J. M. Stifler, D.D., Crozer Seminary
HOW to gain heaven may be a more practical question than any other connected with it. But since the hope of it supplies one motive toward holy living, the better one knows heaven the better one can live.
The essence of heaven lies in the soul's relation to God. To the Jews, God was King. Hence they were subjects, and nothing outside the earthly kingdom was promised them. To us, He is Father, in a sense which the Jew never knew. Hence, the various relations of the household obtain between us and Him. It is an assumption readily believed, but not proved, that all God's redeemed people hold the same relation to Him. To save a soul is one thing, and all are saved by the same means, the precious blood of Christ. But the relations which the saved shall now sustain to God and the Savior is another thing. The Scriptures seem unmistakably to teach that there are various relations.
The night before the awful day of Jesus' crucifixion He is alone with His disciples, comforting them in their trouble. And their trouble is deeper than it seems. They have no place before God. They are no longer Jews—in leaving all to follow Him they abandoned Judaism. They have nothing left in that quarter. And they are certainly not sinners. If they are Christ's, He is about to leave them. Shall they be left with no future? He speaks to that question directly in the familiar words: "Let not your heart be troubled * * * In my Father's house are many mansions, * * * I go to prepare a place [a new relation] for you. 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."
These words are the key to an understanding of the Christian's heaven. It is to have the same place before God which His Son, the Lord Jesus, holds, a position fully realized at His second coming.
This new "place" is secured to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is not only the pledge of the inheritance at last (Ephesians 1:14) but he is the beginning of the inheritance.
And thus Jesus comforts His disciples. They knew of no
promises for the future except those belonging to Judaism. But what have they to hope for in Judaism after abandoning it? Jesus answers by teaching them of this new relation, brought to them in the gift of the Holy Ghost, consummated when Christ shall appear the second time.
1. The Christian's heaven, then, is a prepared place. It is a new mansion in the house of God. In my father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. This house, and these mansions always existed, but the Christian's place is a new thing. It did not always exist. So far as we know, it is not yet complete. "I go to prepare a place for you." In our crude, unscriptural notions of heaven, we look upon it as one vast, illy-defined expanse. But Jesus says it is not one—it is many mansions. We read of "heaven," and of the "heaven of heavens." We read again of numbers of heavens—the "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2), and then again of a super-celestial region where Christ has gone, "far above all heavens." (Ephesians 4: 10.) We always use the word in the singular—heaven—but the Bible frequently speaks about heavens. Christ is ascended into the "heavens." He is made higher than the "heavens." As a whole, we never have it called a place, but always places. He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the "heavenly places." So that we must look at heaven—not as one, but as many—a home with many mansions.
If we ask why many places, the Bible gives as to understand there are many peoples. There are thrones, and principalities, and powers; there are angels and arch-angels, and the church of God. The different orders of God's creatures occupy these many mansions. Heaven is, then, not one vast monotonous, even-flowery mead, where all God's creatures mingle together on the same level—not like the broad level prairies in the West, garnished with flowers, bat where each house, and hamlet, and city stands no higher than the other, bat rather like the Eastern land, where " hills peep over hills," and cozy valleys slumber in between, with the whole—hill and valley and dale alike bathed and made light with the same golden son. Heaven is many mansion—some higher, some lower, in grand variety, but all made sweet and restful, and blessed by floods of refreshment from the presence of the same heavenly Father.
But amidst all these "heavens," "these places," "these mansions," "these principalities," "these everlasting habitations," in all the father's house there was yet no place for the Christian. I go to prepare a place for you. The you is significant. There
is place for the angels, the arch-angels, and for how many other orders of whom we know nothing—whose existence we can only guess, because we see their many mansions, but still no place for you. This must be prepared after Christ's ascension.
