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For if we believed that we should live only the present life, then we might be suspected of sinning, through being enslaved to flesh and blood, or overmastered by gain or carnal desire; but since we know that God is witness to what we think and what we say both by night and by day, and that He, being Himself light, sees all things in our heart, we are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life we shall live another life, better than the present one, and heavenly, not earthly (since we shall abide near God, and with God, free from all change or suffering in the soul, not as flesh, even though we shall have flesh, but as heavenly spirit), or, falling with the rest, a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere by-work, and that we should perish and be annihilated. On these grounds it is not likely that we should wish to do evil, or deliver ourselves over to the great Judge to be punished.
Athenagoras was an Athenian philosopher active in the latter part of the second century. It is said that he wrote against Christianity, but after his conversion he became an apologist for the faith. As a writer, he had a clear style and was forceful in his arguments, and was the first to elaborate a philosophical defense of the Christian doctrine of God as Three in One. His Plea on Behalf of Christians was addressed to the emperors Hadrian and Antoninus.
Strong Son of God, immortal Love, Whom we, that have not seen thy face, By faith, and faith alone, embrace,Believing where we cannot prove;
Thine are these orbs of light and shade; Thou madest Life in man and brute; Thou madest Death; and lo, thy footIs on the skull which thou hast made.
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust: Thou madest man, he knows not why; He thinks he was not made to die;And thou hast made him: thou art just.
Thou seemest human and divine, The highest, holiest manhood, thou: Our wills are ours, we know not how;Our wills are ours, to make them thine.
Our little systems have their day; They have their day and cease to be: They are but broken lights of thee,And thou, O Lord, art more than they.
We have but faith: we cannot know; For knowledge is of things we see; And yet we trust it comes from thee,A beam in darkness: let it grow.
Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) is often regarded as the chief representative of the Victorian age in poetry. Son of a clergyman, he was tutored at home and then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was appointed poet laureate by Queen Victoria in 1850, succeeding Wordsworth. He held the title for forty-two years and was buried in the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Tennyson's works tended toward the melancholic, reflecting the moral and intellectual values of England in his time.
Not even the most learned philosopher or theologian knows what it is going to be like. But there is one thing which the simplest Christian knows it is going to be all right. Somewhere, somewhen, somehow we who are worshiping God here will wake up to see Him as He is, and face to face. No doubt it will all be utterly different from anything we have ever imagined or thought about it. No doubt God Himself will be unimaginably different from all our present conceptions of Him. But He will be unimaginably different only because He will be unimaginably better. The only thing we do certainly know is that our highest hopes will be more than fulfilled, and our deepest longings more than gratified.
John Baillie (1886-1960) was a Scottish theologian and professor at the University of Edinburgh. Ecumenical in his vision, he also served as president of the World Council of Churches. He had a deep concern for the doubts people might have regarding the Christian faith and excelled as an apologist. His most famous devotional work is the widely circulated A Diary of Private Prayer.
We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about "pie in the sky," and of being told that we are trying to "escape" from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is "pie in the sky" or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.
You may think that there is another reason for our silence about heaven namely, that we do not really desire it. But that may be an illusion. What I am now going to say is merely an opinion of my own without the slightest authority, which I submit to the judgement of better Christians and better scholars than myself. There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat's side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, "Here at last is the thing I was made for." We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.
All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction.
This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another's. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre "looked to every man like his first love" because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) taught medieval and renaissance literature at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He is known as a brilliant scholar and an apologist for the Christian faith, and his writings have been popular and influential well beyond the boundaries of academia.
This World is not Conclusion .A Species stands beyond Invisible, as Music But positive, as Sound It beckons, and it baffles Philosophy don't know And through a Riddle, at the last Sagacity, must go To guess it, puzzles scholars To gain it, Men have borne Contempt of Generations And Crucifixion, shown Faith slips and laughs, and rallies Blushes, if any see Plucks at a twig of Evidence And asks a Vane, the way Much Gesture, from the Pulpit Strong Hallelujahs roll Narcotics cannot still the Tooth That nibbles at the soul
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, where her grandfather had been a founder of Amherst College and her father was its treasurer. Except for a year spent at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, she lived in Amherst her entire life, never marrying, and confining herself mostly to her home. Emily Dickinson wrote more than 1,700 poems, only seven of which were published during her lifetime. Today her body of poetry is regarded as among the best in the English language, and the Dickinson home in Amherst is a tourist mecca.
