Heaven, at Last and Forever
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Psalm 23:1-6
"Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever." Psalm 23:1-6
The closing note of our Nightingale Song is the most mellifluous and entrancing of all!
"Death darkens his eye, and unplumes his wings,
And the sweetest note is the last that He sings."
"Where with a soul composed of harmonies,
Like a sweet swan, he warbles as he dies,
His Maker's praise, and his own obsequies."
And thus often is it with the departing saint. The pilgrimage has been long and dreary- the song of the wilderness often of a minor key- plaintive and pensive- but the end- the solemn yet glorious end has come; and just as corruption is putting on incorruption, and mortal is putting on immortality, lo! the soul puts forth a might and power unknown before- spiritual life beats its strongest pulse, divine love its deepest throb, holy faith achieves its sublimed victory, and the soul, poised upon the wing for heaven, chants its sweetest song!
The last meditations of the Christian- as from the shaded valley he reviews the goodness and mercy of God- must be composed of grateful love and adoring praise. Whatever may have been the chequered history of his life- sunshine and shade, flower and flint, his "song of judgment and mercy"- yet, tracing all the way God had led him, one theme fills his whole soul- "Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, and His statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage."
It is profitable to pause awhile in life's journey and survey the Divine dealings- number the milestones we have passed, and recount the Ebenezers we have reared- gathering from the review, material for present praise and future trust. David, when in soul-despondency, found it so. "O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I
remember you from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar." But the closing words of our sweet Psalmist point to the future of God's dealings: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." The past of the Divine goodness and mercy and faithfulness was to David an earnest and pledge of the future. All that God had been in his history, he well knew He was now, and ever would be. And thus may our faith reason. We may have yet many a toilsome, lonely stage to travel before we reach the terminus- all wisely and kindly veiled from our view- the sorrows that may shade and the joys that may brighten it; nevertheless, of this we are certain, that Divine goodness, mercy, and faithfulness will shape and color the whole scene; and that the 'painting of our life'- whatever its form and hue- will have its place in the picture-gallery of heaven, perpetuating, in imperishable history, the Divine goodness, faithfulness, and love that brought us there. What a 'strong and beautiful staff' is this truth with which to travel on, confiding the future- all so profoundly enshrouded- to Him who has so skillfully and successfully guided the past- until the life that now is- with all its gloom, trials, and sorrows– shall be lost in the splendor, repose, and song of the life that is to come. "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits." Again and again have You rescued my soul from destruction, and now that the shadows of its close are draping and darkening around me, You are placing upon it the crown of Your loving-kindness and tender mercy!
"Bless and extol His mighty name!
Bless, O my soul, your God and King!
Bless Him who was for sinners slain!
Bless Him who did salvation bring-
Whose tender mercies never fail,
Though earthly storms and ills assail!
"When you are weary, worn, and sad,
It is He alone can solace give-
Can bid your fainting heart be glad,
And all your wonted strength revive.
Even as a pitying father bends
O'er his weak child, so God befriends.
"He knows well our feeble frame,
Remembers we are only dust;
Strength in our weakness He became
A Rock wherein to place our trust;
And those who fear His name, shall prove
Emmanuel still a God of love.
"Man's days are as the fragile flower,
That bends beneath the wind's rude breath
It lives and blooms its little hour,
Then drops its head and sleeps in death;
But mercy shall endure forever
When heaven and earth shall pass away.
"Then bless the Lord, you heavenly host!
You ministers that do His will,
Bless Him who died for sinners lost,
Who lives to plead for sinners still!
Let songs of praise ascend above-
Bless evermore a God of love!"
"And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Heaven at last and forever, is the loftiest and sweetest note to which our Psalmist could wake his sacred harp. He had loved the House of God on earth- but he now looked beyond it to the House of God, not made with hands, in heaven- of which the earthly temple- with its hallowed service, its Christ-pointing ritual, its holy incense and its divine song- had been to his soul the very gate and vestibule. We now turn to the House of God in heaven: what are some of the views which this beautiful and expressive image suggests?
Is not that of HOME the first that impresses the filial and devout mind? Our blessed Lord, who had come from heaven and was now on His return there, was the first to present it in this winning point of light. "In My Father's House are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you." HOME! How the heart leaps into the throat, stifling all utterance, at the mention of that little word! What a potent spell it weaves around our soul! What precious memories and hallowed thoughts it summons back from oblivion's deep cell, and we seem to live the past again! HOME! It is the charmed circle in which our best and purest affections move; the hive of the industrious- the temple of childhood- the shrine of age- the ark of the past, and the haven of the future. It is here the heart nestles- the mind reposes- and our whole being drops its anchor in the purest, sweetest, and calmest waters of earth-born life; and what is all the world to us beside?
The heart has many dwelling-places,
But only once a home."
