The Promised Land!
by John MacDuff, 1859
How striking is the title, "the glorious gospel of the blessed God!" 1 Timothy 1:11. And it is as appropriate as it is striking; the most cursory view of its contents will show that it well deserves such a designation. That it is a glorious gospel appears from . . .
the truths it reveals,
the blessings it imparts,
the effects it produces,
the consolations it inspires, and
especially the prospects it discloses.
What would death be, without this divine and glorious gospel? Nothing but a leap in the dark. The passage from life would then be a gloomy one indeed; and the regions beyond the grave would be enveloped in impenetrable clouds and shadows!
But in the glorious gospel, the veil which separates the present from the eternal state is, in a measure, drawn aside. It tells us of One who has abolished death, and by whom life and immortality have been brought to light. And not merely was the doctrine of our future existence promulgated by Him; but He Himself has opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers. Into that kingdom He has himself entered; and by His entrance there, in connection with the work which He had previously accomplished — the celestial gates have been unlocked, and the everlasting doors have lifted up their heads — that the heirs of glory might gain free admittance there! They have now boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus, along the new and living way which He has consecrated for us.
May each reader of the following pages, possess a good hope through grace, in reference to that blessed world! May he be cheered, amid the trials and sufferings of the wilderness — with the prospect of "the good land which is beyond Jordan!" And, when the storms of life are passed, may it be his unspeakable happiness, through the abounding riches of divine grace, and the infinite merits of the Almighty Redeemer — to reach his Father's house in peace!
The Blessed Sight!
"Your eyes shall see the King in his beauty!" Isaiah 33:17
To see the Savior as He is, in the splendors of His glorified humanity — is the highest and most attractive view which is given of the Heavenly world. To see Him as He was, when He tabernacled here below — was a high privilege, one which prophets, and kings, and righteous men of old, ardently desired. But to behold Him, clothed with majesty divine, exalted above all blessing and praise, the object of celestial adoration, all the heavenly hosts prostrate before His throne — that will be a blessed sight indeed!
Between the view that is enjoyed of the Redeemer's glory on earth, and that which is realized by the redeemed in Heaven — there is a threefold distinction:
In the first place, His glory, as seen here, is dark and obscure — but in Heaven it is clear and unclouded. The apostle speaks of our beholding Him now imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror. It is by means of certain indistinct mediums, such as the representations of His word and ordinances; but He will be seen above, face to face!
In the second place, His glory is beheld here, only in separate parts and portions. The things recorded of Him in the sacred writings are studied one by one, and, by comparing them together, we form a general estimate of His character. In some passages, we have an account of His person; in others, of His offices; in others, of His love. And it is by collecting these scattered fragments together, that our knowledge of Him is now obtained.
So it was with the spouse in the book of Canticles. She examined every part of His person by itself. His head was as fine gold; His cheeks as a bed of spices; His lips like lilies dropping sweet-smelling myrrh; His countenance was as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars. And after having glanced at these several particulars — she comes to the conclusion that, "He is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely!"
It is thus, the Savior is seen here on earth; but how will it be in Heaven? We shall see Him all at once — complete and entire, in one vast blaze of unobscured glory!
And, in the third place, the view we have of Christ on earth is only in occasional glances. There are seasons in the experience of every believer when he has to say with Job, "Behold I go forward — but he is not there; and backward — but I cannot perceive him!" Or in the language of the prophet, "Truly, you are a God who hides yourself!" But, precious truth! the vision in Heaven will be perpetual; it will be altogether unbroken and undisturbed. "Your sun shall no more go down, neither shall your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended."
Blessed Jesus! reveal yourself even now, according to Your promise, to my waiting soul; be it mine to enter in some feeble measure, into the feelings of Your disciples of old, when they said, "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!" And, refreshed, quickened, transformed by the sight — may I be daily looking for, and hastening unto, the coming of that day when Your own prayer, offered on the night of Your great agony, shall be fully answered: "Father, I want those you have given me — to be with me where I am, and to see my glory — the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world!" Then shall I know how great Your beauty is — and what it is to be eternally enraptured with Your charms!
"O let me climb those higher skies,
Where storms and darkness never rise;
Where He displays his power abroad,
And shines and reigns, the incarnate God.
"Nor earth, nor seas, nor sun, nor stars,
Nor Heaven His full resemblance bears;
His beauties we can never trace,
Til we behold Him face to face!"
"Many shall come from the east and west — and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 8:11
Among the various views which are given of Heaven, those in which it is set forth as a social state, are far from being the least attractive. Man is formed for society; even in Eden it was not good for him to be alone. Although the heavens shone brightly above him, and the earth smiled in virgin loveliness at his feet — yet there was one thing he lacked, without which the garden of the Lord would have been a dreary solitude.
The social instincts of humanity were not destroyed by the entrance of sin — nor are they abolished under the reign of grace. On the contrary, they are deepened and matured. And as the state of glory is the expansion and full consummation of the state of grace, whatever we shall leave behind us as of the earth, when the summons will be given, "Come up hither" — all that constitutes the sociality of our nature will, doubtless, accompany us to the abodes above.
What would the material glories of Heaven be — what its hills of light, and streets of gold, and gates of pearls, and crowns of amaranth — if our state there were one of solitude and isolation?
Such a state, however, it will not be; but sweet companionship will be enjoyed with the whole brotherhood of the redeemed. O how sweet, how inspiring the thought — that we shall, if true disciples of Christ, meet and mingle with the children of God who have been scattered abroad through all ages and all lands! Patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, reformers — all the great and good, whose names are cherished by us as household words, united together in one glorious band! Who would not desire to join such a company? Who would not rejoice in the prospect of being honored with such friendships? We may well say,
"In such society as this
Our weary souls shall rest" —
rest with ineffable satisfaction and transporting joy!
And then we will be reunited with those dear departed believers with whom we were more closely connected here below. Some of us can say that our dearest friends are there,
"Safely landed on that peaceful shore,
Where pilgrims meet to part no more!"
O how consoling the thought, that they are not lost — but gone before us; and that we, if animated with their spirit, and walking in their steps, shall yet associate with them, and that never to part again!
Upon the companionship of Heaven, as upon everything else in those glorious spheres, the deathlessness of eternity is stamped. Over those who enjoy it, the thought of parting will never hang like a dark cloud, nor let fall a passing shadow to disturb the sweet serenity of their joy.
"O that will be joyful, joyful, joyful,
When we meet — to part no more!"
"How should we rejoice in the prospect," says Robert Hall, "the certainty rather, of spending a blissful eternity with those whom we loved on earth; of seeing them emerge from the ruins of the tomb, and the deeper ruins of the fall, not only uninjured — but refined and perfected — with every tear wiped from their eyes, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, in white robes, with palms in their hands, crying with a loud voice, 'Salvation to our God, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!' What delight will it afford to renew the sweet counsel we have taken together; to recount the toils of combat, the labor of the way; and to approach, not the house — but the throne of God, in company, in order to join in the symphonies of heavenly voices, and lose ourselves amidst the splendors and fruitions of the beatific vision!
To that state, all the pious on earth are tending! Heaven is attracting to itself, whatever is congenial to its nature; is enriching itself with the spoils of earth; and collecting within its capacious bosom — whatever is pure, permanent, divine; leaving nothing for the last conflagration to consume — but the objects and slaves of sin; while everything which grace has prepared and beautified, shall be selected from the ruins of the world, to adorn that eternal city which has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it — for the glory of God enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof!"
The Saint's Everlasting Rest
"There remains, therefore, a REST for the people of God." Hebrews 4:9
Some desires are peculiar to certain classes of people — but there are others which are felt by all. The desire of wealth is not universal, although widely extended — there being many to whom worldly gain has no attractions. All men do not hanker after pleasure. The treasures of knowledge are coveted by comparatively few. Fame, for the attainment of which some pant so eagerly, is little regarded by the great mass of men. But all long for rest — along with the most restless who ever pursued a toilsome and turbulent career upon earth. It is this need which sometimes makes the quiet of the grave an object of such deep desire. Its gloom appears to be dissipated, and its forbidding features to lose much of their repulsiveness — when it is viewed as a place "where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest."
There is, however, a rest, not merely in the grave — but beyond the grave. And the rest of the grave has no attraction — in comparison with the rest of Heaven. The rest of the grave is that of utter unconsciousness; but the rest beyond the grave, far from being merely passive in its nature, possesses such features as render it a rest indeed!
But we must never forget that the heavenly rest only remains for a special class — "the people of God." How important is it, therefore, for us to endeavor to ascertain whether we are of their number. They know God as their reconciled Father and Friend in Christ Jesus. They love God — His love being shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto them. They enjoy sweet communion with Him, their fellowship being with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ. Their ruling passion is to please Him, by . . .
doing His will,
glorifying His name, and
consecrating all their powers to His praise.
Let us ask ourselves: how is it with us in reference to these things? Can we be addressed as were the scattered tribes by Peter of old — "Who in time past were not a people — but are now the people of God?" It is to such, that the celestial rest is promised — and to attain it is a blessedness of which they alone will partake.
Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest. Let our hearts be steadfastly set upon it. Let us hear what the voice from Heaven proclaims, "Arise and depart, for this is not your rest — because it is polluted!" Let us show that earth is no home of ours — but that, like our fathers who have gone before us, we are now strangers in a strange land.
O You, who, while a man of sorrows upon earth, did promise to the weary and heavy-laden, what the world could not give nor take away — even rest unto their souls; grant me that spiritual rest here, and then I may anticipate, without presumption, the saint's everlasting rest hereafter!
The Beatific Vision
"In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore!" Psalm 16:11
There is, in this world of sin and sorrow, such a thing as substantial bliss. True religion imparts to its possessors real enjoyment; not merely is it designed to make them holy — but to make them happy; and it is by effecting holiness, that happiness is produced. It has done this in all ages, and it is doing this at present. Now, as in the days of Solomon, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." Now, as in the days of David, she "puts gladness into the heart, more than in the time when the corn and wine of the wicked are increased." Now, as in the days of Paul, she gives "joy and peace in believing."
For the joy with which the believer is here favored — that joy of the Lord, which is his strength — he should render praise to Him from whom it flows.
While grateful, however, for the rills of comfort here below — there is reserved for him rivers of endless joy above! Most delightful is it to draw water out of the wells of salvation, or even to drink of the brook by the way; but,
"If such the sweetness of the stream,
What must the fountain be;
Where saints and angels draw their bliss,
Immediately from Thee!"
The joy of Heaven! Meditate upon it, O my soul! Think of its plenitude on the one hand, and of its perpetuity on the other. "Fullness of joy" "pleasures for evermore." Your vessel filled to be brimful — yes, running over; and, after drinking abundantly, to possess the sweet consciousness, that the fountain will never be dry!
But, this joy, in its measure so boundless, and in its duration unending — whence does it proceed? From You, O celestial Source — immediately from You! "What is the grand feature and element," to borrow the language of a recent writer, "which swallows up all the circumstantials of future bliss? Let patriarchs, prophets, and apostles answer — it is 'Your presence!'
In my flesh shall I see God, says one.
I shall be satisfied when I awake with His likeness, says another.
They shall see His face, says a third.
There is no candle there — why? The Lord God gives them light.
There is no temple — why? For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof.
They no longer draw on the storehouse of the promises — why? Because God himself shall wipe away all tears from their eyes!
Here will be the true Peniel, where they will see God face to face. There will be the goodly company of the prophets, the glorious fellowship of the apostles, the noble army of martyrs; yet all will be subordinate to the vision and fruition of God Himself! Even the recognition of beloved relations, that sweet element in the believer's prospect of bliss, will pale in comparison into a candle light — before this all-surpassing glory!
'Blessed are the pure in heart' — there is Heaven subjectively.
'They shall see God' — that will be Heaven objectively.
The one — Heaven below; the other — Heaven above!
Can we, then, too highly prize, or too ardently seek, the Divine presence during our earthly pilgrimage?
"There are many that say — Who will show us any good? Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us." His favor is life; His smile is Heaven; His frown is Hell.
Against forsaking Him, who is the fountain of living waters, and hewing out to ourselves broken cisterns which can hold no water — let us guard with sleepless vigilance, and pray with ceaseless prayer. Looking to Him, as the Chief Good, let us give expression to the settled convictions of our minds, and the devout breathings of our hearts, in the words of the pious bard:
"But, O You bounteous giver of all good;
You are of all Your gifts — Yourself the crown:
Give what You can — without You we are poor,
And with You rich — take what You will away."
Perfect in Christ Jesus
"The spirits of just men made perfect." Hebrews 12:23
The Christian in this world, like the high priest of old — is compassed with many infirmities. The dogma of sinless perfection has evidently no real foundation to rest upon. The fabric, we have no hesitation in saying, however beautiful, is baseless. There are two most conclusive arguments which settle the point:
The first is, that it is opposed to the whole tenor of God's word. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." There are passages, it is true, which speak of perfection upon earth — but clearly not of sinless perfection. Those who are called perfect are the sincere — as opposed to the hypocritical; or the advanced and established believer — as opposed to mere children, or babes in Christ. "If any man," says James, "offends not in word, the same is a perfect man" — not absolutely — but comparatively; the fact of his having attained the mastery over his tongue, that world of iniquity, shows that he belongs to the class who have made the greatest proficiency in the divine life.
But while God's word is opposed to it, there is another argument, if possible, still more formidable, namely, that those stubborn things called facts — actual, unmistakable, universal facts — are against it. Where is the living embodiment of the doctrine of sinless perfection to be found? Your sinless, your absolutely faultless character — where shall we find him? Angels, tell us where?
"Not as though I had already attained," was the language of the great apostle of the Gentiles; he made no pretensions to the proud attainment, and if he did not, who dares? "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect — but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." And it would be well for us to feel as he felt, so that, conscious of our shortcomings, we might, like him — be ever pressing on toward the mark for the prize of our high calling.
But if there is not a perfect man on earth — yet there are none who are not perfect in Heaven. Perfection was what they desired with ardent longing — what they panted for with agonizing struggles, during their mortal state — but now they have attained it! They know what it is to bid sin a final adieu; to be no more annoyed by indwelling corruption, or exposed to outward temptation. Their justification was perfect before — and now their sanctification is perfect also. They have no spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing! And not only are they perfect in purity — but perfect in knowledge, perfect in love, perfect in bliss!
"The true Christian," as one remarks, "amidst all his imperfections, has germs of immortal excellence in his nature, which, in the Paradise above, will grow and thrive forever. He is now an infant seraph, displaying at present the ignorance, and wilfulness, and waywardness of childhood. He thinks as a child, he speaks as a child, he acts as a child; but he is to rise to the manhood of perfect and heavenly virtue, and put away all childish things. He is to be as holy as an angel, and to live an endless career of spotless purity!"
Those who possess a good hope that such a glorious destiny awaits them, may well rejoice. How should they adore that grace which has made them what they now are — so different from what they were once — and yet so different from what they will eventually become!
Press on then, O saved of the Lord, and, as you do so, learn to labor and to wait. But with all your pressing, and laboring, and waiting — do not forget to combine a spirit of constant trusting in His faithful care and boundless power, through which alone you can attain the end of your faith, even the full salvation of your souls. "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior — be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen."
The Important Verdict
"I reckon that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us!" Romans 8:18
Of the Heavenly state, very little can be known in the present world. Those who have known most of it have felt no hesitation in acknowledging their ignorance, being deeply conscious that such knowledge was too wonderful for them, and that they could not attain unto it. "It does not yet appear," we are told, "what we shall be." And by whom was that confession made? It was not the language of one who was groping his bewildered way under the glow-worm light of nature; nor was he one of those whose lot was cast under the shadowy moonlight of the Patriarchal or Jewish economy. It was the statement of an individual who lived under the full blaze of the Christian dispensation, after the darkness had passed away, and life and immortality had been brought to light through the gospel. And not only so; for he who gave utterance to this truth, had been favored with disclosures of the heavenly world — fuller, perhaps, than those which were granted to any other man. He tells us that a door was opened to him in Heaven. He had gazed upon the great multitudes of the redeemed, the numbers without number, before the sapphire-colored throne. He had listened to their songs, while, with a loud voice, they joined in the praises of God and the Lamb. The river of life flowed by his side, and the streets of gold glittered in his sight. It was such a one who said, "It does not yet appear what we shall be!" Even he felt his utter incapacity, after all his visions and revelations, to set forth the future felicity of the saints.
Similar is the representation of Paul, who speaks of "the glory to be revealed;" a glory which is at present, in a great measure, undisclosed and undiscovered. He also states, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined — what God has prepared for those who love him!"
Yet such views as are given to us in Scripture, are intended to convey to the mind the loftiest conceptions, however undefined, of Heaven's transcendent and inconceivable greatness. Human language cannot express it — and human thoughts are altogether impotent in endeavoring to comprehend it.
But for whom are such representations designed, and what purpose are they specially intended to secure? They are pre-eminently for the suffering saint, and their design is to produce in him a spirit of unmurmuring submission to the divine will; yes, to lead him to rejoice in his sufferings, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. The primitive Christians had to endure a great fight of afflictions; but, although troubled on every side — they were not distressed; although perplexed — they were not in despair. And why? Their reply is, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment — works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!"
"I reckon that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us!" There is some comparison between things which greatly differ: between a mote — and a mountain; between a glimmering candle — and the sun's meridian blaze. But there is no comparison between the sufferings of this present time — and the glory which is prepared for God's people!
The manner in which this truth is stated by the apostle, than whom few were better qualified to judge, is very decided. "For I reckon," he says; that is, it is no rash or sudden thought — but my firm and deliberate conviction. After having fully pondered the matter, balanced advantages and disadvantages, omitting nothing which should be taken into account on either side — this is my unhesitating conclusion: that no present sufferings are worthy of the least comparison, not fit to be mentioned the same breath — with the glory to be hereafter revealed in us. Must not the exercise of patience, therefore, under such sufferings, in prospect of such glory — be a duty reasonable in the highest degree?
