THE WORLD TO COME.
George Burder, 1800
A SERMON ON
LUKE xx. 35, 36
But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
IT may justly excite our wonder and our grief, that believers, who are professed candidates for another world, should have their hearts so little set upon their heavenly home. The glory that shall be revealed, and which faith humbly expects, is so exceedingly great, that one should suppose the children of God would scarcely be able to think or speak of anything else. But, alas! it is not so. "Our soul cleaveth to the dust," and we have abundant cause to pray, "Quicken thou us, according to thy word." May the Lord bless our meditations on this passage of scripture, in which Jesus Christ replies to the objections of the Sadduces against the doctrine of the resurrection. The Sadduces were the disciples of Sadoc, and composed one of the four sects of the Jews; their leading notion was, that "there is no resurrection;" ver. 27. They also denied the existence of angels, the immortality of the soul, and a future state. The Sadduces thought to perplex the doctrine of the resurrection, by proposing the case of a woman who had been married to seven different men. "In the resurrection," said they, "whose wife of them is she?" Our Lord mildly answered this impertinent question, by showing that there is a vast difference between the state of men on earth, and that of the children of God in heaven; a great difference between this world and that world. The whole passage is full of instruction, which we shall endeavour to obtain, by making several observations upon it.
Observe, I. There is another world.
Our Lord calls it that world: It is evidently opposed to "this world," ver. 34, "the children of this world." We know a little of this world. O that we knew aright! O that we saw it with the eyes of faith! We should then confess it to be a vain world; "for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." Solomon, who made a full trial of the world, with advantages for making it above all other men, solemnly pronounces the whole to be "Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities, and vexation of spirit." How emphatically is it expressed! as if his heart was full of the idea; as if he longed to impress it upon others; as if he could not find sufficient words to do it. And remember who it was that declared this. Not a hermit, who never saw the world: not a pauper, who has got nothing in the world: not a spendthrift, who has lost all he had in the world: but "the king of Jerusalem," who abounded, in wealth and honour, and who bad tried the whole round of worldly pleasures. If he pronounces all to be vanity, we need not make the fruitless experiment; for "what shall the man do who cometh after the king?"
The world is as wicked as it is vain. "This present evil world," St. Paul calls it: "The world that lieth in the wicked one," saith St. John. It was good when God first made it; "very good;" but sin has made it evil; filled it with snares and sorrows; insomuch that it is a part of Christ's redemption, "to deliver us from this present evil world;" and from Satan, "the prince of the world," who makes use of its pleasures, as baits, to destroy the souls of men. And yet such is the evil heart of man, that he dotes upon this evil world; he seeks "his good things in this world;" "his portion is in this life:" he is "a man of the world;" or, as Christ says, ver. 34, "a child of this world."
But there is another world. Solemn truth! generally admitted, but little regarded. O think of it, you who trifle away your precious time. There is another world; and though you forget it, you are hastening towards it every moment. Yes! there is another world. Jesus Christ, who came from it, and who is gone to it again, Jesus Christ assures us of it. "He has brought life and immortality to light;" he has made a plain revelation of it in the Gospel, which shows us the certainty of it; the sublime, excellent, and spiritual nature of it, as in our text; together with the true and only way of obtaining eternal life, which is by Jesus Christ. Our Lord, in his public discourses, often spoke of another world, of heaven, and of hell, very plainly, very familiarly, very solemnly; urging his hearers, by arguments drawn from eternity, to regard the things which belonged to their peace.
The world of which we speak is a world of light, and purity, with joy. "There is no night there." Hell is eternal darkness. Heaven eternal light. No ignorance, no errors, no mistakes; but the knowledge of God in Christ begun on earth is there completed; for "we shall know even as we are known." The heavenly world is all purity and holiness. Nothing retaining the defilement of sin can have admission there; only "the pure in heart shall see God." And there, joy, which also commenced on earth in the possession of "spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus," shall be full, uninterrupted, and everlasting. "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."
