Note: This article is the final chapter in Don Fortner's Book, "Going Home."
Recently, I read a sermon by a Scottish preacher named Andrew Gray. He lived from 1633-1656, leaving this world when he was only 23 years old. He was only a very young man when he preached the sermon. The title of his message was 'Returning to Zion'. I cannot tell you when I have read a message that was more delightful, or of a greater blessing to my soul. It was so good that I read it several times. Let me share with you some of the things I gleaned from his message. hope my gleanings will be a blessing to you, and inspire you to think with joyful anticipation about going home to God our Saviour. I hope these thoughts make you think about heaven and the things awaiting us there. May God the Holy Spirit give us grace to set our hearts upon heaven, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. May our hearts De made to long for those glorious mansions that are yonder provided for us by the Lord Jesus.
Let me first give you a brief description of heaven according to my own limited understanding of divine revelation. Heaven is a place of rest without rest. This is clear from Hebrews 4:9 and Revelation 4:8.
'There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God;
'And the four beasts had each of them six wings about
him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day
and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,
which was, and is, and is to come.'
Heaven is a place where the soul is always satisfied yet never satisfied. The psalmist says, and we say with him, 'I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness'!
There we shall always see God in Christ. Yet, we shall ever want to see more of him. We shall always embrace him, yet want to embrace him more; always feed on him, yet want to feed on him more. In heaven there is both satisfaction and hunger. Heaven is full of mysteries.
Heaven is a place where joy and love eternally flow into our souls, while admiration and praise eternally flow out to our God and Saviour. All the saints' language in heaven is, 'Hallelujah! Praise to the Lamb who sits on the throne.' Oh, what shall it be to be taken within the gates of that blessed city to hear heavenly music? What shall it be to enter into rest, yet never rest from Immanuel's praise? What will it be to be satisfied with great satisfaction yet ever hunger and thirst for Christ without lack of satisfaction?
Second, think for a few minutes about the employment of God's saints in heaven. There are five things to consiantly occupy God's whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God (Revelation 14:1-5).
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them (Revelation 14:13).
What Makes Heaven Glorious?
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. Jam Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I Will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Revelation 21:1-8).
What Makes Heaven Exciting?
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life (Revelation 21:22-27).
Next, let me direct your thoughts, as best I can in this feeble frame, to the excellence of heaven. We know that heaven is a pleasant place. But what makes it pleasant, except that it is a place covered over and filled with the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley?
What a great sight John had when the angel talked with him and said, 'Come up hither, and I will show you the Bride, the Lamb's wife', and carried him to an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him the holy city, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9, 10).
And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. (Revelation 21:9, 10)
What is it that makes heaven such an excellent place? It is the soul-satisfying vision of God we have there in the person of his dear Son, our Mediator, in all his glory! There we shall see God face to face! It is written, 'They shall see his face'! What could be more excellent and glorious? What could be more rewarding and honouring? What could be more joyous and satisfying?
Here we see Christ dimly, as 'through a glass darkly'. There we shall see him face to face. What will be the Bride's thoughts when Christ first takes her in his arms? Who can imagine such things? 'This is my Beloved! He has brought me now into his banqueting house! His banner over me is love'! Oh, what shall our thoughts be when Christ takes us into his arms? I think we shall fall apart! Oh, what shall it be to be with Christ in heaven?
Here are six questions I must have answered. As I meditate upon the excellence and glory of heaven, I cannot help asking these six questions of my Saviour. I hope you will be asking them as well, as I relate them to you.
The first is this: shall this tongue, that has so often taken my Saviour's name in vain and so often polluted the holiness of God, ever be made like the tongues of angels, to express the greatness and glory of Christ?
The second question is this: shall these eyes, that have been the windows through which so many sins have come into my soul, ever see the Spotless One who sits on the throne of glory?
When I see Christ I would blush to look him in the face, were it not for the fact that he has declared 'sorrow and sighing shall flee away'! When we see his face, his transforming face, where shall we turn our eyes? A sight of Christ will make us eternally wonder. Do you not groan, my brother, my sister, for the sight of Christ? Soon, we shall see him as he is!
The third question is this: shall these ears, that have listened to so much foulness and enjoyed so much vanity, ever hear those songs above?
We must hear either the eternal shrieks of the damned in hell or the songs of the choirs of heaven. Oh, how sweetly they sing! For now comfort yourselves with this, the day is coming when you shall no more hang your harps on the willows because you are in a strange land, but you shall eternally cry out, 'Worthy is the Lamb! All praise to him who sits on the throne'!
The fourth question is this: shall these feet of mine, that have pursued endless futility and folly, ever follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth?
The fifth question I ask is this: shall this heart of mine, which has been a house of many idols, ever be made the unrivalled dwelling-place of my Saviour?
The last question I ask is this: shall these hands, that have been the instruments of so much evil and iniquity, ever embrace and hold that matchless Holy One who sits yonder on the throne?
What will we do when we first get Christ in our arms? We might well imagine our first day in heaven will be the most glorious. But What will not be the case. Though we have never seen our Husband refore, the longer we are with him in heaven's glory the more we shall love him and the more we shall know his love for us!
What will we discover in glory? There is no outcast there, no desertion, no unbelief, no misunderstanding of Christ, no questioning his wisdom, no doubts about his ways, no misinterpreting of his will, and no displeasure with his purpose. When we go through the gates of the New Jerusalem we shall pass over the graves of desertion, and jealousy, and unbelief, and all our idols, and we shall never return to them!
What a pleasant day it will be when faith and hope shall yield themselves to love and sight. Faith and hope are our attendants here, but love and sight will be our eternal attendants above. Faith and hope fight the battle here, but love and sight will sit at home and divide the spoil in heaven. Faith and hope embrace Christ through the veil, but love and sight embrace him face to face. Soon, we shall leave both faith and hope, but we shall never weep for leaving these dear, blessed companions.