May it be ours to know "that tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope." Whatever our afflictions and privations may be — may we bear them joyfully, "knowing that we have in Heaven — better and enduring possessions."
"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while — will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever! Amen"
The Family of the Redeemed
"Of whom the whole family in Heaven and earth is named." Ephesians 3:15
"The whole family!" How large will it be when all its members are brought together to sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb! It is not a mere remnant that will be saved; it is not of an insignificant minority that the great Head will say on the day of final manifestation, "Behold, here I am, and the children which You have given me." John saw a great multitude in his day; and if countless throngs were then gathered in, when the triumphs of redeeming mercy had only just commenced — of what numbers without number will they consist when those triumphs will have reached their full consummation!
But this family will be not only very large — but very loving. Of the portion of it which is now on earth, this can only be said in a limited sense. Matters of trifling importance are permitted to keep them asunder; and instead of loving each other, as children of one family, they, too often, alas! "fall out and chide and fight." But with the family above — all denominational distinctions and all sectarian strife belong to the former things, which have forever passed away.
"I have seen," says one, "a field here and another there, stand thick with corn. A hedge or two has separated them. At the proper season the reapers entered. Soon the earth was disburdened, and the grain was conveyed to its destined place, where, blended together in the barn or in the stack, it could not be known that a hedge once separated this corn from that. Thus it is with the Church. Here it grows as it were in different fields, separated, it may be, by various hedges. By and by, when the harvest has come — all God's wheat shall be gathered into the one garner, without one single mark to distinguish that once they differed in the outward circumstantials of modes and forms."
And while their affection for each other will be very strong — all mistakes being rectified, all past differences done away; so, we may venture to add, their knowledge of each other will be very intimate. For the Heavenly family dwelling under the same roof, sitting around the same table — and yet to be unknown to one another — how very improbable is the thought!
O Lord! make me of the number of Your children, called after Your name, and partaking of Your divine nature. May I not be a stranger or a foreigner — but a fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God. Keep me from being a reproach to them, or a dishonor to You; but enable me to conduct myself from day to day, according to the directions of Your holy word.
"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love — just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us."
Fear of Death
"And free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:15
There is much in the contemplation of death, from which nature shrinks! "The pains, the groans, the dying strife," are in themselves by no means pleasing themes of meditation. And yet it is possible, and surely most desirable, for us to be delivered from that slavish fear, that oppressive bondage, in which so many are held while looking forward to the advances of the last enemy, death. Such a feeling may, doubtless, co-exist with a state of spiritual safety; for people of eminent piety have been under fear's influence, and that in no small degree. But, while it may exist with a state of safety — it is impossible for it to exist with any considerable amount of peace and joy.
In the scripture representations of death, there is much, if properly realized, that is calculated to deliver the Christian from all dread and dismay, in prospect of his approaching departure.
Is there anything foreboding in sleep? How frequently is "nature's sweet restorer" employed to symbolize the death of the saint! "Our friend Lazarus sleeps." "When he had said this, he fell asleep." "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."
Is there anything foreboding in going home, after being long detained in a distant land? Well, death to the Christian, is his going home; it is his departure from being at home in the body — that he might be at home with the Lord.
Is there anything foreboding to the tempest-tossed voyager in the thought of reaching the friendly haven, after all the perils of the stormy deep are passed, and bidding a final adieu to the foaming billows which had so often threatened to swallow him up in their brinish depths? And what is death to the believer — but the casting of his anchor within the veil, and being safely landed at the port of endless peace?
We may well say, therefore, while contemplating these representations, and others of a kindred character, "If such is death — then why should we shrink from it?"
Many a timid believer in meeting death, has realized somewhat of the feelings of Jacob, when, after a lengthened separation, he met his brother Esau. The approaching interview was greatly dreaded, and that not without grounds; for he well knew the fierce character of his brother, and how justly he deserved his displeasure. But, after all his gloomy forebodings — what was the reception he met with? "And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and beheld Esau. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him!" It is thus, oftentimes, that death comes to the believer! Death appears, not with frowns — but with kisses, and guards him home in safety, as Esau did Jacob, to his father's house.
Be of good cheer, then, O fearful saint! Your God is very pitiful, and of tender mercy; He has ever been to His people a present help in time of trouble. O trust Him, therefore, and see whether He will not be better to you than all your fears, and exceed your utmost expectations!
The Prepared People
"Giving thanks unto the Father, who has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Colossians 1:12
Heaven is a prepared place — for a prepared people. It is a prepared place, for the Savior said, "I go to prepare a place for you." But if we were asked concerning the nature of that preparation, wherein it consisted, or what special arrangements it embraced — we would have to acknowledge our inability to throw much light on the subject. If, however, we know little or nothing as to what is meant by Heaven being prepared for us — we are not altogether in the dark in reference to the other side of the question; namely, what is requisite in order to our being prepared for Heaven. On the one point the scriptures are silent — but on the other they furnish us with the fullest information.
As transgressors of God's holy law, we have exposed ourselves to its threatened penalties; we are under its condemning sentence — a sentence which we have most justly deserved. Now this condemnation must be removed before we can enter upon the purchased possession, and be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. But, in addition to this, a personal fitness is indispensable. We are not only guilty — but polluted! And while as condemned creatures — we must be justified; we must also, as those who are sinful and depraved — be purified and renewed. There is thus a twofold fitness — a fitness of state and a fitness of character are required, and we should be equally concerned about both the one and the other.
It is in regeneration, that the latter process commences, when holy principles and feelings and aspirations are planted in the soul by the operations of God's Spirit. Something more, however, is necessary in order to our being made fit for the heavenly inheritance; the good work has to be carried on, and there must be a continuous growth in every Christian virtue.
And when we think of the little progress we have made — we cannot but feel that we yet require much hewing and hammering, before we shall be prepared, as living stones, for the temple above. O what unbelief is there to be destroyed — what indifference to be removed — what carnality to be slain — what selfishness to be rooted out — what earthly-mindedness to be purged away — what cold and groveling affections to be quickened and inflamed! There is, truly, much to be done even in the best, and it may have been the consciousness of this truth, which led the Psalmist to pray, "O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence and be no more!"
There are some who seem to imagine that death produces a mighty change in the minds of men. That death effects such a change in their bodies is certain — but it leaves the soul altogether untouched. Death's work is not to separate sin from the soul — but simply to separate the soul from the body.
One of the representations by which death is set forth, is that of sleep; and we might as reasonably expect, when we retire to bed at night, to rise in the morning with new dispositions and desires — as that death would have the effect of producing such a change in us. It is a solemn thought — that what we shall be, as regards the state of our minds, when we retire to sleep in the silent chambers of the grave — that we shall remain forever. The decisive fiat will then go forth, and shall not return: "He who is unjust — let him be unjust still; and he who is filthy — let him be filthy still; and he who is righteous — let him be righteous still; and he who is holy — let him be holy still."
Reader, lay this important truth to heart, and earnestly pray that God may work in you, by the effectual might of His Spirit, both to will and to do of His own good pleasure.
A Rich Welcome
"You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!" 2 Peter 1:11
The solemn caution of the apostle Paul, when writing to the Hebrews, can never be unseasonable, "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." That many who once bid fair for Heaven, will fall short of it — is a fact that cannot be doubted. To make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience is, alas! a thing of common occurrence — and that after a long profession of the Savior's name. For a vessel to be wrecked at sea is, under any circumstances, a melancholy event; but to be dashed on the rocks after a long voyage, and when almost in sight of land, is heart-rending indeed!
While many who once appeared to be bound for Canaan's happy shore, have never reached it — there is another class who come at length "safely to land," but only, as it were, "on boards and broken pieces of the ship," like Paul and his companions on their voyage to Rome. They have had, speaking after the manner of men, a very narrow escape; they are saved — but only as if by fire.
But there are those who have a rich welcome into the heavenly kingdom. Like a gallant vessel, having every sail set to the favoring breeze, with the sky above all clear and cloudless — they enter into the desired haven amidst the plaudits of the heavenly spectators, who are waiting on the other side to bid them welcome home, and to introduce them to those joys and honors of which they are themselves the happy subjects. A great mercy will it be to enter Heaven at all; but to have this "rich welcome" will be something unspeakably great and glorious.
Child of God, die you must. In order to die safely — it is indispensable that we be made partakers of Christ, and of the graces of His Spirit; but before we can die triumphantly — something more is required. Over and above the mere possession of these blessings, we must have a firm persuasion of our personal interest in the Redeemer; and all those fruits of righteousness which are to the divine praise and glory, are not simply to be in us — but we are to abound in them more and more. Hence we are exhorted to add one attainment to another — as the worldling increases his stores, by adding house to house, and field to field.
It is by being neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and giving all diligence to make our calling and election sure — that we shall secure the promised result: "You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!" O Lord! impart to me a spirit of holy diligence in life; I may then anticipate, not a gloomy — but a blissful and glorious death!
Foretastes of Future Bliss
"Which is the foretaste of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:14
The state of grace and the state of glory, are identical in their nature — although widely different in degree.
Grace is glory commenced — and glory is grace completed.
Grace is the opening bud — and glory is the full blown flower.
