By John Angell James, 1859


The exercise of hope necessarily supposes an object. We could as soon conceive of an effect without a cause, as a hope without an object. It means, as we have shown, the desire and expectation of something which the mind apprehends at the time to be both desirable and probable. It is the soul's act in coveting, reaching after, and looking for—something future and something good. Now what is the OBJECT of Christian hope?

Viewing it in its widest latitude of meaning, hope may contemplate, and be considered as exercised in regard to, many things, even in this world. Any future good yet to be possessed and enjoyed in reference to our religious state and well-being, may be an object of hope. Is some important and difficult duty to be performed at a future time? It is an object of hope—to be enabled by divine help to discharge it. Here is something good, something future, and something to be both desired and expected. Or is some affliction seen looming with portentous form and aspect, in the distance? Then to be sustained under it, and carried through it, is a future good to be desired and expected—and is therefore an object of hope. Or is there the appearance of some spiritual good of any kind seen in futurity, and some ground to expect it? Here also is an object of hope. In short, in this view of the matter, hope runs through the whole course of our spiritual as well as our natural life.

It is in this reference the word is generally, if not universally, used in the Old Testament. The future state, though not totally unrevealed under the Mosaic economy, was touched upon with extraordinary reserve, rarely proposed as an object of hope, and as rarely employed as a motive to righteous conduct. In the Jewish Theocracy, which was in fact an earthly government, administered by God as its political sovereign, temporal and national blessings, and immediate divine interpositions for bestowing them, were the objects of the hopes of the Jews as such. Hence, see the language which will be found in Hosea 2:5-9, and very many other passages of the prophets. It is true GOD is said to be their hope—but this means that their desires and expectations of future good things rested on his promise and perfections. I do not say that the pious and intelligent Jew had no hope of eternal glory. I believe he had—but I mean that the hope spoken of in the Old Testament generally referred not to this—but to temporal benefits.

The object of the Christian's hope, so far as earth and time are concerned, is a redeemed, regenerated, holy, happy world. It is for this he longs, and prays, and labors—and this he confidently expects, because God has promised it—here is the foundation, and justification, and encouragement, of all his efforts for the conversion of the nations to Christ. All our Missionary Institutions are based upon this hope. This is the spring of all our energies, and the stimulus of our labors. This sustains us under sacrifices and self-denial, discouragement and defeat, delay and disappointment. We have God's command as our warrant; God's promise for our support; God's glory for our end; and God's approbation for our reward. Amid the restless tides, the perpetual vicissitudes, and the mighty revolutions of human affairs, we go on with our missionary enterprise, assured we shall not labor in vain. It is a work of faith, a labor of love, and therefore we carry it on with the patience of hope.

But, after all that has been said on these objects, the Christian hope, that which is so frequently spoken of by the apostles in their writings, has respect to something ulterior, to something above our earth, and beyond the range of time. It penetrates the veil that conceals the unseen world, and lays hold of the invisible realities of eternity. Hope is one great part of the life of true religion; and religion, while it imposes many obligations, and confers many blessings upon earth, points heavenwards. It is a messenger from Paradise come to fetch us there, and which bestows many favors upon us by the way.

1. In this relation, the first object of Christian hope is an entrance into heaven immediately after death. I am aware that this is neither the only nor the highest object of Christian desire and expectation; and that, of course, the felicity of the Christian in his disembodied state is not complete; and also that less is said about his death and entrance into glory, than about the day of Christ's second coming, and the scenes of that glorious advent. Yet something is said about it, and therefore something should be thought about it. Be it so, that our felicity is not complete until the resurrection morning, and that the revelation of Christ is the event to which the sacred writers direct our attention; yet, is it nothing to throw off the burden of the flesh? Nothing to be done with sin and sorrow, care and fear, labor and weariness, disease and death? Nothing to have passed through the dark valley, and to arrive safely in the kingdom of light and glory!

The apostle's mind, at any rate, appears to have been much taken up with the idea of his going to heaven at his death, when he said, "For me to die is gain—I have a desire to depart and be with Christ. We are confident, I say, and willing to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord." Our Lord, who attached great importance to this, directed the attention of his people to it, where he says, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life." So did his beloved apostle in that precious declaration, "I heard a voice saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."—Rev. 14:13.

That the believer continues a conscious existence after death until the resurrection, and enters upon his eternal repose immediately after dissolution, is evident from the language of the apostle just quoted. For would not everyone, unbiased by 'doctrinal systems', conclude from his language that he hoped to be with Christ immediately on his departure, and that, in fact, he desired his departure purposely to be with him? Had he not expected this, would he not rather have desired to remain? For surely he must have thought it better to live and labor for Christ, than lie in an unconscious state in the grave. No, if this were not the case, would not his decease be a going away from that presence of Christ which he enjoyed upon earth? How could he be absent from the body at all, if the soul were to sleep with it until the resurrection? Nothing can be clearer or more certain than that the apostle thought he would, at his death, go to heaven.