There seems to be conflict between this assertion in John, "I go to prepare a place for you" and the statement in Matthew, "Come ye blessed of my Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth." But the discrepancy at once disappears in the supposition that God's people do not all hold the same relation to Him. In Matthew there is a " king" welcoming his faithful subjects—"well done good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23); in John one is speaking to those whom he calls friends (John 15: 16). The Kingdom of God is one and comprehensive. But it would be a strange kingdom with nothing but subjects. The king besides all else has wife and children.
Now it is these two endearing terms which the New Testament most frequently employs to tell what we are to God and what He is to us. And the marital relation is its favorite. It would require pages to simply quote the passages on this point: "Ye are become dead to the law that ye might be married to another, even to him that is raised from the dead" (Romans 7:4). "The husband is head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church." "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." These quotations from Ephesians (6) surely teach that the relation between Christ and his followers is the antitype of the marriage relation among men. The Scripture on this point is so abundant, that quotations need not be multiplied. Only recall how in the very last chapters of the Bible we hear a voice—"come hither, I will shew thee the bride the lamb's wife" (Revelation 21:9). Others are there and in other relations (See Revelation 21:3, 24) but none which hold the wonderful place of a bride except his church.
Christ then has gone to prepare a place for a bride. Only the place, which is worthy of Him is worthy of the bride. The bride shall be in the same place, for says Jesus, "Where I am there ye shall be also." AS Adam and Eve had their own garden of Eden, in the unfallen earth, apart from all the lower orders of creation, so Christ is gone to prepare a new, a spiritual Eden. Love is at work. The bride-groom is furnishing a place. No words are large enough to set forth the glory of the place which the love of Jesus will prepare. There is no limit
to any love but the lack of power. What will not the mother do for her child? Let the Son prepare my place, He who loved me and gave Himself for me, and to be sure there will be no tears there, nor any sickness, nor any dying; these will not be there, and all sweetness will be there. The earth, of course, is fair, but the black hearse is continually threading its leafy avenues, the singing of the birds mingles with the wail of the orphan, the brightness of is flowers seem garish in contrast with the widow's sorrowful black. There are bright eyes and blooming faces, but there are countenances pale by disease, and bones that ache, and limbs that quiver, and steps that totter, and a thousand heart-aches that God only knows; and no matter how often hearts have been wrung they must be wrung again and again.
Age robs us of seeing and hearing and lays his ruthless hand upon reason itself, so that men become babes a second time, but uninteresting babes, babes this time without a mother, and worse than all, not innocent but continually foul with sin. The sun shines, but it is only half the time; and, the summer blooms, but winter soon begrudges the joy; and we laugh, but for our joy we pay the tax of tears; and men are honored, but honor pays the penalty of having from everybody secret or open envy,—and, after a long fight with disease and poverty, disappointment and care, toil and vexation, the grave opens her jaws and swallows us without remorse. These things will not be there. The morning of heaven looks forward to no night. The redeemed mother can look upon her redeemed babes with no painful reflection as to what a day may bring forth. You can thread the long avenues of heaven for a thousand years and find no grave-yard. Songs there are not offset with sighs. For every glad, golden day of sweet celestial rest and Christ-given joy shall be succeeded with ten thousand other just such glad, golden days, forever and forever, for the former things have passed away.
2. Heaven will be a new place. Its streets will not be worn by the feet of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and ten thousand saints who have gone there before us. Heaven, that is our Heaven is empty. There is but one in it as yet. This the Scriptures positively and plainly declare. Peter says of the royal holy king of Israel:—"For David hath not ascended into the Heavens." In Peter's day he had been dead a thousand years but not yet ascended into Heaven. How could he when only at the ascension did Christ first go to prepare a place? But another
passage of Scripture is equally conclusive of an empty Heaven: Jesus says: no man has ascended up to Heaven, but he that came down from Heaven, even the Son of man which is in Heaven. And when he says, if I go and prepare a place I will come again and receive yon unto myself, it follows that men are not in the place until he come. This coming again is supposed by many to mean death, an interpretation which the words cannot bear, and which is subversive of all understanding.
