprehend at least the myriads of the redeemed. All the excellent of the earth will form one family. Bearing in mind the intellectual and moral nature of the redeemed in glory, we see at once that the fellowship of Heaven must be perfect. How sublime and holy will be their converse, wedded to each other in the ties of an indissoluble affection; and freed from those trifling and frivolous affairs which here obtain and even require so much attention, and bring so much annoyance. In Heaven, no obstruction to the enjoyment of friendship will arise from dissimilarity of views or from petulance of temper. Angry controversies can never disturb harmony, nor can indifference try love, nor can suspicion shake confidence.

Extensive as the community will be, no one in his excursions through those happy regions, will ever meet an individual whose heart will not be the mirror of his own holy heart, and whose feelings will not flow in the same direction.

Man here on earth, may be alone in society, cut off from communion when surrounded by a multitude, through his alienation from all their tastes and habits. But there, in whatever circle the redeemed saint may move, whether conversing with fellow-creatures or with angels, he will find them friends and brethren, engaged in kindred employments, and embued with the same spirit.

Looking at what seems an indestructible principle in our social nature—that is, the strong affinity we feel to some in preference to others—we cannot but think there will be special friendships formed and enjoyed hereafter. Surely, in that world of innumerable inhabitants, every one will not be known and loved alike. The idea of a sort of perfected socialism hereafter—a cosmopolitan kind of existence, in which all fellow-beings will seem the same to each—a society on the basis of an indistinguishing universal philanthropy, is certainly very repellant, even to the most loving hearts and the best of men in the present world. And we see no ground for it, either in reason or in Scripture.

We presume in Heaven we shall love and delight in some more than others. Special sympathies will link certain souls together. There are men described in the Bible, and in Church History, to whom our affections are peculiarly drawn forth. And why may not their society be sought hereafter above that of others? Is it idle speculation to suppose that fellowship with them may receive the highest zest, from the gratification of curiosity respecting their manner of life, opinions, achievements, trials, and history?

And will not those who have been friends here, be friends there? It is true that there "they neither marry nor are given in marriage;" but these words of Christ plainly refer simply to the matrimonial relationship, and do not militate against the idea of special loving bonds hereafter between those who have sustained the relationship on earth.

I see no reason why those who have been dearest friends on earth should not, when admitted to that happy state, continue to be so, with full knowledge and recollection of their former friendship. If a man is still to continue a social being, and capable of friendship, it seems contrary to all probability, that he should cast off or forget his former friends, who are partakers with him of the same exaltation. He will be changed, and so will they—

"That so before the judgment-seat,
 Though changed and glorified each face,
 Not unremembered we may meet
 For endless ages to embrace!"

There are some whom we fully expect to meet in Heaven, who have been our fellow-laborers and sufferers in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. What a joy it will be to recognize those dear ones. There are some whom we hope to meet, though at present they give no signs which are decisive of their having the new life of the Spirit of God; but we look for the answer to our prayers, and the crown of our labors when we are gone, in their salvation and union with us in Life's realm of light—and what a joy it will be to meet them there!

There are others, respecting whom we have little or no hope at all, who are living earthly, sordid, sensual lives, who seem to be rejecting holy influences; but, when the grass shall have grown some summers, and the winds whistled some winters over our grave—a sermon may strike them, a book arrest them, a thought penetrate them, and awaken remembrances of truths they now labor to forget—they may turn to God after all. What joy to recognize them hereafter! to find them by our side—to say "And are you here? Thank God, indeed."

To meet in Heaven with friends and relatives who have gone before us, or who may be left behind us; to embrace some on the shores of immortality, like mariners escaped from shipwreck; to meet such as were part of ourselves, our children; "No traveler lost—a family in heaven"—this speaks to the deepest sensibilities of human nature; this brings before us an element of bliss enshrined among our dearest hopes.

The circulation of feelings that constitute on earth the soul of domestic happiness, and the secret of intimate friendship, is sometimes injurious in its influence by drawing away the heart from God. The lovely gourd under whose shadow we repose, may hide from us the beams of the Son of Righteousness. The friends with whom we take sweet counsel, may occasion us to forget our resting-place. Sympathy and love may prove a snare. But in Heaven the affections will be balanced. Friends will be loved, but not supremely. God will be the chief object of regard, and gratitude, and praise: "Oh, glorious state and coming time, wherein all evil shall be done away, and all good perfected! when the intensity of human affection shall no longer interfere with the bright serenity of holy love, but both be conjoined in one inexplicable bond! where myriads shall be loved as now we love our friends, and friends be loved as now we ought to love our God; and God be loved and admired and worshiped, and understood and delighted in, with a reverence and a rapture, an affinity and a comprehension, with human sentiment purified, and divine capacity superadded, more than ever saints conceived—more than ever angels knew!" Miss Jewsbury's Letters.

In the Bible the manifestation of the Divine presence and glory is exhibited as the mainspring of celestial bliss. The psalmist in contemplating the subject exclaims, "In your presence is fullness of joy, and at your right hand pleasures for evermore!" Paul represents the glory of God as the principal object of the believer's hope. Of the manner in which the Divine Being will reveal Himself to the saints after the resurrection, it is impossible to conceive. Doubtless there will be methods of communication employed suited to their perfect nature, methods at once spiritual, distinct, and impressive. Is it not reasonable to suppose that, introduced to the immediate presence of God—impressions of the Divine glory will be received, such as even the Bible could never impart? May not the apostle have had this thought in his mind, when he says, "We shall know, even as we are known!" And did not John entertain a kindred idea when he employed the astonishing expression, "We shall see Him as He is!"

