Heaven, the Consummation of the Inner Life
"Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." Col. 1:12
It is necessary that we should now conduct our subject to a close. What more appropriate and pleasing termination of a theme so heavenly than a brief contemplation of the heaven itself, to whose ultimate perfection the inner life of the Christian is tending- of which it is the germ and the pledge- and in whose deathless splendors it will soon be enshrined! The spiritual life which God has breathed into our souls will never rest until it reaches its full and perfect development. It is now but in its embryo state. Deep as are its pulsations, powerful as are its actings, mighty as are its achievements, holy as are its breathings, it is yet but in its infancy, compared with that state of perfection to which it is destined to arrive. The most complete impress of the Divine image upon the renewed soul of man in this present world, is but an outline of the picture. The highest state of sanctification to which the believer can arrive here, is but the first dawn of day, contrasted with the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," which will burst upon him in a world of perfect holiness. Heaven will complete the work which sovereign grace has begun upon earth. Heaven is the consummation of the spiritual life of the believer. We have selected, as an illustration of this thought, the deeply interesting words addressed by the apostle to the Colossian saints: "Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." There are in this passage some points of the deepest significance, all bearing a close relation to the great subject which, in the preceding pages, has been occupying our attention.
Our first inquiry relates to THE 'FITNESS' OR 'QUALIFICATIONS' FOR HEAVEN here spoken of. And with regard to this point, let me observe, it forms the very basis of our subject- the groundwork of the whole. There are those, perhaps, who would make the consideration of heaven their starting-point; but of what real value are mere notions of heaven? Magnificent, poetic, and even accurate, though they may be, yet if a man has no scriptural, no real fitness for heaven, his notion of it is but the dream of a Mohammedan- the vision of a Turkish paradise; it is not that bright, that holy, that Divine conception of heaven, which a mind, renewed by the Spirit, and sanctified by grace, forms. It is an earthly picture of heaven, conceived by an earthly mind.
In what, then, consists this 'fitness' for heaven, to which the apostle refers? Need I say, that it excludes all idea of any personal, natural, or original fitness in the sinner himself? -the destructive doctrine of the Popish church, and may I not add, the wretched figment of many who falsely call themselves Protestants! The only spiritual fitness there is in the natural man- do not be alarmed, my reader- is a fitness for hell! There are already in the natural man the elements of hell, even as there are in the spiritual man the elements of heaven. The smouldering embers of eternal destruction are there, a fitness only for the 'abodes where, in regions of darkness and woe, the sinner is banished forever from God. And before man can have a spiritual fitness for heaven, he must pass through a spiritual change, assimilating him to the nature of heaven. "Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight shall no man living be justified."
Our first observation, then, with regard to this 'fitness,' refers to the renewal of the Holy Spirit, through which the believer passes. Heaven is the abode of a renewed people; it is a holy place, and the home of the holy; and before the sinner can have any real fitness for heaven, any well-grounded hope of glory, he must be a partaker of a nature harmonizing with the purity, and corresponding with the enjoyments, of heaven. Heaven would be no heaven to a carnal mind, to an unsanctified heart. Were it possible to translate an unconverted individual from this world to the abodes of eternal glory, overwhelmed with the effulgence of the place, and having no fellowship of feeling with the purity of its enjoyments, and the blessedness of its society, he would exclaim- "Take me away from here! It is not the place for me. I have no sympathy with it. I have no fitness for it. I have no pleasure in it." Solemn thought!
Here let me remind the reader of those searching words of God's Holy Spirit, in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, where the apostle says, in the fifth verse- "You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world." In the twenty-first chapter of the book of the Revelation, and the twenty-seventh verse- "Nothing evil will be allowed to enter—no one who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life." And what were the words of the Savior to Nicodemus? In the third chapter of the Gospel by John, and the third verse, we have them: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." These are Divine and awful verities. Reader! You must be born again of the Spirit, or heaven will be to you a distant, an unknown, and unapproachable region. You must "be renewed in the spirit of your mind," and become "a new creature in Christ Jesus;" -or, be it known unto you, heaven will never be your eternal dwelling-place.
