Edward Griffin, 1770-1837
"For he looked for a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God." Hebrews 11:10
This was the habit by which the patriarch Abraham sustained himself under the ills of life, while wandering a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth. It was reasonable in him so to do. When men are about to remove into another country, they are eager to catch the reports of those who have visited it, and if possible they visit beforehand to explore it. We hope by and by to go away to dwell in the heavens for the rest of our existence, and it is interesting to collect all the information we can respecting that country. It is interesting to see where our Christian friends have gone who have disappeared from our sight. If the Bible is not a fable and all the hopes of man not a dream, they are yet alive, in another and a better state. Why should unbelief put them out of existence? Cannot God uphold them in a state of pure spirits like his own? Could his benevolence be gratified by placing them here to groan and weep for a few days and then to be no more? If their present existence differs from our experience what then? Have we seen all the varieties of things even in this little world? To a mind that in thought has visited India and China and the islands of the southern sea, is it incredible that a state of things should exist widely different from our experience? And if our beloved friends are still alive and in that blessed state, how interesting to visit them there and see the home they have found.
There is no need that the inhabitants of earth should remain so little acquainted with heaven. There is a ladder, such as Jacob saw, by which they may ascend and descend every hour. We ought daily in our thoughts to visit that delightful land and to make excursions through its glorious regions. The more we accustom ourselves to these flights the easier they will become. Why is it that we feel so little the impression of eternal glory, but because our thoughts are no more conversant with heaven? It is of the first importance that we should become more familiar with that blessed country. It would tend to wean us from this poor world, to support us under the trials of life and the delay of our hopes, to illumine us with the light of that land of vision, to transform us into the likeness of its blessed inhabitants, and to reconcile us to the self-denials and labors which we have here to endure for Christ. It would tend to settle the great question of our qualifications for heaven. If we could gain distinct ideas of that blessed world, we might easily decide this point by ascertaining whether we could relish its sacred enjoyments, and whether this is the heaven we desire.
One reason that heaven makes so little impression upon us is that we contemplate it in generals, and of course confusedly. We must take it in detail. We must go through its golden streets, and traverse its flowery fields, and examine its objects one by one. Let us spend a few moments in attempting this, and for a season imagine ourselves there.
The reflection of least importance respecting that world is that it is a PLEASANT country. In whatever part of the universe it is situated, there is a local heaven, where the body of Jesus is, where the bodies of Enoch, and Elijah, and those who arose with Christ are, and where the bodies of all the saints will be after the resurrection. Those bodies will be material, and of course will occupy space, and must have a local residence, as real as the bodies which are now on the earth. That country is already prepared, (it was "prepared from the foundation of the world,") and is unquestionably material. The idea that the saints will have no place to dwell in but the air has no support in the word of God. Their city, in more senses than one, "has foundations." It is a real country; and my first remark is that it is a pleasant country. He that could make the scenes which we behold, can unite the most beautiful of them into one and surpass them all. And there can be no doubt the place which he has chosen for the metropolis of his empire, and which Christ selected from all worlds for his residence and the residence of his Church must be the most beautiful of all the worlds that he has made. It is set forth in Scripture under images drawn from the most enchanting objects of sense. I know that these are intended to illustrate its spiritual glory, but can you prove that this is all? Why are spiritual things set forth by sensible objects? You say, because men are in the body. And pray, will they not eternally be in the body after the resurrection? And will not an exhibition to the senses of the riches of the divine nature be as useful an auxiliary to other revelations then as now? Nor can we doubt that disembodied spirits are capable of beholding and enjoying the material works of God. Otherwise the material universe would be a blank to the angels, and to human spirits before the resurrection.
We may then reasonably conclude that heaven is a world of more resplendent and varied beauty than mortal eye has ever seen.