We are taught in revelation to believe there is a threefold distinction in the Godhead, which, under the economy of redemption, is denominated the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We learn from Scripture to contemplate Jehovah in a threefold relationship to man: as the Father sending His only-begotten Son, as the Son acting the part of mediator between us and our offended Maker, as the Spirit sanctifying the hearts of His people. Though these special offices have an especial bearing on the present state of things, the personal distinction in the Deity must be considered as essential and eternal.

We therefore conclude that, in the manifestation of the Divine glory hereafter, this mysterious distinction will be maintained. That the mediatorial office of Jesus Christ as now exercised, will not continue after the resurrection—that His peculiar government as now carried on will expire, we are taught by the apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians: "Then comes the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father."

The Savior now, as the High Priest within the veil, making intercession for his people, is the object of contemplation to the saints in a separate state. In the actual description of such an office, we are led to believe He will not appear to the view of the redeemed after the resurrection. His work will be complete. No mediator between sinners and an offended Maker will be any longer necessary; the glories of Jehovah will shine with a fatherly luster on the hearts of the redeemed, and "God shall be all in all."

But still we are warranted to expect that, in the display of the Divine glory, Immanuel, as the great agent of redemption, as the Savior of His people, will be distinctly presented to their view. They will "see Jesus." For this He prayed in the days of His flesh: "Father, I will that those who you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me: for you loved me before the foundation of the world."

The chief vision of Deity, perhaps, will ever be the vision of the glory of Christ; upon Him, as the Redeemer of the lost, the saints will love to meditate. All their happiness, they will ascribe to Him. As they gaze on the glories of their eternal habitation, and eat of the fruit of life, and drink of the streams which make glad the city of God, as they enjoy converse with angels and each other, as they advance in knowledge, and purity, and joy, and become more and more assimilated to the Divine image—they will attribute all to the blood of the Lamb.

The greatness of the work of redemption, its suitableness to display the Divine character and glory, its bearings on other ranks of beings beside men, its consequences flowing through the ages of eternity—will, no doubt, be unfolded to the minds of the redeemed. Fresh accessions of knowledge on this vast and interesting subject will perpetually be gained.

As an object of contemplation it will never tire, but shine under fresh and ever-varying aspects of beauty. As a theme of praise, it will never lose its interest, but call forth forever the energy of perfect intellect, and the admiration of perfect love. But in thinking of Christ, let us never forget that, amidst all His Divine glory, He will ever be regarded, admired, and loved as our Divine Friend. Our Friend here—our Friend in Heaven—our Friend for evermore.

It is said of the intermediate life, "present with the Lord;" of the resurrection, "so shall we be ever with the Lord." Nothing helps us to think of Heaven, as does this revelation of the person, society, and friendship of Jesus there. We have many friends on earth—but none like Jesus. We will have many friends in Heaven—but none like Jesus. And we should say that there will be no other there. who will attract such reverent curiosity; to whom we shall be so irresistibly drawn, around whom we shall so eagerly gather, from whom we shall derive such knowledge, whose smile will give such joy.

The contemplation of the Divine glory will be associated with a beautiful feeling of dependence on the Divine character. Heaven will be a dependent state as well as earth. And the saints exalted there will cherish no proud and haughty feelings, but, as they stand around the throne, and contemplate the blessedness of God, will be sensible that their existence and their happiness depend on the power and love of their gracious Lord. Everything they possess will be recognized as proceeding from Him. Their only safety even there, will be felt to consist in the immutability of His character, and the truth of His promises.

Faith, in its sublimest exercise, as a spirit of trust and confidence in the Divine Being—will be no stranger to the mind of glorified spirits, whether men or angels. Springing out of the contemplation of Divine power, and purity, and love, and from a sense of dependence, will be the warmth of grateful affection.

God will be loved, supremely loved. The obligations to reverence, and adore, and praise Him, will be felt in their infinite extent and force. The stream of affection that flows from the Divine mind to theirs, will be returned, though comparatively but in a faint current, still will be returned as the grateful son renders the tribute of love to the father, whose heart gushes forth in streams of unutterable tenderness.

Love is the spring of active service. It does not slumber as a dormant principle in the Heaven, any more than on earth. Love ever prompts to exertion. Palpable proofs of love's sincerity will forever be manifested.

We can form no conception of Heaven more unworthy the subject, than to suppose all this will end, and Heaven be a world of inaction. Heaven is a state of repose—yet a state of activity. The saints rest from the toils and labors of earth, they escape the storms that trouble this lower atmosphere, and disturb the ocean of human life; but they are to occupy spheres of nobler usefulness, and discharge with zeal acts of more dignified service!

What can be so delightful as to have an intimate acquaintance with the Deity, to know all that created minds can know of His nature and attributes, to bask in the sunshine of His favor, to see His uncreated glory shining forth in the mild luster of parental love, and embodying all the wonders of redemption. To see Jesus, not as the man of sorrows, but as the Son of God, combining a nature that is divine with that which is human, and thus bringing man into near relationship to the Deity; and raising him even above angels, whose nature the Eternal would never condescend to assume.

To cherish a sense of dependence upon God, allied with a feeling of perfect satisfaction, leaving no desires unfulfilled, no needs unsupplied. To have a principle of holy love burning on the altar of the heart, whose fire will be fed by perpetual communications, and fanned by the breath of the Holy Spirit—never declining, never growing dim, but always shining with luster, and glowing with warmth, never diverted from its object by conflicting affections, but always ascending upwards to God as supreme.

To be continually engaged in the service of our Heavenly Father, to join with angels in meditating on His glory, singing His praise and discharging His commands, to serve Him day and night in His temple, without weariness and without end!

Thus to behold Him,
thus to rely on Him,
thus to love Him,
thus to serve Him—
this is the summit of bliss, and the crown of glory; and this is the hope laid up for us in Heaven!