Grace is the infant — and glory is the mature and perfect man.
Grace is the early dawn — and glory is the cloudless meridian.
Hence it follows that when the believer enters Heaven, it will be far from being altogether new to him. He has already been influenced by the principles, has engaged in the employments, and had a foretaste of the joys and raptures of that blessed region. It will only be the expansion of the various incipient elements of which his spiritual constitution is at present composed. "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life" — while its full realization is future, he has it in its first rudiments here below.
Reader, be assured that Heaven must enter into you — before you can enter into Heaven! The Christian has, in his Heaven begun below — a foretaste of the Heaven which awaits him above. Unless the kingdom of God is in us here — let us not dream of entering his everlasting kingdom hereafter.
The ungodly also possess the foretaste of their inheritance. What are their pangs of conscience, and the fearful forebodings of which they are often the subjects? They are the foretastes of what awaits them in that world, where the worm never dies, and where the fire is never quenched. The foretaste and the full payment are the same in kind — but in measure the one is insignificant, when compared with the other. And what are the mental agonies which many of the wicked now endure, in comparison with what is reserved for them in eternity? They are only as the flame of a candle — when placed besides a burning fiery furnace; or, as the sparks which fly occasionally from the top of a chimney — in contrast with the eruption of a mighty volcano!
Now what these inward pangs are to the wicked — that the indwelling of the Spirit, and the joy and peace which flow from His presence in the heart, are to the true believer. By Him, he is sealed unto the day of redemption, and made fit for the glorious destiny which awaits him. O my soul! grieve not, then, the Holy Spirit of God; quench not His gracious influences; but ever listen to His small still voice, and yield yourself implicitly to His directions!
The Home-sick Soul
"Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest!" Psalm 55:6
It is an undoubted truth, that there is a marked difference between the followers of Christ of former times — and the great mass of those who are now called by his name. To compare the Christians of apostolic times with those of the present day, is, as far as the latter are concerned, a mortifying and mournful task. The disparity is great in many respects — especially in reference to the feelings with which the former regarded the approach of death and the opening scenes of the eternal world. Death was to them anything but the king of terrors; and, as for the day of judgment, they only thought of it in connection with the coming of Him who was their Deliverer and Friend. Instead of standing aghast, or shrinking back with dismay — they looked and longed for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
So it was pre-eminently with the apostle Paul. Never did a stranger leaving a foreign shore, behold with greater ecstasy the vessel in which he was to embark homeward — than did he rejoice in his approaching departure. He had already been favored with a glimpse of the glories above, and with what glowing ardor did he press onward in order to obtain complete possession of the prize! "O that blessed world that I have seen," would he often exclaim, "when shall I behold it again? When will its splendors burst upon my ravished sight? In comparison with it, what is there here on earth to engross my affections, and win my heart? All the honors of earth, all the thrones of empires — what are they? How insignificant, when placed beside the dignities of that kingdom, and the brightness of those crowns, which God has prepared for those who love Him!"
"Where your treasure is," says Christ, "there will your heart be also." The man of the world has his treasure here on earth; his portion is in this life; and therefore all his thoughts and desires are centered in the things of time and sense.
But how should it be with the Christian? Should not his language be, "As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with Your likeness!"
Of the enemies of the cross it is stated, that "they glory in their shame," and that they "mind earthly things!" But, says the apostle, "We are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior!" O my soul, where is your heart? Are there seasons in your experience when you have "a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better;" to be with Him, to gaze upon His matchless glory, and to join with saints and angels in chanting His praise?
Morning Without Clouds
"But then shall I know — even as also I am known." 1 Corinthians 13:12
At present, the wisest and best men — are subjects of much ignorance. At present, the divine dispensations — are frequently as a mighty deep which cannot be fathomed. But in Heaven all mysteries will be cleared up; the clouds of darkness will have rolled away; and it will then appear that the All-wise God has done all things well. We shall then see how the varied parts of our individual histories, which seemed to be detached and accidental, were all regular links of one vast chain, formed by infinite wisdom, and preserved unbroken by infinite power. Then darkness will become light, and crooked things straight; the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all the ransomed throngs, with emotions of indescribable transport, shall see it together.
Oar present situation is that of a low, dark, and obscure valley. We are hemmed in on every side by lofty mountains, whose summits are lost in the clouds; while the shadows they cast, add to the darkness of our position, and the narrowness of the scene. This, however, is not all; not merely is it limited in its range, and enveloped, for the most part, in thick fogs; we are also confined in a dungeon, being only permitted to peep out through its bars — and with the further disadvantage of having weak eyes, and being very near-sighted!
But when death comes to the believer, he escapes from his prison of clay; his previously diseased organs of vision are restored to perfect soundness, and endowed with a power as much transcending what they once were, as the dimness of the groping bat, is surpassed by the glance of the soaring eagle; or the faint luster of the glow-worm, is surpassed by the refulgent beams of the noon-day sun. And, thus released from his narrow cell, and invigorated with such amazing powers — he leaves the gloomy valley, and is conducted to the towering eminences above, where clouds never gather — but where eternal sunshine settles on their lofty heads.
Hence, in the apocalyptic visions, the redeemed are represented as standing upon Mount Zion, from whence they are able to survey, at one comprehensive glance, the vast moral and spiritual perspective, within whose boundless range all the wonders of nature, providence, and grace, are included. And while gazing upon those wonders, the song of adoring gratitude is raised, a song as loud as the voice of many waters, and of mighty thunderings, and of harpers harping upon their harps, saying, "Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Your ways, O King of saints!"
Endeavor, O my soul! to enter into the spirit of such contemplations. Think much of the inheritance of the saints in light; not the dim light of dawn — but that of full, unclouded, everlasting day. And that day is at hand, for the night is far spent already. Soon the morning without clouds will break, and the last shadow will flee away. Then the mystery of God will be finished, and each glorified spirit will be like the angel standing in the sun, in immediate contact with the Source of all illumination. There will then be no crude conceptions, no erroneous views. That which is perfect having come, that which is in part will be done away. "Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror — but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete — but then I will know everything completely!"
The Reward of the Righteous
"For he was looking ahead to his great reward." Hebrews 11:26
The most important truths are liable to be abused by men. It seems to be the design of Satan to induce people — either to neglect altogether the great verities of the gospel, and make light of those things which angels desire to look into; or, failing to do that, he leads them to pervert the various doctrines of our faith, and employ them for purposes quite opposed to their original design.
These remarks apply especially to the doctrine of Christian rewards, which has been laid hold of by those who advocate the unscriptural and soul-destroying dogma of human merit. Foremost among such, stands the apostate Church of Rome, and much will she have to answer for twisting the scriptures in reference to this, as well as to many other points, on the great day of reckoning. But while the doctrine of rewards has been fearfully perverted by them, it is possible that it has, in its legitimate application, been too much disregarded by us.
The inspired writers very frequently advert to the promised recompense as a motive to Christian devotedness; and the question arises, whether we are at liberty to overlook any motive which the Scriptures supply? Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt; and why? "For he was looking ahead to his great reward."
Paul, during the whole course of his unparalleled labors and sufferings, had his eye constantly fixed upon the prize — even the crown of righteousness which the Lord would give him at his appearing. And shall we presume to be more unselfish than he was? Yes, in the experience of one greater than Moses, and greater than Paul — we find the same feeling manifested. "Who, for the joy that was set before Him — endured the cross, and despised the shame;" the prospect of the future joy — was one of the motives which induced Him to bear, and which supported Him under, the agonies of the cross!
Let us remember, then, that the promise of future reward is designed to stimulate us to abound in every good word and work. This in no way interferes with the doctrine of salvation as the gift of free and sovereign grace; for so manifold are the imperfections which cleave to all our efforts, that we cannot but feel that we are at best, unprofitable servants. Thus, while the Christian is permitted to plead the promise of reward, it is certain that
"He pleads no merit of reward,
And not on works — but grace, relies."
"Rejoice," said the Savior to His disciples, "and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in Heaven." How really great it is — will not be known until it is actually realized. And what effect should its anticipation have upon us? Should it not lead us to be "steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord?" "Could we suppose sorrow in Heaven," observed Philip Henry, "this would be our sorrow — that we did no more for God before we went there — to receive so large a reward!"
Pressing Towards the Mark
"If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." Philippians 3:11
The believer has a great work to do in connection with his own salvation — to say nothing of what is required of him in seeking to promote the salvation of others. It is awfully perilous for him to disregard the apostolic injunction, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." All the representations which are given of the Christian's course, show that it is no easy thing for him to get to Heaven.
How is, not the nominal — but the true follower of Christ, delineated in the sacred volume? Is he not set forth as striving even to agony, and wrestling with every might of bone and muscle? Is he not described as running in contested race, and so running — that he might obtain the prize? Is he not represented as fighting a fearful and deadly combat with foes without and foes within, and that not for a few days — but during the whole period of his earthly existence — his life and his warfare ending together?
Clearly do the inspired writers show that all the courage and hardihood of good soldiers — that all the straining energy of the ancient wrestlers — that all the vigor and effort which befit the Olympic racer — that all the combination of eagerness and vigilance and effort which such agonizing exercises demanded, are indispensably required in order to a due prosecution of the Christian career.