The coming, here and so often mentioned, is His literal coming just as His going to prepare was a literal going. You ask then if the heaven to which we are going is yet empty, where are the blessed dead? And the Bible answers that question. They are in the third heaven. When Christ died and the thief, they went that day to Paradise. This Paradise Paul identifies with the third heaven where he says: "I knew a man caught up to the third heaven * * * he was caught up into Paradise." Here the two are shown to be the same, and here Christ was while His body lay in the tomb; but on His ascension He did not stop in Paradise, but " He ascended up far above all heavens." (Ephesians 4:10.) God set him at His own right hand, far above all principality, and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come—the head over all things. And THERE it is He prepares, and thence it is He comes for His bride.
The blessed dead are in Paradise, which may be one of the many mansions, but not in that final prepared place. And they are with Christ, for while they do not go before His coming to His right, He is in their resting-place, for He fills all in all. The sun that cheers and refreshes the resting traveler in the valley will cheer Him also when he reaches the mountain height.
We do not go off into that place unattended. Does the bride go all the way alone to meet her spouse? The expectant husband comes for her. Christ, when the determined hour arrives, will come forth for his bride. "Then shall ye return and discern between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not." What an hour will be for each one of his saints. It is not the angels alone who come. And if I go and prepare a place for yon, I will come again. "The Lord will descend with a shout;" there will be the arch-angel's voice and the trump of God resounding through the vaulted heavens. A scene of terror do you say? Not to the believer. Paul describes the saint as loving his appearing; others he figures with eager, anxious eyes turned toward heaven, waiting for the Lord's coming. Peter tells of
those who, in their ardor, are hasting the day. When that handful of British troops were imprisoned in Lucknow—when, day after day for weeks and months their eyes ran round all the horizon, in hopes of seeing the British standard appear—rations reduced to half a supply, and again reduced, and again and again; when, after months of wearying, wearing, famishing, hope-deferring holding on; when, one morning, they catch a muffled sound as of the tread of an oncoming host, did fear and horror seize them! It was the glad hour of deliverance and relief. Poorly as yet must he know his Lord who does not covet His appearing. He says He comes quickly. Do we not love our absent Lord well enough to respond "Amen, even so come Lord Jesus"?
3. Here arises a third reflection, our indifference to heaven. We don't think much about it at first. The young Christian is well content with the world about, and thinks little of the world to come. He hasn't had much experience of things as yet; the sin, the disappointment, the hollowness, the curse of this life. Let him know it, and he will turn his eyes to heaven. Christ spoke his words for troubled people—"Let not your heart be troubled."
There is sometimes a sight like this: There was a great gathering. A hasty platform had been erected, the crowds assembled before it, and those who were to speak and those who were to be honored were upon it. Some of them were young who sat before that crowd, and they would have been a little more or a little less than mortal had they not enjoyed the generous adulation which was given them. Sitting there the hours did not seem long, all else was forgotten, when suddenly with no warning that great stage crashed and reeled and trembled— it did not fall, but every soul upon it wished himself off, and as soon as possible got off. For a while we like the adulation, the incense which the world may give, until some dear prop gives way, health fails, property takes wings, friends die, shadows fall into our soul, so dark no sun however bright can ever make them light again,—we hear a crash, we feel a tremor in the things on which we lean—learn for the first that we were leaning on them, and in the end read perhaps as we never read before, Christ's words, "Let not your heart be troubled, I go to prepare a place for yon."
