An Enrollment of Our Names in Heaven
the Noblest Source of Joy
Adapted from a sermon by Samuel Davies, January 14, 1759
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (18) And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. (19) Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (20) Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20
This is the answer Christ gave to his disciples, when they returned from their mission, flushed with victory over the most mighty and most cruel enemies, the infernal powers. "The seventy-two returned with joy” and said “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” This they probably mentioned with a hint of vanity, and were secretly proud of their new power, which their Master had given them. Though they realised it was his gift, they gloried in it, as if it gave them some new honour and dignity. And probably like the rest of their countrymen, their heads were filled with notions of a physical earthly kingdom of the Messiah, and his conquering the other nations of the earth in favour of the Jews; and they probably reasoned that they would have overwhelming power over their enemies on earth, from the power they had been enabled to exercise over evil spirits, so much more mighty, and seemingly unconquerable.
Their Lord and Master, among other things in his answer, puts a check on this secret vanity, and points out to them a better reason to be joyful. "do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you." That is, do not rejoice as much as you do, do not rejoice mainly in this that the spirits, (that is, evil spirits,) are subject to you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven!
It is as if he should say, "Though you may safely rejoice in the victory you have obtained through my name over the powers of hell, yet you ought to be careful that it is not a vain, selfish, carnal joy; a joy coming from your seeing your own ambitions being satisfied. And take care also, that you are not unreasonably preoccupied with this joy for I will show you a much greater cause for joy than even this; and that is, that your names are written in heaven! It is possible, that while you are casting the devil out of the bodies of others, your own souls may be under his power, and you may be his miserable slaves forever. But since your names are written in heaven, you are safe; and that is cause of joy indeed. Rejoice in this above all other things."
How would we rejoice, and perhaps boast, if the mighty powers of hell were subject to us, and we could make them retreat at a word! But the lowest Christian is more happy than this, and has cause for greater joy.
As we consider our text we will in the first place start by addressing the question :
I. What is meant by their names being written in heaven? And in the second place we will show that:
II. If your names are written in heaven, this is the greatest cause of joy you can possibly have And in the last place we will show that:
III. If your names are NOT written in heaven, you can have no cause of solid, rational, and lasting joy in anything
I. What is meant by their names being written in heaven?
Heaven is compared here to a country, in which a list or record is kept of all the citizens who are entitled to its privileges and protections. And, therefore, to have our names written in heaven, means to be citizens of the heavenly city; that is, to have a right to an inheritance there, and to all its privileges and enjoyments.
This naturally suggests a very important question, the answer to which should hold us all in anxious suspense: "How may I know (may each of us ask) whether MY unworthy name is written in heaven? Who can open and read the records of heaven, and show me whether my name is registered there?"
I answer, This is a secret that can be discovered; for all who have their names written in heaven may be distinguished by their characters, their temper, and practice, while on earth. And their characters are such as these:
1. All who have their names written in heaven are keenly aware of the vanity of all earthly things, and that heaven alone is able to bring happiness. All who are registered as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, have an overwhelming esteem of that privilege, and count all things as loss in comparison to it. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, (46) who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46) And is this your character? Are your hearts in heaven? Or are your highest affections set on things of the earth?
2. All who have their names written in heaven have a heavenly nature; a nature very different from that of the men of this world; a nature like that of the citizens of heaven! And is this your temper? Or is it earthly and sensual?
3. All who have their names written in heaven have a peculiar love for all their fellow-citizens, who are heirs of heaven. They love them as members of the same family with themselves. As the Apostle John states in his first letter:“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1Jn 3:14)
4. If your names are written in heaven, it is the chief business and concern of your life to obtain a saving interest in heaven. This is not the object of relaxed, lazy wishes; or of lukewarm, spiritless prayers; but of your vigorous, anxious, persevering desires. “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Our Lord says, “for many…will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:24) And is this the way you seek the kingdom of heaven?
These marks will have to do for now to help you in self-examination; and I beg you would bring them to your hearts, and see if you will stand this test.
If your names are written in heaven, then my text authorizes me to tell you, this is the greatest cause for joy you can possibly have; a joy that may swallow up every other joy.
On the other hand if your names are not written in heaven, there is nothing in the world that can happen to you, that can be a cause of rational, lasting joy to you.
And so we proceed in the second place to show that
II. If your names are written in heaven, this is the greatest cause of joy you can possibly have.
It is a joy that may swallow up every other joy! This becomes clear when we reflect on some particular points.
