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How to Meditate on Heavenly Things

Author
Category Book Excerpts
Date April 29, 2024

The following excerpt is the text of Chapter 5, ‘How to Meditate on Heavenly Things’ in Spiritual-Mindedness, a Puritan Paperback by John Owen which has been abridged and made easy to read by R. J. K. Law. The unabridged text of this treatise, originally entitled The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually-Minded, is contained in Volume 7 of the Works of John Owen.

Before we can meditate on heavenly things, we must have right ideas of them. We are to ‘look at the things which are not seen’ (2 Cor. 4:18). Faith is the means by which we can receive heavenly things for we ‘walk by faith and not by sight.’ But faith cannot embrace heavenly things unless the mind has a right understanding of them. Faith only assents to and embraces what the mind puts to it. The greatest part of mankind deceive themselves with their own ideas of heavenly things, and so they feed faith on ashes. So when Paul bids us to ‘set our minds on things above,’ he goes on to say, ‘where Christ sits at the right hand of God’ (Col. 3:1, 2).

The general idea men have of heaven is that it is a place which is free of all those things which are destructive to human nature. In heaven, there will be no punishment, no sickness, no sorrow, no pain, and no death. This is indeed true (2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 7:17; 21:4). But for those who are truly spiritually minded, heaven is the place where there is no more sin. Sin is the cause of all outward troubles and all burdens, sorrows, and distresses of the soul. To be delivered from the presence of sin, then, makes heaven so desirable to all true believers.

So, if we would have right ideas of heaven, we must think of it as a state in which we shall be eternally freed from the presence of sin. He that truly hates sin, whose chief desire and aim in life is to be freed from sin, who is burdened with memories of how many times sin has gained the victory, cannot but think much of that heaven in which he will for ever be freed from the presence of sin. This truth about heaven the mind can easily set its thoughts upon, and that to the great advantage and satisfaction of the soul.

Frequently thoughts and meditations on heaven as a state of freedom from sin, proves a man to be spiritually minded. A spiritually minded person finds sin a burden and a sorrow. He longs to be delivered from it and all its effects. No thoughts are more welcome to him than those of that state in which sin shall be no more.

Although men are troubled by their sins and desire to be freed from them, yet if they do not meditate much on heaven as the place where they shall be for ever freed from sin, I fear they are not as troubled with sin as they ought to be. Those who have no longing desires for that heavenly state when sin shall be no more,  prove that they are not spiritually minded.

But for sincere believers it is quite otherwise. What makes the remains of sin in them more grievous and burdensome is their awareness of the grace and love of God, of the blood of Christ shed to save them from their sins, of the purity and holiness of the good Spirit who has come to live in them to deliver them from the power of sin and to renew them into the image of God, and of the light, grace, and mercy which they have received through the promises of the gospel.

What breaks the hearts of those who are truly spiritually minded and makes them go mourning all day long is that there is something in them which God hates. The evidence that they are truly spiritually minded is that, together with spiritual watchfulness and daily mortification of sin, they also meditate much on that heavenly state when sin shall be no more.

So if you cannot think clearly about invisible things, dwell on this great truth, that in heaven you will be freed for ever from the presence of sin.

To be freed for ever from the presence of sin is a negative blessing of the heavenly state. We must now see what are the positive blessings that we can usefully set our minds on.

The positive blessings of heaven

Many have great ideas of what the positive blessings of heaven will be. But the majority of their thoughts come to nothing except that it will be a glorious place. But the unspiritual nature of men can never have any idea of the true spiritual glory of heaven, or what it is to enjoy God for ever. They imagine a heaven that does not exist in reality. So, because they cannot appreciate the true heaven, their imagined heaven does not exist, they never really think of heaven at all. Muslims see heaven as the place where their sensual lusts and pleasures are fully satisfied. This proves that their religion has no power to effectively change their hearts from the love of sin, for Muslims place their happiness in fulfilling the desires of the flesh.

Even true believers are mostly ignorant about the true nature of heaven and eternal glory. They have no clear idea of that heavenly state and so find it difficult to think of heaven.