Blaise Pascal once observed that a crucial element of man's misery is found in this: He can always contemplate a better life than it is possible for him to achieve. We all have the ability to dream, to allow our imaginations to soar in free flight of fancy. Yet when we push our imaginative powers to their limit, we crash into the barrier of the unknown. Who can imagine what heaven is really like? It is beyond our ken. It is beyond our most ambitious dreams.
One sage remarked that if we could imagine the most pleasant experience possible and thought about doing it for eternity, we would be conceiving of something that would be closer to hell than to heaven. We simply cannot fathom a situation of absolute felicity. We have no concrete reference point for it....
It is the unknown quality of the afterlife that makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others we know not of.... Not only do we have the ability to contemplate a better existence than we presently enjoy; we also have the power to imagine a worse existence than we presently endure.
Our imaginings about the afterlife are restricted primarily to analogy. To move beyond this world is to move into another dimension. That different dimension involves both continuity and discontinuity. Insofar as there is continuity we can think by way of analogies drawn from this world. The elements of discontinuity remain inscrutable. We simply cannot grasp what goes beyond our points of reference.
Though the Bible is somewhat oblique about our future state, it is not altogether silent. We are given hints, vital clues about what heaven is like. There is a kind of tantalizing foretaste of future glory that is set before us. There is a partial unveiling that gives us a glimpse behind the dark glass.... Paul speaks of death as gain. We tend to think of death as loss. To be sure, the death of a loved one involves a loss for those who are left behind. But for the one who passes from this world to heaven it is gain.
Paul does not despise life in this world. He says that he is "hard pressed" between choosing to remain and desiring to depart. The contrast he points to between this life and heaven is not a contrast between the bad and the good. The comparison is between the good and the better. This life in Christ is good. Life in heaven is better. Yet he takes it a step farther. He declares that to depart and be with Christ is far better (Philippians 1:23). The transition to heaven involves more than a slight or marginal improvement. The gain is great. Heaven is far better than life in this world.
R. C. Sproul holds degrees from Westminster College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Free University of Amsterdam, Geneva College, and Grove City College. He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, has taught at numerous colleges and seminaries, is currently a pastor, and has written many books. He is known for tackling difficult topics and expounding them well.
Heaven overarches earth and sea, Earth-sadness and sea-bitterness. Heaven overarches you and me: A little while and we shall be Please God where there is no more sea Nor barren wilderness. Heaven overarches you and me, And all earth's gardens and her graves. Look up with me, until we see The day break and the shadows flee. What though to-night wrecks you and me, If so to-morrow saves?
Christina Georgina Rossetti (1840-1894), sister of painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was numbered among the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of English poets and painters who sought to imitate the simplicity of medieval styles in protest against the materialism of an industrial society. Christina never married, and her poetry was filled with themes of death and the renunciation of earthly love. She was a devout Anglican.
If in your dwelling the walls were shaking with age, the roofs above you were trembling, and the house, now worn out and wearied, were threatening an immediate destruction to its structure crumbling with age, would you not with all speed depart? If, when you were on a voyage, an angry and raging tempest, by the waves violently aroused, foretold the coming shipwreck, would you not quickly seek the harbour? Lo, the world is changing and passing away, and witnesses to its ruin not now by its age, but by the end of things. And do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an earlier departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent?
What a pleasure is there in the heavenly kingdom, without fear of death; and how lofty and perpetual a happiness with eternity of living!
We should consider, dearly beloved brethren we should ever and anon reflect that we have renounced the world, and are in the meantime living here as guests and strangers. Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom. Who that has been placed in foreign lands would not hasten to return to his own country? Who that is hastening to return to his friends would not eagerly desire a prosperous gale, that he might the sooner embrace those dear to him? We regard paradise as our country we already begin to consider the patriarchs as our parents: why do we not hasten and run, that we may behold our country, that we may greet our parents? There a great number of our dear ones is awaiting us, and a dense crowd of parents, brothers, children, is longing for us, already assured of their own safety, and still solicitous for our salvation. To attain to their presence and their embrace, what a gladness both for them and for us in common! What a pleasure is there in the heavenly kingdom, without fear of death; and how lofty and perpetual a happiness with eternity of living! There the glorious company of the apostles there the host of the rejoicing prophets there the innumerable multitude of martyrs, crowned for the victory of their struggle and passion there the triumphant virgins, who subdued the lust of the flesh and of the body by the strength of their continency there are merciful men rewarded, who by feeding and helping the poor have done the works of righteousness who, keeping the Lord's precepts, have transferred their earthly patrimonies to the heavenly treasuries. To these, beloved brethren, let us hasten with an eager desire; let us crave quickly to be with them, and quickly to come to Christ. May God behold this our eager desire; may the Lord Christ look upon this purpose of our mind and faith, He who will give the larger rewards of His glory to those whose desires in respect of Himself were greater!