This 'fitness,' then, to which the apostle refers, implies a spiritual change in the inward man, the begetting of an inner life. The Christian is a renewed creature- he is a partaker of the Divine nature: he has sympathies, affections, and desires imparted to him by the Spirit, which assimilate him to the happiness and purity of heaven. It is impossible but that he must be there. He possesses a nature unfit for earth, and congenial only with heaven. He is the subject of a spiritual life that came from, and now ascends to, heaven. All its aspirations are heavenly- all its breathings are heavenly- all its longings are heavenly- and thus it is perpetually soaring towards that world of glory from where it came, and for which God is preparing it. So that it would seem utterly impossible but that a renewed man must be in heaven, since he is the partaker of a nature fitted only for the regions of eternal purity and bliss.
The second step in this preparation, or fitness for heaven, introduces to us the work of Jesus- the great atoning, finished work of the Son of God. And here we are referred to the fitness of title which the believer possesses to this "inheritance." And what is his title, beloved? What is it that gives the Christian a valid deed, a right of possession to eternal glory? It is his justification by faith through the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is the only valid title to eternal glory which God will admit- the righteousness of His dear Son, imputed to him that believes. Here is the grand fitness of a poor, lost, polluted, undone sinner- the fitness that springs from the spotless righteousness of the Lord Jesus, "who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." "He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
Behold, then, beloved, the high vantage-ground on which a saint of God stands, with regard to his hope of heaven. He stands 'outside' of his own righteousness, in the righteousness of another. He stands accepted in the Accepted One, he stands justified in the Justified One, and justified, too, by God, the great Justifier. As we spoke of the necessity of the new birth- of the spiritual renewal of the mind, as supplying a spiritual change necessary for the enjoyment of heaven, so we speak of the necessity of an interest in this justifying righteousness, as supplying a spiritual title necessary for the possession of heaven; and we say to every man who has not fled out of the ruin of his own righteousness, and taken up his rest in the righteousness of Christ, that he has no valid title to glory. If the great divorce has not taken place- the separation of himself from himself- and if he has not been brought to the grand trust of a poor sinner- the righteousness of the incarnate God- then, all his 'hope of heaven' is as unsubstantial as a dream- a vision that passes away.
We must connect with this statement the atoning blood which cleanses us from all sin the blood which purifies- the blood which washes -the blood in which are drowned all the believer's iniquities- the blood which has cancelled all his transgressions, and which presents him before God, washed whiter than virgin snow.
Nor must we overlook, in this consideration of the fitness for heaven, the adoption of the believer. God having made him His son, has adopted him as His child, has taken him into His family, so that he becomes "an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ;" and standing in this filial relation to God he has a fitness for the Father's house, which belongs only to the children of adoption.
And what, let me ask- as entering very essentially into this fitness for glory- what is the great end of all God's afflictive dealings with his people? For what purpose is the Lord's furnace in Zion, and his fire in Jerusalem? It is to purify, and sanctify, and 'fit' the believer for "the inheritance of the saints in light." All your heaven-blessed trials, all your sanctified temptations, all the covenant transactions of God with you, beloved, in the way of afflictive providences, are designed but to 'fit' you more thoroughly for "the inheritance of the saints in light." All the disentwining of your affections from around creatures and created things, all the disappointments you meet with- the cisterns He breaks, and the beautiful gourds He withers- yes, all the steps of God with you, beloved, are but to detach you from earth, and earthly things; and thus the more perfectly to 'fit' you for "the inheritance of the saints in light." In this point of view, who would not welcome the severest chastisement? who would not drink willingly the bitterest cup? who would not take joyfully the spoiling of all that is dear and fond? who would not be willing to have the fetter unbound, the chain snapped, the bond severed, that gives liberty to his struggling and ascending spirit, and brings him, in a state of holy fitness, nearer and still nearer heaven?
The second inquiry relates to THE INHERITANCE ITSELF, for which this 'fitness' is given- "the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." Our first remark refers to heaven as an "inheritance;" under this figure it is here presented to the mind. Nor is this the only passage in which the same similitude occurs. In the first of Ephesians, and the eleventh verse, we read, "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of his own will." In the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the fifteenth verse- "And for this cause He is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions which were under the first testimony, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." In the first epistle of Peter, the first chapter and the fourth verse, we have a striking unfolding of our inheritance: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively (or a living) hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last day." And if we will turn to the first chapter of Ephesians, and the thirteenth verse, it will be observed we have a pledge or an earnest of this inheritance: "In whom, also, after you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory."