Ancient philosophers taught that the blessedness of man in another world lay in the goodness and beauty of the divine nature. By the light of Scripture, they describe the attributes of God as the ‘beatific vision.’ By beatific vision, they mean all the ways by which God can and does communicate himself to the souls of  men. He heightens the intellectual capacities of men to receive these beatific communications. These communications give such an intellectual understanding of the divine nature and perfections as fills the soul with indescribable love, bringing it to the utmost rest and blessedness it can arrive at in this world.

Nevertheless, these intellectual ideas of God are beyond the mental capacities of ordinary Christians. But Scripture gives us another revelation of heaven and eternal glory which is much better suited to the faith and experience of all true believers and which alone can convey a true and useful understanding of heaven to finite minds.

The revelation which Scripture gives us of heaven is that what we have now received by faith, we shall one day see in eternal glory (2 Cor. 5:17). This great truth can easily be understood and meditated on by every believer.

The difference between our present and future state is that sight shall replace faith (1 John 3:2). Now if sight replaces faith, then what is seen must be the same as what we now believe (1 Cor. 13:9, 10, 12). Those things, which we now see darkly by faith, shall be seen clearly and perfectly in glory.

What is the chief present object of evangelical faith which will one day be seen in heaven? It is the revelation of the glory of the infinite wisdom, grace, love, kindness, and power of God in Christ. It is the revelation of the eternal counsels of God’s will and how they are accomplished to the eternal salvation of the church, in and by Christ. It is the glorious exaltation of Christ himself. All this we now receive by faith and so only see them darkly. But in heaven they shall be openly and fully displayed.

The infinite, incomprehensible excellences of the divine nature are not the immediate objects given to faith in Scripture and nor will they be seen directly by us in heaven. They are revealed to faith in and through Christ and so shall only be seen in heaven as they are revealed in and through him. Only through the revelations of the divine glories in Christ are we led to embrace these glorious excellences of the divine nature by faith, as we shall in heaven be led by love to cling to them with great delight. So as Christ is the chief object of faith here on earth, so also he will be the chief object of sight in heaven.

Therefore, think much of heaven as that state which will give you a perfect sight and understanding of the wisdom, love, and grace of God in Christ. To have the eternal glory of God in Christ with all the fruits of his wisdom and love perfectly revealed and made known to us in a divine and glorious light, our souls, being enabled to see and perfectly to understand them, is the heaven which, according to God’s promise, we are to eagerly anticipate.

But in order to enjoy the sight of this glory, a great change must be wrought in our souls. Grace which has been wrought in us must be brought to perfection.

What soul could joyfully look forward to going to heaven if he must lose all his present understanding, faith, and love of God, even though he is told that he will receive something more excellent, but something of which he has no experience and which he cannot understand while in this world?

When the saints enter into rest, their good works follow them. But how can their good works follow them if those graces which gave birth to them do not also follow them? The perfection of our present graces, which are now weak and easily hindered from bringing forth good works, will be a source of great wonder in heaven.

Faith will be gloriously perfected in sight. This does not destroy the nature of faith. It only means that faith no longer has to make invisible things real to the soul. A man has a weak, little faith in this world, with little evidence of being born again and with no assurance of salvation. He is full of doubts and questionings and has no comfort from what he believes. Now if, through grace, his faith rises to full assurance of the things he believes, filling him with joy and peace in believing, do we say that he now has a different kind of faith? No! His weak faith has been raised to a higher state of perfection. When Christ cured the blind man and gave him sight, at first he saw all things obscurely and imperfectly. He saw men ‘like trees walking.’ But when Christ put his hands on his eyes again and made him look up, his eyes were perfectly restored and ‘he saw everyone clearly’ (Mark 8:22-26). Christ did not give him another way of seeing, but only perfected that which at first was imperfect. Nor will our perfect vision of things in heaven be another kind of grace than the light of faith which we now have. What will happen is that what is now imperfect in faith will be done away, and faith will be perfected and enabled to see perfectly those things which we now see imperfectly.

Love also will be perfected. There is nothing that should excite us more to grow and increase in love to God in Christ than to realize that love will be the same for all eternity. But in heaven, our love to God in Christ will be perfect and glorious. The soul will, by love, be enabled to cleave to God unreservedly and unchangeably, and that with eternal delight and satisfaction.

