And the Life Everlasting
Thus much of the third prerogative or benefit; now followeth the fourth and last, in these words: And life everlasting. To handle this point to the full and to open the nature of it as it deserveth, is not in the power of man. For both the prophet Isaiah and St Paul say (Isa. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9) that the eye hath not seen, and the ear hath not heard, neither came it into manŐs heart to think of those things which God hath prepared for those that love Him. Again Paul, when he was rapt into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:4) saith that he saw things not to be uttered. Nevertheless, we may in some part describe the same, so far forth as God in this case hath revealed His will unto us. Wherefore in this last prerogative, I consider two things: the first, is life itself; the second, is the continuance of life noted in the word everlasting.
1. Life itself, is that whereby anything acteth, liveth and moveth in itself; and it is twofold: uncreated or created:
(1) Uncreated life is the very Godhead itself, whereby God liveth absolutely in Himself, from Himself and by Himself, giving life and being to all things that live and have being; and this life is not meant here; because it is not communicable to any creature.
(2) Created life is a quality in the creature; and it is again twofold: natural and spiritual:
(i) Natural life is that whereby men in this world live by meat and drink, and all such means as are ministered by GodŐs providence.
(ii) Spiritual life is that most happy and blessed estate, in which all the elect shall reign with Christ their Head in the heavens after this life, and after the day of judgment for ever and ever. And this alone is the life which in the Creed we confess and believe; and it consisteth in an immediate conjunction and communion or fellowship with God Himself; as Christ in His solemn prayer to His Father a little before His death signifieth (John 17:20,21): I pray not for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word, that they all may be one, as thou, O Father, art in me and I in thee, even that they may be one also in us. And when St John in the Revelation saith (Rev. 21:3), Behold the tabernacle of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be their God with them; he sheweth that the very foundation of that happiness which God hath prepared for His servants, stands in a society between God and them, whereby God shall dwell with them in heaven, and they again shall there enjoy His glorious presence.
Touching this communion, three points must be considered:
(1) The first is, in what order men shall have fellowship with God? Answer: This communion shall be first of all with Christ as He is man; and by reason that the manhood of Christ is personally united to the Godhead of the Son, it shall also be with Christ as He is God; and consequently with the Father and the Holy Ghost. The reason of this order is because Christ, though He be the author and fountain of eternal life as He is God, yet He conveys the same unto us only in and by His flesh or manhood. Yet must we not here think that life proceedeth from the manhood itself, as from a cause efficient; for the flesh quickeneth not by any virtue from itself, but by the Word to which it is personally united, it being as it were a pipe eternally to convey life from the Godhead to us.
(2) The second point is, in what things this communion consisteth? Answer: St Paul openeth this point to the very full when he saith (1 Cor. 15:28) that after Christ hath subdued all things unto Him, then God shall be all in all, that is, God Himself immediately shall be all good things that heart can wish to all the elect. But some may say, What? Is not God all in all unto us even in this life? For whatsoever good things we have, they are all from Him. Answer: It is true indeed, God is all in all even in this life; but how? Not immediately, but by outward means; and that also in final measure. For He conveys His goodness and mercy unto us so long as we live on earth, partly by His creatures, and partly by His Word and sacraments; but after this life is ended, all helps and outward means shall cease; Christ shall give up His kingdom, and as He is Mediator shall cease to put in execution the office of a priest, a prophet or a King; all authority and power shall be abolished; and therefore all callings in the three main estates of the church, the commonwealth, the family, shall have an end; there shall be no more magistrate and subject, pastor and people, master and servant, father and son, husband and wife; there shall be no more use of meat, drink, clothing, respiration, physick, sleep; and yet for all this, the condition of men shall be many thousand-fold more blessed than ever it was. For the Godhead in the Trinity immediately without all means shall be all things to all the chosen people of God in the kingdom of heaven, world without end. This may seem strange to manŐs reason, but it is the very flat truth of GodŐs Word. St John in the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, saith (Rev. 21:22) that there shall be no temple in it. Why? How then shall God be worshipped? Mark what follows: The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. Whereby it is signified that although now we use the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, as means of our fellowship with God; yet when this life is ended, they must all cease, God and Christ being instead of all these means unto us. And he adds further (v.23), The city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon to shine in it. What then, will some say, must there be nothing but darkness? Not so. For the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light of it. Again he saith (Rev. 22:2) that in the Paradise of God, there is the river of the water of life, and tree of life bearing fruit every month, and that is Christ. And therefore we shall have no need of meat, drink, apparel, sleep, etc. But Christ Himself our Head and Redeemer shall be instead of them all unto us; on whom all the elect shall feed, and by whom both in body and soul they shall be preserved evermore. If a man would have glory, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost shall be His glory. If a man desire wealth and pleasure, God Himself shall be wealth and pleasure unto him, and whatsoever else the heart of man can wish. Hence it appears that this communion is admirable; and that no tongue can tell, nor heart conceive the least part of it.
