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Good Words 1860
Meditations on Heaven

No. II.

"They rest not day and night."—Rev. iv. 8.
"A little while the fetters hold no more,
The spirit long enthrall'd is free to soar,
And takes its joyful flight,
On radiant wings of light,
Up to the throne, to labour or adore!"

What a seeming paradox is this! We last contemplated Heaven under the beautiful and significant figure of a state of rest;—here it is spoken of as a state of unrest! "They rest"—"They rest not." It is what the old writers quaintly designate, "The rest without a rest." The combination of these two similitudes involves no inconsistency; they bring together two different but not antagonistic elements of earthly happiness, which will have their highest exemplification in the bliss of a perfect world.

The emblem suggests two views of a future Heaven—

First, As a state of ceaseless activity; and, second, As a state of continual progression.

Heaven is a state of ceaseless activity in the service of God.

Constituted as we now are, a condition of listless-ness and inactivity is most inimical to true happiness. Indeed, if we can judge from the references in Scripture as to the constitution of higher and nobler natures, we are led to infer that activity is a great normal law among the loftiest orders of intelligent being. Angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, the "burning ones and the shining ones," are "ministering spirits," engaged in untiring errands of love to redeemed man, and probably also to other provinces in God's vast empire; nay, with reverence be it said, the Great God Himself is ever putting forth the unceasing activities of His omnipotence. "He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." "My Father," said Christ, "worketh hitherto, and I work." It is sublimely said of Him, "He fainteth not, neither is weary." (Ps. cxxi. 4; John v. 17; Isa. xl. 28.)

The human spirit has the same lofty heritage. Activity is linked with pure and unsullied enjoyment. The very curse of labour and the sweat of the brow, the birthright of toil, is the birthright of mercy. A philosopher of ancient times said, if he had truth in his grasp, he would open his hand and let it flee away that he might enjoy the pursuit of it. Transfer this to Heaven. There the law and love of activity will still be a governing principle among the spirits of the glorified; and in this we shall be assimilated to the "living ones" whose very name indicates the ardour of their holy being. They rest not! There will be no more of the lassitude and languor of earth. Here our bodies are clogs and hindrances to mental activity. There the glorified frame will be a help and auxiliary to the ecstatic spirit. Here the remains of indwelling corruption is like the chained corpse which criminals of old were compelled to drag behind them. It elicits the mournful cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom. vii. 24.) That soliloquy will be heard no more in the ''better country." There, every chain will be unloosed, and the uncaged spirit soar upwards unhampered by the impediments of its earthly coil.

Glorious description! "They serve Him day and night." (Rev. vii. 15.) No more pauses from weariness or faintness; no more fitful frames and feelings. It has been said of God's people in the present world, '"Though they do not weary of their Master's work, they often weary in the work." Their experience is impressively given in the Song of Solomon, when the Church, or believer in his earthly state, is represented as saying, "I sleep, but my heart waketh" (Cant. v. 2)—worldly cares and business and engrossments chaining down the soul, and inducing a state of drowsy insensibility. But there, they shall not require to "lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees." (Heb. xii. 12.) There, there shall be no more waking up refreshed from the repose of exhausted nature—no more complaining that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matt. xxvi. 41.) "His servants shall serve Him," and serve Him with joyful and untiring alacrity. If any of us have felt the pleasurableness of doing good, even in a present imperfect, chequered world, what will, what must this feeling be in a state of holy activity, with no sin or weakness to repress our ardour or damp our energies?

And what will be the chief ingredient—the grand element in this state of holy activity ? It will be the service of God. "They rest not day nor night," uttering the threefold ascription to a Triune-Jehovah —Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—''Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts." (Isa. vi. 3.) As we have found activity to be an essential element in true happiness, surely that happiness will be enhanced by the attractiveness of the service in which it is our privilege to be engaged. An earthly servant, possessed of an honourable nature, would feel himself obligated to perform work faithfully and conscientiously even to a bad master; but how would his joy in the performance of his duty be increased by the consciousness that he was serving some lofty and beneficent spirit who was an ornament to his station and revered by all? If we carry this law to the pinnacle of all greatness and moral excellence, surely here will be the climax and consummation of creature-happiness—cheerful duty in the service of Him whose favour is life!

What is the truest source of joy to an earthly child? Is it not by active duty, as well as by passive obedience, fulfilling his parent's wishes? Will he not even suffer much for the parent he loves? The earthly relationship is in this, as in many other respects, a beautiful type of the heavenly. What pure and unsullied delight will it afford the sainted spirit to be engaged constantly in doing the will of Him who is better and kinder than the best of earthly parents! Look at Him who, being very man as well as very God, understood all the tenderest sensibilities of the human heart! What was the great (shall we say, the only) joy which brightened the pilgrimage of the Man of Sorrows? What was the one source of purest, ineffable delight to Him, as he toiled on His blood-stained path ? Was it not the elevating consciousness of doing His heavenly Father's will? —"My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work!" (John iv. 34.) We are always most willing to serve those we love most. With what bounding joy, then, shall we embark in heaven on errands of active service, when we shall there have unfolded to us (what we here know so little of) the unspeakable love of Him who for us spared not His own, His only Son! Oh, what a motive will there be here for all the energies of the glorified body, and all the faculties of the glorified spirit!—to love, and serve, and honour, and adore Him, around whom our deepest affections are centred, and our heart of hearts entwined;—getting ever nearer Him and liker Him, — gazing more intently on His matchless perfections—diving more into the ocean-depths and mysteries of His love, and becoming the channels of conveyance of that love to others; —then, indeed, will duty be turned into enjoyment, and supreme and unswerving devotedness to His service be its own best reward.

