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Our Highest Happiness

The glorious presence of God that the saints shall have of God in heaven is a great part of their happiness.

Heaven would not be heaven without the presence of God. The presence of God in the most miserable place possible would be a greater happiness than the absence of God in the most glorious place possible. David would not be afraid though he walked in the valley of the shadow of death, because God was with him (Ps 23:4). Luther would rather be in hell with God’s presence, than in heaven, God being absent.

If the presence of God takes away the dread of the shadow of the valley of death and makes hell to be more desired than heaven, what will the presence of God make heaven to be? The three children in the fiery furnace with God’s presence were happy; how happy then are the saints with God’s presence in heaven?

The saints desire God’s presence even when He is angry; they hate to be out of His presence. In Psalm 51:9, David cried to God to hide His face from his sins, for God’s face was then an angry face against him. Yet in Ps 51:11 he cried out again, “Cast me not away from thy presence.” He was not willing to be out of God’s presence. Saint Augustine has this expression: “Whose face he fears, even his face he invocates.”

God made rich promises to Moses, yet Moses could not be satisfied without the presence of God. “If thy presence be not with us, bring us not hence” (Ex 33:15). The apostle, when describing the misery of those that are damned, in 2 Thess 1:9 says, “Who shall be punished with ever-lasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”

The presence of God needs to be the happiness of the saints.

—Jeremiah Burroughs

John Flavel

Readiness for Sufferings

Readiness for sufferings will bring the heart of a Christian to an holy rest and tranquillity, in a suffering hour, and prevent that anxiety, perturbation, and distraction of mind, which puts the sinking weight into afflictions. The more cares, fears, and troubles we have before our sufferings come, the more calm, quiet, and composed we are like to be when our sufferings are come indeed.

It is admirable to consider with what peace and patience Job entertained his troubles, which, considering the kinds, degrees, and manner in which they befel him, one would think they should at least have startled and amazed him, and put his soul (as gracious and mortified as it was) into great disorder and confusion; but you find the contrary: never did the patience of a man triumph at that rate over adversity; he worships God, owns his hand, and resigns himself up to his pleasure (cf. Job 1:20-21). And whence was this? Surely had his troubles come by way of surprise, he could never have carried it at that rate; but in the days of his peace and prosperity he had prepared for such a day as this:  “I was not in safety, neither had I rest; yet trouble came; the thing that I feared (saith he) is come upon me” (Job 3:25-26). He laid it to heart before it came, and therefore it neither distracted, nor brake the heart when it came.

In like manner the prophet Habakkuk stood upon his watch-tower, i.e. he made his observations by the word upon the probable events of providence, whereby he got a clear foresight of those troublesome days that were at hand; which though it made him tremble in himself, yet it gave him rest in the day of evil (cf. Hab 3:16-18).

—John Flavel

NPG D26818; Henry Scudder by William Sherwin

Comfort in Prayer

Directing prayers to the Father, in the name of the Son, through the Holy Spirit, can remove the greatest discouragements that any Christian ever meets with when  they pray.

Neither God’s majestic infinite justice, the greatness of the multitude of sins, the sense of unworthiness and insufficiency to think a good thought, nor the feeling that many times we do not know what nor how to pray can dishearten us, if we consider that we pray to God, who is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Also, we can be heartened that we may pray in this order, namely, to the Father of Christ who is our Father, in the name of Jesus Christ who has [made satisfaction for our sins] and daily makes intercession for us, and in the Spirit who helps our infirmities and makes requests for us, though it is sometimes with sighs and groans which are not distinctly uttered.

These marks show that there is life and spirit in our prayers, and God will accept them. He knows the meaning of His Spirit, and will accept the work of His Spirit in us through Christ, though we have many imperfections.

—Henry Scudder

Edmund Calamy

The More Sure Word

Let us bless God, not only for revealing His will in His Word, but for revealing it by writing.

Before the time of Moses, God disclosed His will by immediate revelations from heaven. But we have a surer word of prophecy (2 Pet 1:19). Surer than a voice from heaven, for the devil (says the apostle) transforms himself into an angel of light. He has his apparitions and revelations, he is God’s ape, and in imitation of God, he appears to his disciples and makes them believe that it is God that appears, and not the devil. Thus he appeared to Saul, in the likeness of Samuel. And if God should now at this day disclose His way of worship and His divine will by revelations, how easily would men be deceived and mistake diabolical delusions for divine revelations.

Therefore let us bless God for the written Word, which is surer and safer than an immediate revelation.