Such is that world our Lord here speaks of: and it is the grand object of faith. Believers in all ages have kept it in view. Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, lived and died in the faith of it; "they desired a heavenly country," and in the hope of it, were dead to this world; "confessing themselves strangers and pilgrims on earth." The apostles, "having the same spirit of faith," looked "not at the things which are seen;" like archers, intently viewing the mark they shoot at; their object was nothing visible and sensible; but they "looked at the things unseen;" they seriously regarded, and carefully aimed at, heavenly things, as the grand mark, the noble prize of their high calling in Christ Jesus.
And is this the character of real Christians? Stop a moment and ask, Is it yours? Amidst the unavoidable labours and the lawful pleasures of this world, is heaven the principal object? Or do you wholly forget it? Has it scarcely ever a place in your thoughts? and can you suppose you shall ever enjoy glory without seeking it? Be not deceived, for,
Observe, II. It will be a great matter to obtain that world.
Notice our Saviour's words "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world." O it will be a great matter to obtain that world. Surely men do not believe there is such a world; for faith, of any sort, will work. What is it sets the world of men in motion? what makes them so busy from morning to night? Is it not the belief that they shall obtain something worth their pains? Why then are no pains taken to obtain heaven? Infidelity lies at the bottom of their sloth, or people would seek heaven as diligently as they seek this present world. "So run," saith St. Paul, "that ye may obtain." "Know ye not," saith he, "that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain." 1 Cor. ix. 24. The Christian life is a race, and heaven is the prize: and a race implies motion, vehement motion, and continued motion. O let us be in good earnest for heaven. Lazy wishes and formal religion will not do. Christ represents it as a great thing to obtain that world.
It will be a matter of amazing grace and favour. Labour we must; yet, after all, it is a matter of pure mercy, for "the gift of God is eternal life." Every glorified saint will be filled with surprise, and be ready to say, "Lord, is it I.
How can it be, thou heavenly King,
That thou should'st me to glory bring;
Make slaves the partners of thy throne,
Deck'd with the never-fading crown!"
And O, what a matter of infinite joy will it be! If angels rejoice at the conversion of a sinner, it is because they foresee its final result; the foundation is laid, and they rejoice to think they shall witness the top stone laid also, and shall "shout Grace! Grace! unto it." Yea, the blessed Redeemer himself shall rejoice, "when he sees the travail of his soul;" he will reckon all his pains, and sorrows, and sufferings, amply recompensed, when he beholds the millions of his elect safely brought to glory.
O then, let the obtaining of that world be our first business in this. So Christ directs—"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness;" let care for heaven precede all other cares. Seek it first, seek it early in life, and seek it early every morning. Seek it earnestly as the chief thing, "for what is a man profited, if be gain the whole world, and lose his own soul." Heaven is all, and heaven will make amends for all.
Observe, III. Some kind of worthiness is necessary to the obtaining of that world — "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world."
This worthiness includes merit and meetness or, a title to glory, and a fitness for it. Both these are necessary. But where shall we look for merit? Not in man. Man is a sinner, and a sinner merits only hell, for "the wages of sin is death." " All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The best man in the world can lay no claim to heaven; if he could, there would be room for boasting: "but boasting is excluded." "No flesh shall glory in his presence." If any man glory, it must be in the Lord. It is the merit, or, more properly speaking, the righteousness of Christ, which is the believer's title to heaven. This, like the wedding garment in the parable, is the only dress in which a sinner can appear before God, or sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
But there is a meetness or fitness for that world which is equally necessary. St. Paul gives thanks to God, Col. i. 12, "who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Observe, Heaven is for saints, that is, sanctified persons; and they who are not saints on earth, will never be saints in heaven. All who are designed for heaven hereafter, are prepared for heaven now. Only those who are sanctified shall be glorified. And this is evident to common sense. Every creature has its proper element. The fish cannot fly in the air, nor the bird swim in the water. And how can we suppose that the man who drinketh in iniquity like water, can be fit to be with angels and the spirits of just men made perfect, where all is pure and holy. A good man who was dying said, "I shall change my place, but not my company." Let them think of this, whose chosen company is the profane and the lewd. O how vain are the hopes which many persons entertain of future happiness! In vain the proud pharisee, who talks of his good heart and his good works, expects a place among the redeemed; for their song is, not "worthy self," but "worthy is the Lamb that was slain, who hath redeemed us to God by his blood." As vain are the hopes of the carnal and worldly man, whose affections cleave to earth, who lives in the love and practice of known iniquity, whose inmost soul abhors the spiritual life, who accounts the Sabbath a burden, and who lives "without Christ in the world." Know, O vain man, thy hope is folly and presumption, and hear what Christ has declared with a double Verily—"Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John iii. 3.
