What is Heaven?
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Heaven is, therefore, a locality. In just what part of the universe it is located, we do not know. Astronomers say that all the stars and planets seem to be revolving around a great distant center. That center may be heaven. It is not this earth, for then Jesus would have said, “I remain to prepare a place for you.” When He said, “I go,” He meant that He would leave the earth for some other place.
It is a cosmopolitan place. “I beheld, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, kindreds, people and tongues.” Every tribe of earth shall have representatives there. Jesus, a Son of Man, is suited to all nationalities. The cultured Greek, the sturdy Roman, the religious Jew, the conservative Chinaman, the aggressive Japanese, the wild Indian, the superstitious African, find in Jesus Christ just what they need.
Heaven is a place where Christ as Savior is enthroned. The great multitude “stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” In another place we are told that they saw “the Lamb as it had been slain, in the midst of the throne.” The victim of Calvary is king of heaven. His pierced hand holds the scepter; the brow that was pricked by the crown of thorns wears the crown of glory. God as Creator sits upon the throne of the universe; He rules in the realm of law, and it is a glorious reign. But to the glory of creation is added the glory of redemption. The heavens declare the glory of God, but the prints of the nails in the hands and feet of our Saviour have a lustre which outshines the stars. The angels and redeemed saints in heaven seem to forget the greatness of creation, while they gaze at the glory of redemption. There has been formed in this country an order which is called “the Order of the Crown.” No one can join except those that can trace their ancestry back to some king. Every Christian already belongs to the Order of the Crown. He can trace his ancestry back to the King of Glory. He has been “born from above,” and has become a partaker of the Divine nature. The Saviour who sits crowned, sceptered and enthroned in heaven, is his elder brother.
Again heaven is a place of purity. The inhabitants are “clothed with white robes.” “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” “Tribulation” is suggestive; it comes from a word which means a flail, and with the flail, you know, the chaff is separated from the wheat. The blood washes white, and never white-washes. It is genuine purity, and day by day, year by year, the process of removing the chaff from the wheat, and the dross from the gold continues. There are kinds of impurity that cannot be washed out; they must be flailed out or burned out. You cannot wash dross out of gold; it requires the furnace. Geologists tell us that the white carrara marble was once a black mass, but under the influence of heat and pressure it became liquid and crystallized; in the process of crystallization the black particles were transmuted into pure white. There is an alchemy of grace which under the pressure of burden, and in the furnace of affliction, transforms character, until in heaven we see the perfect product.
Peace Through Victory.
Heaven is also a place of peace. The white-robed throng have “palms in their hands,” and the palm is a symbol of peace through victory. Through Jesus Christ they have been reconciled to God and gained victory over sin. There is no discordant note in their natures. They love God’s will and way. They do His pleasure. The music from the celestial harps is not sweeter than this harmony of soul. No hatred, envy, jealousy, or selfish ambition. Peace reigns like a queen, because every one does the will of the King.
And heaven is a place of worship. “They fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped God, saying, Amen. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” They begin their worship in heaven with “Amen.” It is the “Amen” of acquiescence in God’s will. They close their worship with the “Amen” of praise. And unless we begin our prayer with the “Amen” of submission to God, we shall not close with the “Amen” of praise. You will note that they are not begging for blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power. They are giving these things to God. There is more blessing in blessing God than in begging for a blessing from Him. There is more glory in glorifying God than in asking glory from Him.
Heaven is a place of spiritual service. “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.” We draw this distinction between the secular and the sacred. We have our secular days and our sacred days, secular places and sacred places, temples of worship and stores for business. In heaven it is all temple. The temple, you know, is a house completely consecrated to God; every part of it is His and He fills it. All heaven is His temple. There is no secular service there; it is all sacred. There are no secular places there; every street and home and place of business is sacred. There are some who contend that there should be no distinction between the sacred and the secular, while they strive to make everything secular. Instead of making every day as holy as the Sabbath, they would drag the Sabbath down to the level of every other day; instead of making every place as sacred as a church, they would drag the church down to the level of all other places. The heavenly spirit considers every garment a vestment, every meal a sacrament and every house a temple of God. To the merchant the ledger should be a sacred book; he should keep it before the Lord. The counter should be a sacred desk, and he should trade before the Lord. The tools of the mechanic should be sacred implements used for the glory of God. The pen of the author should be a sacred instrument through which he writes his thoughts for God. In proportion as we make of earth the temple of God, every part of it consecrated to His service, we have a foretaste of heaven.