Are you rich in this world? Has God blessed your work and prudence so that you are in easy, affluent circumstances? This is cause for joy and gratitude to God, since it provides you with the materials of earthly happiness, frees you from many anxieties and painful needs, and gives you the power to enjoy the generous pleasure of doing good with your riches.
But what is even the blessings of the sanctified use of riches compared with the assurance that God has given you: that all things will work together for your good? What is this when compared to the un-searchable riches of Christ, and that fullness of grace and glory, in which you have a saving interest? Rejoice more in this than in millions and millions of dollars.
Or if you are not particularly rich then perhaps you are above extreme poverty, and able by your work and diligence to provide yourselves and your dependents with the necessities of life. This is the happiness of most, even of the poor in our country; and this is cause for joy. But what is this, compared to the happiness of having everything provided for your happy existence through all eternity! Is it not a greater cause for joy, that when you are stripped of all the enjoyments of the present life that you will also be delivered from all its needs and labours, and will not only have your bare needs met but will have a rich overflowing abundance of happiness equal to the abilities of your souls in their highest capacities? In this you may rightfully rejoice, and you cannot do so too much!
Do you enjoy bodily health? In this rejoice: but how small a cause for joy is this compared to that of your souls being in health and prospering, and showing the signs of immortal life and strength.
Are your bodies free from demon possession? Rejoice not so much in this but rather rejoice that the devil is cast out of your souls, and that you are not under his spiritual tyranny.
Are you happy in your friends and relations, and every blessing of home and family ? Rejoice not so much in this as that you have the most honourable relations and friends in heaven. God is your father; Christ is your Savior, your elder brother, your friend; the Holy Spirit is your sanctifier; the angels and all the saints are your fellow-servants, your brothers and sisters of the same household of God.
Do you rejoice in the freedom of your country, and that you are delivered from the hands of treacherous enemies on earth? Rather rejoice that you are delivered from the tyranny of sin and Satan, and from the condemnation of the divine law.
Do you rejoice that you may have the prospect of living in safety and peace in your country? Rather rejoice that you have peace of conscience, and peace with God, through Jesus Christ: and that you will enter into everlasting peace whenever you leave this restless world.
Do you rejoice that for the moment, your earthly possessions, your property and liberty are safe? Rather rejoice that your heavenly inheritance is safe; and that whatever becomes of the kingdoms of the earth you have a kingdom that cannot be shaken, eternal in the heavens.
Do you rejoice that you live under the authority of a good government? and that you enjoy the blessings of our happy constitution? This is a peculiar happiness indeed, one which is sadly more and more fleeting since this sermon was first preached hundreds of years ago; Even then, rejoice not so much in this, as that you are the subjects of the King of kings, and under a dispensation of grace, and the government of a Mediator. “The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice!” (Psalm 97:1) Rejoice, above all, in this, that you and all your affairs are in the hands of God who will manage all for your good. Rejoice that before long you will be invited into the court of the heavenly King and see him in all his glory!
Do you rejoice that your life and health are preserved, while many are dropping into the grave around you? Rather rejoice that you are not always to live in this most wretched world. Rejoice that death itself, your last enemy, will not be able to do you any lasting harm but only lead you home to your Father's house, and the full possession of your heavenly inheritance!
Do you rejoice that you enjoy the gospel and the means of salvation, and that these invaluable blessings are not likely to be torn from you in the short term? This indeed is cause of rejoicing; but how much more ought you to rejoice that the gospel and the means of salvation are made effectual by divine grace for your conversion and sanctification! There are many who have long been under their influence, to whom they are of no service but are rather a source of more aggravated guilt and ruin.
Let me, therefore, persuade you to rejoice, not only as a privilege but as a duty. God commands you to it by the same authority by which he requires you to pray, or to love himself or your neighbour. "Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!" (Psalm 32:11) "Rejoice always," (1 Thess. 5:16) "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." (Philippians 4:4.) It is only fitting that you should rejoice now in that in which you will rejoice forever. And, on the other hand, it is not right that you should walk towards heaven sad and miserable, as if you were going to the place of execution. Let sinners be afflicted, and mourn, and weep, who stand every moment on the slippery brink of eternal misery! Sorrow and lamentation are appropriate for their situation. But how can those who stand at every moment on the threshold of heaven, and realize that they may even be there before another sunset, how can these be always mourning and sad? How inappropriate this is! Therefore rejoice with all your hearts, that your worthless names are written in heaven! This is greater cause for joy than if they were registered in the halls of fame, or among princes and kings.
