You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF A FUTURE STATE. Reason may speculate, imagination may form pictures, the instincts of the heart may prompt the hope that there is a future state of being; but it is only through Holy Scripture that we attain to full conviction. What was dimly revealed to Old Testament saints has been now "made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 1:10).
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER AS DETERMINING MAN'S PLACE IN A FUTURE STATE. Our Lord always teaches that holy character is indispensable to blessedness. True life is from God, and tends to God (John 5:26; Colossians 3:3). "The path of life" must be entered upon here, or we can never reach from earth to heaven. Faith and action determine character, and character settles destiny. "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).
III. THE INTIMATE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE LIFE THAT NOW IS AND THAT WHICH IS TO COME. There is continuity. Death transfers, but it does not transform. Life is the seed-time for eternity. Our present actions, good or bad, determine our future fate (Galatians 6:7, 8; Romans 2:6-10).
IV. THAT EVERYTHING TENDS TO A GREAT CRISIS, WHEN JUDGMENT SHALL BE GIVEN UPON ALL MEN. Our Lord teaches us that judgment is already begun. Whatever we do has its effect. Every deed of self-denial and justice and love brings its blessing, and every deed of evil its curse. But there is to be a final judgment, and our Lord shows us that the acts of that great day will be based on law; that God will render unto every man according to his works. It is very striking also that our Lord should put such emphasis upon acts of love and charity (Matthew 25:31-46).
V. THAT HE HIMSELF WILL HOLD THE SUPREME PLACE AS JUDGE AND KING IN THE WORLD TO COME. If the future state is a reality, this has been made certain by Christ (John 2:25). If character will determine our place in eternity, it is through Christ that we are to attain to the meetness of character required (Colossians 1:12). If the awards of the judgment are final, it is because Christ is Judge, and there can be no appeal against his decisions. If the future state is, for the good, to be a state of highest and divinest "life," it is because they have been made partakers of the life of Christ, and shall dwell for ever with him in the light and love of God. - W.F.
Proverbs 14:12.) There is such a thing in this dying world as a "path of life." This is represented as leading into fellowship with Him, in whose presence there is fulness of joy. "At Thy right hand," and thither the path leads, "there are pleasures for evermore." There are two distinct and contrasted ways or lines of life. The one is called "the way of life," the other is "the way that seemeth right unto a man." Set the two ways before you, and ask a deliberate choice. The first thing in journeying is to know where you are going. The one is the way of life, because it is a way which can only be traversed by those who live in the full sense of the word. The highest faculty of our nature is that spiritual capacity which enables us to hold communion with God. And also because it is the way in which alone life can be sustained. And further, because it leads to life. Look at the other way. It "seemeth right unto a man." Only "seemeth." But it is not what it seems. It is very popular. Everybody takes it. That does not make its character good, or its end desirable.
Thou wilt show me the path of life.Psalm 17:15) follows from the life of the spirit. And though probably there would be many fluctuations of belief, though the spiritual eye would not always be clear, it seems impossible to doubt, when we read passages such as this, that there were times at least when the hope of life beyond the grave did become distinct and palpable. At the same time, in the utterance of this confident persuasion and hope David was carried beyond himself.
(J. J. Stewart Perowne, B. D.)
(W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
I. EVERY TRUE RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT MEETS WITH UNIVERSAL RESPONSE. Like as the aesthetic sentiments of mankind, our best feelings of the beautiful in art and music, were given to the Greeks to preserve and develop; so the religious sentiments of mankind, our feelings of the Divine and spiritual, seem to have been the especial care and heritage of the Jewish race. And as our feelings of beauty are eternal, so that Greek art and poetry will never be unappreciated, so are our intuitions of righteousness, our yearnings for the Divine eternal, and hence the Bible will never die, its perennial fountain will never dry up.
II. LIFE IS UNIVERSALLY DESIRED. Else why the frantic struggles to maintain it, even in its most wretched conditions. Only when reason has lost her sway does the suicide do his work.
III. BUT NONE CAN SAY WHAT LIFE IS, any more than we can say what electricity is, what gravitation is. We see it, we feel it, we are conscious of it; but that is all. We know it only by its manifestations, and if we can see in what these agree, what they have in common, our text will have much meaning. The exotic cannot bear frost, the camellia from the hothouse perishes before it. The luxuriously reared child suddenly flung into poverty and want would probably die. Now, in all these cases there has been change in the surroundings; but if, with the changed outward conditions in each case, the inward conditions as well could have been changed, the mischief in each case would not have happened. But they were not so changed, and so there was either death or else a diminution of the powers of living. For life, then, there is needed the complete correspondence between the inward nature and the outward surroundings, harmony between them and our nature. Apply all this to the spiritual life. For this life also there must be harmony between itself and its surroundings. What are these, what its soil, atmosphere, elements of growth, its habitat or dwelling place? God — is the answer; there is none other. God revealed as our spiritual Father is the spirit's fit outward surroundings, its external relations. Hence, would we live the true spiritual life we must be in harmony with God, our environment. The low, sensual, selfish life kills the spiritual life, as the frost killed the flower. But where, as in Christ supremely, there is harmony between God and the soul, there is the true life. Christ is the way, because He is the revelation of God.
(H. Varley, B. A.)
2. Christ took the first step in this path. Someone must lead in it, and He did, and now says, "Follow Me."
3. It is a customary road; a path is so. There never was another than this, and never will be.
4. Everyone who walks in it makes it plainer and easier. We help others to walk in it by walking in it ourselves.
5. Beware, as we go through life, of diverging paths that lead astray to death.
6. The Bible is the lamp in our path.
7. We are always walking in some path — either of life or death. We cannot stand still.
8. To walk in a path we must put forth energy and activity. We must not only know it but walk in it.
9. The path of life, to those who walk in it, grows brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
10. Divine guidance is necessary and promised. "Thou wilt show me the path of life." "He will direct thy paths."
11. Am I walking in it?
(J. Stanford Holme, D. D.)
