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A Sermon on Heaven
Preached by C. H. Spurgeon
How very frequently verses of Scripture are misquoted! Instead of turning to the Bible, to see how it is written, and saying, "How readest thou?" we quote from one another; and thus a passage of Scripture is handed down misquoted, by a kind of tradition, from father to son, and passes as current among a great number of Christian persons. How very frequently at our prayer meetings do we hear our brethren describing heaven as a place of which we cannot conceive! They say "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him;" and there they stop, not seeing that the very marrow of the whole passage lies in this-"But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." So that the joys of heaven (if this passage alludes to heaven, which, I take it, is not quite so clear as some would suppose), are after all, not things of which we cannot conceive; for "God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." I have hinted that this passage is most commonly applied to heaven, and I shall myself also so apply it in some measure, this morning. But any one who reads the connection will discover that the apostle is not talking about heaven at all. He is only speaking of this-that the wisdom of this world is not able to discover the things of God-that the merely carnal mind is not able to know the deep spiritual things of our most holy religion. He says, "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto out glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit, for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." And then he goes on lower down to say, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned." I take it, that this text is a great general fact, capable of specific application to certain cases; and that the great fact is this-that the things of God cannot be perceived by eye, and ear, and heart, but must be revealed by the Spirit of God; as they are unto all true believers. We shall take that thought, and endeavor to expand it this morning, explaining it concerning heaven, as well as regards other heavenly matters.
Every prophet who has stood upon the borders of a new dispensation might have uttered these words with peculiar force. He might have said, as he looked forward to the future, God having touched his eye with the anointing eye-slave of the Holy Spirit, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him; but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." We will divide the economy of free grace into different dispensations. We commence with the patriarchal. A patriarch, who like Abraham was gifted with foresight, might have looked forward to the Levitical dispensation, glorious with its tabernacle, its Shekinah, its gorgeous veil, its blazing altars; he might have caught a glimpse of Solomon's magnificent temple, and even by anticipation heard the sacred song ascending from the assembled thousands of Jerusalem, he might have seen king Solomon upon his throne, surrounded with all his riches, and the people resting in peace and tranquillity in the promised land and he might have turned to his brethren who lived in the patriarchal age, and said, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him' in the next dispensation. Ye know not how clearly God will reveal himself in the Paschal Lamb-how sweetly the people will be led, and fed, and guided, and directed all the way through the wilderness-what a sweet and fair country it is that they shall inhabit. Eye hath not seen the brooks that gush with milk, nor the rivers that run with honey, ear hath not heard the melodious voices of the daughters of Shiloh, nor have entered into the heart of man the joys of the men of Zion, 'but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.'" And so, moreover, at the close of the Levitical dispensation, the prophets might have thus foretold the coming glories. Old Isaiah, standing in the midst of the temple beholding its sacrifices, and the dim smoke that went up from them, when his eyes were opened by the Spirit of God, said-"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." He saw by faith Christ crucified upon the cross; he beheld him weltering in his own blood in Gethsemane's garden; he saw the disciples going out of Jerusalem, to preach everywhere the Word of God; he marked the progress of Messiah's kingdom, and he looked down to these latter days, when every man under his own vine and fig tree doth worship God, none daring to make him afraid; and he could well have cheered the captives in Babylon in words like these,-"Now ye sit down and weep, and ye will not sing in a strange land the songs of Zion; but lift up your heads, for your salvation draweth nigh your eye hath not seen, nor your ear heard, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; but he hath revealed them unto me by his Spirit." And now, beloved, we stand on the borders of a new era. The mediatorial dispensation is almost finished. In a few more years if prophecy be not thoroughly misinterpreted, we shall enter upon another condition. This poor earth of ours, which has been swathed in darkness, shall put on her garments of light. She hath toiled a long while in travail and sorrow. Soon shall her groanings end. Her surface, which has been stained with blood, is soon to be purified by love, and a religion of peace is to be established. The hour is coming when storms shall be hushed, when tempests shall be unknown, when whirlwind and hurricane shall stay their mighty force, and when "the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ." But you ask me what sort of kingdom that is to be, and whether I can show you any likeness thereof. I answer no; "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him," in the next, the millennial dispensation; "but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." Sometimes, when we climb upwards, there are moments of contemplation when we can understand that verse, "From whence we look for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be revealed from heaven," and can anticipate that thrice blessed hour when the King of kings shall put on his head the crown of the universe, when he shall gather up sheaves of sceptres, and put them beneath his arm-when he shall take the crowns from the heads of all monarchs, and welding them into one, shall put them on his own head, amidst the shouts of ten thousand times ten thousand who shall chaunt his high praises. But it is little enough that we can guess of its wonders.