Cyprian (200-258), or Thascius Caecilianus Cyprianus, was a teacher of rhetoric who converted to Christianity around 246. He quickly mastered the Scriptures, and was soon elected bishop of Carthage. He was exiled from Carthage during the persecution under the emperor Decius and was later martyred in the persecution under Valerian. He organized works of charity and opposed the easy readmittance of Christians who had yielded to persecution and sacrificed to the emperor.
The Distant Voices
Anna Shipton 1857
Nearer and nearer day by day the distant voices come; Soft through the pearly gate they swell, and seem to call me home. The lamp of life burns faint and low; ay; let it fainter burn; For who would weep the failing lamp when birds announce the morn? I saw the faces of my loved gleam through the twilight dim, And softly on the morning air arose the heaven-born hymn. With looks of love they gazed on me, as none gaze on me now; The glory of the Infinite surrounded every brow. Fair lilies, star-like in their bloom, and waving palms they bore, And oh, the smiles of peace and joy those heavenly faces wore! Thou who hast fathomed death's dark tide, save me from death's alarms; Beneath my trembling soul, oh, stretch Thine everlasting arms! No second cross, no thorny crown can bruise Thy sacred brow; Thou who the wine-press trod alone, o'er the dark wave bear me now. A parting hour, a pang of pain, and then shall pass away The veil that shrouds Thee where Thou reign'st in everlasting day. No sin, no sigh, no withering fear, can wring the bosom there; But basking in Thy smile I shall Thy sinless service share. How long, O Lord, how long before Thou'lt take me by the hand, And I, Thy weakest child, at last among Thy children stand? Beyond the stars that steadfast shine my spirit pines to soar, To dwell within my Father's house, and leave that home no more. O Lord, Thou hast with angel food my fainting spirit fed; If 'tis Thy will I linger here, bless Thou the path I tread; And though my soul doth pant to pass within the pearly gate, Yet teach me for Thy summons, Lord, in patience still to wait.
Anna Shipton (d. 1901) lived in England during the mid-to-late nineteenth century and published several volumes of devotional poetry and other books. Though little remembered today, she was a popular writer in her lifetime, and her Whispers in the Palms went through at least five editions. C. H. Spurgeon used her verses in a hymnbook published for his Metropolitan Tabernacle, and D. L. Moody was fond of quoting her poetry.
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreadsher white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch heruntil at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just wherethe sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.Then someone at my side says "There! She's gone."Gone where? Gone from my sight that is all.She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she waswhen she left my side, and just as able to bear her loadof living freight to the place of destination. Her diminishedsize is in me, not in her; and just at the moment whensomeone at my side says, "There! She's gone," there areother eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready totake up the glad shout, "There she comes!"And that is Dying!
Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) was an American author, educator, and clergyman. He graduated from Princeton University in 1873 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1874, and served as a professor of English literature at Princeton between 1899 and 1923, with some notable time away: From 1908 to 1909 Dr. Van Dyke was American lecturer at the University of Paris. In 1913, by appointment of President Woodrow Wilson, he became an ambassador, the Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg. He was also a U.S. Navy chaplain before returning to teaching at Princeton in 1918. Among his popular writings is the Christmas story The Other Wise Man (1896). Various religious themes are also expressed in his poetry, hymns, and essays collected in Little Rivers (1895) and Fisherman's Luck (1899).
Without the slightest doubt, I know heaven is real. It's more real than anything I've ever experienced in my life. I sometimes say, "Think of the worst thing that's ever happened to you, and everything in between; heaven is more real than any of those things."
Since my return to earth, I've been acutely aware that all of us are on a pilgrimage. At the end of this life, wherever we go heaven or hell life will be more real than this one we're now living.
I never thought of that before my accident, of course. Heaven was a concept, something I believed in, but didn't think about it often.
In the years since my accident, I've repeatedly thought of the last night Jesus was with his disciples before his betrayal and crucifixion. Only hours before he began that journey to heaven, he sat with his disciples in the upper room. He begged them not to be troubled and to trust in him. Then he told them he was going away and added, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am" (John 14:2-3).
I had never really noticed it before, but twice Jesus used the word place a location. Perhaps that may not stir most people, but I think about it often. It is a literal place, and I can testify that I know that place. I've been there. I know heaven is real.