I. AS REJOICING IN THE LIFE OF GRACE. God quickened in them this life (Ephesians 2:1); for they were spiritually dead. Not Scripture alone teaches this, but observation and experience. Religious things make no more impression on the spiritually dead than sunbeams on a rock. But God's mercy comes in conversion, which is the quickening spoken of. Then are we born again, and begin really to live.
II. THEY REJOICE, ALSO, IN THE ASSURANCE OF BEING CONDUCTED SAFE TO GLORY. How else should a dying saint have any comfort at all? How shall a poor stranger in such a dark abyss find the path of life? Then —
1. How thankful should we be for the Gospel. Reason may argue in favour of the immortality of the soul, but could never show that such sinful creatures as we are should be admitted into the presence of God.
2. How sharply to be reproved and greatly to be pitied are they who will not walk in the path of life.
(Samuel Lavington.)I. THOUGHTS SUGGESTED BY THE METAPHOR. A path. The believer's life is a journey — a walk (Genesis 17:1; Genesis 5:24; Isaiah 30:21; Ephesians 4:1). We need both a door and a path. An entrance into life, and a pathway in it.
II. THE TEACHING CONTAINED IN THE PASSAGE. The Psalm is prophetic of Christ. To Him "the path of life" was first opened. Lost man had no way to God. The path to life was from the manger to the Cross. The path of life is from the Cross to glory. Adam through sin had forfeited his right of access into the presence of God. Through Christ the way to paradise is opened.
III. LESSONS. Man cannot make his own way to God. It is a path already opened for us. We need God to reveal it to us. We must be brought to its true starting point. The path brings us into the presence and puts before us a prospect. The path brightens as we advance.
(E. H. Hopkins.)I. AN ENCOURAGING PROMISE OF DIVINE DIRECTION. Consider the text in reference to God's answer to prayer. Has not everyone the greatest need of Divine direction and heavenly illumination in his passage through life? What untiring diligence, unceasing watchfulness, and persevering prayer is every Christian constrained to use in his hourly converse with the world! How solicitous should every Christian be that, as every step of his life is leading to the path of death, he may be so guided by Divine counsel as to be directed to the path of life, to the path of glory, honour, and immortality, even eternal life.
II. THE HAPPY AND BLESSED RESULTS ARISING FROM ATTENTION TO THIS DIRECTION. An admission into His presence, where there is fulness of joy. It is the presence of God, our heavenly Father, which constitutes this fulness of joy. Fulness of joy can only be consummated in the other world, But what tongue can unfold the felicity of that state?
III. THE ETERNAL DURATION OF THE HEAVENLY GLORY. This it is which invests the subject with the most momentous and overwhelming magnitude.
(Nat. Meeres, B. D.)volves: — Annihilation of man, or even of an atom, is unknown in God's universe; while the grave is the place in which is covered what would otherwise be painful, offensive, and injurious to survivors. We know life is uncertain; but we practically regard it as certain, at least for a few years. There is in all of us faith in a future life, and hope and desire that in that life our merciful Creator will perfect our nature, and confer upon us a painless and unbroken happiness. The immortality of our race is deeply interesting, but our individual immortality, and what it involves, should be to us a matter of practical and daily concern. There is a sense in which men discover their value in the scale of being. They learn that they have not only a body but a soul, that not only must the wants of the body be supplied, but the mind must be trained, and the soul kept under God's government, for its present health and future bliss. There are three states of man's reasoning mind which no instinct of the lower animals that we are acquainted with has ever suggested —
1. We have no evidence that any creature except man expects death; or has any knowledge of it.
2. The idea of a future life cannot be entertained by the horse or the elephant, by the ant or the bee.
3. As little capacity have they for the desire of it. The instincts of brutes concern their present wants; but man, by his superior endowment, ranges over the present and the future, over what is near and far distant, and by the high faculty of reason can awake to a consciousness of God, and of his own personal immortality. Christianity has given to man a familiarity with pure religion for the soul, for moral and holy discipline, and for appreciating his destiny, which none of the old philosophies had the power to give or to enforce.We are now assured by Jesus that we shall live forever, and, assuming this, it should involve hopes and duties in relation to ourselves and others of high and practical import.
1. It should involve sacred regard for our own life, and for that of others. The sacredness and value of our own life, and of that of others, should ever be a practical lesson inwrought daily with our very being, whether on the smallest or largest scale. Crime against the person cannot cease unless humanity is respected. There can be no respect for it where there are no just views of its dignity, worth, and moral and religious power; and the way to elevate it is not by depreciating and debasing it, nor by discouraging or damning it; but by loving efforts for its recovery, by purifying the sources of temptation to crime, etc. It also demands on our part sacred regard for the life of others. A hope of immortality also involves a sacred regard to our personal virtue, and to that of others. Whatever will purity our nature, control our passions, convince us of the evil and bitterness of sin, elevate our thoughts and affections, and help us onward in our Christian course, we should seek more perfectly to possess in the prospect of an immortal life.
2. If we had not the immortal life before us we should think of death as our end. In the prospect of our immortal life it must be wise, and every way worthy of us, to form the purest, most holy, and most just conceptions of the blessed God. But how can this personal immortality be assured? We have a soul; it implies immortality. The inequalities of the present state of man imply a sphere of readjustment. We desire immortality. The Bible declares it. These grounds of assurance with our individual consciousness, desire, and hope, are what men rest upon in relation to their immortality. It cannot be mathematically, philosophically, or logically demonstrated.