There are some that are apt to think that if an angel should come from heaven and reveal God’s will to them, it would work more upon them than the written Word, but I would have these men to study the conference between Abraham and Dives (Luke 16:27-31). “They have Moses and the prophets;” if they will not profit by them, neither would they profit by any that should come out of hell or down from heaven to them, for it is the same God that speaks by His written Word, and by a voice from heaven.

The difference is only in the outward clothing; and therefore if God’s speaking by writing will not amend us, no more will God’s speaking by a voice.

O bless God exceedingly for the written Word! Let us cleave close to it and not expect any revelations from heaven of new truths, but say with the apostle (Gal 1:8-9): “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

—Edmund Calamy

William Tyndale

God Works in and with His Word

God worketh with his word, and in his word. And as his word is preached, faith rooteth herself in the hearts of the elect, and as faith entereth, and the word of God is believed, the power of God looseth the heart from the captivity and bondage under sin, and knitteth and coupleth him to God, and to the will of God; altereth him, changeth him clean, fashioneth, and forgeth him anew, giveth him power to love, and to do that which before was impossible for him either to love or do, and turneth him into a new nature, so that he loveth that which he before hated, and hateth that which he before loved; and is clean altered, and changed, and contrary disposed; and is knit and coupled fast to God’s will, and naturally bringeth forth good works, that is to say, that which God commandeth to do, and not things of his own imagination.

—William Tyndale

Thomas Manton

Supplied Wants

A father will not let his child starve—certainly none so fatherly as God. You do not have such a Father as is ignorant or regardless of your condition; He takes an exact notice of all your wants and pressures.

It is notable to observe how God condescends to express the particular notice that He takes of the saints: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isa 49:16). As we tie things about our hands, that we may remember such a work and business; so God does, as it were, put a print and mark upon His hands, to speak after the manner of men.

Nay, “The hairs of their heads are numbered” (Matt. 10:30). God has a particular notice of their necessities; and Jesus Christ is His remembrancer, one that ever appears before Him to represent their wants (Heb. 9:24). As the high priest in the law was to go in with the names of the tribes upon his breast and shoulder when He did minister before God, this is a type of how much we are in the heart of Christ, ever presenting Himself before the Lord on the behalf of such and such a believer.

—Thomas Manton

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Walk in Humility

Walk in humility . . . take heed of pride. It is a deadly poison that spoils and kills all where it comes; so dangerous that another poison was used as a counter-poison to preserve St. Paul from it.

And we are never more in danger of it than when we have done most, and made greatest progress in the profession and practice of piety.

For it is as the spleen in the body, that grows most when the other parts waste. It grows fast often, when other evils decay, and out of the decay of them, sucks matter to feed and foster itself with. This therefore must be carefully cast out and avoided.

When we have done well, we must take heed how in that regard we begin to think highly of ourselves. If we do so, all is gone; we are undone.

Be affected rather as Paul was. After he had gone so far, and done so much, “I make account, that I come not short,” says he, “of the very chief apostles” (2 Cor 11:5). Yea, “I have labored more than them all” (1 Cor 15:10). For, “from Jerusalem round about, even unto Illyricum (that is, from Syria to Slovenia) have I plentifully preached the gospel” (Rom 15:19). Yet, “I forget what is past” (Phil 3:13). That is, I regard no more what I have done than as if yet I had done nothing, or had clean forgotten what I did. “And I put on toward to what is before, pressing on toward the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). He did as men in a race that look not back to see how many they have passed, or how far they have progressed, but have their eyes fixed on those that have gained ground on them, and on the ground before them, that they are to measure, ere they can come to the mark.

Let us not consider so much how far we have gone, and how many others come short of us, but how far we are to go, and how far we come short of that Christian perfection that we should all strive and contend to attain unto.

— Thomas Gataker

Thomas Watson

Holy Resolution

Gregory Nazianzen said of Athanasius that he was both a lodestone and an adamant: a lodestone for the sweetness of his disposition, and an adamant for the invincibleness of his resolution. When the emperor Valens promised Basil great preference if he would subscribe to the Arian heresy; Basil responded,

“Sir, these speeches are fit to catch little children, but we who are taught by the Spirit are ready to endure a thousand deaths rather than suffer one syllable of Scripture to be altered.”

A righteous man is willing to take the cross for his jointure and, with Ignatius, wear Christ’s sufferings as a collar of pearl. “We glory in tribulation” (Rom 5:3). St. Paul rattled his chain and gloried in it as a woman who is proud of her jewels, said Chrysostom. “It is to my loss,” said Gordius the martyr, “if you abate me anything of my sufferings.” Of what heroic undaunted spirits were the primitive Christians who could scorn preferments, laugh at imprisonments, snatch up torments as crowns, and whose love to Christ burned hotter than the fire insomuch that the heathens cried out, “Great is the God of the Christians!”