But, it is around the Christian home the sweetest charms, and the richest blessings cluster- and within whose hallowed sanctuary the holiest and finest affections of the soul are inspired, developed, and trained. It is religion- family religion- that makes home the most sacred and conservative institution of earth- the center of Christian life, duty, and service. Here- where God is acknowledged and Christ is loved- where the claims of the life that is eternal take precedence over the thoughts and engagements of the life that is temporal- is experienced a happiness and joy found nowhere else. What a sanctifying, cementing, consecrating power has family prayer, as a means of promoting domestic happiness, cultivating mutual affection and sympathy, softening and preventing those petty but vexing misunderstandings, chafings, and recriminations which go so far to roughen the edge and unravel the border of the web of daily life! Oh, let true religion breathe its holy atmosphere around your home!
Such is the image of Heaven. Child of God- pilgrim of earth- voyager on life's sea- you are traveling homeward, and will soon hear your Father's voice- "Child, come up here!" Heaven is the family mansion. With what a charm and attraction does this idea invest the "house of God" above! God's church is a family; for all believers are the "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." Divide and dismember the one Body of Christ as you may- rear high your party walls- shout loudly your Shibboleths- disown, excommunicate, unchristianize as you will- the children of God, the Body of Christ- the temple of the Spirit are one family, essentially and indivisibly one, for all that? All true believers are one in "Christ Jesus, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." How closely should this feeling of fraternity knit in affection and fellowship our hearts to all who reflect- however faintly- the family image; from whose lips- as from ours- breathe the endearing words- Abba, Father; and who, in different homes and with foreign tongues, address their every petition at the same mercy-seat, "Our Father who is in Heaven."
REUNION AND RECOGNITION are among the most sacred and precious features of attraction and tenderness expressed by this image. We delight to picture those who once traveled by our side- who went with us to the house of God, and with whom we took sweet counsel- but who have fled from our embrace to the Fatherland, as the occupants of the heavenly home. Filled with sorrow as are our hearts, our grief is not selfish; we wish them joy that they are safely housed, clustering with others of the "family in heaven" around the Father's table. There is an appropriate and graceful fitness of Heaven to the varied characters and employments of the departed saints who people it, which beautifully chime with, and immeasurably brighten, its enjoyment. Were they the Children of God? -then they are at home in the Father's house. Were they Christ's workers? -then they rest from their labors and their works follow them. Were they Christian soldiers? -then they have gotten the victory, and have laid down the sword for the palm and the helmet for the crown. Were they Christian mariners? -then they have reached the shore, and have dropped their anchor in the haven of eternal rest. Were they Christian pilgrims? -then they have terminated their weary pilgrimage, and have exchanged their traveled-soiled garments for the robe made white in the blood of the Lamb. "I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."
And now are experienced the reunion and recognition. The separation was not long. The 'little while' when we shall not see them is passed, and once more we are locked in their embrace. By what mode the recognition and communion of disembodied spirits in glory transpires is a mystery we attempt not to explain: God has made it so; and as we find it, so we leave it until that day when "what we know not now we shall know hereafter." But that there is a reunion and a recognition of the glorified spirits admits not of a moment's doubt. This communion is, of course, entirely restricted to the spirit-world. There are no revelations of departed spirits to the inhabitants of this sphere, neither are there any communications from us to them. The return of Paul from the world of spirits, and the seal of silence impressed upon his lips as to what he there saw and felt, should be enough to set this question of communication from the dead to the living forever at rest. Listen to his statement. "I was caught up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether my body was there or just my spirit, I don't know; only God knows. But I do know that I was caught up into paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be told." What testimony could possibly be more conclusive? To imagine the existence of such phenomena as revelations from the invisible and eternal world, other than those which we derive from a knowledge of the Bible, would not only throw a discredit upon the divine authority and sufficiency of the revealed Scriptures of truth, but would entirely reverse the divinely-established order of things; it would be to suppose departed spirits ceasing to be entirely spiritual, or we, yet in the body, ceasing to be entirely material.
But, with regard to the reunion and recognition of departed saints there cannot be the shadow of a doubt. The perfection of the heavenly state demands it. If we have pleasure in a knowledge of, and communion with, those we have seen- a pleasure of the highest and purest nature- it is not a forced inference to suppose that that pleasure will exist in glory, and exist to a heightened degree of which, in the present state, we can have but the faintest conception. What soothed the bereaved heart of David concerning his departed child? "Now he is dead, why then, should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." Bereaved saint! let this reasoning and this prospect sooth your agonized mind. You cannot
nor would you- recall the happy spirit that has fled from suffering, sorrow, and sin to its heavenly home. Be comforted with the thought that a reunion and recognition await you. And if we are to "sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God "- if they whom, having not seen, we yet shall then recognize, surely we shall know the loved ones whose image, affection, and sympathy were the unfading sun-pictures of our hearts; who lessened the sorrows, and increased the joys, of our earthly pilgrimage. Oh, with what reality and glory this thought invests our Home above!
