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The Blessedness of Heaven

Author
Category Articles
Date August 3, 2023

The following appeared as Ian Hamilton’s editorial in the December 2022 edition of The Banner of Truth Magazine.

In this, my penultimate editorial as Editor of the Magazine, I want to direct your—and my—thoughts upwards.

In his fine exposition of The Excellencies of God, Terry Johnson focuses in one chapter on the Blessedness of God and the Christian’s blessedness in God. He asks this question: ‘What will the blessed realm of heaven begun now and consummated then be like?’ Johnson responds, ‘Thomas Case (1598–1682), in his Treatise of Afflictions, provides a beautiful summary’:

To the weary, it is rest; to the banished, it is home; to the scorned and reproached, it is glory; to the captive, it is liberty; to the conflicting soul, it is conquest; to the conqueror, it is a crowned life; to the hungry, it is hidden manna; to the thirsty, it is the fountain and waters of life and rivers of pleasure; to the grieved soul… it is fullness of joy; to the mourner, it is pleasures forevermore. Heaven is… to be with Christ, which is best of all.*

United to Jesus Christ, every Christian has a ‘living hope’ (1 Pet. 1:3). It is a living hope because it is anchored in and partakes of a living, reigning Saviour. It is not a vague, insubstantial hope, because Jesus is not a vague, insubstantial Saviour. No! He is a risen, death-defeating, sin-conquering, cosmic enthroned Saviour and God has raised us together with him (Eph. 2:5).

It is no doubt true that heaven is a realm, a realm where the infinite, triune God dwells with his redeemed children. It might, however, be truer to say that heaven is where God is. We often say, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ For the Christian, home is where God is. It is God who makes heaven heaven.

The blessedness of heaven is the blessedness of being with the Father who loves us, with the Son who lived, died, rose, ascended and reigns for us, with the Holy Spirit who indwells us to make us partakers of the life of God. It is God himself who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. It is God himself who will be all in all to every one of his children (1 Cor. 15:28).

All this is to say that the blessedness of believers is to be in God’s infinitely glorious presence, the beloved recipients of his unending love. If this is true, and assuredly it is, then ministers of the gospel must preach with this eternal hope pulsing through their expositions of God’s word. Justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, is a foundational gospel truth. It is vital and non-negotiable. However, it is not the gospel in its fullness. God’s ultimate goal for forgiven, justified sinners is to bring us into his nearer presence, to behold his face, to enjoy him forever and enjoy pleasures for evermore. Few things will more inflame a Christian’s downcast spirit than an increasing apprehension of the glory that God has prepared for those who love him.

When Jesus ministered to his distressed and deeply troubled disciples he said, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:2). When the apostle John sought to minister to hard-pressed, sorely persecuted Christians, he told them of the coming day when God would make all things new, when he would wipe every tear from their eyes, when they would ‘see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever’ (Rev. 22:4, 5).

It is often said that if we are too spiritually- or heavenly-minded we will be of little earthly use. The truth, however, is that the more biblically heavenly-minded we are, the more earthly use to God and his church and world we will be. One of the striking features of the men and women God has used most significantly throughout the history of the church has been their heavenly-mindedness. Perhaps no one has elevated the grace of heavenly-mindedness more than the English pastor-theologian John Owen. Owen’s works are a rich treasure of gospel truth, none more so than his work on The Grace and Duty of Spiritual-Mindedness.** This work was originally personal meditations that Owen reflected on at a time when he thought he may not have long to live. In his preface, Owen tells us that he was prompted to write this work because he observed ‘the present importunity of the world to impose itself on the minds of men…for the world is at present in a mighty hurry, and being in many places cast off from all foundations of steadfastness, it makes the minds of men giddy with its revolutions, or disorderly in the expectations of them…Hence men walk and talk as if the world were all, when comparatively it is nothing.’ Our day is little different!:

But things are come to that pass amongst us that unless a more than ordinary vigorous exercise of the ministry of the word, with other means appointed unto the same end, be engaged in to recall professors unto that strict mortification, that sincerity of conversation, that separation from the ways of the world, that heavenly-mindedness, that delight in the contemplation of spiritual things, which the gospel and the whole nature of Christian religion do require, we shall lose the glory of our profession, and leave it very uncertain what will be our eternal condition.***

Thomas Chalmers wrote that Owen’s book on Spiritual-Mindedness holds ‘a distinguished rank among the voluminous writings of this celebrated author.’ For him three features made it very special: The force with which it applies truth to the conscience; the way Owen plumbs the depths of Christian experience as a skilful physician of the soul; the uncovering of the secrets of the mind and heart so that the true spiritual state of the reader is discovered (see the introduction to the Banner of Truth Puritan Paperback Spiritual-Mindedness****). A couplet was written about Richard Sibbes, the ‘heavenly doctor,’ after his death that captured both the fragrance and the significant influence of his ministry: ‘Of that good man let this high praise be given: Heaven was in him before he was in heaven.’

In these dark and darkening times, we need more men and women whose lives reflect the heavenly-mindedness of Owen and Sibbes. We should never seek to recreate the past in the present; but we should seek to emulate the gospel-heartedness of Owen and Sibbes that produced the heavenly-mindedness which made their lives and ministries so effective to the glory of God and the good of his church.

Notes

*Quoted in Terry Johnson, The Excellencies of God: Exploring and Enjoying his Attributes (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2022).

** This can be found in The Works of John Owen, Vol. 7 (repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), p. 265.

***John Owen, Works, Vol. 7 (repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), p. 265.

**** The Puritan Paperback edition has been abridged and made easy to read by Dr R. J. K. Law.

 

Ian Hamilton is Associate Minister at Smithton Church, Inverness, and President of Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

Featured Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

 

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