In an earlier post I wrote about the upbringing that Edwards had in the harsh environment of colonial New England that placed in him a firm grasp on reality; a reality in which heaven and hell are very real and very close at hand. As he grew to adore Christ and came to be captivated with God’s glory he also grew very fond of heaven and meditating deeply on its splendor. For him it was not fantastical, but very real and very near. Others have done a much better job of applying and expounding on Edward’s thoughts on the eternal that I will not presume to add anything or offer a commentary of his writings, but only to share how my heart was stirred and continues to be stirred by this heavenward concentration of thought.
As I have considered my own weakness and sin I have noticed that at my most selfish point, my most prideful moment, I am not living in the reality of a kingdom that I have never seen, but in a kingdom of my own making that is like a flimsy façade on a film set. This version of reality that I often fabricate looks pretty real to me and the special effects may even stun those looking on in the theatre of life, but those thrilling special effects are only a strong wind or flame away from revealing what they are; real only to the extent that they are made of matter and can be touched, but they disappoint because that exterior represents a false sense of what is. We are very familiar with the words of the preacher of Ecclesiastes who declares “Absolute futility. Everything is futile” Eccl 1:2(HCSB). In fact the apostle Paul declares that since the fall “creation was subjected to futility” Rom 8:20. For us in Christ we need not be fatalists about this, but cling to the rest of Romans 8:20 which says that creation was subjected to futility “… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption….” It will finally be set free in full one day and we must be aware of our default gravitation to futile and vain things and look to the reality that is ahead….
We are daily in danger of believing what we can taste, touch and feel rather believing the promises of a good and trustworthy God. The old saying that one can be “so heavenly minded he is no earthly good” is satanic and untrue. To be heavenly minded is not to be disconnected from reality here on earth, but to understand truly what is and what will be. If we have our gaze focused on heaven we will not waste time here, but the opposite. Now it is possible to have a wrong view of heaven; a pop culture “better place” view that is absent of what heaven is all about, which is Christ. I am speaking of believing in going and seeing Christ face-to-face and beholding with no barrier the radiance of his beautiful face! I fear I would have to write for many days to scratch the surface of how grasping the reality of that moment for the saved and how believing in it will change our lives! If only we would think on and yearn for what is waiting for us we would agree with Paul that “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul did not use this as an excuse to lock himself in a cloister and wait for death or the trumpet sound but he says “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” Philippians 1:23-24 . Rooting ourselves in the reality that after we have run the race hard Jesus will wipe the tears from our eyes makes us fearlessly bold! There is no such thing as burnout for the one that has counted the heavenly as realest of realities.
Paul knew that a crucial element to our endurance and our war with the flesh was to be fixed on what is above. Colossians 3:1-2 says “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not things that are on the earth.” He also encourages in the epistle to Titus obedience fueled by setting hope in what is to come! In his greeting “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began….” And after a long string of instructions for the church he declares that they should “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions… waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,…” And again he says that we have become “heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. Our holiness and the degree to which we view heaven as real coincide. There are many factors to this, I understand, but I believe this one is huge, because it is in the Bible and it has been very real in my life.
I could go on and I hope to God that I will be able to take this further. I fear in my own heart I have often viewed Heaven, eternity, as being about as real as Tolkien’s Middle Earth; we are moved by it, even in awe of it, but it’s not real. We go through life, expecting to get to heaven one day, but the way we live says that we really think that we will just die like a dog. Heaven is so real! What is eternal is real! So much of what we see here that we think is real is just our finite mind and futile heart fooling us! I don’t want to be fooled! Jesus said that he went to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:3) and he prayed to the Father that we may be with him and behold his glory (Jn 17:24). I want to see his glory! I want to gaze on the beautiful face of the one who saved me! I want to worship him as I stare face-to-face without the fetters of sin and self! And I will! By his grace I will! Now I must go and I must work and I must give every ounce of what I am because that day will come soon when I will eternally rest! Rest to labor no more for millions and billions and trillions of ages! I know this is a lot of exclamation marks but I don’t know how else to plead! Jonathan Edwards knew that heaven was real and he lived a life dedicated to the glory and majesty of God. God grant us grace to be people that watch the sky, people that long for true reality, people that live for a kingdom that they have never seen…. May our lives bear evidences of what is real and to come….
“These all died in faith, not having received the things
Promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged
That they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people
Who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had
Been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,
They would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better
Country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called
Their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”