—Thomas Watson

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Economy of Love with Degrees of Glory

Nothing will rob you of the joy of God’s grace like a low view of God, of Christ’s sacrifice, and of the glory of heaven.

To set our minds on the things above, to lay up our treasures in heaven and not on the earth, and to consider what is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, being reserved for us in heaven—these things are not auxiliary or ancillary or supplementary to the Christian life, they are essential to your joy, purpose, endurance, usefulness, and holiness.

While the joy of our salvation in Christ crucified begins in this life, we must daily renew our minds Godward in the reality that we currently live in a fallen and cursed world, beset with temptation, sin, and evil. We are pilgrims in a foreign land, citizens of heaven on an earthly sojourn, being in not of the world. The blessed glory of our salvation is yet future; we are not home yet. Jonathan Edwards describes the Christian yearning this way:

They remain in a joyful expectation of their more full and complete blessedness at the resurrection. As the wicked have not their full punishment until after the resurrection, so neither have the saints their complete happiness. Though they have attained to such exceeding glory, yet they are not yet arrived at its highest degrees, for that is reserved for their final state. The reward which the saints receive after the resurrection, is often spoken of as their chief reward. This is the reward that Christ has promised.

We Christians often fail to sincerely and practically set our minds on the things above, where Christ is seated (Col 3:1). Sometimes we become so preoccupied in the things below, where death reigns. We are often earthly minded and overwhelmed by the present trials that will have no reach into our future. Sometimes we hold the promise of heaven at a distance, unwittingly fearing that it may be too great to be true. Edwards put it this way: “this glory and blessedness are so great and wonderful that it seems too great to be given to such creatures as men are; it seems almost incredible that God should so exalt and advance worms of the dust.” He answered this tendency with tremendous insight:

The death and sufferings of Christ made every thing credible that belongs to this blessedness. If God has not thought his own Son too much for us, what will he think too much for us? If God did not spare him, but gave him even to be made a reproach, and a curse, and a victim to death for us, no blessedness, however great, can be incredible which is the fruit of this. Rom. 8:32. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” If God would so contrive to show his love in the manner and means of procuring our happiness, nothing can be incredible in the degree of the happiness itself: if nothing be too much to be given to man, and to be done for man in the manner of procuring his happiness, nothing will be too much to be given to him as the happiness procured, and no degree of happiness too great for him to enjoy. If all that God does about it be consistent, his infinite wisdom will also work to make their happiness and glory great in the degree of it.

Edwards elaborated on the happiness of the redeemed in heaven in view of perfection and degrees of glory:

The happiness of all the saints shall be perfect in two respects, viz. first, as they shall be so happy as to be perfectly free from all trouble and all evil; and, second, as everyone’s capacity shall be filled with happiness, but yet the capacity may be different. Every vessel may be full, and yet some may hold more than others. If many vessels were cast into the sea, everyone would be full; but yet bigger vessels would hold more than little ones. He that is full of happiness, he has perfection of happiness: his capacity being full, he is satisfied, and craves no more. But yet another man’s perfection of happiness may exceed his.

Yet his most profound insight relates the economy of love with degrees of glory. In answer to the objection that differences among the redeemed in heaven could not possibly be conceived to be in harmony with the virtues of heaven, Edwards offers a wonderful picture of love:

And when there is perfect satisfaction, there is no room for envy. And they will have no temptation to envy those who are above them in glory from their superiors being lifted up with pride. We are apt to conceive that those who are more holy, and more happy than others in heaven, will be elated and lifted up in their spirit above others. Whereas their being above them in holiness implies their being superior to them in humility; for their superior humility is part of their superior holiness. Though all are perfectly free from pride, yet as some will have greater degrees of divine knowledge than others, will have larger capacities to see more of the divine perfections, so they will see more of their own comparative littleness and nothingness, and therefore will be lowest abased in humility. And besides, the inferior in glory will have no temptation to envy those who are higher. For those who are highest will not only be more beloved by the lower saints for their higher holiness, but they will also have more of a spirit of love to others. They will love those who are below them more than other saints of less capacity. They who are in highest degrees of glory will be of largest capacity, and so of greatest knowledge, and will see most of God’s loveliness, and consequently will have love to God and love to saints most abounding in their hearts. So that those who are lower in glory will not envy those who are above them. They will be most beloved of those who are highest in glory, and the superior in glory will be so far from slighting those who are inferior, that they will have more abundant love to them, greater degrees of love in proportion to their superior knowledge and happiness; the higher in glory, the more like Christ in this respect. So that they will love them more than those who are their equals. And what puts it beyond doubt that seeing the superior happiness of others will be no damp to their happiness is this, that the superior happiness which they have consists in their greater humility, and their greater love to them, and to God and Christ, whom they will look upon as themselves. Such a sweet and perfect harmony will there be in the heavenly society, and perfect love reigning in every heart towards everyone without control, and without alloy, or any interruption. And no envy, or malice, or revenge, or contempt, or selfishness shall enter there, but shall be kept as far off as earth and hell are from heaven.