The next circumstance to be mentioned respecting that world is that it contains THE MOST DELIGHTFUL SOCIETY. The saints are forever delivered from the interruptions of the wicked, from the pollution of their society and the disgusting coarseness of their conversation; and are admitted to the most intimate friendship with the holy angels, and with patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and the whole assembly that have been collecting since the death of Abel, including, in many instances, the most beloved friends they knew on earth. Parents will there meet their children, and husbands their wives, after a long and painful separation. Brothers and sisters will rush into each other's arms and exclaim, "Have I found you at last? This is far unlike the parting hour when I closed your eyes, and far unlike the solitary evenings in which I have visited your grave and wept over your dust." Those blessed spirits will enjoy the most perfect friendship, with every distrust and rival interest banished; each loving the other as his own soul, and not a thought nor a joy but what is common. Their conversation will be high and satisfying, turning on the history of God's love and the wonders of his works; and the expressions of love to each other in their looks, deportment, and words, will be most tender and convincing.
The EMPLOYMENT of heaven is delightful. The saints are delivered from all the cares and toils of this life, and have nothing to do but to serve and praise God, to go on his errands to different worlds, to study into the mysteries of his nature and the wonders of his works, and to converse with their brethren on these high and exhaustless themes. Every faculty has attained its full employment– the understanding in grasping the great truths of God and declaring the glories of his nature; the memory in going over his past dispensations and collecting materials for an everlasting monument of praise; the heart in loving and thanking him; the will in choosing him and his service; the eyes in beholding his glory; the hands and feet in doing his will; the tongue in high conversation and bursting songs.
In that world they have ATTAINED TO THE PERFECTION OF ALL THEIR POWERS; not to that perfection which excludes progress, but to that which fits them for the highest action and enjoyment that their capacities admit. They are delivered from every hindrance to meditation, devotion, or service, arising from a weak or disordered body; from all the passions and prejudices which warped their judgement here; from all those indiscretions by which they feared they should injure the sacred cause they loved; and have attained to unerring wisdom. Their memories are strengthened to recall the leading actions of their lives and the principal dealings of God with them. They are freed from all languor and wanderings in duty, and can hold their attention perpetually fixed without weariness or satiety.
They have attained to the perfection of KNOWLEDGE; not that perfection, I say again, which excludes progress, but that which prevents error. They have advanced greatly in the positive knowledge of all those things which a sanctified spirit desires to know. The feeblest infant that has gone to heaven probably knows more of God than all the divines on earth. They see as they are seen and they know as they are known. Besides the light directly shed upon them, in the excursions which they make through the universe they have a glorious opportunity to study God in his works and dispensations.
They have ESCAPED FROM ALL THE SUFFERINGS OF THE PRESENT LIFE; from sickness and pain and the mortification of being laid aside as useless; from poverty and the fear of poverty; and have attained to the perfect gratification of every taste and desire—to the possession of all things. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." As heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, they own the sun, moon, and stars; they possess the eternal God.
They have escaped from all the DEGRADATION AND SCORN and slander which their poverty or their religion drew upon them here, and have reached the highest honors of the sons of God. They have been crowned and have sat down with Christ on his throne, and with their golden harps and robes of light forever sing and forever shine.
They have escaped from all the "VANITY" that was found in the creature, which left them unsatisfied, uneasy, and vexatiously disappointed; the vanity too which consisted in the transient nature of earthly things, and disturbed the short-lived enjoyment with the reflection that it would soon expire. From all this "vanity and vexation of spirit" they have escaped, and have found a good which fully satisfies and brings no sorrow with it, and no apprehension that it will ever end.
They are perfectly delivered from SIN, that body of death under which they groaned all their lives long. O how they used to look forward and pant after this deliverance. But now they have found it. Not a worry that will ever offend their God again. And they have attained to perfect positive holiness. They love and thank and delight in God as much as they desire. They could not wish, with their present powers, to be more tender or grateful towards him. They could not wish to be more free from selfishness or anger or envy, nor, with their present powers, to be more benevolent or affectionate towards every creature of God.
They are forever delivered from the buffetings of SATAN. The enemy that annoyed them so long is shut up in prison and can never approach them again. No longer can those temptations vex those who made them weary of life and pursued them into the grave.