In Thy presence is fulness of joy.
I. IN EXTENT. The state contemplated will be after the resurrection, as it was for our Lord after His resurrection. Hence St. Paul says, "Our conversation is in heaven." And he tells us also of the "glorious body," the "spiritual body" which shall be ours then (1 Corinthians 15:44). And the mind also will partake in this glory, this fulness of joy. How much will result from memory. Also from survey of the present — the heavenly city, the glory of God, the Saviour, And the future, too, will minister to this joy. And the affections likewise, profound admiration, ardent gratitude, entire confidence, perfect love.
II. ITS DEGREE. This, too, will be perfect. There will be difference of capacity, and so of degree, which will be determined mainly by character. All that hinders full excellence here will be absent there.
III. IN DURATION. It will be endless, and therefore perfect. "These are pleasures for evermore." Without this we could not be satisfied. "A perpetuity of bliss is bliss." Could we fear an end to it, it would wither. Many have denied eternal punishment, but none eternal bliss. Remember its spirituality and purity, and anticipate it with joy.
(J. Kay.)Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 10:28). Here it is evidently taught, such is the vitality of the soul, that no power can annihilate it but the omnipotence of that Being who brought it into existence; and therefore to deny its immortality is to contradict the plainest testimony of God Himself. Equally opposed to the authority of Holy Scripture is the theory which teaches that, at death, the soul passes into a state of unconsciousness until the resurrection Our Lord, when confuting the materialists of His day, who cavilled at His doctrine, asserted the actual conscious existence of the Jewish patriarchs, though at that time the latest of them had been dead nearly two thousand years. When the Saviour was about to expire as our atoning victim He said to the thief, who was dying by His side as a penitent malefactor, "Verily, today shalt thou be with Me m paradise." When Lazarus died, angels carried him into Abraham's bosom; and when the rich man died, in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments. Now, had the souls of men passed at death into a state of unconsciousness, the condition of Lazarus and of the rich man would have been perfectly alike; but here their state is that of awful contrast, the one of blessedness, the other of torment. In conformity with these representations the apostle Paul speaks of death as being preferable to life. But why preferable? Because, as he affirms, to die was gain. Yet to pass into a state of unconsciousness would be to suffer loss — the loss of all the enjoyments and privileges of life (Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). While these passages decide the question as to the continued existence and consciousness of the soul, they also unfold the grand Cause of its blessedness — it is in the soul's being with Christ. The promise to the dying thief was, not only that he should be in paradise, but with Christ in paradise. The blessedness anticipated by St. Paul consisted in his being with Christ. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." Thus these two ideas — the presence and manifestation of God to man — belong to the dispensation of eternity as well as time, and constitute the blessedness of heaven as well as of earth. The soul was made for God, and can find neither happiness nor satisfaction without Him. This is a law of our being, and is as applicable to the future as it is to the present life. Gravitation is not a more universal and imperative law in the physical universe than is this law of dependence on God in the spiritual world. Let us notice some of the conditions which render heaven an advanced dispensation for the realisation of the presence and manifestation of God to the human soul.
1. In heaven there will be perfect freedom from all the evils, sufferings, and dangers of the present state of being. Ever since man fell from God he has been subject to the evils and sorrows of a fallen state; and though religion greatly mitigates the sufferings of humanity, and supports us under them, yet its highest attainments cannot remove them. The world, the flesh, and the devil are antagonistic to our spiritual welfare, and the Christian life is an athletic struggle — a warfare against active foes and evil influences, which beset us at every step. We inherit diseases, afflictions, and death. Though such a state of things may suit a period of discipline and probation, it is not compatible with a state of absolute safety and perfect enjoyment. The battlefield may develop the courage and valour of the warrior, but the tranquil bower suits the contemplation of the philosopher. The storms of winter may cause to strike deeper the roots of the tree, but the calm sunshine of summer is required to develop its foliage and ripen its fruit. The struggles and tears of a probationary life may give nerve and athletic vigour to the Christian, but the calm rest which remaineth for the people of God is the state better suited to the contemplation of the Divine perfections and the deep consciousness of the Divine presence.