Reader, allow the word of exhortation! We call upon you to awake, to bestir yourself, to be up and doing, and that with real earnestness and full purpose of heart! You may go to Hell sleeping and slumbering — but you can never get to Heaven thus! O lay then all sloth, all lukewarmness, all carnal security aside; and regard no efforts too arduous, no sacrifices too costly, no trials too protracted, if so be you might obtain the prize, even that crown of endless life, which is only promised to those who are diligent and faithful unto death!
There is a wide and very important difference between wishing and working; between possessing a few faint and fruitless desires after salvation, and a readiness to encounter every difficulty, and to perform every duty which are required.
We would not discourage the feeble-minded, nor despise the day of small things. There may by grace in the desire for grace — as there is sin, doubtless, in the desire for sin. But we must warn you not to be satisfied with the mere desire. Thank God for the feeblest wish, and regard it as a token for good; but see to it, that your wishes, instead of terminating in themselves, prompt you to active exertion in the use of those appointed means, through which alone the promised end can be secured.
For our encouragement we have to add, that strength is promised from on high, even strength according to the day. Wait then upon the Lord, that it may be daily renewed. Strong in the Lord and in the power of His might — you will be enabled to smile at every obstacle, and press firmly and valiantly through every foe!
The Glorious Hope!
"The hope which is laid up for you in Heaven." Colossians 1:5
Hope only has reference to the future — it has nothing to do with the past and the present. Faith looks backward as well as forward — but hope fixes its glance exclusively upon things to come. And the objects with which it deals are "good things to come," or things which are supposed to possess such a character.
We say supposed, for many objects for which men have hoped, and which they have anxiously longed for, have turned out, when possessed, to be far less valuable and attractive than they once appeared to be. Distance, in innumerable instances, lends enchantment to the view.
It is so frequently with natural objects; much of the fascination with which they seem to be invested when remotely viewed, disappear when they are more closely examined. "To all those who are conversant," it has been strikingly observed, "in the scenery of external nature, it is evident that an object to be seen to the greatest advantage, must be placed at a certain distance from the eye of the observer. The poor man's hut, though all within is raggedness and disorder, and all around it is full of the most disgusting spectacles — yet, if seen at a sufficient distance, may appear to be an enchanting cottage. The field where the thistle grows, and the face of which is deformed by the wild exuberance of pernicious weeds — may delight the eye of a distant spectator by the loveliness of its verdure. That lake whose waters are corrupted, and whose banks poison the air by their marshy exhalations — may charm the eye of an enthusiast who views it from an adjoining eminence, and dwells with rapture on the quietness of its surface and on the beauty of its outline, its sweet border fringed with the mirthful coloring of nature, and on which Spring lavishes its finest ornaments.
Yet all is the effect of distance — it softens the harsh and disgusting features of every object. What is detestable and ordinary — it can dress in the most romantic attractions. Distance can transform the country hamlet into a paradise of beauty, in spite of the abominations that are at every door, and the angry brawlings of the men and women who occupy it! You see the smoke rising in fantastic wreaths through the pure air, and the village spire peeping from among the thick verdure of the trees which embosom it. The imagination of our sentimentalist swells with pleasure, and completes the harmony of the picture."
Now it is cheering to know that to the Christian's hope, such reflections are altogether inapplicable. Although its object is distant, in a "land that is very far off," yet what is enchanting in the distance will not lose its enchantment when its borders are reached, and its blessedness is actually realized. The feelings of the saints in Heaven will, doubtless, be very similar to those of the Eastern Queen on her visit to the most magnificent of Israel's monarchs. Accustomed as she was, to the most pompous and imposing scenes — yet what she then saw, cast all the splendor with which she had been previously familiar, into the shadows; and with befitting candor she acknowledged that the scepticism with which she had listened to the accounts which had been brought to her, was not only removed — but that the descriptions had fallen far short of the reality, "When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord. She exclaimed to the king: Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn't believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes! In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told!" 1 Kings 10:4-7
An ancient emperor, when he had attained certain conquests which had been for years the summit of his ambition, might cry out, "Is this all?" But never will the Christian conqueror, after having overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of His testimony, when admitted into the everlasting kingdom to receive that recompense of reward, in prospect of which he bore the toils of combat and the labor of the way — never will he be tempted to join in such an exclamation. As God more than fulfills the wishes of His people here, doing for them exceeding abundantly above all they ask or think — so will he immeasurably and inconceivably transcend their loftiest expectations hereafter!
Like the Angels
"They can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection." Luke 20:36
This, although far from being a hard saying — is yet a very startling and astonishing saying. To be "like the angels" — is it not too much for such creatures as we are, to nourish so lofty an expectation? That we, who are but dust and ashes, who dwell in tabernacles of clay, whose breath is in our nostrils, who are crushed before the moth, who can say to corruption: You are my father; and to the worm: You are my mother and my sister; does not the assurance that, for creatures so vile, there is reserved a destiny so glorious, require strong faith to believe it?
But when we remember by whom this statement was made, strange though it is — its truth cannot be doubted. We must receive it as "a faithful saying," since it has proceeded from the lips of "the faithful witness;" and, however staggering to our present low and limited conceptions, we should remember that nothing is impossible with Him, whose power is boundless, whose resources are inexhaustible, and who ever was and ever will be — excellent in counsel, and wonderful in all His works.
Among the many things by which the angelic hosts are distinguished, we need not hesitate to specify their great knowledge. And in order to realize, in some measure, what is involved in our being like them in this particular — we may be aided by the following illustration: Let it be supposed that the great sages of antiquity had lived, not for the sixty or seventy years which were allotted to them as the period of their earthly existence — but that they had flourished from their own day down to the present time. Let it be supposed that, during the lapse of all those centuries, they had been constantly advancing in knowledge, adding from day to day, and from year to year, without interruption, to their intellectual stores. Let it be supposed that they had taken a prominent part in all the public affairs of that lengthened period, and that nothing of any importance occurred without their intervention and concurrence. And let it also be supposed that they had long thrown off, as a man discards the follies of youth, all the prejudices and unsound principles of their early years, and that they had been enabled to concentrate the whole of their energies on the one great purpose of enlightening and enriching their minds.
Now, on such a supposition — what sort of men would they be? What treasures of knowledge would they possess, after having passed twenty or thirty centuries in their undivided pursuit? Would not our great men — our Bacons, and Newtons, and Miltons — be mere pigmys beside them; and for them to confess that they were not worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes, would be inadequate condescension indeed.
But the above supposition will only faintly apply to the angels of God in Heaven. They have lived for countless ages, not in a region of clouds and darkness, as this world is at best — but in realms of perfect light. They have enjoyed a glorious immortality in that blessed world, where truth reigns without opposition, where knowledge is the universal state and character, and where all mysteries are disclosed. And when we connect their transcendent faculties, with the opportunities they have had of exercising them, having, as servants of the Most High, occupied posts of trust and honor at the right hand of universal dominion; it will then appear, that if our great men were mere dwarfs, beside the sages to whom we have adverted; it will equally appear that those sages would be nothing but dwarfs when compared with these exalted intelligences in heavenly places.
Now, if such is the character of angels, what will it be to be like them? And yet this is an honor awaiting the lowest saint. However few his advantages, and limited his attainments here — in the world to come, he will be equal to the lofty principalities and powers above.
These glorious beings are no less noted for their moral excellence, than for their great intellectual powers. O what will it be, then, to be as pure as angels are pure, who have never been contaminated by a single spot of sin! And, being equal to them in holiness — the believer will be equal to them in happiness — the one being the natural consequence of the other.
Child of God! Do not be satisfied with a low standard here; but be anxious that God's will may be done by you on earth — even as it is done by angels and perfected saints in Heaven.
The Eternal Inheritance!
"That those who are called might receive the promised eternal inheritance." Hebrews 9:15
Everything earthly possesses, in its very nature, a character of instability. What is the entire history of the world — but a record of continued changes? In the rise and fall of the great empires of antiquity — the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires — we behold one power established, in rapid succession, upon the ruins of another. Those who ruled at those distant periods, were accustomed to speak, in their pride and arrogance, of their eternal cities; but, although their foundations were so deep, and their palaces so sumptuous — we have now to ask: what has become of them? Let the shepherd's hut, which now stands where once they stood, give the answer. Let the owl of the desert, as she sits in triumph upon the ruins of all their former magnificence, and the serpent hissing among their columns, as they crumble to decay in the now almost untrodden wilderness — give the answer. Let the unconscious plough, as it passes over the self-same places where their mighty senates once sat, and where their splendid courts were once assembled — give the answer. Yes, let echo itself, as if startled by the foot which breaks upon the silence of ages, where all was mirth, and feast, and song — give the answer. All their splendor has vanished like a departing dream — feeble and dim. Yes, mutability is inscribed upon earth, and upon all that it inherits. Its fashion passes away.
They build, then, too low — who build beneath the skies. Here on earth, there is no continuing city. They alone are wise, and they alone are happy — who seek one to come, even that city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. In setting our affection upon things above, we have the consoling assurance that they are things which will endure; that no time can impair them, and no disaster deprive us of them.