(3) The third point is touching the benefits or prerogatives that proceed of this communion, and they are in number six:
(a) The first is an absolute freedom from all wants. In the mind there shall be no ignorance, no unbelief, no distrust in God, no ambition, no envy, nor anger, nor carnal lusts, nor terror in conscience, or corrupt affection. In the body there shall be no sore, no sickness nor pain; for (Rev. 21:4) God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, nay then all defects or wants in body, or soul, or in both, shall be supplied, and the whole man made perfect every way.
(b) The second is perfect knowledge of God. In this life the church and all the servants of God know Him but in part. Moses would have seen GodŐs face (Exod. 33:18-23), but he was permitted to see only hinder parts; and as Paul saith (1 Cor. 13:12), now we know in part, and darkly, as through a glass. In this life we can no otherwise discern but as an old man through spectacles; and the creatures, but specially the Word of God and the sacraments, are the spectacles of our mind, wherein we behold His justice, mercy, love etc., and without them we can discern little or nothing; yet after this life, when that which is perfect is come, and that which is imperfect is abolished, we shall see God as He is to be seen, not as through a glass, but face to face; and we shall know Him as we are known of His majesty, so far forth as possibly a creature may. God indeed is infinite, and therefore the full knowledge of His majesty can no more be comprehended by the understanding of a creature, which is finite, than the sea by a spoon; yet nevertheless God shall be known every way of man, so far forth as a creature may know the Creator.
Now upon this, that the elect have such fullness of knowledge, it may be demanded, whether men shall know one another after this life or no? Answer: This question is oftener moved by such as are ignorant than by them that have knowledge; and oftentimes it is tossed in the mouths of them that have little religion in their hearts; and therefore I answer first, men should rather have care to seek how they may come to heaven, than to dispute what they shall do when they are there; the common proverb is true, it is no good counting of chickens before they be hatched. Secondly, I say that men in heaven shall know each other; yea they shall know them which were never known or seen of them before in this life; which may be gathered by proportion, out of GodŐs Word. Adam in his innocence knew Eve (Gen. 2:23), whom he had never seen before, and gave her a fit name so soon as she was created. And when our Saviour Christ was transfigured in the mount (Matt. 17:4), Peter knew Moses and Elijah, whom before he had never seen, and therefore it is like that the elect shall know each other in heaven, where their knowledge and their whole estate shall be fully perfected. But whether they shall know one another after an earthly manner, as to say, this man was my father, this mine uncle, this my teacher, etc., the Word of God saith nothing; and therefore I will be silent, and we must be content a while to be ignorant in this point.
