No Night in Heaven!
George Conder, 1821-1874
"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever!" Revelation 22:5
This vision of Heaven, how wondrous it is! What a contrast to this poor earth of ours. Streets of gold, and seas of glass, and pearly gates, and rivers and trees of life—in exchange for this vile dust and dross, and worthless ugliness, and for these fruits of pain and death!
A realm of splendid light, without a sun!
A world, without a sea!
Bodies, without pain!
Faces, with no tears and no furrows of grief!
Hearts ,without sighs!
Duration, without mutation and reverse!
Life, without age or decay!
No death! Creatures, but no death!
Day, bright, blazing, gorgeous day—but no night!
If one did not know it was Heaven, and had not accustomed himself to count that name a synonym for bliss, I know not whether the prospect would cause us more pleasure than pain.
"No temple!" might some devoted lover of the earthly sanctuary say, "alas, then, I shall lose my chief joy; my Heaven will lack the counterpart of my highest earthly delight."
And who of us who knows anything of life, anything of its work and its sorrows, its weariness and woe, who has ever cast himself down on his couch without even strength to pray, saying only, "Blessed night, sweet sleep," and has risen in the morning a strong recruited man, with his muscles quivering with that gathered force, and his heart brimful of ardor and of hope? Who that has ever buried himself in sleep from the gnawings of remorse, and the bitter risings of disappointed endeavor, but awaked to hope for pardon and to begin anew? Who of these is not prepared to shudder at the prospect of a life of endless day? No night! No night! No sleep! No break of the momentum of thought and feeling. No sweet hush for the panting, sobbing heart. No grand lullaby of deep silence for the fretted soul. No withdrawal from even the publicity of home, and retirement into the innermost sanctuary of self, to meditate, and worship, and pray, "when none but God is near."
And yet this is Heaven. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are there. It is the rest which remains for the people of God. It must be blessed.
We must, then, turn our thoughts into some other channel, if we would know the blessedness and see the brightness of this picture: "There shall be no night there."
In this book of the Apocalypse, no doubt, for the most part the terms are purely symbolical, allegorical. A certain object is held up before you, as a sea of glass, but it is presented not that it may catch your attention for its own sake, but that it may suggest to you some other thing. It is the hieroglyphic writing of a cultured age, adopted in the Scriptures for the purpose of giving dark hints of facts in the future, which may not yet be more fully described, but which the events themselves shall rid of all their mystery.
There are, however, intermingled with the symbols some terms which are simple, direct truth, and not poetry or symbol, such as, in this very description of Heaven, the expression, "neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain." That is naked truth—truth that needs to be dressed in no poetic garb or guise to make it worthy to mingle with these beautiful poetic symbols; a piece of prose, whose meaning is itself so full of poetry that the simplest statement of it is enough. But there are some few phrases which, I think, are a sort of intermediate link between these two. They are partly symbolic and partly literal, or rather they are to be interpreted both as symbol and as letter.
To this class, I think, our text belongs. That we are to understand it as meaning that there shall be no such alternation of light and darkness as is the condition of the present state, and which exerts so incalculably great an influence on the whole present condition of our life; and that we are also to regard it as expressing, in a poetic and figurative manner, other things of a more immaterial nature belonging to the heavenly state.
Let us, in the first place, take it as literal truth, and see what anticipations of joy can be deduced from the truth that there shall be no night in Heaven.
The possibility or probability of such an altered condition of existence we need not stay a moment to discuss. For anything we know to the contrary, it may be the condition of existing worlds at this moment of time. We know that there are members of our planetary system whose day and night are much longer than ours. And even upon our own globe, owing to a peculiarity in its own shape, and to the angle of its own axis with the plane of its orbit round the sun, there are spots where there is, for months together, scarcely any day or night—the sun never rising high enough above the horizon to make perfect day, and never sinking wholly below it to produce the darkness of night. In a word, as in all the other works of God, without exception, you find a measureless infinite variety of things, as the number of worlds is itself incomputable, so we can hardly help concluding that the conditions of their life in respect of light are all but infinitely various, one of the main elements of the perfect state being, "There is no night there."
