Posted on September 7, 2016.
By Pastor Skylar Spradlin
One of the great Puritan pastors, Richard Baxter, begins a writing of his entitled The Saint’s Everlasting Rest by asking a series of very pointed and challenging questions. He asks:
"Is a heavenly rest available to us? Why then are our thoughts no more upon it? Why are not our hearts continually there? Has the eternal God provided us such a glory, and promised to take us up to dwell with Himself, and is this not worth thinking on? Should not the strongest desires of our hearts be after it? Do we believe this, and yet forget and neglect it? How freely, how frequently can we think of our pleasures, our friends, our labors, our flesh and its lusts, our miseries, our fears and sufferings? But where is the Christian whose heart is on his rest? What is the matter? Or is there nothing in heaven for our joyous thoughts? Or rather, are not our hearts carnal and stupid? Let us humble these sensual hearts that have in them no more of Christ and glory."
Those can be some rather piercing questions. Yet, they accurately cut and quickly expose our immense lack of meditation upon the greatest blessing God has fashioned for us; namely a salvation that secures our eternal home in heaven with Him. If heaven be our home, that far “better country” (Heb. 11:16), then why do our minds not constantly ascend there in eager hope and gratitude?
Baxter’s questions are not unfounded. They are rather necessary and warranted. They raise a very important issue among professing believers that is still true today. He exposes a lack of heavenly meditation that does nothing more than leave us feeling anxious and unsettled. A believer who does not think upon heaven is like a wanderer in the woods unsure of where he will end up or when he will arrive to his destination.
Now, lest we think Baxter is misguided in his questioning let us remember that he was not alone in his heavenly thinking during his time. J.I. Packer, in his book about the Puritans titled, The Quest for Godliness, speaks in his introduction about the Puritans seeing the “transistoriness,” of this life. Meaning that they keenly understood the temporary nature of living on this planet. They were aliens and sojourners who longed for heaven and were prepared to get home. This was largely, as Packer explains, because the time of the Puritans lacked medicines and other luxuries that extend life today. Most people in the time of the Puritans died quite young. As a result, these Puritans knew the breath that is the human life.
Whatever the cause for such thinking the Puritans had a right perspective on our eternal glory. And, like the Puritans, we must have our hearts and minds set upon Christ and our heavenly home with Him. We must be heaven focused as we pass through this strange land. Far too often we are fixated on the things of this life and all together neglect what should matter most to us. “Seek the things that are above,” says Paul, “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3). While this is a natural and commanded mark of a true believer that does not mean it is always easy. In fact, a heavenly perspective can be rather difficult at times.
Let us now consider some hindrances to a heavenly perspective. The difficulty of this instruction and blessing of setting our minds upon Christ in heaven come from many different angles, some from sinful angles and some from the good things we are called to as Christians.
For example, it is easy for a Christian to lose the balance of looking forward to heaven and yet being ever mindful of the urgent need to reach the lost of this world. It can be difficult to maintain the balance of looking forward to heaven and at the same time ministering to the needs of the people around us. Paul experienced this same struggle when he said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better. But to remain is more necessary on your account” (Phil. 1:21-24). Many of us feel this internal struggle of longing to be with Christ, but knowing that God has left us here for His glory.
It is not only the good things of ministry and service that can distract us from our eternal rest when not kept in proper balance, but sin also can blind us entirely from the glory secured and prepared for us by Christ. Sin is that grotesque disease that we long to be rid of but can’t find complete escape yet. It clings to us like a cancer, waiting to eat at our souls until nothing is left. Sin, especially unconfessed sin to Christ, can so blind and warp the Christian’s view of heaven that we neglect or severely distort what should be a constant joy in our hearts. This is one of the many down falls of living in a sin corrupted universe. It does not take a lengthy explanation, nor a long amount of time, for the Christian to understand the suppressive nature that sin places upon our hearts. And this sin is not only suppressive, but it is the ultimate reasoning of all the suffering, death, and pain that we experience in this life. It is the great problem of the universe.
Yet, while sin can be one of the chief blinders to our heavenly rest, it can also serve as our chief motivator to depart this wretched body of flesh and this world full of pain and be with Jesus. Even our good ministry and services to God, while they are supposed to be done in the perspective of heaven, can also serve as a motivator to be home where Christ has made all things new and good and right.
The Rewards of Heaven
Let us now shift gears for a moment and consider the rewards of heaven, for it is these rewards that ultimately turn our gaze from the things of this world to the things of our far better country. While our list of rewards in heaven can be rather long, I will only mention three here.
First, and most common, all things will finally be good. They will not only be good, but perfect. No more pain, death, fears, diseases, poverty, hate, on and on. The place that our Lord has prepared for us is one of impeccable perfection. Finally, we can be at rest and at peace. There will be no danger of intruders disrupting church services with weapons and violence. There will be no more beheadings for belonging to God. There will be no more forced immorality by law or decree. Once for all, God’s bride will be at rest in peace. Our hope will be realized, our glory will be real, our righteousness will be seen.
Second, we will each personally be free from sin. Every sin that clings to us so tightly will be gone. Every temptation that seeks to shackle us once again will no longer have any pull. Every guilty and condemning thing we have ever done will fall off like scales, unable to enter paradise with us. Every sin we wrestle with will no long be a problem. Some of us battle sin and temptation for fifty, sixty, seventy, or eighty years, however long we live on this earth. But our final home is a place of eternal freedom from every sin that seeks to destroy us. Our home will be that place where the enemy’s tactics and our evil hearts will no longer rule or be able to drag us down to destruction. We will be free.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we will see our Savior face to face. The One we have prayed to all these years, the One we have read about for so long, the One we have placed our trust in and tried to obey, the One who died upon a cross for us will at last be seen with our eyes. We will be with Him personally. There shall never be anything to separate us from the presence of our beloved Jesus. We will have full access to Him without hesitation. We will join Him in purity, holiness, and righteousness. We shall fully and finally be completely united to Him as one. All that our hearts long for concerning our union with Christ will be realized and fulfilled in heaven. It is this truth alone that should make our hearts burst with desire for our heavenly rest.
It is not only imperative that a believer set his mind upon heaven to be obedient to Paul’s instruction, but we are instructed to do so because it is our eternal perspective on heaven that frees the believer’s heart to joy and satisfaction. When heaven is constantly on our minds and ever set before our hearts than we find a new found peace, boldness, comfort, and joy. If it be true that Christ is preparing for us a place (John14:2-3) then our worship is no longer stale, but is vibrant and heartfelt. If God is bringing us into His glory than this temporary life is put in a right perspective and all the pain and suffering does not even compare “with the glory that is to be revealed” (Romans 8:18).
Therefore, let us set our minds on our heavenly home with Christ. Let us remember that we are passing through this strange land. Let us live in light of the rest provided for us by God. Let us remember the great love God shows for us in preparing such a place as heaven.