Neither our reason, nor our experience, nor our observation, can enable us to comprehend, or even conjecture, how our disembodied spirits will exist and act separated from their earthly companion, the body. Whether, indeed, they are pure spirit, we can hardly say, some being of opinion that God only is this, and that even angels have some material dwelling; and if our souls are pure spirit we cannot conceive what relation they have to space; and how they communicate with each other. These, and many other questions, such as the place of their residence, their occupations, and the means of communion, which our inquisitive curiosity and a fruitless speculation might ask, and which no divinity or philosophy could answer, may sometimes engage and perplex the thoughts of believers.

The better way is not to allow these difficulties to occupy our thoughts at all; to put them aside, and to be satisfied, as Paul appears to have been, with this one idea, that "we shall be ever with the Lord." We need not ask how we shall see him without bodily eyes, or hear him without the organs of sound. Do we not sometimes realize his presence now? Are there not, seasons when we can no more doubt that we are in communion with him than we can doubt our own consciousness? Yet we see him not, hear him not, touch him not. It is a purely mental exercise; it is the thinking power alone that is engaged. No bodily organ is employed, no sensation is transmitted to the soul along any nerve to the brain. It is a mental presence, and a mental bliss. If the soul is not out of the body, which of course it is not, it is acting without the bodily senses, and though an unhealthy state of the brain would prevent these exercises of thought, yet this does not prove that the soul is so dependent upon the brain for its operations, that it cannot act without it.

Still I admit that though perfectly happy, as far as it can be in a disembodied state, it is not, until the resurrection, in a perfect state of its full and final bliss.

2. But the supreme object of Christian desire and expectation is that which the apostle has set forth in his epistle to Titus, "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ," Titus 2:13. Before we come to the consideration of my design in bringing forward this passage, I will give a brief exposition of its meaning, so far as it contains a description of the person of Christ.

Christ, then, is to appear. He is now the object of BELIEF—He is hereafter to be the object of VISION. We are now blessed in believing on him—we shall hereafter be more blessed in seeing him. We are not, to imagine that this contradicts his language to Thomas, when he rebuked him for his incredulity in the following language—"Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed."—John 20:29. Our Lord is not here comparing believing with seeing—so much as speaking of the different degrees of faith. Happy, or worthy of commendation, are they who have not seen, and yet have, upon credible evidence, believed. There were some of the apostles, or other people perhaps, who, calling to recollection Christ's own predictions, had, upon the report of others, believed that he was risen from the dead—while Thomas demanded the evidence of his senses. Their faith was much stronger than his, and more entitled to commendation. From hence it seems probable that there might have been somewhat of boasting on the part of Thomas, in his speech on the evening of the resurrection, as if he were a man of too strong an understanding to be easily imposed upon. He would not believe that his Master had risen on such trivial evidence as the reports of the women—nothing would satisfy him but visual demonstration.

And while our Lord praised those among the disciples who had believed credible report—full well knowing that through all future ages faith must be grounded on the evidence of authentic testimony, and not on that of the senses—he intended to bestow his commendation on all who would from that time believe on him through the inspired report of his witnesses. His language, therefore, is not a comparison between the blessedness of believing and seeing, as if there were more happiness in the former than in the latter; for then the least believer on earth would be more blessed than the highest apostle in heaven. It is simply an commendation on all those who, until the coming of Christ, instead of demanding the evidence of sense, or more proof than God has given us of the mission of his Son—would, with meekness, humility, and candor, yield to that which he has given us. It was for our encouragement these gracious words were spoken. We have not seen him—but we have abundant evidence that he is what he said he was, the Son of God; that he did what it is said he did, died for our offences, and rose again for our justification—and therefore in him whom we have not seen, we believe; and believing him, we love him, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Oh, no—we cannot put believing above seeing. There is joy and peace in believing, just as there is joy in the well-authenticated report that some dear friend or relative, who is pursuing our interests abroad, is alive and well—remembers us, and will soon return to us. Every letter that brings glad tidings of his love, and activity, and purpose of coming back, gives us delight. Believing is in this case, a happy state of mind—but what is this to the bliss of seeing him, of beholding him in full prosperity and health, of feeling ourselves in his arms, hearing his voice, and beholding his smiles! Those only can conceive of such raptures who have experienced them.