Every wall of separation between them and God is taken down, every cloud which hid his face is dispersed, every frown smoothed into smiles.- They are admitted to the perfect vision and sweet enjoyment of God and the Lamb. They see that God does not reproach them for the past, that he has not one less tender feeling towards them for all their sins, and that he loves them with an affection infinitely surpassing that of the tenderest earthly parent.- They are conscious of an interchange of thoughts and feelings with him most affectionate,-of a communion no less real than that which subsists between earthly friends. They possess greatly enlarged views of his perfections, particularly of his unbounded love, and enjoy him to a degree of which we have here no conception. Their souls swell and expand with the mighty blessedness, and rise into raptures of wonder, love, and praise.
The principal medium through which they see and commune with God is the Mediator. It is from his face that the strongest emanations of Godhead shine. He is the sun which illumines the heavenly city. "The city," as John saw it, "had no need of the sun neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb" was "the light thereof." It is through him chiefly that God speaks to the inhabitants of heaven, and through him as the representative of the Father they send up their thanks. They put them into his hands as the Deity expressed, much in the same way as they did in the days of his flesh. The incarnate God is constantly displayed in heaven on a resplendent throne, with much the same personal appearance, perhaps, that he had on Tabor and in Patmos. Though arrayed in glory that would overpower mortal vision, it is Jesus of Nazareth still—the same body, the same features, the same scars in his hands and feet and side. O how do they feel as they behold him. When they look back to Calvary, and then down to hell, and then abroad over the heavenly plains, and down the slope of ages, and see from what he delivered them, and to what he raised them, and at what expense, with what unutterable gratitude do they cast their crowns at his feet, and say, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." And then they take their harps and fill all the arches of heaven with the song, "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever."
All this glory and happiness will be ETERNAL. On earth their enjoyment was damped by the thought that it would soon expire. Their dearest friends, their health, their life, were held by a very uncertain tenure. But now they have no fear of change. When they first opened their eyes in that world and found themselves entered on a blessedness which was sure and eternal, with what transport did they contemplate that single fact after all their doubts and fears. The thought that they are forever safe, that no changes can cast them down, has in it a weight and sublimity of blessedness which no imagination can conceive. They have leisure to ponder over these glorious thoughts. They may look forward to twenty, thirty, or forty years without thinking that age is coming on to cramp their powers and terminate their enjoyments. They may breathe the airs of paradise and inhale the delights of heaven for a thousand years, without losing the freshness of their youth or approaching any nearer to an end. They may measure over a million of ages of varied delights, and have as much before them as at the first. They may pass as many more millions of ages as there were dusts in the earth, and still they are as young as ever. From that distant period of eternity, when they look back to the few moments that they sojourned on earth, how diminutive will this little space appear; how trifling its joys and sorrows; and how amazing will it seem that they could be so interested in them.
They will ETERNALLY GROW IN CAPACITY, KNOWLEDGE, HOLINESS, AND HAPPINESS. This seems to be the natural progress of mind until it is checked by bodily decay. But when no such restraint hangs upon the spirit, it will hold on in its course of advancement without end. As it grew in the vigor of its faculties from infancy to manhood, so it will expand in the regions of life to eternity: insomuch that the least soul will far outstrip the present dimensions of Gabriel; and holding on its way, will be to what the highest angel now is, as a giant to an infant; and still it has an endless progression before it– rising higher and higher in intellectual sublimity, and forever approximating towards the infinite dimensions of God.
Its knowledge too will forever increase. Perpetually pondering on the wonders of God, studying him in his works, drawing lessons from all worlds among which it makes excursions, and diving deeper and deeper into the unfathomable wonders of redemption, it cannot fail to advance in knowledge without end. The time then must come when the least soul in heaven will know more than all the creation of God now do; and still it has just entered the heavenly school. Imagination cannot keep pace with its flight through the sublime heights of intellectual ascension. What amazing views of God and the Lamb, what amazing views of the mysteries of redemption, what amazing views of the wonders of creation, of the purposes to be answered by the sufferings of the damned, of the boundless reach of mercy, of the whole history of God's administration in all worlds: and still to pursue the high and glorious study without end.