It will appear obvious to you at once, that for this condition of life to be a blessing, some very great change must take place in us, who are to pass out of this present alternation of darkness with light into eternal and unbroken day. In our present condition night is an unmitigated blessing. It is the frequent and regular visit of the great angel of rest and peace. It is the strong but gentle hand of God closing for us the eyes that cannot bear perpetual light.
The morning comes, and the waking world goes forth to its work and labor until the evening. In the sweat of his brow man eats his bread. Toil, toil, toil! is the incessant cry of the mute and patient earth to the throng who tread her lovely floor. None but a favored few escape the great necessity, and these are often to be pitied more than envied. And how often to the toil of sinew and limb does man, in his ignorance and folly, or in his pride and haste to be rich, add the toil of brain and heart.
And, lo! in a few hours the strongest are weary and worn. Man, the proud lord of the world, is compelled to desist. His implements fall from his hands. His knees bend under him. His eyes shrink from the light. His busy brain grows torpid. His tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth. His heart strains at its work. The flame of his life begins to flicker. The oil may be there, but it will not burn. The lamp must be trimmed and cleaned. The axle of his life is heated and choked; it must rest and cool, or it will snap. A few short hours have brought all this wondrous machinery to a stand.
Ay, the very heart is weary; that blessed fountain of courage and energy, enterprise and hope—that subtle might of the grosser strength, that fly-wheel that carries the crank of action over the dead points—begins to fail. That grand source of the life of life will soon sicken if it may not empty itself a while, and mingle in a time of rest the spiritual elements of the chemistry of life.
All this in a few short hours. What puny things we are after all! How like the little child at his lessons, wearied in a fragment of an hour; or the infant in his early totterings, exhausted in a few short steps!
Nor is there any escape for any of us from this condition of our present life. We may be very eager about our work; determined that we will conquer nature's weakness; that we will not succumb to such a baffling necessity; that we will live night and day; that we will make gold in darkness and in light; that we will not leave off our grand attempt at solving the unknown just when we begin to feel equal to it.
But if we do so it is only folly. We achieve no more in the long run than the wiser men who do succumb to nature. We only die earlier; our powers waste more rapidly. The machinery does not live to wear out, it suddenly breaks down. The old fable of the hare and the tortoise holds here. The patient diligent man wins the race of life. Our work may be very lofty and grand, but we are compelled constantly to lay it down. The thinker and the philanthropist must shut up the windows of the mind and the sluices of the heart; they must break that grand momentum that sometimes seems to give a superhuman vision and capacity, and begin again tomorrow with a great quiet force.
And night is the minister of it all. It is the break of Providence gently applied to the glowing wheels of life.
But "there shall be no night there!" Therefore, we must assuredly conclude that none of those imperfections of nature which make night now a necessity and a blessing, will be present in Heaven.
In the first place, then, I think that this points at the grander capacity of that new body we shall receive, when, having been divested of this mortality, we shall put on immortality, and be clothed upon with our house that is from Heaven; when we shall enter into that spiritual body which Paul assures us there is, as well as the natural body of whose existence we know, alas, too much.
Infirmity is the condition of this body. Infirmity! What does that mean? We cannot say that about the powers of the tiniest thing that our eye observes. The little spider that hangs himself down by an invisible thread from the tip of a taper leaf is not infirm. His body is as big as his soul, and his powers measure his desires. He can fill all the universe that he perceives, and accomplish all the feats that he can wish. Measure him, weigh him by his own nature, and then put him beside man, and he overtops his proud scorning fellow-creature. He can do whatever is needful to be done: he can build his house, get his living, take his pleasure; and all without a sense of weakness or constraint.
But man's spirit is too strong for his body. Now, and under these conditions of sin and curse which we have inherited, our thoughts, wishes, and sometimes our necessities are greater than our powers. We jump, and jump, and jump after the grapes of good—but they hang too high for us, and our only comfort is in persuading ourselves they are sour. We strain, and strain, and strain with our load—but we are gladly to lie down by its side. We toil, toil, toil at our problem—until our brain burns, and throbs, and swims, and our eye refuses to see. This is infirmity.