But thrice happy are they who are prepared for heaven; who are "born of the Spirit," and made spiritual in the frame of their mind; whose hearts are weaned in some degree from earthly things; who possess the world as though they possessed it not; who have affections and desires suited to the work and delight of heaven: "He who hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God;" these are "the first fruits of the Spirit," the foretaste of heaven; and those who enjoy it shall be "accounted worthy to obtain that world."
Observe, IV. That the relations of the present world will not subsist in the world to come; our Lord says, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.
This expression is not intended to disparage that kind of union; for marriage was ordained of God himself, while yet our first parents retained their original innocence. This relation is the first that subsisted between human beings; it is the source of all other relations, and superior to them all, for "for this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife." And our Lord was so far from discouraging marriage, that he graced a marriage feast with his presence, and wrought his first miracle there.
But in heaven this relation will cease, because the purposes for which it was instituted will also cease. There will be no death in heaven; consequently no vacancies, such as death here makes, to be filled up. In this world, "one generation passeth away and another cometh." The world is like an inn, where travellers take a hasty refreshment, and are gone; while a succession of new travellers occupy their places. Where are the former inhabitants of this place? they are mingled with the dust, the places which knew them, know them no more: we who are present supply their room; and in a short time another generation shall succeed us. But the inhabitants of heaven dwell in a "continuing city," "a house not made hands, whose builder and maker is God;" yea, they are like "pillars in his temple, and shall no more go out."
The blessed God , who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, has been pleased to appoint marriage as a remedy against fornication, that natural desires might not become brutal, but be under direction and control. Alas! what abominations spring from the neglect of this remedy! what impurities, what excesses, what poverty, what disease, what infamy, what bloodshed, what misery, have abounded in the world, by the unbridled lusts of the sexes! And,O how few consider that "for all these things God will bring them into judgment!" But in the heavenly world, those who were on earth purified in measure, shall be perfectly pure; the body of sin and death shall also be purged in the grave; and no disorderly passions, nor sensual appetites, shall ever molest them again.
Nor shall the glorified need the aid of that domestic friendship and comfort which result from the married state, and which are well suited to our embodied state; for even in paradise the Creator judged "it was not good for man to be alone." But in heaven there will be no occasion for the lesser streams of happiness, when believers have arrived at the fountain. In that blessed state, "the tabernacle of God shall be 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." Rev. xxi. 3. And it is added, ver.22, "the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of the Lord did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." God, in Christ, will be the everlasting fountain of knowledge and joy; so that the aid of creature comforts shall no more be wanted, than the light of a candle at noon-day.
O let us learn from hence to sit loose to all creatures and creature comforts; "it remaineth that both they that have wives, be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away." 1 Cor. vii. 29.
Observe, V. In that world, death will be for ever abolished.
This is a dying world. We are placed as in a field of battle, our relations and neighbours are falling all around us, so that we may almost say—"Where is the earth that hath not been alive? Death is to mortals "the king of terrors." Many thoughtless creatures, indeed, will hardly allow themselves to think of it; but, when it approaches, what agonies and terrors seize their souls: sin is neither pardoned nor subdued, and preparation for eternity is not begun. Even some of the timid flock of Christ, weak in the faith, are, inconsistently with the glorious gospel they profess, too much in bondage through fear of death. But Christ hath abolished death, 2 Tim. i. 11. He hath taken away its sting, and changed its very nature, turning the curse into a blessing; and as to the second death, far more dreadful than the first, it is lost and gone for ever: He that believeth shall never die—believest thou this? John xi. Instead of death, eternal life is the believer's portion; even now the Christian hath it, and it shall be perfected at the resurrection, when this mortal shall put on immortality. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
Let this reconcile us to death. We shall die but once. It alleviates the distress of some bodily disorders, as the smallpox, for instance, that persons suffer them but once, and are not liable to have them again. It is a far greater satisfaction which Christ affords us in our text, Neither shall they die any more; especially as death itself is also become a privilege; it is the gate of life, and ushers us into his presence, where "there is fullness of joy, and pleasures for evermore."