Hope will be perfected in enjoyment. This is all the perfection hope is capable of. The perfection of our inward nature is part of our eternal blessedness. Nor can we be blessed without it. All heaven’s glories would not make us blessed and happy if our natures were not made perfect, freed from all depravity and weakness. It is grace alone that perfects our nature. Regeneration began the work of renewing the image of God in us, and the perfection of that image in us is the perfection of our natures. And we shall be kept eternally in that state of perfection by that perfect love, joy, and delight our souls shall have in cleaving to God. God will never tear himself away from us, and because we shall never be willing, we shall never be able, to tear ourselves away from him. This is that true heaven which those who are spiritually minded ought to fix their thoughts on. Like ignorant men who throw away rough diamonds because they do not know what a little polishing will do, so the unspiritual cast away rough, unwrought grace, not realizing what lustre and beauty the polishing of the heavenly hand will give to it.

It is generally thought that however men differ about religion here, yet they agree about heaven. They think that all want to go to the same heaven. But nothing could be more wrong. All do not want to go to the same heaven. How few value the heavenly state we have been describing! How many understand that eternal blessedness lies only in the enjoyment of this heaven? But it is this heaven, and no other, that we wish to enter. Others may have their own ideas of heaven invented by their own imaginations, which only lead men to grow more worldly and superstitious. But spiritual thoughts of the true heaven in which there is freedom from all sin, the perfection of all grace, the vision of the glory of God in Christ, and all excellencies of the divine nature as revealed in Christ will greatly strengthen and perfect our faith, hope, love, and all other spiritual graces in us.

The great test of spiritual-mindedness

Having arrived at right ideas about heaven, it is our duty to meditate much on these things. This is the great test of whether we are spiritually minded or not. If we are risen with Christ, we will set our mind on things above (cf. Col. 3:1). This is the way that we are changed more and more into the image of the glory of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). This is the great evidence that we have real treasure in heaven, for ‘where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.’

This will prove that ‘we count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Phil. 3:8). This is the great evidence that a person has a heavenly character, fit to enjoy heavenly things as a true child of God. As yet it does not appear what we shall be, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. The truly spiritually minded person has this hope in him and meditates on this hope and so purifies himself as Christ is pure (cf. 1 John 3:2, 3).

But if we neglect this duty, then either we are not convinced of the truth and reality of these things, or we have no delight in them because we are not spiritually minded. Why are men so stupid? They all want to go to heaven. Nobody wants to go to hell. Most, like Balaam, would ‘die the death of the righteous’ and have their ‘latter end like his.’ Yet few make any effort to get right ideas of heaven, to see if the true heaven really would satisfy them and make them eternally happy. They are stupidly content with vague ideas of heaven or deceive themselves with their own ideas of heaven. But those who have been taught heavenly truths and who profess that their chief desires lie in these truths, yet who neglect to meditate on them, show that, whatever they claim to be, they are still earthly and carnal.

We must meditate on, and think of, the glory of heaven in comparison to the opposite state of death and eternal misery. Few care to think of, and meditate on, hell and the everlasting torments of the damned, especially those who are in most danger of going there. Some deny altogether the existence of hell. Others scoff at it as though a future judgment was but a fable. Some say that the goodness of Christ will not allow any to suffer in hell, even though they have learned more about hell from him than all the rest of Scripture. It is the height of folly for men to hide themselves for a few moments from that which is unavoidably coming upon them to eternity.

But I speak only of true believers. The more they think about the future state of eternal misery, the greater evidence they have for continuing and persevering in the life of faith. Remember that we were once ‘children of wrath.’ Remember that the wages of death we have deserved by our sins. Remember that Jesus has delivered us from ‘the wrath to come.’ In this way, we shall keep up a hatred of sin, which will enable us to walk in humility, continually praising divine mercy and grace. When we compare the state of blessedness and eternal glory, as the free gift of God’s grace in and through Jesus Christ, with that state of eternal misery which we deserve, if there is any spark of grace in us, we shall be stirred up to continual gratitude in our hearts. And I would encourage those who find the work of meditation on these things hard to make every effort to abide in spiritual thoughts. Let your mind rise toward them every hour, yes, a hundred times a day in all situations, under a continual sense of duty (cf. Rom. 8:23-26). Take care you do not go backwards and lose what you have won. If you neglect these thoughts for a while, you will quickly find yourselves neglected by them.

 

Buy the John Owen Puritan Paperback, Spiritual-Mindedness, here.

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