But there is no infirmity in Heaven. Completely emancipated from sin by the purification of death—we shall have none but right desires, aims, ambitions—and our powers shall be equal to them all. There shall be no clutchings at illusive good; no straining effort to accomplish our end. We shall think of the days when we used to say—with what bitterness of tone—bitterness distilled from our very heart, "I wish I could do it. Oh how I wish I could do it."
But we shall never say it again. We shall think of it as the master of some science thinks of his schoolboy days, when the rudiments of it were to him all but impossible tasks.
That there shall be occupation in Heaven, cannot be doubted. It shall be splendid, glorious work! But nothing to make us shrink from it, as now; or look back at it with a sigh or a curse, as a thing which has drained us of pleasure and of strength. There shall be no counterpart there of the laborer looking anxiously to see how low the sun is in his path, and longing for the return of night; or of the student grasping his head with his hand, because truth itself, in the process of its attainment, is a trouble and a pain; nor of the great and loving-hearted self-sacrificer, coming home from his Christian labors, and saying, "I have done so much; but I have been obliged to leave so much undone!" that undone task, is terribly diluting the joy of what is done.
In Heaven our work shall never weary us. Our task will involve no pain. Our worship shall never exhaust us; our service leave us still as fit to serve. We shall desist and change, no doubt. Our life shall have its infinite variety. But the change shall be all the more delightful, that it is not needful as a sort of rest. It shall be simply the gratification of taste and inclination—these themselves synonymous then with duty and with right. Nor shall anything be too great or too high for us. There shall still be gradation of power, and function, and rank—and many now last, shall be first.
But each one of us will know his place and keep it. His thoughts of desire will be wholly bounded by his orbit of power; and he shall fill that as easily as the worlds pursue their rounds. Surely all this is included in that idea, "a perfect body," equal to all the necessities of the inhabiting, ruling soul. Thus much we truly gather from the truth, "No night in Heaven!"
But more! I have spoken a little while since of night and sleep, as the break to life's momentum. There shall be no need of that in Heaven. Its life shall be perfectly balanced and adjusted; it shall be right and true. One incessant feature of our present life, one of its great laws, whose action I dare say we have all felt, is, that as we continue in the practice or pursuit of a thing, we grow more interested in it, more eager about it, more capable with regard to it. It is a beautiful and good law; but, like every other law—through our sin, it works mischievously. For it acts in us irrespective of our aims and ends. It holds for bad things as well as good.
Even for good ends, night is a wise and merciful provision for our imperfections. God comes and says to us every night, "Stop a while, and begin again; look at your work; don't do it blindly; infuse new life and principle into it; do it from something better than the force of habit; enlarge your aim; widen your reach; I give you a new center from which to work every day; or rather, power to choose your center, and so improve your circle if you need."
Or else our heavenly Father says to us by this law, "My child, this thing is good, but you are a creature of many aspects and many relations; touch them all; stop and look about you; be not fitful, fanciful, capricious; yet be not narrow; look on life afresh every morning with that energy which sleep gives you; look before you, and note all the points that present themselves in your present stage."
And oh, how merciful proves this law when our aims are little and bad. Every day the wicked man has a new opportunity. God says to him, "Now stop in your downward career; lie down and rest a while; and when you wake, turn your steps upward again. Something tells you that your time has been misspent today, you have called yourself fool, you have despised, loathed yourself. Begin again, then, start afresh; I soothe your ruffled spirit for you tonight; tomorrow, obey your better impulse and live a truer life."
But for all this there shall be no need in Heaven. There shall be no night there. Those two magnetic poles of our being between which we revolve and which determine the whole orbit of our duty—God and our fellows—shall be at their proper relative distances from us, and we shall feel the full attraction of both; the counter current of selfishness which here destroys all their force, shall there itself be neutralized and destroyed. Our aims shall all be right and our impulses in due proportion to them. As the healthy life of nature in its own proper conditions brings forth its proper products, in proper and natural amounts, and needs no artificial check nor restraint—so we, our manifold being properly adjusted, shall live a life of calm and right activity and enjoyment, in which there shall be no danger to be guarded against.