2. In heaven the powers of the soul will be quickened and its capacities enlarged. In the present state the soul, being united to a material fabric, performs many of its acts through a material organisation. A large proportion of its ideas are received through the medium of the senses. There is, however, as clear a distinction between the faculties of the soul and the material organs through which it acts, as there is between the soul itself and the fabric in which it resides. It is the soul that sees and hears, and the eye is merely the optical instrument through which it sees; and the ear is but the acoustic apparatus by which it perceives the various sounds, harsh or harmonious, which are made by the vibrations of the atmosphere. The same principle applies to the other material organs, through which the soul receives impressions and performs its various operations. Besides, it must be remembered that the Holy Spirit has the power of communicating, and the soul the capability of receiving, ideas and impressions by direct and immediate contact, without the interposition of the bodily senses. Hence the inspiration of prophets, and the Divine illumination and spiritual emotions of believers. The mind can abstract, compound, reason, imagine, cherish principles, and experience emotions of deepest joy or anguish, by its own internal operations, even when some of the organs of sense are destroyed. What visions of beauty and grandeur did the mind of Milton create after his eyeballs had ceased to admit a ray of material light! But in this case the mind is already furnished, all its faculties stimulated by exercise, refined and expanded by knowledge, and its emotions excited by experience. Let us then suppose such a mind, during the life of the body, bereft not only of one, two, or three, but of all the five senses: what then would be its state? True, it would be cut off from all further communication with the external world; but it would still have a world within itself — a world of thought, reasoning, and imagination, equally capacious, and of emotion far more intense than it had before. If such, in truth, would be the state of a soul deprived of the organs of sense, but still linked to the living material fabric, what should hinder it from possessing and exercising the same powers and realising the same state when the body ceases to breathe? Death is nothing more than the dissolution of the material fabric — the understanding, the memory, the judgment, the conscience, the powers of volition and emotion are still inherent, as essential properties of its nature, and must remain with it forever; but vastly increased in their activity and intensity, in consequence of their separation from the earthly tabernacle in which they had resided. All the representations of Holy Scripture sustain these views of the soul in the separate state. The soul of the rich man in hell was in a state of vivid consciousness, having a clear knowledge of the present, with a full recollection of the past, a keen susceptibility of suffering. That the faculties of the soul in the separate state are more vigorous and capacious, and therefore better adapted for receiving the manifestation of God, than while in this mortal body, may be further argued on various grounds. The body has many wants of its own which, though inferior, are imperative in their demands, and retard the development of mind. But on the soul's dismissal from the body these wants all cease, together with all the cares and toils they occasioned, leaving the soul unbroken leisure for contemplations and pursuits congenial to its nature, and exercises adapted to accelerate its highest attainments in knowledge, holiness, and bliss. While united to the body in its present state, the soul is located to a confined and narrow spot of Jehovah's dominions, and cannot explore those displays of the Divine perfections which are presented in other and brighter regions of the universe. Nor is a world abounding with error the most fitted for the perception of truth; nor a world of sin the best adapted to the growth of moral excellence. Even now, the mind borrows from art means to supply the deficiencies of its own material organs: the microscope to magnify the diminutive, the telescope to discover the remote, and the acoustic tube to convey distant sounds, because the eye and the ear are not fully adequate to the mind's investigations. Hence our best perceptions are but limited and obscure. The narrow grating of a dungeon admits a portion of the light of heaven, but let the incarcerated captive emerge from his cell and he beholds the whole hemisphere beaming with light, and an extended prospect filled with ten thousand beauties unknown before. So may the soul on passing from the body, which now limits its operations. Besides, this material fabric is too frail for the full exertion of mental power. Intense thinking softens the brain, and intense feeling, whether joyous or painful, soon exhausts the nervous energy. Progress is the law of mind, but decay the law of matter; and, within a very few years, the body becomes incapacitated as the medium for mental attainment and progress. So that were not death to relieve the soul from the restraints of physical weakness and the decay of age, the development of mind must be arrested and its noble powers be doomed to stop in their progress, just at a point when most fitted to make the greatest advancement and to realise the highest joys. But the soul, on emerging from the body, escapes from these restraints; it breaks its fetters and enters upon a state in which it may exert its vigorous powers unhindered by weakness, unarrested by decay, and expand its capacities without limit and without end. In such a state how adapted the soul to drink in the knowledge of God, to receive the disclosures of Jehovah's perfections, to enjoy the manifestations of His presence, and to sustain an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory. The sublime mysteries of creation, providence, and redemption, continually unfolding new glories, will astonish and delight the mind forever.
3. As another facility for the manifestation of God, the soul shall be admitted into His immediate presence. Heaven is a place as well as a state of being. It is said that spirit has no relation to place, but we confess to the vulgar conception that if a spirit exist it must be either everywhere or somewhere; that unless it be ubiquitous it must have a limited presence. And, as in the present life, the human spirit is located in the human body, so in eternity it must have a location. As there was a locality for the Shekinah, the visible symbol of the Divine presence, so there is a sacred place, a distinct region, where the personal presence of Jehovah is manifested and displayed. To determine the particular locality where heaven is, no man is able. As to the description of this glorious place, language fails to set forth its beauty. In every inspired description of heaven the Shekinah, or the visible presence of God, is made prominent. The earthly temple, while forming a shrine for the Shekinah, was a mode of its concealment from the ordinary view of the people. The glory was curtained off and shut in, so that the radiant symbol was enthroned in solitary majesty in the most holy place. But in the New Jerusalem no temple is seen, for no external shade is required; and in the brightness of a better dispensation, concealment and restriction have disappeared. Here, then, is the first consummation of the believer's aspirations and hopes. At last the wilderness is left, and the promised paradise is gained; the weary pilgrim has arrived at home; the absent son and heir has entered his Father's house. The journey of faith ends in realising vision and actual possession. "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee." But love longs for the sight and presence of its object. But while the promises, which speak of our seeing God, imply an optical vision of the Deity, they imply also a more enlarged, comprehensive, and profound knowledge of His character and perfections; for the manifestation of the Deity, in order to our enjoyment of Him, is the end of all His dispensations, and applies to heaven as well as earth. Hitherto we have seen a gradual brightening of this manifestation, as one economy has succeeded another; and the manifestation in heaven shall be brighter than all its predecessors. Moreover, as the perfection of our vision always depends upon the perfection of the visual organ, and its proper adjustment to the object beheld, as well as upon the degree of light thrown upon it, so does the perfection of the soul's knowledge of God depend upon its moral state, as well as upon the increased light which will beam upon it in eternity. So the untutored savage and the sensualist perceive but little, though they see much, for a brutish man knoweth not these things. Hence there is an amazing difference between men's power of perception and appreciation, arising from the difference in their mental state, their education and habits of life; and often as great a difference between the same men in different periods of their own history! But the pure in heart see God. Their eye is open to perceive Him; their affections are sanctified to appreciate Him, and their aspirations are spiritual to enjoy the Holy One; and thus men see God just in proportion to their personal purity and their resemblance to Him. Here, then, we perceive important reasons which account for a deeper, a richer, a sublimer manifestation of God to the soul in heaven. All the conditions of the mind will favour this development. While absent from a world of illusion, while free from the restraints of a weak and decaying body, it is free from every vestige of sin; while dwelling in the light of the Divine presence, it is capacitated by a state of perfect holiness for seeing and appreciating the beauty of the Lord. There sin shall no more avert the eye from God, nor blur its perception of His glory.
