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Safely to Heaven

Category Articles
Date June 13, 2006

Heaven is a place of complete holiness. So it should surprise no one to find it written: “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth” (Rev 21:27), which clearly indicates that no one with the least stain of sin can enter heaven, for sin is defiling. Obviously, no one who is still unconverted – still under the power of sin, still in rebellion against God, still refusing to submit to the authority of King Jesus – can enter paradise. Just as surely as Adam and Eve were kept out of the earthly paradise by the cherubim, and the flaming sword that turned every way, so every condemned sinner, content to go on with a sin-defiled heart, will be kept out of heaven. They are the servants, or slaves, of sin and could not possibly be happy in the pure, undefiled environment of heaven.

God’s children, on the other hand, are no longer the servants of sin, for, as Paul told the Romans, they “have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered” to them (6:17). They have believed the testimony brought to them in the Word of God, particularly concerning themselves as sinners and, beyond that, the truth concerning Christ as the Saviour who came into the world to give Himself a ransom for many. They have trusted in Him, which indicates the start of new life; they have begun to serve the living God.

But, though they are no longer the servants of sin, they are still defiled by it. Even David, when singing of the Lord as his Shepherd and expressing the assurance: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps 23:6), was still defiled by sin. And Mary of Bethany, sitting at the Saviour’s feet listening to all He had to say, and commended by Him as one who had chosen that good part which would never be taken from her, was by no means free from that defilement. Nor was Paul free from sin even when, on the very verge of glory, he was able to utter, in all humility, these memorable words: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (2 Tim 4:7).

Paul could indeed say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom 7:22), and thereby make plain that he had passed from death unto life. But, because he was so conscious of the power of remaining sin, he had to add: “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Yet we have no reason to think that, when Paul wrote these words, he was guilty of some particularly heinous sin. Rather, he wrote as he did because, godly man that he was, he was conscious of how strong the principle of sin was in his heart; it was because of the extent to which the Holy Spirit had worked in his heart that he was so intensely conscious of that power of sin. Charles Hodge remarks: “The strength and extent of the corruption of our nature are seen from its influence over the best of men, and from its retaining more or less of its power, under all circumstances, to the end of life”. And while sin retained that power, even Paul himself – and David and Mary likewise – were not fit for heaven.

Yet Paul was not in despair; he could thank God, through Jesus Christ – conscious, no doubt, of the power of the Holy Spirit to cleanse him finally and completely in the moment of death. It was in the same faith that David Dickson, best known today for his Commentary on the Psalms, told his friend John Livingstone: “I have taken all my good deeds and all my bad deeds and cast them through each other in a heap before the Lord, and fled from both and betaken myself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in Him I have sweet peace”. And we can be certain that in David Dickson’s case, just as surely as in the Apostle Paul’s, every last stain of defilement was washed away by the time they were brought to glory. Just as certain is it that every other sinner, if only they are looking to Christ and delighting in the law of God after the inward man, will be brought safely to glory “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish” – perfectly so.

But there are further difficulties in the way of the children of God reaching heaven. There is the devil – that roaring lion who walks about, seeking whom he may devour. No one should underestimate the power of his temptations and his capacity to influence others to put stumbling blocks in the way of God’s children. And if any of these were totally successful, believers would be snatched out of the way that leads to everlasting life; they would never reach heaven. But that is to ignore a number of other aspects of God’s revelation in Scripture. First of all, there is Christ’s assurance: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand” (John 10:27,28). This assurance is absolute; it is the promise of the Son of God, and therefore it cannot be broken. Not even the devil himself, powerful though he indeed is, is strong enough to snatch even the weakest or most immature of Christ’s sheep from His hand. They are therefore safe; there can be no doubt whatever but that, at last, when their time in this world comes to an end, they will be brought safely to heaven. No devil or human being can wrest them out of Christ’s graciously-powerful hand.

Think of the Children of Israel, brought by God’s Almighty power out of Egypt, out of the clutches of Pharaoh. Look at them on their way through the wilderness; they seem so vulnerable that one might well question if they will ever reach the land of Canaan. There are, on the one hand, numerous enemies who might swoop down and destroy them, besides all the other hazards of the wilderness; on the other hand, there is their own fickleness and unbelief, their proneness to idolatry and other sins. But in spite of all these things, and more, they are certain to reach the promised land; it is God who has promised. Indeed He has spoken by way of covenant – with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and His covenant can never fail.

Now all this was written for our instruction; the Israelites were intended to picture to us the journey of God’s people through the wilderness of time. Believers have all been brought out of the kingdom of Satan in spite of his determined resistance. They make their way through life in the face of various spiritual enemies, all kinds of troubles and, within themselves, a sinful, unbelieving heart. Yet it is certain that they will at last reach their promised land – for eternal life in heaven has been promised to everyone who believes in Jesus. And that promise, along with a multitude of others, forms an integral part of the covenant of grace.

This is a covenant that can never be broken. It has Christ as its head; He has done all that was necessary, according to the terms of the covenant, for the salvation of each one whom the Father gave to Him. Therefore they can never perish. Although the work of sanctification is always incomplete in this world, Paul, with divine authority, assures every believer: “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it” (Phil 1:6); He will bring it to completion. Although there are enemies, strong enemies, yet all of God’s children will be safe at last because they have an almighty King to fight for them who cannot fail; He has not lost a battle yet and He never will. Whatever the difficulties, their King has promised: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5). Let them therefore echo the Apostle’s words: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:1). It is the sure way to everlasting glory.

Kenneth D. Macleod, Leverburgh, Isle of Harris.

Editor Free Presbyterian Magazine, June 2006 whence taken with permission

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