The Happiness of Being with Christ,
Preferable to Continuance on Earth
by William Nicholson, 1862
"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.
When the path of the traveler is very rough and dreary, it is natural that he should ardently long for home. So it is sometimes with the Christian pilgrim on earth. When trials abound, and sorrows press him down — he longs to reach his Father's house above, "Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest!" This was the case with the Apostle Paul, whose afflictions, trials, and duties were very heavy. See preceding verses, and 2 Corinthians 4:8-11; 11:23, etc.
Sometimes, too, faith and hope are in lively exercise; the Christian, like Moses, from the top of Mount Pisgah, beholds the promised land afar off, etc., and then he ardently longs to enter the purchased inheritance.
But the Apostle was governed by the will of his Savior, "So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it." 2 Corinthians 5:9
I. The Believer's Happiness in Heaven Consists in Being Present with the Lord.
Christ now dwells in Heaven. After his resurrection, he ascended to that magnificent abode. "I ascend to my Father, and your Father" etc. John 20:17; Acts 1:11; Ephesians 4:8, 9.
There he sits at the right hand of God in a state of glorious exaltation, Acts 2:33; 5:31; Philippians 2:9.
1. To be present with the Lord, implies fitness of association. And what fitness is required? Holiness — purity — similarity of spirit — spiritual relish and desires for holy and heavenly exercises. Revelation 17:14-17. Christ effects this by regeneration; and the good work he has begun — he will perform and finish. Hence the Apostle says, 1 John 3:1-3; Ephesians 5:25-27.
2. To be with the Lord, implies a consciousness of his presence; "present with the Lord." We shall be with him in that Heaven — our eyes will behold him there!
Job dwelt upon this truth with pleasure, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" Job 19:25-27
So did David, "And I — in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness!" Psalm 17:15
"They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads!" Revelation 22:4
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am!" John 14:3
"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne!" Revelation 3:21
"I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!" Philippians 1:23
In this world, his presence is spiritual; we walk by faith, and not by sight. How different it will be to see him as he is, and behold him face to face!
3. To be with the Lord, implies an immediate perception of his glory. "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!" John 17:24.
In Heaven, Jesus is arrayed in the glories of his human nature, which will bear full proportion to the intimate union in which it stands to Deity in the glories of his Divine nature, as the Creator and Governor of the universe in his mediatorial glories, arising from the vastness of his undertaking, and the perfection which shall distinguish the completion of it, as described in Revelation 5, etc.
How wonderful, how efficacious, how rich, will his love then appear! His glory will be seen in the . . .
magnificence and immortality of his dwelling-place;
beauty and glory of angelic attendants;
salvation of his people, so rich, so complete and eternal;
provision he has made for their enjoyment through the countless ages of eternity!
4. To be with the Lord, implies to enjoy his special favor. "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 7:17.
Then will he reveal himself to those that have loved him here. He will pour the light of immortality into their minds, so that whatever mysteries may have pervaded the works and dealings of his hand on earth, all shall be understood and praised. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12
Jesus will behold his people through interminable ages, as. . .
the travail of his soul,
the fulfillment of his sufferings, and
the gems in his crown of glory.
He will make them kings and priests unto God, and bestow upon them an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. His special favor to them is stated in the book of Revelation,
"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God!" Revelation 2:7
"He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death!" Revelation 2:11
"To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it!" Revelation 2:17
"To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations!" Revelation 2:26
"He who overcomes will be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels!" Revelation 3:5
"Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God; and I will also write on him my new name!" Revelation 3:12
"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne!" Revelation 3:21, etc., etc.
5. To be with the Lord, is to praise him. "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!" Revelation 19:1
"Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready!" Revelation 19:6-7
6. To be present with the Lord, is to dwell with him forever. "They shall reign forever and ever!" Revelation 22:5.
II. Christians Are Present with the Lord Immediately after Death.
The very language of the text is conclusive on this head. "Absent from the body — present with the Lord." "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!" Philippians 1:23. The answer which Christ gave to the dying malefactor, "Today shall you be with me in Paradise." Solemn thought! To be present with the Lord implies:
1. That we must leave this vain world with all its engagements and connections.
2. We must die — pass through all the agonies and throes of death.
The tabernacle must be dissolved. Could we but make our exit like Enoch and Elijah, and carry these bodies with us, to be changed into spiritual bodies in the transit — we would be content to go. But we must go the way of all flesh. Yet, joyful thought,
3. When death has made the separation — as soon as the spirit is free, it shall be present with the Lord. Angels shall take it in charge, and conduct it to him who ransomed it by his precious blood and the body shall be raised and refined and reunited with the soul in God's own time.
III. To Be Present with Christ, Is Preferable to Continuance in Life.
The apostle expresses a desire "to be absent from the body — and to be present with the Lord." The words import a preference. "We are confident," etc. We are bold, courageous, inspirited to a willingness, "to be absent from the body — and to be present with the Lord."
1. On account of the deficiency of human life. Nothing here can satisfy the boundless desires of the soul. "The fashion of this world is passing away." "You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand!" Psalm 16:11
2. On account of persecution. In Heaven all will be love, and peace, and joy. "The wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
3. The enjoyment of Christ's presence in Heaven will be uninterrupted . . .
no Satan to harass us,
no sin to tempt us,
no evil heart of unbelief to cast us down,
no bodily affliction to sorrow us, etc. etc.
4. The enjoyment of his presence will be eternal.
1. This preference arises from that confident assurance which saints have of a better state, "to be absent from the body — and to be present with the Lord!"
2. The subject affords great comfort under the loss of pious relatives and friends. They are present with the Lord. They are not lost, but only gone before us.
3. Is our piety anything like that of the apostles? Are we so weaned from the world as to be willing to be absent from the body — and to be present with the Lord?