We shall, doubtless, improve indeed; but it will be the improvement of growth, development—and not of correction and alteration. We shall lose from our vocabulary that word which plays so important a part in our present speech, Tomorrow! for we shall not need it there. There shall be no need of beginning again through failure of today. There shall be no need of picking up of the dropped threads of life which are dropped in carelessness or sin, or through weariness and want of power. There shall be no need of great providential arrests of our course, because it is getting ungovernable, and mischievous and destructive.
In Heaven there shall be such a steady happy development as the wise man wishes for here; just such perfection of relation to all the various things our nature touches as now and then flashes over our thought now, but seems too hopeless even to be wished. So much again, I argue from the thought, "No night in Heaven."
But time warns me now to turn to other aspects of this truth. I drop now the literal sense of these words, and carry your thoughts on to that which I believe to be equally couched in them, namely, the symbolical and poetic sense.
What, then, is the chief characteristic of the night, that for which the word has been synonymous in all languages and times? It is darkness! This makes the night; this is the thought which we find inseparable from night.
But of what again is this the symbol universally acknowledged and used? Is it not ignorance?—the shutting away from the mind of its proper objects, of that which it wishes and needs to know, as night shuts out from sight the things we love or want to see.
In this sense, then, there shall be no night there! The change we shall experience in this respect, my brethren, will be far more blessed and surprising than that of which I just spoke: the putting on by this corruptible and mortal body, of incorruption and immortality. For as you rise into the higher regions of man's nature, you find the mischief of sin more deadly and ruinous.
We seem indeed to know much and to see widely even in this poor world. Man's glance is a keen and far-reaching one. With cunning subtlety we detect the close-kept secrets of the universe, and handle lines of thought that numbers scarcely can measure, and only strongest mind can bear. Far into the unseen we dive and speak with certainty, as if we had handled and felt and known, of things of grandest breadth and depth and height. And yet we see only as through a glass darkly; we walk as by star-light. The truth we see, we view but dimly and with much straining of the eyeballs of the mind. We see only a few of the most prominent peaks of distant truth, but not the whole region in its grand grouping, and its glorious native hues.
And what tremendous mysteries there are still, what huge regions enveloped in perpetual cloud! Of God how little we know! We see His footsteps now and then, and watch the shadow of His hand—but in Heaven we shall see His face!
Of Providence, how little we know! We look on things, as a path that is in the sea, and are baffled by ways that are so much higher than our own, that we cannot see them either wise or good. As a little foolish child cannot understand the wise and kind method of its parent, so do we misunderstand and misjudge our Father who is in Heaven.
But there the plan shall unfold itself. We shall look on the map of our windings in the wilderness, and see how blessed the track that the pillar of fire and cloud have been leading us. We shall see some of the long links that hold together separate things, the movements of only one of which we could see, and which it baffled us to compute. We shall understand some of the balances of God, the very beam and pointer, whose one scale only we can scan in life. We shall see the grand breadth and length of those purposes whose tardy fulfillment so often shakes the very foundations of our faith. The darkened glass shall be removed, and things shall appear to us, undazzled, in their proper glory.
Of ourselves, how little we know! What a puzzle our own freedom is to us! How confused an account is all that we can give of our past history, our present condition, our inward constitution and endowment. How the balances of right and wrong tremble in our grasp! How thick with haze even to the strongest faith is that perspective of the future which we cannot but descry!
But there we shall know as we are known. We shall know what we are, and why we are! We shall know how we are related to God, to self, to the infinite universe. We shall know our powers and limitations. We shall know our present duty and future destiny.