Heaven is a social place. A city indicates that. The highest form of civilization and social life is in the city. Sad to say, in the cities of earth the social nature is degraded, and gives also the very lowest form of degradation, but in the City of Light where there is no sin, social life will reach its perfection. Lazarus reclining on the bosom of Abraham is a picture of loving sociability. The family of God will forever enjoy each other’s company, and what is better than all, Jesus Himself shall dwell with them. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” You, doubtless, we have many friends who, if they knew you were in sorrow, would write you a letter of condolence giving you good cheer, or press your hand in sympathy, but there are few friends who are intimate enough and familiar enough, if they should see you weeping, to approach and with their own hand tenderly wipe away the falling tear. But that is what God does. Blessed intimacy! Holy familiarity! Precious nearness! It is worth while to shed tears from a broken heart to have God come near enough to wipe them away; and before we enter heaven this part of heaven may come to us. Jesus now with His pierced hand wipes away our tears.
Finally, heaven is the great treasure city of the universe. It is God’s capital, and into the capital city the treasures of art, of music, of learning, and of wealth are apt to pour. Jesus commands us to lay up treasure in heaven where it will be safe forever. Hoarding upon earth will make the miser miserable; hoarding in heaven will make the Christian forever happy. And this does not mean that only millionaires can lay up treasures in heaven. The widow with her two mites, the seamstress with her meager income, the working man with his small wages, the child who saves from its weekly allowance may, by sacrificing for Jesus, lay up treasure in heaven. Indeed, wherever we fill the spheres in which God has placed us, doing the work faithfully that comes to hand, we are laying up treasure in heaven.
In the farming district of Germany there lived the wife of a poor man, her name Johanna Ambrosius. By a simple mechanical contrivance she utilized the stream near her cottage, and made it rock the cradle of her baby while she worked in the field. She knew little of the great world without, but with hope in God she had thoughts in her world, and wrote them down, some of them in poetry. She sympathized with nature and with struggling humanity about her. Her mother’s heart with its sorrows and joy she put into her poetry, and by some means it found its way into print. The empress of Germany read one of her little poems, and was so impressed by its simple beauty that she made inquiry about the author, and when she found how poor and needy she was, in the kindness of her heart she supplied all her wants, giving her and her family a pension for life. As with Johanna Ambrosius and the empress, so with every humble Christian and the Lord Jesus.
We need not be anxious about the reward; sooner or later it will come. Do what lies nearest to hand, and you may be assured that the King whom you serve will not forget it. The pension will come by and by. You do not got into the piano manufactory to hear music. There you will hear the clang of hammer and the rasp of file and the clatter of machinery. This clang and rasp and clatter are necessary to make the music which you will hear after a while in the parlor or the church.
A traveler in Amsterdam, when he heard the sweet chimes from the tower filling the air with melody, said to himself, I would like to see how that music is made. The next day at the hour for the chime ringing, he was admitted into a room where a musician played upon the chimes, but in this room he could hear no music, only the thump and clatter of the rough keys. The music floated out upon the city from the tower, but the thump and bang of the keys was necessary to make it. The musician himself could not hear it. So we down here may hear only the thump and bang of the keys. But God and the angels hear the music in heaven, and if we are faithful in time, the harmonies will ring out in eternity. No note in the melody will be lost.
This gives us good cheer. There may be darkness in the present, but there is light ahead. We can see through the tunnel, and therefore do not fear to enter. Our faces are toward the East, and we are expecting the sunrise. However deep the shadows, we are in the twilight of the morning.
But what practical effect will all this have upon our lives? Some time ago a finely dressed, wealthy lady came to an orphan asylum to adopt a little girl named Jane. The other children were in quite a flutter of excitement over the good fortune of Jane, but Jane was serious and thoughtful. After the finely dressed lady and the little orphan were seated in the carriage, the woman said to her, “Are you glad to go with me?” Jane replied, “I do not know.” “What, are you not glad that you will have dolls to play with, and fine dresses to wear, and a good home to live in, and everything to make you happy?” “I do not know,” replied Jane. “But,” continued the woman, “we will ride out through the park in the carriage every day, and you can have every thing that you want. Now are you not glad to go with me?” “Yes,” replied Jane, “but what am I to do for all this?” The rich woman reached out her arms and pressed the dear girl to her heart, as she said, “Only love me and be my child.” Can we say that to God? There is a heaven of beauty, peace, purity, plenty and glory ahead. What are we to do for all this? God replies, “Only love me, and be my obedient, faithful child.”