"One day," says John Newton, "I visited a family that had suffered by a fire, which had destroyed all the house and goods. I found the pious mistress in tears. I said, 'Madam, I give you joy.' Surprised, and ready to be offended, she said, 'What, joy that all my property is consumed?' 'I give you joy that you have so much property that no fire can touch!' This at once checked her grief, and she wiped her tears, and smiled like the sun shining after an April shower."
"We have a priceless inheritance — an inheritance that is reserved in Heaven — pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay!" O glorious inheritance — and as secure as it is glorious. It is reserved for the believer, on the one hand — and he is preserved for it, on the other hand. He is kept as in a well-defended garrison, from which he can bid defiance to all his foes. Being constantly under a double-guard — the power of God without, and the peace of God within — it is impossible for him to miscarry. With truth can it be said, "Happy is the people who are in such a case; yes, happy is that people whose God is the Lord."
You, reader, if you are a child of God — have nothing to fear! You may venture to say: Let riches take to themselves wings and flee away; let human comforts vanish, and relatives and friends turn treacherous; let the earth, and the works that are therein, be burned up, and all nature sink into one vast and universal ruin — my portion is not there! The Lord is my portion, says my soul, and therefore will I hope in Him. My heart and my flesh fail me; all creature-props and creature-confidences fail me; but God, even the eternal God, is the strength of my heart, and will be my portion forever!
No Cross — No Crown!
"We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22
The opinion was very prevalent in ancient times, that the greatest sufferers were the greatest sinners. This was the principle on which the friends of Job argued; they contended, from the sore distresses which had befallen him — that he must have been a wicked man. In the time of Christ, this notion prevailed among the Jews, as is evident from what they taught concerning the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, and those upon whom the tower fell in Siloam.
But such a view is clearly refuted by the inspired writers. Referring to the ancient saints, the apostle says, "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain by the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented." Were they then, surely, some of the vilest of the vile, wretches whom the just vengeance of Heaven pursued? Should any entertain such a thought, the emphatic parenthesis ("of whom the world was not worthy") shows how far from the truth such a thought would be.
Troubles, multiplied and protracted, have been in all ages the portion of God's people. When we, therefore, are visited with such painful dispensations, we are not to think that any strange thing has happened to us, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in, and endured by our brethren that are in the world. Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward — and what we are born to as men, we are born again to as Christians. "The believer's barometer," as one observes, "stands mostly at changeable; sometimes it sinks down to stormy; but it never rises to set fair, until he is fairly set in glory."
Among the many considerations which should reconcile us to our present sorrows — one is the extra sweetness, which present troubles will impart to our future bliss. They are also intended to prepare us for the kingdom of God, as well as to enhance our enjoyment of its blessedness.
For all our afflictions there is "a needs be." As the Great Leader was perfected through sufferings — so it is with all His followers. Was the apostle exposed to almost constant opposition? Was he . . .
hooted in the streets of Ephesus,
mobbed at Lystra,
jeered at Iconium,
stoned at Antioch, and
confined in the dungeons of Rome?
There was a needs be for them all, and they largely contributed to his spiritual well-being and growth in grace.
O afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted — yield not to desponding thoughts — but cheer up and encourage yourself in the Lord your God! He has promised to be a very present help in time of trouble — and never to leave or forsake those who put their trust in Him. As the distresses of His children have abounded — so have also their supports and consolations. Cast your burden, then, upon Him; make all your requests known by prayer and supplication to Him. Let His former interpositions on your behalf, embolden you to do so; and thus draw inducements from the past — for increasing confidence for the future.
The Christian's Heaven
"We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:8
To be with Christ, is the sum and substance of the Christian's Heaven. Of all the attractive features with which his eternal home is invested — this is doubtless the chief. Hence, when consoling His disciples, the Lord Jesus had nothing higher to promise them than this, "that where I am — there you may be also."
While on earth, the Savior had no certain dwelling-place which he could call his own. "The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests — but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." He was, it is true, through the kindness of a few of his attached followers, accommodated with temporary lodgings; but, as far as calling any place His own, was concerned — He was a poor and homeless wanderer.
At present, however, we have to inquire, not where He dwelt when He sojourned here below — but where He dwells now. It is in the high and holy place that He lives and reigns, and where He is — there all His people are to be.
The place which the glorified Redeemer now occupies, is a place of rest: "For he who has entered into his rest — he also has ceased from his own works." It is a place of joy: "Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame." It is likewise a place of honor: "When he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." Now, to be present with the Lord, includes a participation, on the part of His people, not merely in His rest and joy — but in His dignity and glory.
There are three passages bearing upon this point which we would lay before the reader, and that without any comment of our own, which would only weaken their force, and mar their matchless beauty:
1. "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
2. "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him!"
3. "To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne!"
O, marvelous utterances! To be co-partners with Him in the regal dignities of His everlasting throne — and to join in the administration of that supreme authority which He exercises over all beings and all worlds!
Is it any wonder, then, that the apostle should be willing to be absent from the body, in order to be present with the Lord — that he might partake of that ineffable bliss and that inconceivable dignity which His presence involves and secures? The only wonder is, that our desires are so faint, and that, with such an exalted destiny awaiting us, we should be still cleaving to the dust; and, when the rolling flood appears in sight — for us to be so reluctant to launch away.
O enthroned Redeemer! Quicken my desires, and elevate and inflame my cold and groveling affections. Let the blessed prospects which Your gospel unfolds, be realized by me in their animating, purifying, and consoling influences. Help me duly to ponder the glorious truths announced by Your servant, and to long with a more intense longing for their accomplishment! "And so we will be with the Lord forever! Therefore encourage each other with these words!"
The Celestial City!
"Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them!" Hebrews 11:16
Of the believer's future habitation, it may be truly said, "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God." This is especially the case with the glimpses which are given of it towards the conclusion of the sacred volume. It forms the subject of the most grand and gorgeous of the apocalyptic visions; and, although set forth in language highly figurative, they are eminently calculated to give us the highest conceptions of that blessed state which is described. Among other particulars, the following are prominently represented:
First, its splendor. The city is garnished with all manner of precious stones; its gates are of pearls, its walls of jasper, and its streets of pure gold.
Secondly, its extent. There was given to John a golden reed for its measurement, and he found its capacity to be of amazing amplitude.
Thirdly, its security. It is a city with firm foundations; it is surrounded by a great and high wall; and at its gates angels, as life-guards, are constantly stationed.
Fourthly, its happiness. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away."
Fifthly, its purity. "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."
Sixthly, its duration. "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 forever and ever!"
On one occasion the apostle Paul declared, when referring to the place of his birth, "that he was a citizen of no ordinary city." But there was a far higher sense in which he might, and in which all true believers can still employ the words. The Romans thought much of Rome, the Greeks thought much of Athens, and the Jews thought much of Jerusalem; but what were those cities — when compared with this glorious celestial city? It is the metropolis of the universe, where God especially dwells, where the adorable Redeemer visibly reigns, and where all his ransomed hosts shall eternally reign with Him!
Reader, if you are a citizen of Heaven, you ought to glory in the dignified honor conferred upon you. If you are a citizen of Heaven, your whole conduct should be such as befits your high character and lofty destination. And, if you are a citizen of Heaven, there in a peculiar manner, should your affections be fixed. A person at a distance from his native country would dwell upon it frequently in his thoughts, and it would be the subject of his daily conversation; and, unless it be so with us in reference to the Heavenly Canaan and the New Jerusalem, we have great reason to doubt our spiritual state and character. O for more of the pilgrim spirit, feeling that here we are strangers in a strange land, and looking for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God!
Faint, yet pursuing
"And the soul of the people became very discouraged because of the way." Numbers 21:4
The Christian's path to Heaven is not strewed with flowers. Those who imagine that there will he no up-hill work for them in connection with their Christian course — have yet to learn in what true religion consists, what are the duties it inculcates, and the opposition which it never fails to call forth.
What then? Are we co return to the city of destruction, and abandon all hope of reaching the realms of bliss? Never! There will be much to discourage us — but such things are intended to try us, and to prove us — as were the obstacles which beset the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness of old.
There will be difficulties in our way — but we must surmount them.
There will be oppositions — but we must withstand them.
There will be distresses — but we must encounter them.
There will be temptations — but we must resist them.
There will be enemies — but we must confront and conquer them.
Onward! must be our motto, in spite of all.
"Much in sorrow, much in woe,
Onward, Christian, onward go!
Onward, Christian, onward go,
Join the war, and face the foe!"
"Faint, yet pursuing," is the brief but very emphatic representation that is given of Gideon and his little gallant band. And of Abraham it is said, that "he journeyed, going on still." The Canaanite was yet in the land; his future path was not only enveloped in much darkness — but attended with constant danger; notwithstanding this, he kept "going on still."
So, Christian, may it be with you. Whatever you may have to contend with — foes without, fears within, frowning providences, faithless friends, gins, snares, yawning precipices, and ravenous beasts — continue to press onward to the promised land in the midst of all! And be assured that what awaits you there — will be an ample compensation for all the difficulties and dangers of the way.