And in proportion to its advance in capacity and knowledge must be its holiness. The more God is seen the more he will be loved and delighted in.- What new and unspeakable fervors of affection will be enkindled by those accessions of knowledge which will be hourly coming in. What a flame of love and gratitude will be acquired in the eternal progress of capacity and knowledge. The time will come when the least soul in heaven will contain more love and gratitude than the whole consistory of angels now do: and still to advance to higher and still higher fervors without end.
And in proportion to its advance in capacity, knowledge, and holiness, will be its happiness. If to know and love God in one degree makes a heaven, to know and love him in ten degrees will make a tenfold happiness. What unimagined bliss then must the holy soul find in rising up to views and fervors increasing as the ages of eternity go round. The time must come when the feeblest saint in heaven will enjoy more in one hour than all the creation of God have enjoyed to this day; and still he has just begun his eternal progress in blessedness. From those sublime heights of ecstacy he will ascend to heights still more sublime, reaching upwards continually and approximating forever towards the infinite happiness of the Eternal Mind.
And now behold that creature!-the feeblest that ever entered heaven; behold him at some imagined point in eternity, with all this increase of capacity, knowledge, holiness, and happiness; and how awfully great and glorious does he appear. As much above the heathen gods as the sun exceeds a glow worm. Could that creature appear on earth he would be worshiped by half the nations. He would pour upon their sight a sublimity and glory a million times greater than they ever ascribed to God himself. And still that creature has just begun his eternal progress. What then will he become? The imagination of Gabriel falters and turns back from the amazing pursuit.
Child of God, bow before your own majesty. Debase not yourself by sordid actions. Do not forget the glories of your nature, nor sell your infinite birthright for such a contemptible mess of pottage as earth can yield. Child of God, cheer up under the trials of life. Let nothing cast you down who are standing on the verge of immortal glory. It is the only opportunity you will ever have to suffer for Christ. Eternity will be long enough for enjoyment. Your toils and self-denials will all be recompensed a thousand fold by that "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Child of God, why are you cast down? I wonder you are not constantly transported. Our Savior said to his disciples, "Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rejoice rather because your names are written in heaven." So say I to you. Rejoice not that your wealth is increased, that your honors flow in upon every gale, that the laurels of science encircle your brow, that you have the sweetest and most affectionate friends; but rejoice rather that an immortality of glory is before you. Child of God, why are you sluggish and sleeping out life in ungrateful inaction? What is the world to you who are so soon to be transported to the heaven of heavens? How will the world appear to you when it is melting down in the general conflagration? How will the world appear to you a million ages after the judgment, while you are lost among the glories of heaven? And why this ungrateful sloth? Have you nothing to do for him who irrevocably conferred this immortality upon you? Have you nothing to do for him who redeemed you from hell by his own blood, and has gone to prepare a place for you? Have you nothing to do for him on earth at whose feet you will presently lie in such unutterable transports of wonder and gratitude? Have you nothing to do for him on the very ground which was stained by his blood, and while breathing the air that was agitated by his sighs? Have you forgotten that he left on earth a beloved Church, and that he has said, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me?" Have you nothing to do for that Church on which his heart is so tenderly fixed? Have you nothing to do for his honor among men, who came out to seek you when you were wandering from the fold of God,-who separated you from your former companions and put a title to heaven in your hands? Ah Sirs, how will this listlessness appear when you are enveloped in the glories of heaven and are filling the celestial arches with your bursting praise?
Up, every redeemed soul, and do what you can for your God and Savior. Take your harps from the willows and begin the raptured song. Let all the country around be charmed and won by your sacred melody. Go on your way enchanting the ear of a Christless age with your harp and your song; and when you come to the last enemy, enchant the ear of death itself with the same celestial notes; and let your praises die away from mortal ears, only to burst in new and louder tones on the ear of heaven. Amen and Amen.