It will be a consecration, too, not only of unfettered, unclogged, unwearied powers ; but there will be the still further element of a pure and single-eyed devotedness, which earth never knew. Here, alas ! in the holiest activities of the present state of being, there are ever, even when we ourselves may be insensible to them, the existence of mingled motives. Wretched self, in its thousand insidious forms, so imperceptibly will creep in, marring and mutilating our best endeavours to please God. Our best offerings are full of blemishes —our best thoughts are polluted with low, grovelling cares. But there, self will for ever be dethroned. This usurping Dagon will then be broken for ever in pieces before the presence of the true Ark, in that glorious temple wherein "there is nothing that defileth." God's glory will then be the one grand, absorbing, and terminating object of all desires and all aspirations—then, for the first time in reality, shall we come to realise and exemplify that great truth, which many from their infancy have had on their lips—"Man's chief end is to glorify, God, and to enjoy Him for ever."

Thus will active and ceaseless occupation in the service of God form one of the sweetest employments and sources of happiness in the upper sanctuary. "They rest," in a blessed absence from all sin, all suffering, all trial. "They rest not," in the lofty behests and engagements of holiness. Believers are called in this world by the name of "servants," "workmen," "husbandmen." They will still retain these same designations of active duty. "His servants," we read, "shall serve Him." (Rev. xxii. 3.) God, in every portion of His wide universe, seems to work by creature agency. He does not require to do so. A simple volition of His sovereign will would suffice to fulfil His counsels as effectually as if never an angel sped on his embassy of love ! But as on earth He accomplishes His purposes in His Church by human agency, and as in heaven he employs angelic agency —those who "excel in strength" "doing His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word,"—so it would seem, as if in merciful consideration for the happiness of His glorified saints, He is to make this a permanent law through eternity ; so that heaven will be only a development of the present condition of grace—with this single, but important difference, that there will be no sin.

Indeed, it is this very idea of Heaven as a state of action, that brings out the beauty of the former representation as a state of rest. Best, to be enjoyed, supposes previous activity or labour; and although it can have no such relation in a place where weariness and fatigue are unknown, we can readily carry out the beautiful idea of Pollok, in his "Course of Time," of the ransomed spirit, retiring from the loud hallelujahs around the throne, to hold its silent meditations apart by "the living fountains of waters:"—this, however, only for a time, once more to return with unflagging and unabated energy to resume the song, and speed on new errands of love!

Reader, I ask, is this your anticipation of Heaven? —Heaven, not as it is pictured in the dreams of ike sentimental or contemplative Christian,—not a drowsy Mohammedan paradise—a state of torpor and inaction; but as it is known to angels, who are now, though unseen to us, speeding down to our world in ceaseless agencies of love and comfort? Do we realise this, and in realising the grand truth, are we training for these lofty duties?—ready to take the angel's place, or to join the angel's company, in travelling on similar ministries to some other distant provinces of creation ? What the poet has said of the present life is as true of its glorious counterpart hereafter—

"Life is real, life is earnest."

Rest not until you have attained a well-grounded assurance that this future state of active blessedness is to be yours;—that you are looking for it, preparing for it, ready for it. "Press forward," as a saint now in glory expressed it, "uphill and downhill, to the city which hath foundations." Test your meetness for the Heaven that is before you by the question, Bo I delight now in active employment in the service of my God? Is prayer a season of joyful refreshing? Does praise call into willing and gladsome exercise all the renewed affections of a heaven-born nature? Is the Sabbath a joyful pausing-place in life's chequered journey;—not a mere interlude of repose for the tired and jaded body after the incessant toils and cares of the week, but the day which summons into exercise the loftier activities of my nobler being? Do I spend it under the feeling of Eternity being an everlasting Sabbath; and that everlasting Sabbath occupied in some personal ministry of holiness and love? In this life there should, at least, be assimilations to the life hereafter. Though not in degree, it should be the same in hind. If activity in a little child gives indication of the energy and resolution of the man, so activity in the service of God, in a state of grace, will be the pledge and earnest of nobler activities in a state of glory.

"Oh, blessed rest! when we rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!—when we shall rest from sin, but not from worship—from suffering and sorrow, but not from joy ! Oh, blessed day ! when I shall rest with, God—when I shall rest in knowing, loving, rejoicing, and praising!—when my perfect soul and body shall together perfectly enjoy the most perfect God—when God, who is love itself, shall perfectly love me, and rest in His love to me, and I shall rest in my love to Him—when He shall rejoice over me with joy, and joy over me with singing, and I shall rejoice in Him." [Baxter.]

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