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Degrees of Glory

In our last post, we considered how Christ’s righteousness relates to our rewards. It is ultimately a subject concerning degrees of glory in heaven. It articulates a critical answer to the discussion concerning the relationship and place of justification and works, or faith and rewards.

Jonathan Edwards argues that since God supremely delights in His own glory His delight in creation is proportionate to the manifestation of His glory in it. This affords sufficient cause for those justified in Christ to earnestly pursue higher degrees of glory with their redeemed lives.

God’s Glory and Man’s Joy

One hindrance to a healthy pursuit of God’s glory is that we tend to view the idea of personal rewards as some kind of mercenary endeavor. As though we seek after a reward that is quite unrelated to the activity for which it is given. There is a great difference between the act of marrying for one’s money and marrying for love. As C. S. Lewis said, “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.” A saint’s faithfulness and rewards are on the same continuum, which is best defined in terms of love and joy.

We tend to disconnect and insulate the glory of God and our joy. It is as though the glory of God and personal delight were two unrelated conceptions. In the heart of the redeemed, this ought not be. Of distinguishing import is the blessed fact that in reconciling sinners to Himself through Christ crucified, God restores the human soul to a place where giving glory and honor to God increasingly acts in concert with personal delight. God’s glory and the joy of the redeemed are on the same continuum.

God has so wisely ordered all things for His glory that both our motivation and greatest good are intimately linked to His glory.

Faith Loves and Labors

This is where the subject concerning degrees of glory comes in. God presents two irreducible realities: (a) nothing we can do can merit God’s forgiveness and righteousness, and (b) loving God abundantly reaps abundant reward.

It is the design of God in wisdom that the pursuit of God produces our greatest joy. That loving what is truly most lovely results in our deepest satisfaction. That honoring what is truly most honorable reaps our highest honor of all.

In the Bible, there is the teaching of equality in grace apart from works (Matt 20:1-16; Luke 23:43; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:5), and there is the teaching of inequality through grace with works (Matt 5:10-12, 22; 6:19-20; 10:42; 16:27; 18:4; 19:29; 25:28-29; Luke 6:38; Mark 9:41; 1 Cor 3:14-15; Gal 6:7-10; Hos 10:12; 2 Cor 9:6).

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. –Ephesians 2:8-10

As redemption relates to eternal life so rewards relate to the enjoyment of God in that life. Merit, entitlement, and boasting are excluded.

Stewardship of Grace

Different degrees of glory trace their foundation to different degrees of grace. Both the place of any given member of the body and its capacity to do good is determined by God. Not only this, but all enabling assistance to perform and improve are also owing to grace. So the degree of grace given is the first determining factor in proportioning the saints’ future degrees of glory.

Building on this foundation of grace, Edwards identified four other chief considerations.

First are the degrees of the exercises and fruits of grace. Just as sin is perfected by the act, so is grace when voluntarily and overtly exercised. Greater reward will correspond to greater fruit.

Second are the degrees of good done by the exercise and fruits of grace. The reward will be in some measure proportioned to the good accomplished by the deed—the effects of the act, not just the act, are considered. By virtue of the greatest good that could be realized, Edwards drew particular attention to evangelistic labors and argued that the greatest of rewards belong to the labors that effect the conversion of souls.

Third are the degrees of a person’s self-denial and suffering. ‘For when grace is exercised and manifested in this manner, it is especially to the glory of God, for hereby the creature makes a sacrifice of himself and all things to the Creator.’ The more God is glorified, the greater the reward.

Fourth are the degrees of humility. ‘They that have the greatest humility shall be most exalted, and shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven; and they that are greatest in the kingdom of heaven are most humble.’

So degrees of glory relate to our stewardship of grace, and our motivation to love and joy. For Edwards, degrees of glory cannot rightly be conceived apart from the grace of God and the experience of love and joy.

Objections?

Edwards answered objections to his view with stunning insight.