Yes, and so it will be in regard to Christ. We do rejoice in faith. To believe what is testified of Christ, must be followed with unutterable joy, when that faith is intelligent and strong. We do not wonder the apostle should say, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice!" But what is this to the vision of the Savior? Old Jacob rejoiced in the report which his sons brought him of Joseph's state and splendor in Egypt—but what was this compared with the almost overpowering rapture of seeing his glory, and feeling his arms clasping him to his bosom? What deep and solemn emotions are produced by the emblems of Christ's broken body in the supper of the Lord. How highly, susceptible minds, which are much under the power of imagination, profess to be moved by the masterpieces of painting. Yet these, with the exception of Raphael's picture of the Transfiguration, and a few others setting forth the Last Judgment, generally relate to the scenes of his humiliation. But what artist can ever attempt to rise to the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ? It were almost blasphemy to attempt it; and though it may seem like an expression of vandalism to say it, yet I am sometimes inclined to wish that the arts had left the person and work of Christ outside their circle of objects—as too sacred or too grand for pictorial representation. The sculptor may portray in marble, and the painter on canvass, the humanity of Christ—but they cannot exhibit to the senses the divinity with which it is mysteriously united. They may delineate the outward cross on which that humanity was nailed—but they cannot set forth the inward agony of soul, of the divine sufferer. They may give vivid expression to the passion of grief and the virtue of patience which the countenance exhibits—but not the divine power by which they are sustained. They may excite our sympathies—but by all their genius can do nothing to strengthen our faith. So that all their images and their pictures, however they may gratify our taste, do very little to increase our knowledge and invigorate our hope. It is the inspired detail of all this, as recorded by the sacred writers, that alone can answer these ends.

We have only to believe, and hope, and wait, and the divine reality of a revealed Savior shall be exhibited to the senses of the body of the resurrection. In what magnificence of language, in what splendor of imagery, in what sublimity of thought—have the sacred writers set forth this stupendous event of the second advent of Christ. I will here collate, and hope the reader will turn to them—a few of the passages in which this is bought before us. Our Lord himself begins the description—Matt. 25:31; the apostles follow—1 Cor. 15.; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 1:7-10, 2:8; 2 Peter 3:10-13; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 1:7, 20-22.

I enter not on the controverted subject of his pre-millennial or post-millennial coming. In whatever sense it is understood, the coming of Christ is the supreme object of the Christian hope, as set forth in the New Testament. Alone and apart from all the events that stand connected with it, no Christian mind can be insensible to its profound and absorbing interest. Were it possible to call from the grave any of the great geniuses that have adorned, blessed, and elevated our common nature—what intense interest would they excite. Would not scholars travel to the ends of the earth to see Homer or Virgil; philosophers to see Plato, Socrates, Bacon, or Aristotle; poets to see Shakespeare, Milton, or Dante; mathematicians to see Euclid, Newton, or Pascal?

And, coming from the world to the church, who that could possessed the means, would not cross oceans and continents to see Abraham or Moses, Daniel or Isaiah, Paul or John, Luther or Cranmer? But what are any of these but stars of various magnitudes to the sun? Let any one ponder the expression—THE GLORIOUS APPEARANCE OF OUR GREAT GOD AND SAVIOR! What a sublimity is in the idea! The manifestation of the Creator of the Universe! The manifestation of the Redeemer of a lost world! The manifestation of Him who unites in his one person the uncreated glories of the Godhead, and all the milder beauties of the perfect man. In that one ineffable manifestation, to have the controversies of all ages about the person of Christ settled beyond the possibility of doubt or dispute—to have it made plain to every mind, that he is indeed the great God as well as our Savior—to see thus before us in full-robed majesty—for the confusion of his enemies, and the consolation of his friends—the God-man!

Such is the ultimate hope of the believer, and well might the apostle call it the blessed hope; an adjective that expresses, and but feebly expresses—for what can fully express—all the happiness it even now imparts to those who indulge it; much less that which will be enjoyed when this desired and expected good will realize it, and the soul shall enjoy the full fruition of it. The second advent of Christ is the great object of Christian hope, about which far more is said in the New Testament than about the believer's entrance at death into heaven.