Since my accident, I've felt more intensely and deeply than ever before. A year in a hospital bed can do that for anyone, but it was more than just that. Those ninety minutes in heaven left such an impression on me that I can never be the same person I was. I can never again be totally content here, because I live in anticipation.
Don Piper is a minister of education and single adults at the First Baptist Church in Pasadena, Texas. He regularly appears on Christian television and radio programs, writes a weekly newspaper column, and leads conferences and retreats in the United States and abroad.
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm a little scared. I really like this world: the Rocky Mountains, the beach at Cape May, the fields behind our house, the barn through mist on a gray wintry morning. How can I adjust to heaven when it's so different? That world you like, it is but a womb. A womb? Yes, you may not perceive it that way but you are bound within earthworld as surely as a baby yet unborn is bound within the womb The death incident is merely a passage from earth life, from the womb that has contained you until now, into the marvelous newness of heaven life. Maybe the baby would be scared to be born, to leave the womb. Then death is... deliverance to life beyond your imagining The death incident is merely a passage from earth life, from the womb that has contained you until now, into the marvelous newness of heaven life. You'll go through a dark tunnel, you may experience pain just as you did when you were born a baby but beyond the tunnel is heaven. I promise you, you'll enjoy heaven.
Joseph Bayly graduated from Wheaton College and Faith Seminary. After a long career as an author, educator, editor, and ultimately president of a Christian publishing company, he went to the heaven he loved to describe. He is remembered as a noted Christian leader.
Everlasting life is something to which I look forward. Why? Not because I am out of love with life here just the reverse! My life is full of joy, from four sources knowing God, and people, and the good and pleasant things that God and men under God have created, and doing things which are worthwhile for God or others, or for myself as God's man. But my reach exceeds my grasp. My relationships with God and others are never as rich and full as I want them to be, and I am always finding more than I thought was there in great music, great verse, great books, great lives, and the great kaleidoscope of the natural order....
As I get older, I find that I appreciate God, and people, and good and lovely and noble things, more and more intensely; so it is pure delight to think that this enjoyment will continue and increase in some form (what form, God knows, and I am content to wait and see), literally forever. Christians inherit in fact the destiny that fairy tales envisage in fancy: we (yes, you and I, the silly saved sinners) live, and live happily, and by God's endless mercy will live happily ever after.
We cannot visualize heaven's life, and the wise man will not try. Instead, we will dwell on the doctrine of heaven, which is that there the redeemed will find all their heart's desire: joy with their Lord, joy with His people, and joy in the ending of all frustration and distress and the supply of all wants....
Often now we say in moments of great enjoyment, "I don't want this ever to stop" but it does. Heaven, however, is different. May heaven's joy be yours, and mine.
J. I. Packer is professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the author of numerous books, including Knowing God, that many consider contemporary classics.
Before a sound was ever heard, There always was th' eternal Word. The flow of Time was a formless jam, Without the hand of the Great I Am. Man's groping power's of no avail, A puff of air in celestial gale. We rest serene in micro-space, Wombed in God's unbounded Grace. The time will come, we always know, Relentless change our time to go. Fear gives way in selfless tide, Of urge to peer at the other side. God gives us charts, a timeless Book, Our minds reach out, an eager look. We see the joy, Faith's free reward, Timeless life with a Risen Lord!
John Hyde Cleghorn (1909-1996) was a graduate of the University of the South. His career was in radio and advertising/public relations. However, his avocations were soloist, Bible teacher, and wordsmith.
Heaven is too wonderful for words. I can't describe it. It would be like asking a caterpillar about flying, like asking a flower bulb what [it] is like to be fragrant, or like asking a coconut, all hard and hairy, what it is like to be swaying in the breeze and be all tall and beautiful. A coconut can't imagine that. A caterpillar can't imagine flying. A bulb can't ever imagine what it is to be fragrant. A peach pit has no concept what it means to bear fruit and give shade and be delightful. And yet within each of those little things is that seed, that identity, of what one day it will become, of what one day it is destined to be. Somewhere within me is this seed of what one day I am destined to be. What I will be then is who I am now. The pattern of it is somehow within me, but I cannot even begin to imagine it. I have just got a coconut brain, like a flower bulb trying to think fragrance.
Joni Eareckson Tada, having been tutored in God's Word amidst the bruising reality of quadriplegia for over thirty years, is the author of over twenty books dealing with God's hand in hardship. She is the founder and president of Joni and Friends, a disability outreach ministry.