And if it be inquired what the saints of God do thus inherit? the answer will be found in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation by John, and the seventh verse; "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be My son." How vast, how illimitable, then, the inheritance of the saints- inheriting "all things!" It is a beautiful idea of heaven; it is a lovely picture, on which the eye of faith delights to dwell. The 'earthly heir' looks at his inheritance, surveys it, walks through it, luxuriates amid its beauties, and anticipates its full possession. The 'heir of glory' has his inheritance too. It is heaven he looks to it, he longs for it, and soon the Savior will come in personal glory, and institute him into its full and eternal possession. But observe whose is this inheritance. It is the "inheritance of the saints." And who are "the saints?" Ask the world, and it will answer, "They are the fanatics, the enthusiasts, the deluded of society." Ask others, and they reply, "The baptized- all who have been baptized are saints." And ask many who profess not to be of the world, and who laugh to scorn the dogmas of the Papacy, and the semi-Popish doctrines of the Tractarian, and even they are at a loss for a better answer. But who are "the saints," beloved? They are the Lord's people- the Lord's holy ones of every name,
and from every fold. They form the whole election of grace; the chosen, ransomed, called people of God, be their outward name among men what it may- whether they belong to your section of the Church or to mine- all who are sanctified by God the Father- all who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb- all who are renewed by the Holy Spirit- all who are partakers of the inner life- all who have "the white stone," and "the new name" in that white stone- all who are living holy, godly lives- all belong to the family of the "saints." Is it yet asked, Who are the "saints?" They are God's sanctified ones, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit, and by whose grace the Lord is, day by day, step by step, carrying on that blessed kingdom of grace in their hearts which will soon fit them for the full possession of eternal glory.
You may think it, my reader, a light matter to be a "saint "- an epithet of scorn by an ungodly world; but, oh! let me tell you, the day will come when you would gladly lick the very dust of the saints' feet- gladly take hold of the skirts of their garments, as they ascend up into everlasting glory. But as you loathed them, and scorned them, and persecuted them, and separated yourselves from them when upon earth- so, when they enter the abodes of bliss, you will be separated from them, banished into everlasting woe, to mingle and to herd throughout eternity with those with whose unrenewed natures, and carnal minds, and earthly pursuits, you now sympathize and assimilate. Awful thought!
But observe, they are "the saints in light." Shall we refer this to their character? They are indeed "the children of the light, and of the day." They have "passed from death unto life," and "from darkness into marvellous light." The light of the Spirit is in them- the light of truth is in them- the light of holiness is in them. They, and they alone, possess real light; all others are in darkness- the darkness of death. With all a man's deep, erudite, beautiful philosophy, his pure ethics, his splendid attainments in human science- yet, apart from the indwelling of the Spirit of grace, the indwelling of Jesus, "the Sun of Righteousness," he is the "child of the night and of darkness." But the "child of the day" is the true believer in Jesus, who has been " translated out of darkness into his marvellous light," by the powerful act of his sovereign mercy. What a beautiful image of the true Christian is 'light'. The child of the light! "The saints in light!" Walking in the light of a Father's reconciled face- walking in the light that beams from the cross of Jesus- walking in the light of an indwelling, teaching, sanctifying Spirit- walking in that bright, luminous path, which "shines more and more unto the perfect day."
Or shall we refer this description of the glorified saints to their present place of abode? Emphatically and truly, they axe "the saints in light." They are in heaven, the abode of Him who is "Light," essential light, in whom is "no darkness at all," "dwelling in light which no man has seen, nor can see." They are in the abodes of perfect purity, of which light is the expressive symbol; they are in the regions of perfect knowledge, of which light is the magnificent metaphor; they are in heaven, the place of perfect light, in which is no more darkness. How beautifully is this description of heaven placed before us in the holy Word! Thus in the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah, and nineteenth verse- oh, what words are these! "The sun shall be no more your light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto you; but the Lord shall be unto you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. 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." "The inheritance of the saints in light!"
We find the same beautiful figure, setting forth heaven, in the twenty-second chapter of Revelation, the fifth verse; "And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light, and they shall reign forever and ever." And if we refer back to the twenty-first chapter and the twenty-third verse, we read- "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did light it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in the light of it; and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day; for there shall be no night there." The glorified saints are "the saints in light." No more veilings of the Father's countenance- no more "walking in darkness, having no light" -no more mourning over Divine desertions, the suspensions of the Father's experienced love- no more tears to dim the eye- no more clouds of unbelief to darken the mind- no more mental despondency to enshroud the spirit- they leave the gloom, and the mist, and the fog, and the darkness of ignorance, error, and pollution behind them, and they flee to the regions of light, to "the inheritance of the saints," of which "the Lamb is the light thereof."