Objection: No saint deserves more happiness than another since all is of free grace. To this, Edwards again points to the good pleasure of God:

Though all be from free grace, yet this is one way in which the freedom and sovereignty of grace is manifested in distinguishing some from others. The way in which God manifests his sovereignty, is by distinguishing those that desire no distinction; that the distinction should be of God, and not of ourselves; as is evident by what the Apostle says. 1 Corinthians 4:7, ‘Who maketh thee to differ?’ And though the good works of the saints deserve no reward, yet God of his free grace has been pleased to promise a reward to them, to encourage them to diligence in his work and service; as a kind father will encourage and reward what is done by a little child, wherein it shows respect to its father, though its doings are but the doings of a little child, and are no profit to its father. Though what the best the saints do is exceeding polluted, and deserves nothing, but if God beheld the pollution would deserve his wrath; yet for Christ’s sake he beholds not the pollution, and accepts the sincerity, and testifies his acceptance by a glorious reward.

Objection: How can there be any different degrees of glory among those who are equally justified? To this, he again delineates between redemption and rewards.

How we should be saved only upon the account of Christ’s righteousness, and yet have greater degrees of glory in reward of our good works, may be yet better understood, if we consider that Christ and the whole church of saints are one body, of which he is the head, and they members of different place and capacity. Now the whole body, head and members, have communion in Christ’s righteousness; they are all partakers of the benefit of it; Christ himself, the head, is rewarded for it, and every member is partaker of the benefit and reward. But it does by no means follow, that every part should equally partake of the benefit, but every part in proportion to its place and capacity: the head partakes of far more than the other parts, because ’tis of a far greater capacity, and the more noble members partake of more than the inferior. As it is in a natural body that enjoys perfect health, the head and the heart and lungs have a greater share of it, they have it more seated in them, than the hands and feet, because they are parts of greater capacity; so in the mystical body of Christ, all the members are partakers of the benefit, of the righteousness of the head, but ’tis according to their different capacity and place they have in the body.

Objection: How can there be differences among those who are perfectly blessed? To this, Edwards notes that perfect happiness and degrees of happiness will obviously coexist. No saint will ever have the same degree of happiness as God and yet every saint will be perfectly happy. The solution to this difficult is given by the notion of capacities.

The happiness of all the saints shall be perfect in two respects, viz. first, as they shall be so happy as to be perfectly free from all trouble and all evil; and, second, as everyone’s capacity shall be filled with happiness, but yet the capacity may be different. Every vessel may be full, and yet some may hold more than others. If many vessels were cast into the sea, everyone would be full; but yet bigger vessels would hold more than little ones. He that is full of happiness, he has perfection of happiness: his capacity being full, he is satisfied, and craves no more. But yet another man’s perfection of happiness may exceed his.

Objection: Differences among the saints in heaven would diminish the happiness of those that are in the lower degrees of glory. To this, Edwards promptly issues the reminder that all tendencies to envy and every inclination to self-centeredness will be exhaustively eradicated in heaven. In fact, he argues that the differences will serve only to promote greater exchanges of love and happiness. On the one hand, ‘the exaltation of some in glory above others, will be so far from diminishing anything of the perfect happiness and joy of the rest that are inferior, that they will be the happier for it.’ And on the other hand, ‘the superior in glory will be so far from slighting those who are inferior, that they will have more abundant love to them, greater degrees of love in proportion to their superior knowledge and happiness; the higher in glory, the more like Christ in this respect.’

No principles will be remaining in their hearts, whence this should be any diminution of their happiness. It won’t diminish, because they won’t have enough; for they shall be full, and their capacity, and so their cravings, satisfied. And then there shall be no remainders of a spirit of envy. There shall be such perfect love, that through the whole society there will admit of no shadow of any such things, no remains of pride. [And then there shall be] perfect humility: they shall [be] fully contented in their lesser degrees of glory. …

Those that are higher in glory will be lower in humility. For as we have observed that a finite perfection of happiness admits of degrees, so does a finite perfection of holiness, and so of humility, which is a great part of creature holiness; and those that are highest in happiness, will be also in holiness. …

The seeing the superior happiness of others not only won’t diminish [them], but such will be their love, that it will rather add to it. They not only will not be grieved to be [lower than them], but so perfectly will they love them, that they will greatly rejoice in it, that they are so happy.

Thus, as God’s glory and grace are not at odds, neither should be man’s glorifying God and delighting in God. Our supreme joy, satisfaction, and affection are intended—through Christ crucified—to be one with our purpose, stewardship, and worship.

May God be glorified in our delights and may we increasingly seek to be delighted in God.