But, with regard to the holy dead, let us not be misunderstood. While we do not impart the faintest scintillation to the delusion that there is any direct, personal, and intelligent communication between the dead and the living, we are far from ignoring the fact that there is a spiritual influence- silent and invisible- which the remembrance of departed saints should ever exert upon our minds. If we have lost their personal presence, let us remember that we have not lost the hallowed power which their holy life and sacred memory still exerts. If this were not so, why should it be recorded that, "The memory of the just is blessed"? Why should we be exhorted, "do not be slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises"? Oh yes we love to embalm their memories- to recall their holy deeds- their fervent prayers; to be guided by their still molding influence- and to live as though, being dead, they yet spoke to us words of heart cheer and comfort. Nor are we quite sure that they have ceased to love, shield, and guide us. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" 'Encompassed by so great a cloud of witnesses,' oh, let us live as though we heard their voices, bending from their thrones in glory, saying to us- "Persevere! Heaven is worth living, laborings, and dying for!"
Our dead are around us, we feel their pure breath!
They loved us while living, they loved us in death;
They love us in heaven; they watch from its towers;
They cherish us ever- the dead still are ours!
"Our dead are around us- not dead, but alive
To comfort us, guide us, and help us to strive;
They pity us, bear with us, weep for us, too
Not tears such as we weep, but tears like the dew
"And dropped in the darkness, as that falls on earth,
As silent, and softening, and bringing to birth
The good seed within us, in bitterness sown,
From which, at the harvest, comes sweet fruit alone.
"Our dead are around us, without and within;
Our spirit's clear vision, is darkened by sin;
We cannot discern them, though near they may be,
Because the flesh blinds us, while they clearly see.
"Our dead are around us, and with us will stay
All through this life journey, to show us the way;
These are our good angels; they lead on before,
And they will be ready, to open the door.
"When Death's key of iron, unfastens the lock,
And lets out the spirit, with one final shock;
Then, into the pearl-gates, with victory led,
We shall see that our leaders, were those we thought dead!"
But, soothing and healing to the bereaved heart as is this prospect of a reunion and recognition, infinitely transcending is the thought and anticipation of SEEING- KNOWING- AND TALKING WITH THE GLORIFIED SAVIOR. "With Christ, which is far better." It is not, O Jesus, to forget You that we still remember and love those whom You have taken from us to Yourself! Oh! if You were not there, heaven would be no heaven to us! To see You as You are- to love and adore- to worship and serve You, is our heaven on earth, and will be our heaven of heaven in heaven! "Whom have I in heaven but You? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside You."
Heaven at last! The surprise of glory will be well-near overwhelming! If wonder and emotion could seal the lips- strike mute the tongue- it would be when the glory of the Lamb- the splendor of the place- and the music of song burst upon the soul! But not these alone. Methinks the greatest surprise and wonder will be to find ourselves in heaven- at last! There were times and circumstances in our pilgrimage when our hope of heaven seemed in eclipse- an eclipse almost total. Dark clouds of grief enshrouded it- gloomy doubts and fears obscured it- strong corruptions and sad relapses made it to tremble in the balance! -and we often despaired of weathering the storm- and breasting the waves- and of ever reaching the shore! But our Divine Shepherd, who would not lose a lambkin of His flock for whom His soul travailed in Gethsemane- whose goodness and mercy followed us all the days of our life- safely brought us there, and we find ourselves- in Heaven at Last! and forever! "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
How great the contrast with earth! Here nothing is satisfying nothing real- nothing permanent. Passing away is inscribed upon the heart's fondest love- richest treasure. Our Christian experience alternates- our religious privileges change- our cherished friendships fluctuate; and we are scarcely in the house of our God before the sacred service closes- the solemn assembly dissolves- and with a sigh we leave the hallowed place that has been to our soul the banquet of love, and the very gate of Heaven. But, Heaven is forever; the house of God is forever; the society of the glorified is forever- "forever with the Lord." Eternity is stamped upon it all! Blessed hope! glorious prospect! My soul, fight on- toil on -suffer on! Jesus has promised- "He who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out."
"Yes, beyond the grave's cold portal,
We shall meet the friends we love,
Sing with them in strains immortal
In the fairer worlds above.
When we cross the narrow river,
We the sweeter rest shall share,
Love and dwell with Christ forever,
Re-unite with dear ones there.
"What, oh what were heaven without it,
Could we not those pleasures share!
Where's the heart, oh who can doubt it!
Yes, we'll know each other there!
We shall meet that father, mother,
Who await, in yonder sky,
Each dear sister, loving brother,
In that better world on high.
"They have only gone before us;
Soon our journey will be over,
And we too shall join the chorus,
Meet where partings are no more!
Are you seeking for that treasure,
The immortal crown to win,
For that life of endless pleasure,
Free from sorrow, death, and sin?
"Would you meet when life is over,
Would you join the friends you love,
See that sainted father, mother,
In that brighter world above?
Who's so poor but has some dear one,
Some loved kindred, gone before;
Some kind friend, ev'n one sincere one,
Waiting on yon fairer shore?
"How we love to hold communion,
Muse over some departed friend,
Sweetly contemplate our union
In the life that never shall end!
What a comfort in our sorrow,
What a joy amid the gloom,
To feel, to know, that on the morrow
Loved ones meet beyond the tomb!
"Look aloft amid bereavement,
Seek above the Shepherd's care!
Christ has won the great achievement,
He will guide you safely there.
Life is transient, time is fleeting;
Soon from earth we pass away!
Are you Christ and loved ones seeking
In those realms of endless day?"