But it will be observed, that these glorified saints are said to be "partakers of the inheritance." "Who has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." There is something very emphatic in the word. We are "partakers" of it now, in Christ our Head. In consequence of our union to Christ, the exalted Head of the church, we are at present "partakers" of this inheritance. We have the first dawnings of it in our soul; the foretaste and the antepast- and, what is best of all, the indwelling of the Spirit, who is the pledge of its possession. Beloved, we warn you against the doctrine held by some, which teaches, that after passing through the great changes which we have just specified, and while standing upon the very borders of heaven, the believer may miss the goal and never enter "the inheritance of the saints in light;" that he may be a partaker of the renewing, sanctifying grace of the Spirit, and stand accepted in the righteousness of Christ, and yet, after all, may fall away and be lost forever! We speak of this- not to wound the feelings of those who hold it- whom we would love- but to warn you against a doctrine so contrary to God's Word. We speak of it to the glory of God and of his truth, which teaches us that we have the pledge of that inheritance in the indwelling of the Spirit; and if we have the "earnest" of the inheritance in the possession of the Spirit, we must, and shall assuredly, have the inheritance itself.
"Partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light "- "partakers" with all the saints of God- "partakers " with the whole family of the elect- "partakers" with all the children of adoption- "partakers" with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with David, and Solomon, and with all who have gone before us, with all who have entered heaven a little in advance; and partakers with all the "ransomed of the Lord, who shall yet come to Zion with everlasting songs upon their head, obtaining joy and gladness, their sorrow and their sighing fleeing away!" Oh, who would not be a "partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light?" Reader, if you are a humble possessor of the inner life, you shall be a happy partaker of this glorious inheritance- the life which is to come.
A few words only, upon THE PRECEPT based upon this subject. "Giving thanks unto the Father, who has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Beautiful is the order of the Holy Spirit here. Observe to whom this grateful acknowledgment is made, "unto the Father." Then the sweet truth stands revealed- luminous in its own celestial light- that heaven is a Father's gift. And oh, how sweet, to trace all our mercies to a Father's love, to a parent's heart- to look to Jesus, whose righteousness gives us a title- to look to the Holy Spirit, whose sanctifying grace gives us a fitness, as the precious gifts of a Father's love; then to rise through these up to the Father himself, and trace the gift of heaven- the consummation of the inner life- to the heart of the First Person of the glorious Trinity. Who, after reading this passage, will any longer rest entirely and exclusively in Jesus- precious as he is? Who will not, through Jesus as the Mediator, rise to the Father, and trace up all the blessings of redemption, and all his hope of glory, to the part which the Father took in the great and wondrous work? Oh, how unutterably blessed is it to see the Father engaged, equally with the Son and the Spirit, in preparing for us, and in preparing us for, "the inheritance of the saints in light!" "Giving thanks unto the Father." Upon what grounds, beloved? Oh! it was the Father who provided the Savior, his beloved Son. It is from the Father that the Spirit emanates who renews and sanctifies. It is the Father who has prepared the inheritance, and who, by his upholding power, will at last bring us safely there. All thanks, then, all adoration and praise unto the Father, "who has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
In closing, let me affectionately ask you, my reader- in what does your fitness for heaven consist? Put not the question from you- transfer it not to another; let it come home to your own conscience- for in a little while your destiny will be fixed- eternally, irrevocably fixed; and one half-second of hell's torment will fill your soul with remorse, terror, and unavailing regret, that in the land of hope, and in the day of grace, you turned your back upon both, refused the mercy of God in Christ, rejected his dear Son, and died in your sins. In what does your fitness for heaven, then, consist? If it is only the fitness of a 'mere profession'- if it is but the fitness of a 'mere notional reception of truth'- if it is the fitness merely of an external waiting upon the sanctuary, the public means of grace, it is a fitness not for heaven, but for banishment from heaven! Are you born-again of the Spirit of God? Have you fled to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation? Have you the "earnest," the pledge of heaven, in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God- in the life of God in your soul? Have you the first sheaf of the harvest bound up in your bosom? Have you been sealed by God's Spirit as an heir of glory?