In connection with the appearance of Christ, will be the RESURRECTION of the dead. It is probable that Christians dwell too little on this grand article of their belief, and are taken up too exclusively with the soul and its heavenly bliss. It is conceded that the body is an inferior part of our complex nature. But, it is a part, and as truly the workmanship of God as the soul. It is the most exquisite material organism in the universe, and an essential part of our manhood. Man is not man without it. Christ died to redeem the body as well as the soul, and as the purchase of his blood, it has, on that account, a great value. It was formed to be a habitation, yes, a temple of the soul, and though smitten into ruin and desolation by death, it is to be rebuilt in a more glorious form at the resurrection. "Christ," says the apostle, "is Lord both of the dead and the living." He has established his throne upon the sepulcher, and stretched his scepter over the domain of the King of Terrors, who is his vassal prince. He owns, watches, and guards the sleeping dust of his saints. Hence we may with comfort yield up in death not only our spirits—but our poor bodies, into his hands, and say with our poet—

God, my Redeemer, lives,
And often from the skies,
Looks down and watches all my dust,
Until he shall bid it rise.

And with equal comfort may we yield up the bodies of our friends to his keeping until the morning of the resurrection. Does not this strip the grave of part of its terrors, and invest the tomb with a kind of sanctity? It is not a prison where the body is incarcerated—but a chamber, where it sleeps under the guardian care of its Redeemer. The apostle has said more about the body as a separate part of our nature than even about the soul. Who can read that wondrous chapter in the epistle to the Corinthians without astonishment and delight?—a chapter which proves its own inspiration. Whence—but from heaven, had this Jew such ideas, so far beyond all that Cicero ever knew, or Plato ever taught, or ever Moses or Isaiah revealed?

With the heathen philosophers the resurrection of the body was thought to be not only impossible—but undesirable even if it were possible. They had a notion that matter (as distinguished from spirit) was essentially and incurably evil, and that, therefore, a resurrection would be a curse and not a blessing. Hence we find that when Paul preached this doctrine at Athens, the philosophers made him, on this account, the object of their ridicule. From his address to the Corinthian church we learn that some of its members had drunk into this error, and considered that the resurrection signified not a material quickening of the dead body—but a spiritual quickening of a dead soul. Others of the first Christians held the same notion, as is evident from what he says of Hymenaeus and Philetus. This opinion is still professed, I believe, by the followers of Emanuel Swedenborg. To confute this notion, or at any rate the general opinion that there is no resurrection of the dead, is the design of the elaborate and conclusive argumentation in the chapter to which I have just alluded—an argument which the apostle founded on the resurrection of Christ—HE lived, died, and rose again, not as a private—but public person, the representative of his people; so that if he rose, they will also rise. Their resurrection is involved in his. Hence he commences the chapter with, not only an assertion of Christ's resurrection—but a summary of the evidence of it.

How is it, then, that Christians do not more frequently dwell on this grand and delightful truth? One reason, perhaps, is its mysterious nature, and most mysterious it is—how a body, which at death, is dissolved into all its simple elements, and which elements may be taken up to form grass, flowers, trees, fruits, the bodies of animals, yes, of other men—can be raised again, so as to be in any sense the same body, transcends all human conception. And yet it must be in some sense the same body, or its re-existence would be a creation, and not a resurrection. Yet it cannot be the same body, as regards its numerical particles, for the body is ever in a state of change, and the body we now possess is not, as to the numerical particles of which it is composed, the same as it was seven years ago; yet, as to identity, it is still the same body. What then will constitute its identity? No philosophy, no divinity can penetrate the mystery.

The apostle, in answer to the cavil, "With what body do they come?" answers analogically by a reference to the grain sown, which dies before it rises into the blade and the ear. But this was not so much intended to explain the mystery, as to answer an objection. The cavil was, "How can a dead body become a living one?" The thing seems an impossibility. "Look," says he, "at the grain of corn cast into the earth, is there not death before life there?" If you had never known or heard of the process of germination and vegetation, and had never seen the growth of a plant, would you not, when you saw the grain cast into the earth, when you saw it decay and turn to dust, deem it altogether improbable that it would in any form ever rise put of the ground? Yet, says the apostle, this does take place, and this should remove all objections against the idea of the resurrection of a dead body. There is an analogy, an imperfect one, it is admitted, and the main objection in one case would also be equally against the acknowledged and indisputable fact in the other. The apostle does not draw a parallel between the two cases, for they are not parallel. The whole of the grain does not die, there is a germ—but we know of no such living, indestructible germ in the human body which is preserved from the power of the last enemy. And then this resurrection of the grain is by slow degrees of vegetation, whereas the body is raised at once perfect and glorious.