(c) The third prerogative of everlasting blessedness is that the elect shall love God with as perfect love as a creature possibly can. The manner of loving God, is to love Him for Himself; and the measure, is to love Him without measure; and both shall be found in heaven. For the saints of God shall have an actual fruition of God Himself, and be as it were swallowed up with a sea of His love, and wholly ravished therewith; for which cause, as far as creatures can, they shall love Him again. Again, the love of a thing is according to the knowledge thereof, but in this life God is known of man only in part, and therefore is loved only but in part; but after this life, when the elect shall know God fully, they shall love Him without measure; and in this respect love hath a prerogative above faith or hope, howsoever in some respects again they go beyond love.
(d) The fourth prerogative is that the saints of God keep a perpetual Sabbath in heaven. In this life, it is kept but every seventh day, and when it is best of all sanctified, it is done but in part; but in heaven every day is a Sabbath; as the Lord saith by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 66:23; Heb. 4:9), From month to month, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come before me; and therefore the life to come shall be spent in the perpetual service of God.
(e) Fifthly, the bodies of the elect after this life in the kingdom of heaven shall be like the glorious body of Christ; so Paul saith (Phil. 3:21), Christ Jesus our Lord shall change our vile bodies, that they may be like His glorious body. Now the resemblance between ChristŐs body and ours, standeth in these things: As ChristŐs body is immortal, so ours in the kingdom of heaven shall never die; as ChristŐs body is spiritual, so shall ours be made spiritual, as the apostle saith (1 Cor. 15:44), It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body; not because the body shall be changed into a spirit, for it shall remain the same in substance, and that for ever; but because it shall be preserved by a spiritual and divine manner. For in this life, it is preserved by meat, drink, clothing, sleep, physick, rest and diet, but after without all these means the life of the body shall be continued, and body and soul kept together by the immediate power of GodŐs Spirit for ever and ever. Thus the body of Christ is now preserved in heaven, and so shall the bodies of all the elect be after the day of judgment. Furthermore, as ChristŐs body is now a shining body, as doth appear by His transfiguration in the mount, so in all likelihood after the resurrection the bodies of the elect shall be shining and bright, always remaining the same for substance. Lastly, as ChristŐs body after it rose again from the grave, had this property of agility beside swiftness, to pass from the earth to the third heaven, being in distance many thousand miles from us, and that without violence; so shall the bodies of the saints. For being glorified, they shall be able as well to ascend upward as to go downward, and to move without violence, and that very swiftly.
(f) The sixth and last prerogative, is an unspeakable and eternal joy, as David saith (Psa. 16:11), In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. It is said that when Solomon was crowned king, the people rejoiced exceedingly (1 Kin. 1:40). If there were such great joy at his coronation which was but an earthly prince, what joy then shall there be when the elect shall see the true Solomon crowned with glory in the kingdom of heaven? It is said that the wise men (Matt. 2:10) which came from the east to worship Christ; when they saw the star standing over the place where the babe was, were exceedingly glad; how much more shall the elect rejoice, when they shall see Christ not lying in a manger, but crowned with immortal glory in the kingdom of heaven? Wherefore this joy of the elect after this life is most wonderful, and cannot be uttered.
The property of life eternal is to be an inheritance (Matt. 25:33; Rom. 8:17) which God bestows on them which are made His sons in Christ, who is the only begotten Son of the Father. Hence it follows necessarily that in the Scripture it is called a reward, not because it is deserved by our works, as the church of Rome erroneously teacheth; but for two other causes:
(1) First, because life eternal is due to all that believe, by virtue of ChristŐs merit. For His righteousness is made ours by imputation, so consequently the merit thereof is also ours; and by it (all personal merits in ourselves utterly excluded) we deserve or merit eternal happiness as a reward; which nevertheless in respect of ourselves is the free and mere gift of God.
(2) The second is, because there is a resemblance between eternal life and a reward. For as a reward is given to a workman after his work is done; so everlasting life is given unto men after the travails and miseries of this life are ended.