4. In heaven the disposition for communion will be perfectly developed, affording the highest and most perfect gratification of that social principle which God has implanted in our nature. Man was formed for society. Yet society, as it exists in this world, is confessedly imperfect. Sin has infused its poison into this, as well as into every other cup of earthly happiness. There is a want of confidence, of disinterested affection, of constancy and fidelity. But in heaven this defect shall be supplied. For there angels and archangels, and the spirits of just men made perfect — all beings of unspotted holiness and full of love — will be our companions and our friends. "In this world the possession of a few friends, nay, even of one friend, is justly deemed an invaluable treasure, but what will be our blessedness in that world where all are our friends, and where the soul, like the region where it dwells, will be capacious enough to admit them all?" No rival interests, no conflicting aims, no jarring passions, no malign or discordant tempers disturb the society of heaven. This holy fellowship of heaven will contribute, in no small degree, to the grand purpose of a further manifestation of God to His intelligent creatures. In such a state of being, and favoured with such society, how rapidly must the soul grow in the knowledge of God! What are earthly teachers, however erudite, eloquent, and profound, compared with our instructors in heaven? What are our learned libraries here compared with the accumulated treasures of heavenly wisdom and knowledge there? What, indeed, are our present revelations, conveyed as they are through the imperfect medium of human speech, and received by minds so dull in their apprehensions?
5. In heaven there shall also be the most intimate, delightful, and ennobling communion with God. The disposition for communion dwells in the Deity Himself and ere a solitary creature existed it was reciprocally exercised between the persons of the Godhead — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man being formed in God's image and likeness, this disposition for communion was implanted in his nature; and while it gives man delight in the society of his fellow man, and makes the communication of thought and affection a source of happiness, it finds its highest gratification and development in fellowship with God. There the soul, dwelling in the immediate presence of Deity, and disengaged from the absorbing cares and distractions of a secular state of being, will realise the most intimate and uninterrupted fellowship with God. It will not, indeed, as the oriental philosophy teaches, be absorbed into the Deity, and, losing its personal consciousness, be swallowed up in the abyss of the Godhead; but with its identity preserved, as distinct and personal as it is in this inferior state, it will realise a union with God so perfect in the aspirations of its desires, in the intercommunion of its thoughts and affections, that it will live in God and God in it. We know a man best, not by seeing his picture or reading his history, but by personal intercourse and communion. Thus two congenial minds penetrate rote each other's thoughts, and reciprocate each other's dispositions; they see as they are seen, and know as they are known. And thus it is (let us reverently speak it) that the soul knows the great and eternal God — not merely intellectually, as His perfections are displayed in His works and His character unfolded in progressive dispensations, but in the deep personal consciousness of our union with Deity. In this manifestation of the Deity the Holy Spirit will operate in heaven as He does on earth, but with an augmented power proportioned to the superior state and capacity of disembodied souls. Searching, as He does, the deep things of God, He will reveal them to the blessed, with whom He will abide forever.
6. In heaven the saints will be engaged in the most ennobling employments.
7. There is one word uttered by an inspired apostle which is more pregnant with meaning as to the manifestation of God to the soul in the spiritual world, and of the eternal happiness flowing from it, than could be expressed by a thousand volumes. It is the single declaration that we "are heirs of God." The apostle says the believer is an heir — not of the material universe, for that is poor compared with the treasure named — not of heaven, for that is not expressive of the opulence intended; but he is an heir of the God of the universe, of Him whose presence makes heaven what it is — an heir of the Deity Himself. As the mind has no limit to its development, nothing but the infinite can suffice for it; and there is nothing infinite but God. Of God Himself, then, the believer is now an heir; in eternity he enters into his possession and enjoyment, with free and full access to the fountain of eternal blessedness. All there is in God is his: his to know, so far as his understanding can comprehend; his to enjoy, so far as his capacity can contain; and eternity itself is designed to yield successive developments of the infinite fulness there is in God.
8. The state of the soul in heaven is one of further expectation. No dispensation which God has given to man in the present world has been a complete and ultimate good, but an instalment of some greater good to come. Promise and prophecy have ever led the mind onward and upward. Indeed, the exercise of faith and hope has been a prominent and indispensable element in that educational process by which the great Teacher has trained and developed the human mind in every age. Hence the progressive development of the Gospel plan, from the first promise of a Saviour through the successive stages of the Divine economy. Hence, too, the transition from the cloudy symbol of the temple to the personal manifestation of the incarnate God. Thus faith and hope live in heaven as well as on earth; and though much once promised is now realised, yet from the elevation to which he is exalted he beholds a wider horizon of truth and a brighter prospect of future blessedness; and faith in the promise and hope of the expected good are elements of his present enjoyment. Having noticed the various elements of the happiness of heaven, we ought here to remark that the essential qualification for this blessedness is holiness. We cannot conclude without adverting to the awful contrast presented in the condition of the wicked after death. They have the same nature, but a different doom.
(W. Cooke, D. D.)
Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.I. THE NATURE OF HEAVENLY FELICITY. It is living in the presence of God. It is living at the right hand of God, that is, in a state of exaltation, dignity, and glory. It is a state of joy. It is a state of pleasure.
II. THE PLENITUDE OF HEAVENLY FELICITY. Expressed by the word "fulness." Here our enjoyments, even our religious enjoyments, are accompanied by fear, mixed with sorrow, frequently interrupted, at best but partial, and at most but small. There will be fulness, what is pure, without any alloy; perpetual, without any interruption; and what is enough, without any satiety.
III. THE DURATION OF HEAVENLY FELICITY WILL BE FOR EVERMORE. "Evermore" is one of the scriptural expressions denoting interminable duration.
(Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Homiletic Review.Not necessarily a spoken word or an act performed — simply a presence. There is a Divine presence, distinct from any word, or act, or exercise of Divine power; the charm is found in this, that God is there; it is what He is, not what He does or says, which His presence emphasises. The use of worship is partly this, that it makes His invisible presence a reality. The more forms and ceremonies corrupt the simplicity, of worship, the more is attention diverted from God as a spirit. Closet prayer is especially helpful, if not hurried and superficial. To wait until a proper conception of God's presence impresses the soul makes prayer of vastly more service to the suppliant. Every human being has a presence. It used to be said of Lord Chatham, that in the man was something finer than in anything he said. We hear with us a power that for good or evil is greater than any influence exerted by our deliberate acts or words. Swedenborg called it an "atmosphere." It is as inseparable from the person as the fragrance from the flower. It is the unconscious reflection and transmission of character. It sometimes contradicts the words and studied externals; and it sometimes coincides with and confirms their witness. That atmosphere makes the home and the Church and society more than all else. Negatively a good "presence" restrains, and positively, it inspires. To stay in Fenelon's society, an infidel said, would compel him to be a Christian. While we emphasise the deliberate and voluntary part of our lives, God doubtless sees that the most potent, for good or evil, are the influences which silently and unconsciously go out from us, like the savour of salt and the radiance of light.
(Homiletic Review.)I. TRUE HAPPINESS IS NOT TO BE EXPECTED HERE. This is implied in the text. The world is not our home. This life is but a small part of our existence. Take a general survey of the condition of human life. How weak and helpless is infancy! Childhood and youth are vanity! How many dangers always attend us! Who is secure? Changes of condition and circumstances are many times as sudden as they are sad. God is good and wise, as well as great. His benevolence is as unbounded as His power. Joys are mingled with our sorrows. Religion does not undertake to preserve its friends from affliction, but forewarns them of it, that they may be prepared to meet it. And it is a mighty support and cordial under it. Moreover, we have never found in the world as much as corresponds with all the capacities, and fully answers all the expectations, and gratifies all the desires of our souls.
II. WHERE SHALL WE PARTAKE OF THAT HAPPINESS OF WHICH OUR NATURE RENDERS US CAPABLE? We must die before we can thus live. Death will transmit the children of God to the glorious presence of their heavenly Father, and there shall they be blessed.
III. THE PROPERTIES AND EXCELLENCIES OF OUR FUTURE BLESSEDNESS.
1. As to the degree — perfection. Nothing is wanting to render the joy complete.
2. As to the duration — perpetuity. The joys are for evermore. God is the fountain; and pleasures flow at His right hand in an endless stream. Reflections.(1) Give not up your prospects and hopes of heavenly pleasures, perfect and perpetual as they are, for the sake of any worldly profits or sinful pleasures.(2) To be without God's gracious presence with us upon earth is very grievous; and with that we ought to give no place to fear and dejection, fear of evils that may happen to us, or dejection under such as have already overtaken us.
(E. Sandercock, D. D.)
1. The character of those who shall have fulness of joy. Such as repent of their sins; believe in Christ, are upright in their profession, and follow the example of Christ.
2. Wherein this blessedness consists. The presence of God is the presence of His glory; the presence of His face, without a veil; His immediate presence, without obscuring mediums; His countenancing presence, as a pleased friend and father; His fixed and abiding presence, we shall be forever with Him; His influxive and efficacious presence, a glimpse of which made Moses' face to shine. Their happiness is also occasioned by those joys and pleasures which are at God's right hand. The joy and pleasures of the heavenly world are spiritual and heavenly, not carnal and earthly. Pure without mixture. A multitude without number. Full without any want. Constant, without diminution or interruption. Perpetual. Improvement:
1. Hence see the folly and madness of those who seek their portion in this life.
2. Let such glorious views and expectations comfort the heirs of glory in the midst of all their tribulations.
3. Let it excite all such to diligence and activity in the ways of God.
1. The glorified Christian will feel that he has been the subject of a change which affects everything connected with him save his identity. One source of singular emotions is the absence of the body, the former inlet of physical pain, and of general suffering.
2. Another source of new and joyful emotions springs from the unencumbered action of the spirit, and its unconstrained inspiration in the air of heaven.
3. Another source of happiness is the fact that the believer has now entered into more exalted society than he enjoyed on earth.
4. The friendships of heaven will be of a higher order than those of earth.
5. Another element will be the clear light which will then be shed upon all God's dealings with the believer while he was upon earth.
6. That which will give fulness of joy to the glorified believer will be the unutterable privilege of standing in the presence of his Saviour Jesus Christ.
(A. S. Gardner.)I. WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY THE PRESENCE OF GOD HERE. God is present everywhere by His infinite knowledge and almighty energy. He fills universal nature. But the Psalmist speaks of a more gracious presence, those peculiar manifestations of Himself with which He delights His believing and obedient people, and which He affords them through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only in Jesus Christ that we, sinful creatures, can see or think of a holy and just God with any comfort.