To God's saints I would say- cultivate a habitual, a growing fitness for heaven. Do not be satisfied with past attainments, with your present measure of grace and standard of holiness; but, beloved, since heaven is a holy place, cultivate holiness- a habitual growing fitness for "the inheritance of the saints in light." Be advancing, be progressing, be pressing onwards; "putting on the whole armor of God," "casting aside the weight that so easily besets you," the garment that trails upon the earth, and pressing onward and heavenward, until you reach the confines of bliss, and enter within the portals of glory!
And I would say- look upon all the Lord's covenant dealings with you as but preparatory to your approaching emancipation from all sin, suffering, and sorrow. Welcome your trials; they are sent by your Father. Welcome the stroke of his rod- it is a parent smiting. Welcome, oh! welcome, beloved, whatever detaches you from earth, and wings your spirit heavenward. Oh! welcome the furnace that consumes the dross and the tin, and brings out the precious gold and silver, to reflect in your soul, even now, the dawnings of "the inheritance of the saints in light." Oh! be submissive, meek, and quiet, under God's chastening and afflicting hand, and receive all his dispensations as only tending to 'fit' you more perfectly for "the inheritance of the saints in light."
Let this subject cheer and comfort the bereaved of the Lord, from whose hearts have fled the loved and sanctified ones of earth, to the eternal heaven. Oh! how full of consolation to the bereaved heart is this subject! Where have the departed fled, who sleep in Jesus? They have but exchanged the region of darkness and shadow, for the regions of light and glory. They have gone from the scene of impurity, defilement, and sin, to the place of perfect holiness, complete sanctification, and of eternal love. Then dry your tears- then press the consolations of the Gospel to your sorrowing heart, and look up with that eye of faith that pierces and penetrates the dark clouds that intervene between there and you, and behold them now "partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
And oh! yourselves anticipate the blessed moment, when the Savior shall send, not an enemy, but a friend- for such is death to the Christian- to open the cage that imprisons your spirit, and let you escape to the abodes of eternal glory. Oh! anticipate, and by anticipating, be preparing, day by day, for its realization; anticipate the happy moment which releases you from "the body of sin and death," and ushers you into the full and eternal blaze of "the inheritance of the saints in light."
Such is heaven, and such is the consummation of the Inner Life. As that life descended from God, so to God it shall ultimately and finally return. It shall never, never die. Not a spark shall be quenched, nor shall a pulse cease to beat- not a thought that it has conceived, nor a desire it has cherished, nor a prayer it has breathed, nor a work it has accomplished, nor a victory it has won, shall die; all, all shall survive in ever-verdant, ever-growing; ever-enduring glory. The babe in grace shall be there! The young man, strong in overcoming the wicked one, shall be there! The father, matured in experience, and laden with the golden fruits of age, shall be there! All, all shall reach heaven at last- the end and the consummation of the life of God in their souls. Oh, to have this heaven in our hearts now! Heaven is love- the place of love- the perfection of love. And what is God's love in our hearts but the foretaste of heaven- the prelibation of heaven- the first-gatherings of the vintage- the pledge and earnest of all that is to come?
"Oh, hidden love of God, whose height,
Whose depth unfathomed, no man knows;
I see from far your beauteous light,
And I sigh for your repose:
My heart is pained, nor can it be
At rest, until it find rest in thee.
"It is mercy all, that you have brought
My mind to seek her peace in thee!
Yet while I seek, and find you not,
No peace my wandering soul shall see.
Oh, when shall all my wanderings end,
And all my steps to Jesus tend?
"Is there a thing beneath the sun
That strives with you my heart to share?
Oh! take it thence, and reign alone,
The Lord of every motion there!
Then shall my heart from earth be free,
When it has found repose in thee.
"O hide this 'self' from me, that I
No more, but Christ in me, may live;
My vile affections crucify,
Nor let one darling lust survive.
In all things nothing may I see,
Nothing desire or seek, but thee.
"O Lord, your sovereign aid impart,
To save me from low-thoughted care;
Chase this self-will through all my heart,
Through all its latent mazes there.
Make me your duteous child, that I
Ceaseless may Abba, Father, cry.
"Each moment draw from earth away
My heart, that lowly waits your call;
Speak to my inmost soul, and say,
I am your Love, your God, your all!
To feel your power, to hear your voice,
To taste your love, be all my choice."