And do not excuse yourselves from this agreeable duty, by saying, "I would rejoice if I were sure that my name is written in heaven; but, alas! I am not." For is this uncertainty not your own fault? the effect of your own negligence? Besides, do you not have some happy hopes and probabilities, and even some fleeting assurance? and is not this cause for joy to creatures that only really deserve to be left under the distressing feeling of everlasting despair?
Let me go one step farther, and tell you, that you should rejoice that your names are written in heaven, not only more than in all other causes of joy but also in opposition to all causes of sorrow.
What does it matter that you are poor in this world when the heavenly inheritance is yours? That you are despised among men when you have the honour of being the sons of God? That you are weak, or sick and pained in body when your souls are recovering from the deadly disease of sin? That you are the slaves of men when you are sharers in the “freedom of the glory of the children of God?” (Rom 8:21) That your enemies should be victorious over you on earth, when you will certainly overcome at last? That your mortal relations and family and friends die, when your heavenly Father and all your spiritual brothers and sisters live, and you cannot ever be bereaved of them?
In short, what does it matter that you endure all the afflictions that can crowd upon one man in the present life when they are all short and temporary, and work out for you “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Co 4:17) and when you will soon arrive in the land of rest, beyond the reach of every misery? In spite of all these calamities, "Rejoice” and be exceedingly glad, since “your names are written in heaven!" (Luke 10:20)
But I must proceed to address another class of hearers; and to them I must say,
III. If your names are NOT written in heaven, you can have no cause of solid, rational, and lasting joy in anything.
This also will become clear when we reflect on particular points.
Do not rejoice that you are rich, or enjoy the least comforts of life while you are destitute of spiritual and everlasting riches.
Will it be any pleasure to you, to pass from a splendid well-furnished house into the regions of horror and darkness?
Will it be any pleasure to you, to pass from careless and merry company to the company of the wicked in hell?
Will it be any pleasure to you, to pass from all the luxuries of life to weep and wail, and gnash your teeth forever?
Will it be any pleasure to you, to pass from wearing fine clothing to be wrapped in sheets of infernal flame?
Indeed! what joy can you take in all the advantages that earthly riches can give you while you must be stripped of them all so soon, and suffer a terrible reversal?
Many who have the reputation of being religious and honourable among men are in reality vile, despicable creatures in the sight of God, and must soon sink into shame and everlasting misery. Many a body adorned with all that money can buy is driven by a poor, worthless soul, full of sin, and entirely devoid of the beauties of holiness. And can you rejoice in such trinkets as these? A man who has a gangrened foot may as well rejoice that it is covered with a golden cast; or a criminal may as well rejoice that he is carried to ‘life in prison’ in a fine limousine!
Besides, remember how hard it is for rich men enter into the kingdom of God! Our Lord declares in Matthew 19, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:23) It is a human impossibility; but it is not impossible to the Omnipotent God. As riches increase, temptations increase; temptations to love the world more, and to think less of heaven; temptations from pride, flattery, amusements, bad company, and so on. And can you rejoice that your salvation is made more difficult? And can you rejoice that you, who are ready to stumble at straws have mountains thrown up in your way? Indeed! if this were rightly considered, would the wealthy and affluent be so resolute and eager in their quest for riches?
What does it matter that you are in good business, and prospering in the world while you are not doing the work of your salvation, nor dealing with the things of heaven, while this very hurry for business is a great cause of your final and eternal destruction?
What if while you enjoy health of body, your souls are dead in trespasses and sins, and your health is no security against death or hell?
What if though you enjoy friends and family and relatives, the great God is your enemy?
What though you enjoy leisure activities and pleasure, they will end in eternal howlings, and you will be scolded for them forever, like the rich man, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things?" (Luke 16:25)
And though your enemies were all defeated? Alas! the devil and your sins are still rulers over you!
And what good is it that your country is safe when you will be here only a very short time, and you have no place prepared for you in heaven?
What though you are safe as to your outward affairs when your immortal souls are in danger?
“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26) What does it profit you to enjoy the gospel, while you receive no advantage from it but abuse it to your more aggravated ruin? What does it avail that God is merciful, when you have no share in his mercy, and never will, if you continue in your vain, carnal joy? What does it avail that Christ died for sinners, while you wilfully exclude yourselves from the blessed effects of his death?