It is not that in Heaven there will then be no mysteries and no secrets. The finite can never fully measure, search, or grasp the Infinite. But they shall not be what they are now—baffling, tantalizing, provoking, humbling things. We shall bow before them as never meant for us; our ignorance of them will be known to be bliss; we shall not wish to scale the mount of God and profanely scrutinize where we should reverently kneel. Perhaps even less than now we shall wish to know some things—and that will be a gain.
But still we shall know all that we shall wish and need to know. The great veil of the Holiest shall be rent at death, and we shall behold a new and brighter, though never perhaps the full and perfect manifestation of Deity. A stronger light shall stream upon the universe, and show us all that we have been groping to find, that finer symbol-writing, too delicate and faint for a fleshly eye to discern. We shall ask and have no ambiguous oracle's reply, no speculator's perhaps, no vague haphazard guess of our own ignorance; but the key shall be given us and we shall search to find. There shall be no night there.
And now once more, and finally. There is another thing for which night stands as a symbol, and which gives us a crowning conception of the bliss of Heaven, in that there is no night there. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." There is . . .
the night of weeping;
the darkness of sorrow;
the midnight of despair;
clouds of trouble;
gloomy abysses of doubt and anguish;
days of darkness and adversity.
Joy is sunshine—sorrow is shadow.
The use of night is familiar to you all. There shall then be no night of the soul in Heaven.
The darkness . . .
is the time of fear and helplessness;
is the hour of chill and cold;
hangs like a funeral pall upon the lovely world, and
shuts out all that is cheerful, mirthful, bright to our souls.
The darkness severs us from all others, and leaves us alone with self and God—and so there is something solemn in it.
It is not astonishing then, that night should have been made the symbol of sorrow and woe and even death.
But there shall be no night in Heaven. This plaintive melody, this sometime anguished wail of life shall cease—it shall melt or burst into the jubilant eternal hymn! The clouded, changeful morning of the soul shall have climbed to meridian splendor, never to sink into dim twilight or set in gloom.
The sense of loneliness which has here at times seemed to press in the heart at all sides as if to crush it; that dreadful darkness that might be felt, which the Savior experienced when He cried "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" shall be known no more, and the companionship of the blessed, the fellowship of God, shall be ours for evermore.
The thick darkness of the dire consciousness of sin, and doubt of Divine mercy—shall never return upon us; for we shall never, never sin, we shall know ourselves redeemed forever from sin's curse and power.
The dreadful gloom of bitter sorrow and disappointment shall be absent, for there shall be no possibility of loss; no moth corrupts, and no thieves break through nor steal.
There shall be no faithless friends to desert or deceive us, or viper-like to bite the bosom that has cherished them to life.
There shall be no sandy foundations on which our precious structures, the fruit of a life of pains, shall crumble and fall.
There shall be no foul breaths of pestilence, and no hail of the darts of death—to smite our dear ones from our close embrace and tear them from our grasp.
There shall be no sharp cry of pain—blessings shall not be born of pangs, nor ushered into life with cries. Our winged shapes of joy and love shall never fly away to leave us only the memory of their bright plumage and sweet songs.
The soul shall not sit in darkness and refuse to be comforted, loathing the very light; nor be enrapt in darkness longing for day-break, and wondering when the tardy dawn will come; nor walk in darkness as through a valley of the shadow of death. There shall be no night there!
Where? Where? There, brethren, in the foreground of life—not very far off from any of us. For some of us it is only a little day's journey—a few more breezes shall fill our sails, and we shall enter the haven.
A few more nights shall fold us in their sweet embrace, and then farewell night and weariness and darkness and woe.
A few more tears shall scald those furrowed cheeks, and then joy, joy forever!
A few more sighs shall swell those oft-swollen hearts, and then eternal peace!
A little day's journey! What do the roughness, the toil, the loneliness, the failing of earthly goods, the broken staff, the fading sight, matter? A few more steps and we will be Home!
From none of us is Heaven very far; it is always in sight, if, if! Ah, if what? If we are sailing for it, marching to it, aiming at it, pressing toward the prize.
And if not, what? Ah, what? Everlasting darkness—the darkness of damnation!