The argument is altogether of a popular character, and must not be pressed too far. The objection was, that the holy died and returned to dust and could not rise again. Paul says in reply—You may make the same objection to the grain that is sown, that dies also. The main body of the kernel dies. In itself there is no prospect that it will spring up. The analogy may be carried a little farther than this, and be intended also to set forth, as far as such and illustration can go, the greatness and beauty of the change that will take place in the body by the resurrection. Look at the blade of wheat; see it in all the elegance of its form; the cylinder and joints of its stem; the freshness of its verdure; the gracefulness of its blade; the richness of the ear and crown of its berries—and compare all this with the grain from which it sprang, when in a state of decay in the earth—and then see a faint emblem of the change to be made in our poor frail bodies by the resurrection. Now consider what the apostle has said on this subject—

"It is sown in CORRUPTION," even while alive it is subject to painful, loathsome, and wasting disease; and when dead it falls under the process of putrefaction, and sinks into a state of dissolution and dust. But it is raised imperishable—unsusceptible to pain, disease, decay, and disorganization.

"It is sown in DISHONOR"—corruption itself is dishonor; it requires covering and concealment before it descends to the grave, to hide its deformities and defilements. And when dead, it is hurried off to the grave, as too offensive for the fondest eye to look upon. But it shall be "raised in glory," for the apostle tells us, "our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body (the body of humiliation,) by the mighty power whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself."—Phil. 3:21. Can the idea of glory itself be carried higher than to be like Christ? See him transfigured on Mount Tabor, when his face shone as the sun, and his clothing glittered with a purity whiter than the snow, and he was one blaze of splendor. We are to be raised like that!

"It is sown in WEAKNESS." In life it is feeble, soon weary, needing sleep, food, medicine, to keep it in working condition at all—often unfit for its occupation, and pressed down first by infirmity and then by age—and at last worn out, unable to resist the approach of death, and dropping into the grave. But it is "raised in power," it shall be lifted above the frailties of humanity, no longer be a clog to the soul—but wings to the soul, needing no more sleep, or food, or renovating treatment—but nerved with the vigor of immortal youth, and capable of the service of God without weariness or languor.

"It is sown a NATURAL" or "animal body." It now possesses a lower physical life like the brute animals—has animal instincts, passions, propensities, and appetites, and thus corresponds with the inferior creatures; it is supported in the same manner, and is, like them, subject to the law of mortality. But it is "raised a spiritual body," from which the lower animal life will be extruded, and a new kind of physical existence introduced. It will still be a material body—but, not an animal one. Its organic structure will be entirely changed. Some of its base senses will probably be extinguished, some of its purest ones retained, such as sight and hearing, though how this can be without its present material organization is now a mystery. Other senses, of which we can now have no more conception than the blind has of colors, or the deaf of sounds, will be added.

In short, "the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality!" Oh, the glorious sublimity, the mysterious magnificence, the rapturous incomprehensibility of these two words, as applied to the body—IMPERISHABILITY and IMMORTALITY! We can enter but a little way into the poet's words—

My flesh shall slumber in the ground,
Until the last trumpet's dreadful sound;
Then burst the chains with sweet surprise,
And in my Savior's image rise!

It is to this the apostle's lofty language applies, where he says, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."—2 Cor. 5:1-4. What an expression, "mortality, swallowed up of life!" Our little, feeble, short-lived self, body and soul, absorbed in an ocean of eternal life!

Nor ought we to consider our own resurrection, apart from the resurrection of the whole redeemed family, as the exclusive object of hope. At the coming of Christ, the reign of the King of Terrors will come to an end; the iron scepter which he has swayed for so many centuries shall drop from his hand; he shall be deposed from his throne; and he himself, the last enemy, shall be destroyed. Death itself shall die! Then shall come to pass the saying, "Death is swallowed up in victory." The countless multitudes of believers of every age, shall come forth from their graves, when the living saints, in a moment, at the last trumpet, in the twinkling of an eye, shall be changed—and the unimagined, unimaginable multitude ascend to meet the Lord in the air!

Such is the object of the Christian's hope, as regards the resurrection of the body. Faith may and does believe it. Hope may and does desire and expect it—but imagination's utmost thought, its most adventurous and brilliant conception, dies away, and confesses the feebleness of its effort. The 'wing of imagination', after a few fluttering attempts to rise, droops—and piety hears and obeys the voice which says, "Wait, and you shall see!"

In that day of consummation, that "bridal of the soul," the redeemed man will stand complete, glorified in body and soul—a fit inhabitant of a world of glory! How joyfully, exultingly, and triumphantly, will the blessed spirit re-enter its material habitation—then transformed from a poor, dilapidated, mud-wall cottage—into a glorious mansion, a sacred temple, a royal residence, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. O, what awaits this humanity of ours! How death and the grave lose their terrors in this glorious prospect! How wonderful that the world should not lose its power over us—by the superior attractions of this scene of transcendent and incomparable glory.