In short, what on earth, or even in heaven, can give you any pleasure or rational joy while your names are not written in heaven, and you are not earnestly endeavouring to be admitted as citizens there? Sadly! your case calls for sighs, and tears, and sorrow rather than joy! What importance for you is any news, or politics, or even the fate of armies and countries, while you do not know whether you will be out of hell one more day?
And as the joy of the righteous, in having their names written in heaven, may swallow up every other joy, so your sorrow, on account of your names not being written there, may swallow up all other sorrows. Be sorrowful for this reason, above all other things.
Have you lost your friends, your relatives, your wealth? This is sad; but consider! it is nothing compared to the loss of God, of heaven, and your souls! All will be lost before long, if you continue in your present condition.
Are you poor in this world? That is only a minor affliction, compared with that everlasting poverty you must before long suffer! Are you despised by men? Truly, what is that compared to your being despised and rejected by the God who made you! Do you suffer sickness in your body? That is nothing to the disorders of your souls. Are you afraid of natural death? Truly, what is that to spiritual death, which has seized your souls, and the eternal death which is right before you? In short, nothing in all the world ought to so distress and grieve you as much as the fact that your names are not written in heaven!
Therefore, instead of vain rejoicing, and carelessness, and laughter, I must read to you the denunciation of Jesus Christ against you; "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep;" (Luke 6:24) and call upon you as the apostle James does, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you;" (James 5:1) and again, "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." (James 4:9)
Along with Samuel Davies I also can assure you that I am not against the pleasures of this life. But it is because I care for you, that my hope is that you would return home sad and sorrowful from this place; for I well know, that you are forever lost, unless you turn to the Lord, and that you never will turn to him, without your hearts being softened, in the words of the Prophet Joel “with weeping, and mourning.” (Joel 2:12.)
If your joy and laughter were reasonable then I would say nothing against it; but is it not true madness to be merry in the chains of sin, under the wrath of God, and on the very brink of eternal ruin?
Is it not also dishonourable to God? It is as if you should tell him to his face, that you can be merry and happy without his favour, and that you do not care at all about his disapproval.
I would not reprove your fun if it were harmless; but, alas! it will surely ruin you if you indulge it. For, let me tell you, such sinners as you cannot become converts, without troubling fears and deep sorrows. Without this you never will earnestly take on religious duties.
You will tell me perhaps, "you see Christians joyful, and sometimes cheerful; and why should you not be so?" I answer,
(1.) There is a great difference in your case and theirs; they have a living hope of everlasting happiness; but you can have no hope in your present condition. And may not they rejoice, while you have ample reason to mourn and weep?
(2.) The Christians you know now are cheerful with good reason; but did you know any of them when they first became concerned for their souls; were they cheerful then? then, when they first saw their sin and danger, and were seriously worried about ending up in hell forever? Were they merry and cheerful while they saw themselves without a Savior, and under the wrath of God? No! then all was sadness, fear, and sorrow. And this is what your case now demands. Can you expect the same cheerfulness in one who is under the power of a deadly sickness as in one who is recovering?
Finally, I would not try to dampen your joys and turn them into sorrow, if they would last. But they will certainly soon end, and nothing but weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth will follow. Look down into that hideous gulf, the prison of divine justice, where the Rich man and Judas, and thousands of sinners lie; can you see any cheerful look, or hear one laugh among them? No, no! They are done with all joy; and must spend a miserable eternity in grief and tears! "I am in anguish in this flame" (Luke 16:24) is the cry of the rich man in Luke 16.
And will you not rather mourn over sin in time than mourn forever? Will you choose to receive your good things now? or will you not rather wait until you have good reason to rejoice?
To conclude, in the words and appeal of Samuel Davis, words which I agree with very much:
“Allow a friend to your best interest to prevail upon you to return home this morning sadly pensive and sorrowful, and to resolve you will never indulge yourselves in one hour's mirth and gaiety, until you have some reason to believe that your names are written in heaven. This is what your own interest requires; and if you refuse, you will unavoidably be sorry for it forever, when your sorrow can be of no service to you. Betake yourselves in serious sadness to the earnest use of all the means of salvation, and you have reason to hope God will have mercy upon you, and turn you to himself. Then you will have reason to rejoice, to rejoice in your temporal blessings, and especially because your names are written in heaven. And then God, and Christ, and angels will rejoice over you, and join in your joy!”