The degrees of life are three:
(1) The first, is in this life, when men being justified and sanctified have peace with God. Many imagine that there is no eternal life till after death; but they are deceived, for it begins in this world; as our Saviour Christ testifieth, saying (John 5:24), Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that hears my words and believes Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but hath passed from death to life. This being so, we are hence to learn a good lesson. Considering we look for life everlasting after this life, we must not deceive ourselves, lingering and deferring the time till the last gasp; but we must lay the foundation of life eternal in ourselves in this world, and have the earnest thereof laid up in our hearts against the day of death. But how is that done? We must repent us heartily of all our sins, and seek to be assured in conscience that God the Father of Christ is our Father, God the Son our Redeemer, and God the Holy Ghost our Comforter. For as Christ saith (John 17:3), That is life eternal, to know thee the only God, and whom thou hast sent Jesus Christ. And we must go further, endeavouring to say with Paul (Gal. 2:20), that we live not, but that Christ liveth in us; which when we can say, we have in us the very seed of eternal life.
(2) The second degree is in the end of this life, when the body freed from all diseases, pains and miseries is laid to rest in the earth, and the soul is received into heaven.
(3) The third, is after the day of judgment, when body and soul reunited shall be both advanced to eternal glory.
Again, in this third degree of life, there be in all likelihood sundry degrees of glory. Daniel speaking of the estate of the elect after this life, saith (Dan. 12:3), They that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars for evermore. Now we know there is a difference between the brightness of the firmament and the brightness of the stars. Again, there be degrees of torment in hell, as appears by the saying of Christ (Matt. 11:22), It shall be easier for Tyrus and Sidon in that day, than for this generation; and therefore there be proportional degrees of glory. And Paul saith (1 Cor. 15:41,42), There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another in glory; so is the resurrection of the dead. In which words he applies the differences of excellence that be in the creatures, to set forth the differences of glory that shall be in menŐs bodies after the resurrection. Furthermore (if we may conjecture) it may be, the degrees of glory shall be answerable to the divers measures of gifts and graces bestowed on men in this life, and according to the employment of them to the glory of God and edification of the church. And therefore the twelve apostles, who were exceedingly enriched with the gift of the Spirit, and were master builders of the church of the New Testament, shall sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. But it may be objected that if there be degrees of glory in heaven, some shall want glory. Answer: Not so; though some have more and some less, yet all shall have sufficient. Take sundry vessels whereof some are bigger and some less; and cast them all into the sea; some will receive more water and some less, and yet all shall be full and no want in any; and so likewise among the saints of God in heaven, some shall have more glory, some less, and yet all without exception full of glory. And whereas it is alleged (Matt. 20:9,10) that all the labourers in the vineyard receive each of them a penny equally for their hire; that answer is that our Saviour Christ in the parable intends not to set forth the equality of celestial glory, and what shall be the estate of the godly after this life; but the very drift of the parable is to shew that they which are called first, have not cause to brag or insult over others which are as yet uncalled, considering they may be made equal or be preferred before them.
2. Thus much of the life itself; now follows the continuance thereof, which the Scriptures have noted in calling it eternal or everlasting. And to this end Paul saith (2 Tim. 1:10) that Christ hath abolished death, and brought not only life, but also immortality to light by the gospel. And this very circumstance serves greatly to commend the happiness of the godly; in that, after they have made an entrance into it, they shall never see term of time or end. Suppose the whole world were a sea, and that after every thousand years expired, a bird must carry away, or drink up only one drop of it; in process of time it will come to pass that this sea, though very huge, shall be dried up, but yet many millions of years must be passed before this can be done. Now if a man should enjoy happiness in heaven only for the space of time in which this sea is drying up, he would think his case most happy and blessed; but behold the elect shall enjoy the kingdom of heaven not only for that time, but when it is ended, they shall enjoy it as long again, and when all is done, they shall be as far from ending of this their joy, as they were at the beginning.