But more is yet to be told; and all may be summed up in that word of mysterious meaning, of unfathomable bliss, and of inconceivable glory—HEAVEN. This is the expression and summation of all the believer hopes for beyond the gave. This is the word which sheds such a luster on the page of the New Testament, and distinguishes it so illustriously from the Old. But where—and what is it? Over one part of this question the veil of silence is dropped by the hand of God, as it is over many other subjects; for "it is the glory of God to conceal a matter." Many would have felt it a satisfaction had the Savior, when he spoke of his Father's house with its many mansions, told us the precise region of our eternal home— so that looking out on the starry skies we might have been able to fix on the sun, the moon, or some planet, and say, "Yonder it is! Yonder is the world to which the spirits of my fathers have already gone, and to which I myself, before long, am going!" How delightful it would have been, we are ready to think, to be able every day, or every night, to look up and see the light of our Father's dwelling, just as a child in his journeying home from school can see his paternal home stand out conspicuously in the landscape.

But this cannot be. It would not harmonize with the gospel scheme, which requires that from beginning to end we should live by faith, and not by sight. We are to see nothing while on earth—but believe everything. Just as when we reach heaven, we shall see everything, and accept nothing by faith.

It is no concern where heaven is—since we know what it is. Location is a small item in its bliss. We feel that now. The faithful wife would sooner dwell with her loving husband in a cottage than be separated from him in a palace. The affectionate child pines in a mansion for the home of his parents, though that is a scene of comparative poverty. Location has infinitely less to do with happiness on earth, than the domestic and social relationships, ties, and affections. Still, we doubt not, that even heaven's location will be a part of heaven's glories. God "is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." There is, perhaps, something more than figure in the ravishing description of the New Jerusalem, in the last two chapters of the Revelation. Not that for a moment we contend for an exact literalness in that dazzle of material splendor. But it may still be considered as intimating, in some degree, the visible glory of the residence of the redeemed family.

But what is heaven? What is it, in turning the eye of hope to the future world—we are to desire and to expect? Here again, we say, God is silent about many things. "It does not yet appear what we shall be." Many subjects cannot be revealed. We might as well attempt to explain to an infant prince, his future state and glory as the powerful monarch of a mighty empire—as to explain to a child of God on earth all his future honor and bliss in heaven! There are felicities and occupations in heaven, for which we have no terms, and no ideas. But how much is told us.

Our Lord has summoned it all up in that most sublime and comprehensive of all phrases, "ETERNAL LIFE"—everlasting existence, with all that can render it an eternal blessing. It is life, intellectual, physical, spiritual, social—in absolute perfection—and all this forever! Such life, that compared with it, all we have known of life here, deserves the name of death, rather than life. Eternal life is so full, so rich, so abundant, as to exclude all pain, all care, all fear, all gnawing hunger, and parching thirst, all wearisome labor! In short, the body and soul to be so free from all the least interruption of enjoyment, as that through eternity there shall never be a moment when there shall not be a fullness of joy; when the happy immortal shall not be able to say, "THIS IS LIFE!" Even the very 'negative descriptions' ascribed to the heavenly state, seem to make a paradise of themselves. Knowing to our regret what we now are—as regards our sins, our sorrows, and our cares—it is a part of our bliss to know what we shall NOT be in our eternal state. "He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain! For the old world and its evils are gone forever!" Rev. 21:4

But let us now dwell upon the positive descriptions of heaven, and consider what we SHALL be. There is, perhaps, no term more frequently employed to set forth our future state, than the word "GLORY." None could have been more appropriately selected. It signifies, when used to describe material objects—brightness, splendor, dazzling effulgence. Hence we apply it to the sun, or any unusually bright light in the heavens. It means the perfection of material manifestation—that which reveals all things, beautifies all things, perfects all things. In figurative language it means honor, renown—that which renders any person or thing illustrious. So that when we find the deficiency of ordinary words to set forth the greatness, the grandeur, and transcendental nature of any person, action, or thing—we call in the aid of this word, and exclaim, "It is GLORIOUS!"

What, then, must heaven be—which is a state of unparalleled, perfect, infinite "GLORY." This, like the term "life," conveys a more impressive idea of our future state than lengthened and labored description. The apostle sums up heaven in one place thus—"We rejoice in hope of the glory of God." This probably means not only the glory which God has prepared for us in all its details—but the direct perception and enjoyment which in heaven we shall have of God himself! The service, knowledge, and enjoyment of God, must form the loftiest employment of any creature's powers, however exalted he may be, and the richest bliss his heart can know. "To know God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, is eternal life," not only the means of obtaining it—but its essential felicity.

