The Expectation of Eternal Life
William Nicholson, 1862
"Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." Jude 21
This poor world is full of sin, sorrow, pain, and death. If we had this life only — we would be most miserable. But the Christian has an unfailing hope of a holier, happier, sublimer, and more durable world than this. This hope supports him in every scene of earthly conflict and distress.
As the mariner tossed by the storm and tempest, hopes to gain the desired haven;
as the traveler fatigued by the perils and toils of his journey, hopes to reach his own beloved home;
as the soldier harassed by conflict in the field of battle, hopes to conquer and to wear the victor's crown
— so the Christian pilgrim in the midst of his strenuous labors, hopes that he will . . .
successfully brave all the storms of life,
finish his course,
fight the good fight of faith, and
then lay hold on eternal life in his Father's house above.
How beneficial the advice of the Apostle in the context! He refers to a prediction of Christ's respecting the enemies of Christ and of Christians, "mockers in the last time." etc., verse 17-19. And this has come to pass in the present time. Look around and see. They may be mockers of Christianity — but they have no weight. See their characters described. But Christians are to cleave to Christ, and look for Heaven, verse 20, 21.
I. The Great Object of Christian Expectancy."Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
1. Believers come to this eternal life immediately after death, and fully after the resurrection of the body.
2. This life will be enjoyed in Heaven. The residence of the ever blessed God, his palace of splendor, the habitation of his holiness, the place where his honor dwells — the dwelling-place of angels and perfected spirits.
It is a place of inexpressible felicity, as it appears from its names. It is called . . .
a building from God;
a mansion of God;
a heavenly city;
a better country;
an unfading inheritance;
an eternal kingdom;
an unfading crown of glory;
peace, rest, and joy of the Lord.
3. It will be a life of complete purity. Sin, in this world, is the great source of estrangement from God — it is that which constantly vexes and distresses the soul. But in Heaven sin can never enter to defile, "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!" Revelation 21:27.
The Church in its triumphant state shall be faultless, Jude 24; Ephesians 5:26-27.
They shall be "like God;" 1 John 3:2; Psalm 17:15.
4. It will be a life of perfect happiness. There is no perfect happiness in this world. Life here is like the sea — like the atmosphere, and the mutations of weather — calms and storms, sunshine and clouds.
Sorrow is frequently the lot of God's people. Some are afflicted under the hand of God — or mourning the loss of relatives or friends — or sunk into deep adversity. Some are weeping over the sins of others, parents over their children, pastors over their flocks, and Christians over the wickedness of the world.
All the causes of evil will be annihilated in Heaven:
sin shall distress no more,
Satan shall tempt no more,
sickness shall pain no more,
the tyrant shall oppress no more,
death shall bereave and destroy no more. "Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!" Revelation 7:16-17
Their joy will surpass that of the Israelites when they listened to the announcement of Moses, "Your enemies which you see today, you shall see no more forever."
5. It will be a life of substantial honor. They will be raised to a kingdom! "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom!" Luke 12:32. Here on earth, they are counted as lowly and base, but there they will be recognized as the seed-royal of Heaven! What can be received, more than a kingdom? It is the highest dignity known on earth. Who can be higher than a king? — than a priest? "He has made us kings and priests to His God and Father!" Revelation 1:6
It will be a life of honor which conquerors obtain. Crowns of victory are in reserve! "Everlasting joy upon their heads." Here they wear a crown of thorns — but there they will wear a diadem of glory!
It will be an incorruptible crown, not a fading laurel, etc. 1 Corinthians 9:25. No length of time will terminate the dominion of the saints, or tarnish the luster of their crowns. They shall reign forever and ever.
It is called a crown of righteousness, 2 Timothy 4:7. It was purchased by the righteousness of Christ, and is given, wholly for his sake, to none but His redeemed people.
It is a crown of life, meaning they shall never die! "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him!" James 1:12; Revelation 2:10.
It is a crown of gold, Revelation 4:4, to denote the priceless and lasting honor to which they will be advanced, and the superlative wealth of the kingdom which they will possess.
They shall sit upon a throne — the throne of Christ, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne!" Revelation 3:21; that lofty throne, that expansive throne, in which he will make room for all his faithful soldiers.