One more thing we will forever leave behind when we leave this world is repentance. In heaven we shall have nothing to repent of!
Here are six great struggles I have with regard to heaven and going home to my God and Saviour.
I have a constant struggle here with sin, unbelief, hardness of beat, indifference, and spiritual ignorance. I confess, with Agur, 'Surely, I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy' (Proverbs 30:2-3).
Still, I am comforted with this: as soon as I enter the gates of that blessed city all my clouds will dissipate immediately. I will never again have a wrong thought of God throughout all eternity. Then, I shall begin to say to myself, 'Is this me, the ignorant and brutish man?'
I am often under much desertion. I never try go to my God in prayer but that I find an absent God, a hidden Christ, and a quenched Spirit. Often, more often than not, I cannot even speak to him in prayer, but only groan before him.
Still I find comfort in this: there is no desertion in heaven. There are none in glory-land who cry, 'How long, Lord, wilt thou hide thy face from me?' (Psalm 13:1). This is almost too much for this sinful soul to grasp, but it is a blessed fact. I cannot tell you how I rejoice in it! In heaven, I shall never again find it hard to speak to my God. I shall never again grow weary of serving him. I shall never again find it difficult to worship and praise and commune with my Beloved!
I must also acknowledge this fact for I do not want to pretend things are different with me than they really are! I want to be honest. I do not want to be a hypocrite! I sometimes struggle hard with assurance. I sometimes question whether I will go home to heaven with Christ when I leave this world, or perish in hell.
How I wish it were not so, but I am often like John Newton when he wrote,
'Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,
Do I love the Lord or no,
Am I His, or am I not?
Perhaps the struggle itself is horribly evil. Perhaps I should never have the struggle. But I do, and it is real. I often have terribly painful questions concerning the reality of my faith. Oh, how long to trust Christ perfectly! Completely! Without doubt! Without unbelief! But, even with regard to these things, my God gives me great consolation and hope. It is not the measure of my faith, or the quality or my faith, or the evidences of my faith that gives me hope, but Christ, the solitary Object of my faith! Oh, what comfort there is for my soul in this! There will be no more doubting and unbelief in heaven. When I cross over the threshold of Heaven's Gate, I will bid everlasting, 'Farewell' to all unbelief, doubts and questions!
I have another, painful complaint, a bitterness in my soul that is well nigh unbearable. My love for Christ is so horribly little that I often fear I have no love for him at all.
Yet, bless God, honesty will not allow me to say, horrible thought, I do not love him. Oh, no! When I hear my Saviour say, Lovest thou me?' I hang my head with shame, but confess, 'Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.' 'We love him. because he first loved us.'
I take great comfort and delight in this: soon, I will love my Saviour perfectly! As soon as these eyes are closed in death, as soon as I have gasped my last breath in this weak, mortal, sinful frame, I will love him who is altogether lovely as he ought to be loved!
Here is another terrible, heavy burden in my soul, a burden from which I find no relief in this world, a burden that makes me a little anxious to go home: so long as I am in this world, I know that I shall never prevail over my many idols, and get them forced out of my heart. I flee idolatry constantly, but can never leave it altogether behind. I struggle to keep myself from idols; but find the struggle a constant, uphill battle.
Still, when I think of going home, when I think of heaven, I find comfort, even in the face of this. All my idols will be slain before I get home. In one day, at once, all shall be slain as I behold the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of God to receive me. My Saviour demands all my heart, and deserves it. Blessed be his name, soon he shall have it! in heaven's glory there will be no rival in my heart's affections to him!
And I have another great struggle in my soul: I fear I know very little, if anything, of true prayer. Prayer is often found on my lips; but I often question whether prayer is ever found in my heart! John Burton wrote,
I often say my prayers
But do I ever pray?
And do the wishes of my heart
Go with the words I say?
I may as well kneel down
And worship gods of stone,
As offer to the living God
A prayer of words alone.
For words without the heart
The Lord will never hear,
Nor will He to those lips attend
Whose prayers are not sincere.
Lord teach me what I need,
And teach me how to pray;
Nor let me ask Thy grace,
Not feeling what I say.
In heaven, when I get home, I shall never again have this struggle: Then, I will never again have need of prayer. All my soul's desires will be fully satisfied at once. Then, I shall see my God and Father glorified, my Father's will fully performed, his kingdom come, and my Saviour satisfied. I will forgive even as I am forgiven. I will love even as I am loved. And I shall be like him, when see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness (Psalm 17:15).
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3).
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, are each crying out, 'Come up here to us who are here'! And the joys of heaven, if they had a tongue, would cry out, 'Oh, come up here'! And that sweet and blessed transcendence in the lace of Christ cries out, 'Come up here'! Does not your soul's need cry out, 'Go up there'!?
Some of us may be in eternity before long; and that is just fine, for eternity is sweet if we go to heaven. I remember a word in Job (Job 9:25) 'My days are swifter than a post; they flee away as the ships.' For the believer death curse all the cords that tie us to this world, but it makes the everlasting knot that binds us to Christ. Death is our friend. Our death day will be our coronation day.
Someone once said, 'Death is Christ's messenger to bring you home, sent to you either with a letter of commendation to speed you on or with a love letter in his hand to make you shout for joy. Oh, therefore, let us love him and long to be with him.'
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:10).
All the ransomed of the Lord will return and come to Zion. All will return with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. All will, upon their return, find joy and gladness. 'And sorrow and sighing shall flee away'! Oh, happy, happy, blessed day! Soon, 'sorrow and sighing shall flee away'!
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful' (Revelation 21:1-5).