In this world how little we know of God—how much less we enjoy of God. To every unconverted man, creation, instead of illustrating the Deity, has thrown a cloud of obscurity over him; and even to the believer, he is seen in dimness and disguise; so that almost all he can do is to long after him. But in heaven God will show himself personally to man; the thick veil shall be lifted up; the barrier of interception, now so opaque and impenetrable, will be removed. "Then shall the great Father of the Universe stand revealed to the eye of his creatures rejoicing before him, when all that design and beauty by which this universe is enriched, shall beam in a direct flood of radiance from the original mind that evolved it into being; when the sight of infinite majesty shall be so tempered by the sight of infinite mercy, that the awe which else would overpower, will be sweetened by love, into a most calm, and solemn, and confiding reverence; and the whole family of heaven shall find it to be enough happiness forever, that the glories of Divinity are visibly expanded to their view, and they are admitted into the high delights of ecstatic and ineffable communion with the living God."

But it may be asked, how will God reveal himself to the glorified inhabitants of heaven? "They shall see his face." Not that the essence of God can be seen any more in heaven than it is on earth. Jesus Christ will there be the image of the invisible God. We shall see him, and thus will be verified to us the words of the Savior to Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." We find this representation to have been adopted by both by Christ and his apostles. "Father, I will that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which you have given me"—John 17:24. Our Lord speaks of this vision as constituting the very substance of our heavenly felicity. This glory, however, does not refer exclusively to his personal appearance, though this is included—but also to the completion of his mediatorial work, to the state and majesty in which he dwells, to the homage which is paid him, to the infinite stores of wisdom, grace, and power which he possesses; to all he is, has done, and can do, to bless the universe. He prayed that his disciples might be brought to see the wonderful contrast presented by his heavenly condition, to his earthly condition. They had seen him as the Man of Sorrows, and he desires they should behold him as the Lord of glory! He knew the love his true disciples bear to him, and that they could have no higher happiness than to be with him, and see his exaltation and honors, just as Joseph desired his brethren to tell his father of all his glory in Egypt, from a knowledge of the pleasure it would convey to his paternal heart.

In the sublime visions of the Apocalypse, where heaven is opened to our view, it is Christ who is represented as the glory of that place, lighting up all countenances with joy, filling all hearts with gladness, and making all tongues vocal with praise. He is the sun of that blessed world—the orb of that nightless, cloudless, and eternal day. This was the heaven Paul longed for when he desired to depart—even to be with Christ. That one idea of being with Christ filled his soul, and he thought it enough. To be absent from the body, and present with the Lord, was the prevailing wish of his truly Christian heart. With this he cheered the spirits of the Thessalonians weeping over the graves of departed relatives—"So shall we ever with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."—1 Thes. 4:18.

How entirely this falls in with all our present ideas, both natural and spiritual. When our affection is very strongly fixed upon an individual, and our feelings are wrought up to a high pitch of intensity, it is the presence and converse of that individual which constitutes our chief joy. Any where, and any how—with them is our earthly Paradise. We want no other company. To be alone with them is our desire. Does not the Christian understand and feel all this in reference to Christ? Is he not now the object of his supreme regard? Are there not moments when he has such views of Christ's glory, such conceptions of his amazing mercy, such a sense of his love, such feelings of gratitude and affection, that he is ready to say, "If I feel all this now, when I only believe, what must be the felicity of beholding his full-orbed glory, of gazing upon his face, and hearing his loving voice. I can conceive of no higher heaven, no more perfect paradise, than to be in the presence of Him who died for me upon the cross?" There is something wonderfully impressive, delightful, and unique in thus resolving the bliss of heaven into a particular state of mind, and that state as consisting of an adoring and grateful love, for a being to whom we are indebted for redemption from an infinitude and eternity of torment, and to an infinitude and eternity of bliss; and who adds to all these claims upon our gratitude, additional claims upon our homage and admiration--for His own infinity and eternal glories!

Among the felicities of heaven, and a rich one it is, such as at times makes the Christian's heart to leap for joy, is the spiritual perfection of our nature. "We shall be like him," says the apostle, "for we shall see him as he is." Nothing that defiles or works abomination shall have any entrance into that state. Only perfect holiness can produce perfect happiness, and we shall be perfectly holy in heaven. The last stain will be effaced from our nature; the final stroke of absolute perfection will be given to our soul; the last filling in to the image of God in our spirit will be accomplished. We shall know the meaning, because we shall possess the reality, of that rapturous expression, "The spirits of just men made perfect." Cowper has strikingly expressed all this in one of his hymns—

But though the poison lurks within,
Hope bids me still with patience wait,
Until death shall set me free from sin,
Free from the only thing I hate.

Had I a throne above the rest,
Where angels and archangels dwell,
'One sin' unslain within my breast,
Would make that heaven as dark as hell.

