Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on earth was what was promised to Adam in the beginning but which he forfeited. Often the phrase heaven on earth is associated with establishing a utopian society or discovering a paradise but this is a very debased sense of the words when we consider them spiritually. There are various ways in which the phrase "Heaven on earth" has been used in an orthodox way. We might say that heaven on earth relates to the Christian life in a number of ways but chiefly three; Doctrine, duty and experience.

Martin Luther wrote that "doctrine is heaven". "I often advise, doctrine must be carefully distinguished from life. Doctrine is heaven; life is earth...Therefore there is no similarity at
all between doctrine and life. One point of doctrine is worth more than heaven and earth. This is why we cannot bear to have it violated". Doctrine is the mind of God unfolded and the eternal truth of heaven brought down to us. Zacharias Ursinus showed the connection between doctrine and comfort, particularly in the Heidelberg Catechism. Christ is the focus of all doctrine and the focus of heaven. Heaven is doctrine realised.

Many have found heaven on earth in serving God and doing His will and thereby glorifying Him. The Covenanter Donald Cargill believed that he would get a heaven here on earth in glorifying Christ. "God knows," said John Livingstone, "that I would rather serve God on earth, and then endure the torments of the lost, than live a life of sin on earth, and then have for ever the bliss of the ransomed." That is a testimony that it is not easy to attain to. Samuel Rutherford
described his own restoration from exile to service and the deliverance of the Church as "my second created heaven on earth". He "has turned my apprehended fears into joys, and great deliverance to His church, whereof I have my share and part", he said. Some of the puritans found it to be the case even in practical areas of obedience to God's revealed will. Richard Steele wrote that "A godly marriage is a bit of heaven on earth."

A.W. Pink makes Humble Heart to say "I cannot boast of my knowledge of God in Christ, yet by Divine grace this I may say: that I desire no other Heaven on earth than to know and to do God’s will, and be assured that I have His approval."

This brings us to experience, with which perhaps we most associate heaven on earth. The following anecdote perhaps defines much of what we think of as experiencing heaven on earth. "About the year 1785 the people of God had a remarkable blessing at a communion at Kilearnan [Ross-shire] and were filled to overflowing with the presence of God on the Sabbath. When the
congregation was dispersing a godly young man said to an aged woman a mother in Israel:-"Oh, would it not be well if what we now feel were to continue with us till we reached home". "Oh, Donald," she said, "it would be well if what we now feel were continued with us till we reached
the opposite bank of yonder stream, this is heaven on earth."

Thomas Brooks wrote of assurance as Heaven on Earth. Richard Sibbes writes helpfully on this: "Therefore let us labour first for interest in Christ's righteousness, and then for the righteousness of an holy life; for a conscience to justify us, that we have no purpose to live in any sin ; and a not accusing conscience will be a justifying conscience. What a blessed condition shall we be in, to be in Christ, and to know that we are so! the heaven on earth of
such a man as is in that condition! For which way soever he looks, he finds matter of comfort". Whether backwards into his own life of obedience or forward to heaven.

Christopher Love's wife wrote of him "He lived too much in heaven to live too long out of heaven; and sure I am that he lived a life of heaven on earth. His fellowship was with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." This is similar to what was said of Richard Sibbes; that heaven was in him before he was in heaven.

Richard Sibbes is perhaps the best writer on this subject, not surprisingly. He believes that heaven is an enlarging of our best experience here and an enlarging of our best parts to experience more of Christ. "Oh! beloved, what a blessed time will that be when this large heart of ours shall have that that will fill it; when the best parts of us, our understanding, will, and affections, shall be carried to that which is better and larger than itself, and shall be, as it were, swallowed up in the fulness of God...when a gracious heart expresseth itself, being full of joy, it expresscth itself in thanks and praises, in stirring up of others...Doth God
perform any promise, and so give cause of joy? let him sing. There is action for every affection, affection for every condition. And this may stir us up to begin the employment in heaven on earth here".

The employment of heaven is joy and praise. "Let us begin the employment of heaven beforehand.
For why doth God discover to us that he will bring us to glory? why doth he discover it to our faith, that excellent state? That we might begin heaven on earth, as much as might be. And how shall we do that? By the emploj'ment of heaven. What is that? ' Holy, holy, holy, Lord God
of hosts,' Rev. 4:8. There is nothing but magnifying and glorifying of God. There shall be no need of prayer. There are praises alway; and so much as we are in the praises of God, and glorifying of God for his mercy and love in Christ, so much we are in heaven before our time.
They that be in heaven are praising God, and so be they much in praising of God here. They that
be in heaven love to see the face of God, they joy in it. And they that be heavenly-minded here joy in the presence of God, in the word, the sacraments, and his children. If they be ascended in any degree and measure, this they will do. And then they will joy in communion with God all they can, as they do in heaven. You have some carnal dispositions that are never themselves but in carnal company like themselves. If ever we mean to be in heaven, we must joy in heaven on earth; that is, in them that be heavenly in their dispositions. If we cannot endure them here, how shall we ever live with them in heaven?"

We must be endeavouring after holiness without which no man shall see the Lord and seeking to have our affections set upon things above. Heaven on Earth is communion with Christ and the experience of His love. John Kennedy of Dingwall believed that "those who are heirs of heaven seek communion with Christ. They seek this now. This is their foretaste of heaven on earth, and this [they will have] in perfection in heaven at last.”

We ought to be encouraged that if we have any of this in any measure, there is heaven on earth in our experience, however, weakly we may perceive and recognise it.