How was it with the great Captain of our salvation? "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." And has He not left us a pattern — that we should follow in His steps? Let us seek, then, more of His spirit; and let us "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men — so that you will not grow weary and lose heart!"
The Better Land!
"Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one!" Hebrews 11:16
The present, as far as its natural scenery is concerned — is a beautiful world. Many of its landscapes are preeminently lovely. Its fruitful valleys, its towering mountains, its majestic rivers, its ever-rolling ocean — cannot be viewed without pleasing emotions. But if earth is so lovely — what must Heaven be! If God's footstool is so glorious — what must be the place where He has erected His throne! The one has, doubtless, no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels.
Of all earthly lands, we cannot but regard our own as the best. The charms of external nature may be more prodigally lavished elsewhere; but on how many grounds can we adopt the language of the pious monarch of Israel, when he said, "The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places; yes, I have a goodly heritage." It is a land of peace, of freedom, of security; it is a land ennobled by the zeal of patriots, and enriched by the blood of martyrs; it is a land distinguished by every kind of genius, and by every improvement in science and art; above all, it is a land of gospel light, where the word of salvation is proclaimed, and in which we can read, in our own tongue, the wonderful words of God. Not from a feeling of national pride — but as the result of calm and unbiased conviction, would we exclaim, "England, with all your faults — I love you still!"
But if there is no better country upon earth — then there is a transcendently better one above! O blessed land, of which such glorious things are spoken! Its soil is not cursed for man's sake; no thorns or thistles does it produce; its pastures are always green, and all its flowers unfading. O congenial climate! Its inhabitants shall never say they are sick — and the people that dwell therein, are forgiven all their iniquities. O tranquil region! where there is nothing but continued peace and undisturbed security. There is no night there — the sun forever shines in meridian splendor. There is no winter there — all seasons are woven into one, and that one season an eternal spring.
Christian, look forward to it in the confidence of faith, and soar upward on the wings of devout contemplation! Pisgah views of it are permitted you even here; and, if you are favored with some feeble glimpses of it from that mount of observation, you will be prepared with fresh ardor to sing the song in which it is so beautifully delineated:
"There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign,
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain!
There everlasting spring abides,
And never-withering flowers;
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heavenly land, from ours!
The Wondrous Welcome!
"Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a few things — I will make you ruler over many things! Enter into the joy of your Lord!" Matthew 25:21
The approbation of our fellow-creatures is by no means to be despised; that of the righteous should he especially prized by us as a precious treasure. But, compared with the divine approval — what is the good opinion of the best of men? The approbation of Heaven — outweighs a world of censure, and transcends a whole universe of applause!
What will be the feeling of the believer when he hears the words pronounced from the excellent glory, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Will he not be filled with amazement? Will he not be lost in wonder, love, and praise? When our Lord commenced His public ministry, it is said that all wondered at the gracious words which proceeded from His lips; and so it will assuredly be with us, should it be our happy lot to hear those gracious words proclaimed above our unworthy heads.
And while we may well be exceedingly amazed, even now, at the prospect of hearing it said, "Well done!" we should be still more amazed while contemplating the words which follow, "Enter into the joy of your Lord!" These are words as astonishing and glorious as any that are to be found within the entire compass of that inspired volume, which contains so many blessed utterances. There are three things which this expression sets before us.
The first is, the nature of the joy referred to, "the joy of your Lord." It is His, not merely because He is the author of it and the object of it — but especially because He is the subject of it. It is that which He himself experiences, and wherein consists that inconceivable reward conferred upon Him by the Eternal Father for all His toils and agonies here below. It is the joy that was set before Him, in anticipation of which He endured the cross and despised its shame. Now we are here taught that this joy, so exalted, so ineffable — is to be the joy of His people; they are to partake of it with Him! As far as their respective natures and capacities will admit of — the blessedness will be identical; the Head and the members will be glorified together.
In the second place, we are reminded of its fullness. They are to enter into it, being completely absorbed and swallowed up by it. The joy will possess them, rather than their possessing the joy. The Christian is not altogether a stranger to joy on earth; he has the streams which refresh and gladden his spirit here — but he will have the over-flowing fountain there. Here on earth, joy enters into him — but there, so boundless will it be, he will enter into joy — enter into it, as into a fathomless ocean without a bottom or a shore!
And there is, in the third place, its perpetuity. They are to enter in, without the most distant intimation being given of their ever returning back again. O blessed thought! to go no more out; to have fullness of joy on the one hand, and pleasures for evermore on the other.
Reader, what do you think of realizing this joy — a joy that is . . .
divine in its nature,
boundless in its measure,
and endless in its duration!
Let it be your great concern to be made a partaker of Christ now; for it is only those who are one with Him by a present living faith, that are to be one with Him in future felicity!
The Great Pre-requisite
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness — without which no man shall see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14
The character of the heavenly world as set forth in the scriptures, constitutes one of those conclusive evidences by which the divinity of the Christian religion is confirmed.
The Arabian impostor took upon him to devise a 'Heaven' for his followers, and of the earthliness of its source, it exhibits abundant and unmistakable proofs. In his paradise there was to be enjoyed whatever was voluptuous and luxurious. There were silken couches on which to recline; there were the richest wines and the most delicious dainties; and, above all, there were virgins of matchless beauty, and eternal youth to be assigned to each of the faithful.
And so with the Elysium of the Greeks and Romans, and with the abodes of the departed Hindus. They also were adapted to man's depraved appetites — as they were suggested by man's corrupt imaginations.
But the Heaven of the Bible — one of perfect knowledge, of perfect love, and of perfect purity — is a Heaven exclusively divine. The glorious reality is evidently the device of God's wisdom, and the provision of His boundless grace; and the sublime representations which are given of it in the sacred volume, are as evidently the delineations of His own finger.
What we are taught concerning the nature of the Christian's Heaven, clearly shows that a mighty change is indispensable in us, sinful and corrupt as we are — before we can be allowed to pass through its portals and partake of its joys. It is a spiritual Heaven, and the carnal mind is altogether incompetent even to discern spiritual things. It is a Heaven of light; but the unrenewed love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion has light with darkness? Of all dissimilar conditions, they are the most uncongenial and antagonistic.
What is Heaven? It is the habitation of God's holiness. Whatever is related to the Divine Being is represented as holy, even here. The temple where He graciously revealed Himself was called His holy temple. The ground on which He condescended to admit Moses to an audience with Him was called holy ground. The mountain on which the Savior was transfigured is called the holy mount. The day set apart for the service of God is called a holy day; and the people of God are called, in a far higher sense, a holy people. And if such people and places, on account of their connection with God, are holy — how much more must the Heaven where He eternally dwells be so! It is pre-eminently His holy Heaven. There holiness reigns as in its native element; reigns unopposed, without being brought, as here, into constant collision with the principles of evil. There holiness reigns supreme, being emphatically lord of the ascendant, every hostile power being brought into complete subjection. There holiness reigns forever, its throne being established upon a basis firmer than the everlasting hills, and perpetual as the days of Heaven.
Seek then, O my soul! a state of habitual preparation for that holy world. Be it yours, by constant watchfulness, by wrestling prayer, by mortifying the deeds of the body, and especially by a believing application to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness — to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Remember that you can go to Heaven without wealth, without learning, without friends — but "without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
Sorrow Turned into Joy!
"And the days of your mourning shall be ended." Isaiah 60:20
The present world is a valley of tears — a wilderness of woe. While passing through it, we are exposed to sorrows and sufferings of various kinds. Pain and disease beset us on every side, and many, in the extremity of their anguish, wish for death rather than life. Here we are subject to innumerable troubles; our fondest hopes may be blasted, and we may be called to survey the wreck of all we once possessed. Here the dearest friends are snatched from each other's embrace! The ruthless spoiler respects neither rank nor age — he tears asunder the very heart-strings of our nature, and seems to delight in trampling upon the tenderest sympathies of the soul. The parent is called to weep over the remains of a much-loved child; the husband has to mourn the loss of the partner of his life; the lover and friend are cut off by a stroke, and the desire of our eyes is taken away.
From a thousand sources do our present distresses spring, and the streams of sorrow, in all their sad variety, follow us, more or less, through the whole course of our earthly pilgrimage.
But in Heaven, all our troubles will be over! No sorrow will be there. All temporal and all spiritual evils will be entirely banished. No disappointment, no anxiety, will be there. No wearisome nights, no dismal moanings, no tossings to and fro until the dawning of the day, will be there. There will be no sickness to blast — and no death to devour there. There will be no Rachel weeping for her children, no broken-hearted father exclaiming, "O Absalom, my son, my son," there. There will be no separation from those we love there. There will be no faithless friends to wound our hearts and betray our confidence there. There will be no vexing from day to day with the filthy lives of the wicked there. There will be . . .
no temptations there;
no fightings without — or fears within;
no hardness of heart — or stings of conscience;
no obscuring clouds, or contrary winds, or tossing waves, there.
No, nothing to grieve, nothing to cause a single sigh to rise from the bosom, or a single tear to fall from the eye, will be there. But joy and peace will be there; and cheerful hearts and beaming countenances will be there; and the conqueror's song, and waving palms, and harps of gold, and robes of spotless white, will be there.