The pris'ner sent to breathe fresh air,
And blessed with liberty again,
Would mourn were he condemned to wear
One link of all his former chain.

But oh! no foe invades the bliss,
When glory crowns the Christian's head,
One view of Jesus as he is,
Will strike all sin forever dead!

Nor must we omit as part of the object of Christian hope, the society of heaven. Man is a social being. Solicitude was not good for him even in Paradise, nor would it be good for him in heaven. Companionship seems needed by every being in the universe—God alone excepted. How large a portion of our happiness now arises from friendship, fellowship, and converse. It will be so above. What attractions does heaven present on this ground. There will be the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the apostles, the noble army of martyrs. There, all the holy men and women whose names shine with such splendor on the page of inspiration, both of the Old and New Testament—Abraham and Moses, David and Samuel, Paul and Peter, James and John. There, all that have adorned the pages of uninspired ecclesiastical history, the pious kings; the godly bishops; the zealous reformers, Luther and Melancthon, Calvin and Cranmer, Knox and Zwingle. There, all the faithful ministers, Wesley and Whitefield, Scott, Chalmers, Hall and Jay. There, the devoted missionaries, Schwartz and Brainard, Morrison and Carey, Martyn and Vanderkamp. There, the palm-bearing multitude which no man can number, gathered out of every kindred, and tribe, and people, "who have washed their robes and made them white and clean in the blood of the Lamb."

All, all, sinlessly perfect—all with glorified bodies, exalted intellects, and stainless hearts! All freed from those infirmities which sometimes disturbed the communion of saints upon earth, and by hard speeches and bitter controversies grieved each other's minds—now harmonized by perfect knowledge, perfect holiness, and perfect love. Oh, to be introduced to such society, to be one of them, to dwell with them, to maintain eternal converse with them! To be gathered together with them, and all to Christ!! This is heaven, and what a heaven!

But are there no OCCUPATIONS in heaven? Is it a state of glorified indolence, of paradisaic voluptuous ease, where the immortal spirit, the inquisitive soul, yearning after knowledge and made for activity, will spend eternal ages lounging through the streets of the New Jerusalem, or dozing in dreamy repose on the banks of the river of life, and in the shadow of the tree of life? Nothing of the kind! Heaven is a busy world, a place of universal activity, occupations worthy of glorified immortals will be found there.

Now we know only in part; there shall we know everything as we are known. KNOWLEDGE is not only power—but bliss. It is that to the mind, which water is to the thirsty palate; what it craves after when it has it not, and luxuriates in when it has. The whole universe will be thrown open to our contemplation. Space, and the material universe, will be one vast library, and its countless millions of stars, so many volumes to read and study, in order to know the glories of creation. Providence, with all its vast machinery and complicated schemes, combining in its plan, the history of the mightiest nations, and lowest individuals, and all manifesting the wisdom, power, and love of God, will form another department of study, where happy spirits will have mysteries solved, which baffled the loftiest intellects on earth. But the object of deepest interest, of profoundest research, and most delighted inquiry will be the most sublime of all God's works—the scheme of Redemption. The 'attractions of the cross' will be felt in heaven! It will be seen to be the focal point of God's manifested glory. The connections, the bearings, the full and complete results of Christ's mediation, now so imperfectly known, will furnish a subject of study, never to be exhausted, and a source of happiness which will ever satiate—but never glut. In heaven, it is said, with beautiful simplicity, "His servants shall serve him." In what way, we cannot now say—but it will be an employment worthy of the place, the servant, and the Master.

And all this forever! ETERNITY is the crown of heavenly glory! The greater the bliss of heaven is, the more necessary to its full enjoyment does it seem that it should be eternal. To look from such felicity through the vista of millions of ages, and see at that distance a termination, would throw a damp on all our joys, a shadow on our brightest scenes. But amid this rapturous and sublime festivity, to be able to say, "All this forever," this is heaven. A slight enjoyment, if eternal, rises into a vast magnitude—but the addition of eternity to infinitude, surpasses all conception, except that of the omniscient intellect. And this is our portion, if we are Christians, "An inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away." It seems too vast for our possession. Its magnitude creates a kind of incredulity. To live as long as God lives! We are ready to say, "Can it be?" Yet it is all that—there is an eternity before us, in which to grow in knowledge and bliss, and make approaches to attainments all but infinite—eternity to tower from height to height in glory—eternity to enjoy God and his works. How is it we think so little about it? How is it that such amazing joys do not create constant bliss? How is it we do not enter more deeply and more constantly into the apostle's expression, "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God"? Because our faith is so weak—our hope so languid—our time so occupied, and our attention so diverted from it—that we allow ourselves no leisure to meditate upon it.