II. HOW DOES IT APPEAR THAT IN THIS PRESENCE THERE IS FULNESS OF JOY? Consider this presence as it is known in —
1. This world. Here the enjoyment of it first begins. To the good man the Divine presence gives a peculiar and most lively relish to every enjoyment here. The creatures around us, the beauties of nature and art, the social connections in life, the Divine Word, and all means of grace, are all more desirable and delightful as tokens of the Divine presence are found in them. We are all exposed to affliction, trials, perils and death, and our consolation in all comes from the presence of God.
2. The world to come. There our joy will be full indeed, because —(1) It will be absolutely pure and unmixed. It will be all joy, without any alloy of sorrow; without even the fear of it.(2) It answers to every want and desire of our nature. It includes every possible delight, and will leave no desire unsatisfied.(3) It will be full in point of duration. It will fill even the endless ages of eternity itself.(4) It is all derived from, and supported by, the fulness of Christ. Improvement:
1. Hew mean the sentiments and pursuits of the bulk of mankind appear in view of this truth.
2. There must be some very great change wrought in us, before we can so enjoy the Divine presence as to find our happiness there.
3. How invaluable a blessing the Gospel is.
(Daniel Turner.)the saints: — The presence of God maketh heaven, and the perfect happiness to be enjoyed there.
I. THE CHARACTERS OF THOSE WHO SHALL BE BLESSED BY BEING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOREVER.
1. Those who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ with a Divine, practical, heart-purifying, and life sanctifying faith.
2. You who are upright in a good profession.
3. You who are Christ's honest servants.
II. WHAT PRESENCE OF GOD MAKES HEAVEN UNTO THE SAINTS. The presence of His essence is as really on earth as in heaven.
1. The presence of God that makes happy in heaven is the presence of His glory.
2. It is the presence of His face; in the glory of the Mediator.
3. His immediate presence, manifested no longer through obscuring mediums.
4. His countenancing presence.
5. His fixed and abiding presence.
6. His efficacious and influxive presence.
(James Robe, M. A.)
I. THE WEAKNESS OF OUR FAITH. There are very few, even of the most advanced Christians, who do not mourn over weakness of faith. Abraham himself failed once and again. We walk by sight overmuch, or at least desire to.
II. THE SLOWNESS OF HIS GROWTH IN GRACE. He longs to love God with all his heart and soul and strength; to be holy even as Christ is holy, perfect even as his Father in heaven is perfect. But when he sits down to examine himself, and weighs his thoughts, his words, his deeds, in the scales of the sanctuary, he finds so much of worldly conformity, so much cleaving to the earth, so little rising in thought and spirit to heaven, that he rises from the examination with a drooping spirit and an aching heart.
III. THE POWER AND ASCENDENCY OF BESETTING SIN. Whether it be pride, or covetousness, or envy, ill-temper or uncharitableness, whatever it be, we have all of us some sin which has a greater power over us than others. It may be we fondly deemed we had wholly subdued it. But in a little while some trifling temptation is laid in our way; it looks enticing, fascinating, profitable; away go all our good resolutions, and we are betrayed into the commission of that very sin against which we had prayed so earnestly, and whose power we thought we had broken.
IV. SEASONS OF SPIRITUAL DESERTION. He has been walking for some time in the light of God's countenance, rejoicing ever to look up and see a Father's smiling face. But things are sadly altered now. Prayer goes up, but the answer comes not. Difficulties encompass him on every side; his enemies are many and mighty, yea, they come in like a flood; he cries aloud, but his Father makes as though He heard not; distress, tribulation, anguish come upon him. Again he well-nigh sinks in despair.
V. CARE CONCERNING PROVISION FOR THE FUTURE. You, my poorer brethren, will understand what we mean. Most, if not all of you, have to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. We meet you looking careworn, anxious, depressed; joy has departed from you, and trial wears you down. Very many, we fear most of you, increase these cares and troubles by carrying them yourself instead of casting them on Jesus; and you lose much of the joy that religion affords, because you refuse to see a Father's hand in all that befalls you. But to you, who are the Lord's own dear people, we say, yet a little while and these cares shall be over.
VI. THE LOSS OF THE NEAR AND THE DEAR. But look on to blessed reunion in Christ.
(Henry J. Berguer.)
At Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
I. THE HOPE OF THE PSALMIST IN HIS PRESENT STATE. "Thou wilt show me the path of life." There are different paths or courses of conduct, which may be pursued by men in this world; a path which leads to life and happiness, and a path which issues in death and destruction. These opposite lines of conduct are determined by the choice which men make of virtue or of vice; and hence men are divided into two great classes, according as their inclinations lead them to good or to evil. The path of life is often a rough and difficult path, and it conducts us up a steep ascent. The hope that good men entertain is, that this path of life shall be shown them by God; that, when their intentions are upright, God will both instruct them concerning the road which leads to true happiness, and will assist them to pursue it successfully. In all revelation there is no doctrine more comfortable than this, that good men are pursuing a path which God has discovered and pointed out to them. Every path in which He is the conductor must be honourable, must be safe, must bring them in the end to felicity. The Divine Being will never desert those who are endeavouring to follow out the path which He has shown them. With Him there is no oblique purpose to turn Him aside from favouring the cause of goodness. No promise that He has made shall be allowed to fail.