Observe, VI. The blessed inhabitants of that world shall be like the angels; they are equal to the angels.
Angels are spiritual beings, not having bodies as we have but possessing rational powers superior to ours. They are pure and holy beings, having never rebelled against God, as their fallen brethren the devils have, and as we the children of men have. They do the will of God with pleasure, and are the messengers of God's mercy to men; "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation."
At present, we are far inferior to angels, not only in our natural powers, but especially in holiness and purity. We inhabit a body of sin and death, and, by our connexion with a system of flesh and blood, are greatly hindered in our spiritual pursuits, and disposed to evil. Thus the apostle speaks, Rom. vii. 22, &c. "I delight in the law of God after the inward man (the renewed mind), but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members;" and on this account he cries, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!" All believers have daily cause to make the same complaint: "for the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit, so that they cannot do the things that they would." On this ground, our suffering Saviour kindly apologized for his sleeping disciples in the garden; "The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak."
But our Lord here assures his people they shall be equal with the angels; they shall drop the clog of their mortal bodies, and lose the encumbrance of flesh and blood; no sensual appetites shall divert their affections from spiritual objects; but, with the same agility and spirituality as the angels themselves, they shall serve their dear Lord, day and night, in his temple, and be supremely happy in the full enjoyment of God and the Lamb.
O let us endeavour to resemble angels now, as much as possible. We are taught to pray, "thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven;" and that we may do it, let us not indulge our sensual appetites too much, but, with St. Paul, "bring our bodies into subjection, and keep them under."
Observe, VII. The resurrection of the body will perfect the bliss of God's people; they are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection; they shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead.
The heavenly felicity of believers shall commence at the moment of death. No sooner are they "absent from the body," but they are "present with the Lord;" but their bliss will not be consummated till the morn of the resurrection. In the prospect of this, holy Job says, All the days of my appointed time (that is, in the grave) will I wait till my change come; (glorious change it will be! for the Lord will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like his glorious body.) Thou shalt call, saith he, and I will answer thee (for the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God); thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands. Job xiv. 14. The human body is the exquisite workmanship of God's hands; and being redeemed by Jesus Christ, as well as the soul, it shall be rescued from the power of the grave. Then the creature, the corporeal part of the Christian, which had long been subject to vanity, "shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God." This is the "manifestation of the sons of God," when they shall appear like their glorious redeemer. This is also called "the adoption." Believers are now the adopted sons of God; but this dignity is denied by the world, and sometimes obscured to themselves: but then God will own and publish it before all the world, and the matter will be put beyond dispute. Their bodies then shall be as much more glorious than those of the wicked, as their souls are now more gracious than theirs. And as Christ was by his resurrection "declared to be the Son of God with power," so shall his humble followers be, Rom. viii. 19-23.
Thus we have taken a distant view of the future world, of which so many useful hints are suggested in the text. Let us daily walk as expectants of another world. Let us remember it will be a great matter to obtain that world. Let us recollect what that worthiness is, which is requisite to the obtaining of it, namely, the righteousness of Christ, and the sanctifying influence of the Spirit. Let us remember, that human relations and connexions, however useful and comfortable at present, will cease at death; but that death itself shall also be abolished. Let us enjoy the thought of being holy, happy, and spiritual, like the blessed angels; and try to resemble them now in our cheerful and active obedience. Finally, in the prospect of a glorious resurrection, let us "be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as we know that our labour is not in vain in the Lord "