Thursday, September 07, 2006

Heavenly contemplation

At one point in The Pilgrim's Progress the pilgrims reach the Delectable
Mountains where they were able to view the Celestial City through a glass or
telescope. It is a picture of meditating upon heaven and experiencing
something of a foretaste of that future joy. The Puritans often stressed the
importance of focussing upon heaven, pointing to the doctrine that we have
been made to 'sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus' (Ephesians
2:6). In Colossians chapter 3 Paul develops and applies the doctrine: 'If ye
then be risen wih Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ
sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on
things on the earth'. Puritan ministers also sought to remind their readers
and hearers that as Christians they ought to make much of the fact that
their 'conversation [life] is in heaven' (Philippians 3:20) and that we are
to be changed from 'glory to glory' (2 Corinthians 3:18). The benefit of
this was unfolded by Richard Sibbes who spoke of it as necessary
to holiness, strength and devotion in the Christian life: "If we walk aright
in God's ways, let us have heaven daily in our eye, and the day of
judgement, and times to come, and this will stern the course of our lives,
and breed love in the use of the means, and patience to undergo all

Richard Baxter wrote a whole book on this particular subject entitled The
Saints Everlasting Rest
. Baxter wrote the book during illness and against
the backdrop of the Civil War raging through England. The Saints Rest opens
up the themeby urging believers to 'meditate on the joys above' expressly
seeking to imagine what it will be like to experience them. We need concrete
thoughts concerning glory suggests Baxter or else they are not particularly
fixed: 'get the liveliest picture of them in thy mind that possibly thou
canst', he says, 'meditate of them as if thou wert all the while beholding
them, and as if thou wert even hearing hallelujahs, while thou are thinking
of them; til thou canst say,"Methinks I see a glimpse of glory"'. It is
important to focus closely upon what the Bible teaches and to see by the
means of Scripture, "without these spectacles we are lost, and have nothing
to fix our thoughts upon". John Bunyan held the same point, speaking of the
throne in Heaven as described in the book of Revelation: "We must labour for
more clear Scripture-Knowledge of this Throne; for the Holy Word of God
is...the Magnifying-glass that will cause us to behold with open face the
glory of this Lord".

How are we to have our 'conversation' (life) in heaven? The answer is
perhaps best given in a little Puritan book that was one of the first godly
books that John Bunyan ever read: his first wife brought it with her amongst
her belongings after their marriage: Arthur Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to
. Here life in heaven is explained as an 'inward conversation with
God' that may only be maintained 'by much prayer, reading, meditation, and
heavenly affections'.