Forever with the Lord!
"And so shall we be forever with the Lord." 1 Thessalonians 4:17
Blessed words indeed! For they open all the future—and show it to be a future of untroubled, unending life. No death there! Men die but once. No sin there—the one offering put it forever away. No sorrow for lost Christian friends—they are regained in Christ. No fear of change in the presence of the Unchanging One. Above all, no possibility of wandering and falling again into the depths of sin!
Striking is the contrast between God's everlasting salvation and any remedial work of man, either to communities or individuals!
The slave is redeemed with ransom price, that "he should not die in that pit;" and with a new light shining on his dark face, he hastens to the land of freedom. But in some evil hour he comes again within the scope and shadow of the malignant system, and with the charter of freedom in his hand, and with freedom's new affections kindling in his heart—he is sold to slavery again.
The conscripted soldier returns worn and weary from the wars, hoping to rest in his native village until death. But there comes, perhaps on a calm summer evening, into that village one who has his name on a written list, and who calls him away from the endearments of home, and the sweet charms of peace, to resume the weary march, and go up to the battlefield, from which he will not return. The despot who governs, has use for his sinews, for his heart's blood, and he must yield them at the call.
The physician, by some rare exercise of skill, arrests the progress of the deadly disease, and beats back the death forces from the quivering seat of life, and now the patient is out in the summer air, with a feeling of the preciousness of life he never had before. The dappled sky, the green field, the blossoms on the trees, are beautiful with unearthly beauty. If a child gives him a flower, a violet, or a budding rose, or only a daisy of the field, he can hardly look at it without tears. Soon he is well.
A few years pass, and the same physician is at his bedside again; this time only to soothe his last sufferings, and to tell him, with a kindly voice, that he will perhaps live until tomorrow, but more likely will die tonight.
In the same way, n all human things there is constant waxing and waning, winning and losing, growing and perishing. Nothing is forever, nothing but God's redemption, which is so "plenteous" that it easily surmounts the changes of these passing years, soars above deathbed and grave, rises into highest immortality, and measures and matches itself there with interminable time.
"Forever" is the last and highest inscription written on this redemption of God, and it sheds down a wondrous light on all its other qualities.
Forever sin is put away;
forever law is satisfied;
forever nature will be pure;
forever joy will continue pure;
forever knowledge will grow pure;
forever love will circulate pure;
forever glory will beam!
FOREVER! Oh, it is a wondrous, an over-mastering thought!
We think of resurrection-morning, of judgment day—yet "forever" is beyond them both. We give imagination wing through the great realm of time that will open them, and she flies fast and far along millions of ages with a beat of her pinion, until all our present measures of computation are used, and she flags and falls at last before the undiminished vastness of eternal time—and still "forever" burns like a star on the brow of the future, until the gazing soul feels as if it were a living part of the everlasting God.
We can easily think in this way even of eternity in Heaven, until the thought becomes a kind of pain; and we should beware of this, and try to make it only a joy. We should not think habitually of pure time alone—duration, ever lengthening out—for that is a conception that will overwhelm our thought in the end. Nor should we fix formally and rigidly on the figures of Scripture by which the Heaven and the immortality of the Christian are shadowed forth, and which are given to help, and not to hinder our thought. We are not to think of it as confinement in a city, as dwelling in a house, standing in a temple like one of its pillars, as singing in a great company, or bowing before a throne.
These symbols of the heavenly life are taken all from the earthly experience, and are but helps to our earthly thought. The reality! Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived, the beauty and the blessedness of that glorious place. And God in His Word leaves us at liberty to clothe it in our own richest conceptions, to think of it as having abundant elements of gratification to our own tastes—in one word, to make it as lovely and as desirable as we can.
We may err, but it will be not in thinking of anything too great, or too beautiful, or too good to be given; but in coming far short of the scope of the unsearchable riches of Christ and the "plenteous redemption" of God.
Why should not we think of an exquisite variety there, of which the changing seasons here is but a feeble type? and of a homeliness which will be sweeter to our hearts than household circle, the prattle of children, or the tones of dearest love? and of occupation that will task but never weary our powers, and make the spaces of quietness more refreshing than evening is after toilsome day? and of journeys with angel guides, or with those who have been in Heaven long before us, along the far stretching vales of paradise, or up the burnished steeps of the everlasting hills!
Why should we not think of anything that will make "forever" beautiful in our sight, as well as grand? And yet the grandeur will always transcend the beauty, and "forever" will grow more vast and solemn as its gates are rolled open in succession to let the King of Glory and His redeemed company in.
Oh, who can wonder that the Savior wept and suffered to win all that for His people! or that angels are busy in ministering to the heirs of so great a salvation! or that saints should struggle and cry amid their imperfections for "more grace" to prepare them for the eternal fullness of so plenteous a redemption!
No! the wonder is, that any are found deliberately putting "forever" in peril! Wasting time! passing opportunities! misusing grace! glorifying littleness! spurning greatness! and traveling on from week to week, from year to year, in the pilgrimage that will never end, in ominous separation from Him who will be crowned the king of all the future, and who alone, in all God's universe can say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life!"