II. THE TERMINATION OF THESE HOPES IN A FUTURE STATE. All happiness assuredly dwells with God. The "fountain of life" is justly said to be with Him. Whatever gladdens the hearts of men or angels with any real and satisfactory joy comes from heaven. Every approach to God must be an approach to felicity. The enjoyment of His immediate presence must be the consummation of felicity. The whole of what is implied in arriving at the presence of the Divinity we cannot expect to comprehend. Surrounded now with obscurity, no hope more transporting can be opened to a good man than that a period is to come when he shall be allowed to draw nearer to the Author of his existence, and to enjoy the sense of His presence. In order to convey some idea of that future bliss, by such an image as we can now employ, let the image be taken from the most glorious representative of the Supreme Being, the sun in the heavens. There are two sublime and expressive views of the Divine Essence given us in Scripture, On which it may be edifying that our thoughts should rest for a little —(1) God is Light. The revelation of His presence infers a complete diffusion of light and knowledge among all who partake of that presence. This forms a primary ingredient of happiness. Ignorance, or the want of light, is the source of all our present misconduct, and of all our misfortunes. The light of God's presence not only banishes the miseries which were the effects of former darkness, but also confers the most exquisite enjoyment.(2) God is Love. His presence must, of course, diffuse love. Heaven implies a society, and the felicity of that society is constituted by the perfection of love and goodness flowing from the presence of the God of love. Hence follows the entire purification of human nature from all those malevolent passions which have so long rendered our abode on earth the abode of misery. Considering God under these two illustrious characters, which are given of Him in Scripture as Light and as Love, it follows that in His presence there must be fulness of joy. Remember that, in order to arrive at the presence of God, the path of life must previously be shown to us by Him, and in this path we must persevere to the end. These two things cannot be disjoined, a virtuous life and a happy eternity.
(Hugh Blair, D. D.)I. OUR TRUEST NOTIONS OF HEAVEN ARE DERIVED FROM CONSIDERATIONS RATHER OF WHAT IT IS NOT THAN OF WHAT IT IS. How glorious a liberty it will be to attain "the redemption of our body." Think of the toil it has to undergo, the distempers and pains to which it is subject. But then, we shall be out of the reach of these. There will be no sickness, no withering old age; no poor shall cry for bread, none shall thirst or hunger any more. And there will be no more death. No, not of the irrational creation; the sheep and cattle will be slaughtered no more. And there will be no more sin. Then the nations learn war no more. Sin is the root of all our miseries. But days of innocence that we cannot know here will be realised there. Such are some of its negative blessings.
II. LET US CONSIDER SOME OF ITS POSITIVE BLESSINGS. The happiness of heaven is occasionally described under the most captivating forms of rural pleasure. We read of its green pastures, its clear fountains, its rivers of pleasures. When I sometimes walk in a garden, amidst fruits and flowers, and birds that sing among the branches, I feel relieved in turning to those promises which hold out to us, as it were, a renewal and restoration of these calm delights, in an unchangeable world, in the paradise of God. And sometimes the state of blessedness is likened to a city; and its brilliancy and magnificence are described. See the description, in the Revelation, of the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Such is the residence which God has prepared for His people. There they will pass, not a solitary existence, but will form a united and happy society together. All jarring interests, all selfish and discordant passions unknown. And then we shall meet the holy and illustrious dead: all who have walked with God on earth, or suffered for the testimony of Jesus. To see there, perhaps, those who led us to Christ, and our parents who watched and wept and prayed over our souls, and the children who followed their good example. Above all, we shall meet the Lord Jesus there. He has promised this to all His faithful ones. The evil hearts of men are made known by their desertion of God, but so are also all faithful souls which confess Him when all the world is against Him. How will His faithful flock hail their triumphant Shepherd, when He appears in glory! And then, there is the beatific vision of God — Himself unveiled without a cloud. But we have not now faculties for so high a theme. And these joys are for all who will accept Christ. We could never reach them by ourselves. Receive the Gospel in its fulness and it will prepare you for them. We, then, pray you, "Be reconciled to God."
(H. Woodward, A. M.)
I. IT WOULD BE COMPLETE. "Fulness of joy" is there. No more evil. Especially no more sin. Therein "dwelleth righteousness." It may be a far more glorious earth than ours, but this is not the substance of our hope. That hope is for freedom from sin; no more tormenting passions, no more envy, or anger, or tyrannical appetites. And there will be no more sight of evil in others. And no more temptations of Satan, And no more exposure to the wrath of God, for there shall be "no more curse." And death and sickness and pain shall be no more. Nor toil, nor weariness, nor want, for the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want. And then we shall see His glory and His bliss. And all this will make us like Him. Our body shall be changed "like unto His glorious body." That was revealed, in fact, at the Transfiguration. And what is better, we shall be like Him in mind as well as form. When we see His wisdom, goodness, holiness, truth and love, then shall we contract something of the same glory. And we shall share in His glorious bliss. It will be "fulness of joy." Each as happy as his soul can be.
II. THEN JOYS WILL BE AS ETERNAL AS THEY ARE COMPLETE. Death shall not take them from us, nor will they be liable to decay. It is an inheritance "incorruptible" and that "fadeth not away." And yet many "make light" of these promises. They have no heart for such a heaven. May God change their heart. You, whose hope this is, live as those who look for such a heaven.
(Baptist W. Noel, M. A.)I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE JOY AND PLEASURES AT GOD'S RIGHT HAND.
1. There are pleasures in heaven capable of giving joy and satisfaction.
2. There is a communication of these pleasures unto them who are in the immediate presence of God.
3. The saints have joy in the vision of God, the immediate fruition of Him and their likeness to Him.
II. THE EXCELLENCIES OF THESE JOYS AS EXPRESSED IN THE TEXT. They are spiritual and heavenly, pure without mixture; a multitude without number; a fulness of them without want; a constancy without interruption or diminution, and a perpetuity without end.
(James Robe, M. A.)
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