O suffering saint! Think much of what is there — it will help you to bear up and to press on under your load of sorrow here. It is only for a little while, that you will have to traverse this howling desert; and then, having passed the narrow stream of death — you shall know Heaven by happy experience! "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined — what God has prepared for those who love Him!"
The Divine Leader!
"And He led them forth by the right way — that they might go to a city of habitation." Psalm 107:5
God's thoughts are not as our thoughts — neither are His ways as our ways! This truth is strikingly exemplified in the manner in which He led the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land. We would have chosen the way that was nearest and most direct — but God decided otherwise. He led them round about through the wilderness, and that for the space of forty years! And not merely was it the most distant way — but it was the most dangerous way as well. It was a land of deserts and of pits — a land of drought and death — a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt.
But, as strange as it appeared, we are fully justified in saying that it was wisely arranged.
Their long detainments;
their tiresome and circuitous wanderings;
their fierce conflicts with the Moabites and the Amalekites;
the bitter waters which they had to drink; and
the fiery serpents with which they were stung —
all fulfilled the high purposes of Him who is excellent in counsel, as well as wonderful in working. However contrary His way might have been to theirs — yet "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation."
And His dealings with His people now, are still as unusual, and as much opposed to all their preconceived plans — as were His dealings with the Israelites! He has crossed their own schemes, and thwarted their most fondly-cherished purposes! He always effects His own ends — in His own way!
Christian, what is your duty?
It is to cherish high thoughts of God in all His inscrutable dealings towards you.
It is to trust His heart — even when you can't trace His hand; believing that "all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies."
It is to follow His guidance continually; for as He led His people of old with "the cloud by day, the pillared fire by night" — so He has promised to direct all your steps, and preserve all your goings.
It is to wait His time; for although the way may appear long and tedious — yet remember, "all is well, that ends well." And what will the end be? "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads! They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away!"
The Blood-bought Throng!
"Therefore they are before the throne of God — and serve Him day and night in His temple!" Revelation 7:15
It was a glorious vision which John saw, when the above words were spoken. He might very naturally have concluded that the bright and blessed band which appeared before him, was composed of the angelic legions. Had he ventured to reply to the question of one of the elders, "Who are these who are arrayed in white robes? And where did they come from?" He would probably have said, "These are those who never have sinned and never suffered — and therefore it is that their robes are so white! These are those who never struggled with the evils of earth; whose lips never drank of the cup of affliction; and whose radiant heads were never darkened by the clouds of sorrow. Happy beings! since the moment of their creation, they have stood in glory and blessedness before the throne!"
But in the answer given, the apostle was otherwise informed! "And he said to me: These are those who have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple!"
The cause here assigned for their glorification, is worthy of being carefully considered.
"Therefore they are" — not because of their original purity, for they are children of the fall — the degenerate branches of a vile and degenerate vine!
Not because of their personal virtues, for they were deeply conscious, as they frequently confessed that in their flesh dwelt no good thing!
Not because of the tears of penitence they had shed, or the prayers they had offered, or the religious rites they had observed, or the charities they had bestowed!
Not even because of the persecutions and buffetings they had endured, as great and grievous as they were!
To none of these things, either in whole or in part, as procuring causes, is their present bliss ascribed. Their robes had been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and it was on that account — that they occupied the glorious position in which they now appeared!
The employment in which they are engaged before the throne, is that of celebrating the praises of God and the Lamb. To engage in this sacred exercise on earth is truly delightful — but what will it be, then, to join with the great multitude of the glorified redeemed! Countless myriads of holy and happy beings, all uniting in the same song, every countenance beaming with rapture, and every heart burning with love!
Our praises here on earth are feeble at best; but when all the glorified throng shall join in full concert, rising in higher and still higher strains — then heaven's eternal arches will ring with their shouts, while they ascribe "Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might — unto Him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever!"
O that our now faint and stammering tongues, might one day mingle with theirs!
May the anticipation of such amazing bliss, impart a more glowing and fervent flame, to our languid affections!
Heirship of Believers
"Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ!" Romans 8:17
When reminding the Ephesian believers of their former condition, the apostle Paul enumerates several particulars — but he concludes his description with the solemn statement, "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath!" Now this is the state of ALL mankind.
Some are born Jews — and some Gentiles;
some are born slaves — and others free;
some are born to wealth — and others to poverty;
some are born to be kings — and others to be beggars
— but ALL, whatever their nation, and whatever their rank — are born children of wrath! And as such, they are exposed to God's righteous displeasure!
And yet we, who are children of wrath by nature, may be delivered from that dreadful condition. The children of wrath — can be made the children of God, by adoption and grace. "Behold," says the beloved disciple, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us — that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" A proper contemplation of this exalted privilege, cannot fail to excite within us feelings of wonder on the one hand — and those of devout adoration and praise on the other hand.
The inquiry of Abraham in reference to the land of promise was, "O Lord God, how shall I know that I shall inherit it?" You, reader, may be disposed to ask the same question concerning "the good land that is beyond Jordan." It is evident that, before the heavenly inheritance can be ours — we must be made heirs of it, and such we cannot be, unless we are adopted into the divine family!
Are you anxious, then, to ascertain whether you have received the adoption of sons? Hear what the apostle says on the subject: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God — and if children, then heirs." The way in which the Spirit testifies to this important truth, is by the work which he has wrought in the believer's heart. By the fruits of the Spirit, wherever they are found — does the Spirit speak to the fact of our adoption and regeneration.
But what is intended by God's Spirit and our spirit witnessing together? To our minds the case appears to stand somewhat thus: The Holy Spirit speaks in the Scriptures; the same Spirit also operates in the heart. Now, between His testimony in the Word, and His work in the heart — there must he an agreement; and the evidence of our spiritual state lies in that agreement. We take the Scriptures as dictated by the Spirit; we there see what he testifies, especially of the character of God's people — of the principles and motives, the hopes and fears, the tastes and tempers, the walk and conduct — by which they are characterized.
Now, if our spirit, in the court of conscience, and before the Great Father of our spirits — bears witness to an agreement between that description, and what we actually find in ourselves, then there is a concurrence of the testimonies. The testimony of God's Spirit and the testimony of our spirits agree; and it is just in proportion to the measure in which this agreement exists, that our sonship is ascertained.
It is the great disparity which appears between what is said in the Scriptures of God's children, and what we find ourselves to be — that furnishes so much ground for doubt as to our spiritual safety. The apostle says, "if children" implying that it is with many far from being a settled point! Oh! to have the IF removed; for our sonship being secured — the heirship will be sure.
The Path of Life!
"I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me." John 14:6
Of all important questions — none can be compared with that which was proposed by the young ruler; namely, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" To take up that inquiry with solemn earnestness, is reasonable in the highest degree; while, on the other hand, to treat it with indifference involves the most awful stupidity. But where is an answer to this question to be found?
Shall we go with the Jew to his law, and seek a reply there? That oracle has long since been silent. The Urim and Thummim have for ages given no reply. Judaism has become an abolished thing; and whoever asks for the way of life, while bending at her shrine, will ask in vain.
Shall we go with the infidel to the book of nature, and seek a reply there? Nature, it is true, proclaims the goodness of God — but does she proclaim nothing else? Does she not reveal His justice and solemn majesty likewise? Are there no threatenings upon her pages — as well as promises? Has she not storms — as well as sunshine? And do not they declare the displeasure of Him against whom we have rebelled?
If, however, no light emanates from such sources, to solve the momentous problem, there is One to whom we can repair who is fully competent to give instruction upon the point; and not only so — but He is able to put us in actual possession of the important and glorious blessing!
The Lord Jesus came that we might have life; and if we only look to Him, in a spirit of true penitence and humble faith, we shall not perish — but obtain immortal blessedness and glory! In setting forth the way of salvation, the inspired writers strongly insist upon the indispensable necessity of sincere repentance towards God, and of sincere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Repentance has been well described as "a heart broken for sin — and a heart broken from sin." Reader, has your heart been thus broken? Do you know something of that "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation, and leaves no regret?"
And, with your load of guilt, have you looked to that precious Lamb of God, who came to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself? There is salvation in Him, and in Him alone; His is the only name given under Heaven whereby acceptance, and reconciliation, and eternal life may be found!
Having obtained a saving interest in Christ — He will be your only hope! All your wishes will be centered in Him; all your interests, you will commit into his hands. And if you will thus make Him all your salvation and all your desire — you will surely find Him to be faithful and true. He will be with you as . . .
your protector in the hour of danger;
your strength in the day of weakness;
your help in every time of need.
He has traversed the waste wilderness Himself; and it is your duty and privilege to mark the footsteps that He trod before you. You will then be led along the right way, to come to a city of habitation. And when the verge of Jordan of death will be reached, his presence will be more than sufficient to calm your anxious fears, for He has said, "When you pass through the waters — I will he with you." And although they may roar and be troubled, and their waves lift up their heads on high; yet close beyond the foaming billows — you shall behold the brightness and the beauty of the Promised Land!