6. It will be a life of rich enjoyment.
A. Heaven is represented as a feast; "Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast" Matthew 8:11.
B. Heaven is represented as a marriage supper; "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!" Revelation 19:9.
C. Heaven is represented as a life of enjoyment in the best society — God himself, angels, and glorified saints.
D. Heaven is represented as enjoyment of the beatific vision of God, when we shall see him face to face, and understand the mysteries of creation, providence, and grace. Then shall light penetrate the soul, and satisfy it, so that whatever in this world was enrapt in mystery, shall be transparent and equitable there, while the soul will exclaim, "You have done all things well!"
7. To crown all, it is called eternal life. Most of the Scriptural representations of Heaven are combined with adjectives expressive of endless perpetuity. Hence Heaven is called . . .
the everlasting kingdom,
the incorruptible inheritance,
the exceeding and eternal weight of glory, etc., etc. etc.
If a miser could insure his wealth for eternity, that alone would be Heaven enough for him — but it is his misery when he dies, that he can carry none of his riches away with him.
But he who lays up treasure in Heaven need not fear moth or rust, or thief — all is eternally secure.
There shall be no night there, no danger to be apprehended, no darkness to fear. The glory of God and the Lamb are the light of the celestial city, and the nations of them that are redeemed shall walk in the light thereof.
II. The Source of Eternal Life:"The mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
This is its only source, whatever may be the pretensions of man. The sacred writers uniformly so represent the incarnation and the ignominious sufferings and death of Jesus, as the source of eternal life. It is so ascribed, because:
1. Our Lord Jesus Christ announced it; and that more clearly than any who had preceded him. See John 3:16, 36. "He has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light." He has poured a flood of light upon those dark things. How limited was the knowledge of Socrates and Plato, and all the sages of Greece and Rome respecting a future state. But it was amply revealed by Christ.
2. Our Lord Jesus Christ has procured it. He by fulfilling the law, enduring its curse, dying the death of the cross — satisfied all the claims of Divine justice, and unbarred for man the gates of paradise. His precious blood falling upon the soul, is the believer's passport to endless life! 1 John 5:11, 12.
3. Our Lord Jesus Christ bestows it, John 17:22. Eternal life is his gift. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish — ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:28
4. Our Lord Jesus Christ prepares us for it. By his Spirit he enlightens the mind to perceive and feel that sin has separated from God, and will debar from eternal life. He leads the soul to the cross of Christ — there it is stripped of vileness, and robed with Divine acceptance. The Spirit carries on the work begun, and performs it unto the day of the manifestation of the sons of God
III. The Conduct of the Expectants of Eternal Life.
1. They are to keep themselves in the love of God. This supposes they are already interested in the love of God, and they love him. "Keep yourselves in the love of God!" This supposes danger — danger of the loss of the Divine favor. To keep in the love of God, the Apostle recommends:
(1.) Faith; verse 20. "Build yourself up in your most holy faith." What is this but constant dependence upon Christ for salvation; resting upon the only sure foundation. This foundation is stable and durable; so are those who rest upon it. It is the living stone, 1 Peter 2:4, imparting life, energy, communion, hope, and happiness to all who rest upon it. Building implies progression.
(2.) Prayer, verse 20. "Praying in the Holy Spirit." See also Romans 8:26. Prayer fetches down omnipotence from Heaven, to the otherwise poor, feeble Christian.
By these two, building, etc., praying, etc., the Christian is made strong to resist temptations, from every source, not to depart from the living God.
2. They are to look for Eternal life.
(1.) They are to expect it as matter of absolute certainty. It is no visionary object, but is founded on an immutable basis, Titus 1:2. Christ not only had the words of eternal life, but the title-deeds of that vast inheritance, and has transmitted them to all his followers, and those who believe now enter into rest.
(2.) They are to look for it with humble expectation and deep abasement.
(3.) They should wait for it with joyful and intense desire.
(4.) They should live in a daily state of preparation for it. So that when they hear the announcement, "Behold the bridegroom comes!" they may be ready and go forth to meet him!