Having thus seen what life everlasting is, let us now come down to the uses of this article:
Use 1. And first of all, if we believe that there is an eternal happiness, and that the same belongs unto us, then we must use this present world and all things therein as though we used them not; and whatsoever we do in this world, yet the eyes of our minds must always be cast toward the blessed estate prepared for us in heaven. As a pilgrim in a strange land hath always his eyes toward his journeyŐs end, and is then grieved when by any means he is out of the way; so must we always have our minds and hearts set on everlasting life, and be grieved when we are by any means hindered in the strait way that leadeth thereunto. We have a notable pattern of this duty set out unto us in the patriarch Abraham, who being called of God, obeyed to go out into a place which he should afterward receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing whither he went; and by faith abode in the land of Canaan (Heb. 11:9) as a strange country, and as one that dwelt in tents. Now the cause that moved him was life everlasting; for the text saith (v.10), He looked for a city having a foundation, whose builder and maker is God. And we ought every one of us to be little affected to the things of this life, never setting our hearts upon them, but using them as a pilgrim doth use his staff in the way; so long as it is an help and stay for him in his journey, he is content to carry it in his hand; but so soon as it begins to trouble him, he casts it away.
Use 2. Secondly, all that profess the gospel of Christ, may hence learn to bear with patience the crosses and afflictions which God shall lay on them in this world. It is GodŐs usual manner to begin corrections in His own family upon His own children; and as Peter saith (1 Pet. 4:17), Judgment begins at GodŐs house. Look as a mother that weans her child, lays wormwood or some other bitter thing upon her breast to make the child loathe the milk; so likewise God makes us often feel the miseries and crosses of this life, that our love and liking might be turned from this world and fixed in heaven. As raw flesh is loathsome to the stomach; so is every sinner and unmortified man loathsome unto God; till the Lord by afflictions mortifies in him the corruptions of his nature, and specially the love of this world. But when a man is afflicted, how shall he be able to endure the cross? Surely by resolving him that the Lord hath prepared life everlasting for him. Thus we read that (Heb. 11:24-26) Moses by faith when he was come to age, refused to be called the son of PharaohŐs daughter, and chose rather to suffer adversity with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the rebuke of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. But I pray you: What moved Moses to be of this mind? The reason is added: Because he had respect to the recompence of reward, that is, he had always a special regard of life everlasting, and that was it that made him content and willing to suffer affliction with the people of God. Here then behold a notable precedent for us to follow; in which we are taught that the best way to endure afflictions with patience, is to have an eye to the recompence of reward; this is it that makes the yoke of Christ easy and lightsome. When it shall please God to bring unto us a cup of afflictions and bid us drink a draught thereof to the bottom, the meditation of life eternal must be as sugar in our pockets to sweeten the cup withal.
Use 3. Lastly, if this be true, that God, of His goodness and endless mercy toward mankind, hath prepared life everlasting, yet not for all men but for the elect whose names are written in the book of life; we must above all things in this world seek to be partakers of the same. Let us receive this as from the Lord, and lay it to our hearts, whatsoever we do evening and morning, day or night, whether we be young or old, rich or poor, first we must seek for the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness. If this benefit were common to all and not proper to the church, less care might be had; but seeing as it is proper to some alone, for this very cause let all out studies be to obtain the beginnings of life everlasting given in this life. For if we have it not, whosoever we be, it had been better for us that we had never been born, or that we had been born dogs and toads than men; for when they die, there is an end of their misery; but man, if he lose everlasting happiness, hath ten thousand millions of years to live in misery and in the torments of hell; and when that time is ended, he is as far from the end of his misery, as he was at the beginning. Wherefore I pray you, let not the devil steal this meditation out of your hearts, but be careful to repent of all your sins, and to believe in Christ for the pardon of them all; that by this means ye may come to have the pawn and earnest of the Spirit concerning life everlasting, even in this world. What a miserable thing it is that men should live long in this world, and not so much as dream of another, till at the last gasp? Let us not suffer Satan thus to abuse and bewitch us; for if we have not eternal life in this world, we shall never have it.