In young or prosperous days the world gives such a warm, glad welcome, we seem to ourselves to be the central pivot of all about us. We will learn the hollowness of that in
due time. It sometimes happens that you get an invitation to come and spend a long time at a friend's house, and you go, and warm welcome and good cheer greet you for a while; but their cares press and they begin to excuse themselves and leave you much alone, and still more alone, and at last you discover that you are positively in the way in that family; and now if you have a home you will think about it, and if you have not you will go off to your chamber and mourn your heart faint and your eyes crimson for a home. We shall wake up to the fact in due time that we are all in the way in this world. It has no room for visitors. It is not us this selfish world wants. If we can work, or give, or help, it will tolerate as for that, but our home, the only place where we can have an abiding welcome is in that place which He has gone to prepare. They followed Jesus to be sure in multitudes, but He turned and retorted that it was not for Himself, but for the loaves which He gave. If one expects to have his tender, sensitive feelings uniformly respected, his weaknesses pitied, himself loved because he is a soul in the image of God—that is not done here. Jesus can do that, and in due time a greater longing for Him swells the heart.
But there are bitterer experiences. When young we wonder what the Bible means when it speaks so awfully about the sin of the human heart. We do not find it in our own experience, full of life and work and every generous impulse. The young heart seems fair enough at first, but wait. You may in summer time see a glad, gay company, go to the forest for a day's recreation. They find a dreamy embowered nook, canopied with leaves and tapestried with greenest moss, where the ever shifting spots of sunshine like liquid gold give a veiled and mellow light. Forest flowers pour their fragrance into the scene, and the hum of bees and birds gives a strange, wild animation. It is a spot where an angel might repose, and our glad company with exclamations of satisfaction, seat themselves here and there in this bower for an hour's abandonment to its gentle influence. It is glorious, they cry, as they seat themselves, glad their walk is over. But soon one discovers that all through this mossy carpet there creep and crawl vile bugs and innumerable ants; yonder hops the cold-blooded, disgusting toad; flies and gnats come to tease and sting; a worm drops from the branches above, and only a yard or two away the startled serpent lifts his head and leers with glassy eyes upon them. All this fair scene is sadly marred by these reptiles and insects, and the timid ones
of that company already wish to be home again, that home upon which an hour ago they had turned their backs. One's untried heart seems sweet and fair, but when he comes to know it, foul appetites and passions raise their head and flash their forked tongue like the serpent. Selfishness as cold and stupid as the toad is there, and sin of every sort leaves no quiet hour in which to rest, and the soul loathes itself, and begins to long for the time when Christ shall appear, for then shall we be delivered and be like him. And you soon see, too, that what is in you is in the world, for the whole world "lieth in the wicked one," and all "its course is according to the prince of the power of the air;" and you long for heaven as a refuge from teasing, tormenting, Christ-dishonoring sin.
Death makes heaven dear. God, when He takes a life from our families, gets the hearts of those who are left. God takes off one of your dear ones to some one of the many mansions, and for the first time you look up and listen, and hear a voice you never heard before: Let not your heart be troubled, I am preparing a place for you.
And so in one way and another, or often by all ways, we get ready, no matter how indifferent at first—get ready to go to heaven long before heaven is ready for us.
The children have been absent five miles away for days, visiting at a friend's, but the morning comes when they must walk all the distance home. And they start with shouting and think nothing of the way as they dance along in the morning sunlight. Now they run far ahead, now they go one side to cull a flower, and now they are off in the meadow after the half-floating, half-flying butterfly. But spirits begin to flag, and before half the distance is made they begin to ask, "how far is it to our home?" And in the last stages flowers and butterflies and sunshine are all forgotten and every weary step is bent straight toward home. So our life begins and ends. In its glad morning when all is fresh and fair we think nothing of the journey, but oft before our sun has reached the meridian, we begin to cry for the gloaming, and we look for the purple and crimson clouds of our evening while the morning mists are not yet dry upon as.
Rest is significant only to the weary, and peace and purity only to those who see themselves vile. And heaven becomes dear as we learn the hollowness of earth, when we hail with gratitude the words of Him who loved us, whom we so poorly love—"Let not your heart be troubled, I go to prepare a place for you."
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, Ford's Christian Repository & Home Circle, Volume 46, 1888, pp. 25-32. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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