But persons are curious to know what kind of dispensation the Millennial one is to be. Will the temple, they ask, be erected in Jerusalem? Will the Jews be positively restored to their own land? Will the different nations all speak one language? Will they all resort to one temple? and ten thousand other questions. Beloved, we cannot answer you. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." We do not profess to understand the minutiae of these things. It is enough for us to believe that a latter-day glory is approaching. Our eyes glisten with joy, in the full belief that it is coming, and our hearts swell big at the thought that our Master is to reign over the wide, wide world, and to win it for himself. But if you begin questioning us, we tell you that we cannot explain it. Just as under the legal dispensation there were types and shadows, but the mass of the people never saw Christ in them, so there are a great many different things in this dispensation which are types of the next, which will never be explained till we have more wisdom, more light, and more instruction. Just as the enlightened Jew partially foresaw what the Gospel was to be by the law, so may we guess the Millennium by the present, but we have not light enough: there are few who are taught enough in the deep things of God to explain them fully. Therefore we still say of the mass of mankind-"eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit," in some measure, and he will do so more and more, by-and-bye.
And this brings us to make the application of the subject to heaven itself. You see, while it does not expressly mean heaven here, you may very easily bring it to bear upon it; for concerning heaven, unto which believers are all fast going, we may say "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." Now, beloved, I am about to talk of heaven for this reason: you know, I never preach any funeral sermons for anybody, and never intend. I have passed by many persons who have died in our church, without having made any parade of funeral sermons, but, nevertheless, three or four of our friends having departed recently, I think I may speak a little to you about heaven in order to cheer you, and God may thus bless their departure. It is to be no funeral sermon, however-no eulogium on the dead, and no oration pronounced over the departed. Frequent funeral sermons I utterly abhor, and I believe they are not under God's sanction and approval. Of the dead we should say nothing but that which is good: and in the pulpit we should say very little of that, except, perhaps, in the case of some very eminent saint: and then we should say very little of the man, but let the "honor be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever." Heaven-then, what is it? First what is it not? It is not a heaven of the SENSES-"Eye hath not seen it." What glorious things the eye hath seen! Have we not seen the gaudy pageantry of pomp crowding the gay streets. We have seen the procession of kings and princes; our eyes have been feasted with the display of glittering uniforms, of lavished gold and jewels, of chariots and of horses; and we have perhaps thought that the procession of the saints of God may be dimly shadowed forth thereby. But, oh it was but the thought of our poor infant mind, and far enough from the great reality. We may hear of the magnificence of the old Persian princes, of palaces covered with gold and silver, and floors inlaid with jewels- but we cannot thence gather a thought of heaven, for "eye hath not seen "it. We have thought, however, when we have come to the works of God, and our eye hath rested on them: surely we can get some glimpse of what heaven is here. By night we have turned our eye up to the blue azure, and we have seen the stars-those golden-fleeced sheep of God feeding on the blue meadow of the sky, and we have said, "See! those are the nails in the floor of heaven up yonder;" and if this earth has such a glorious covering, what must that of the kingdom of heaven be? And when our eye has wandered from star to star, we have thought, "Now I can tell what heaven is by the beauty of its floor." But it is all a mistake. All that we can see can never help us to understand heaven. At another time we have seen some glorious landscape; we have seen the white river winding among the verdant fields like a stream of silver, covered on either side with emerald; we have seen the mountain towering to the sky, the mist rising on it, or the golden sunrise covering all the east with glory; or we have seen the west, again, reddened with the light of the sun as it departed I and we have said, "Surely, these grandeurs must be something like heaven; we have clapped our hands, and exclaimed-
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood, Stand dressed in living green."
We have imagined that there really were fields in heaven, and that things of earth were patterns of things in heaven. It was all a mistake;-"Eye hath not seen" it.
Equally does our text assert that "the ear hath not heard" it. Oh! have we not on the Sabbath day sometimes heard the sweet voice of the messenger of God, when he has by the Spirit spoken to our souls! We knew something of heaven then, we thought. At other times we have been entranced with the voice of the preacher, and with the remarkable sayings which he has uttered; we have been charmed by his eloquence some of us have known what it is to sit and weep and smile alternately, under the power of some mighty man who played with us as skilfully as David could have played on his harp, and we have said, "How sweet to hear those sounds! how glorious his eloquence! how wonderful his power of oratory! Now I think I know something of what heaven is, for my mind is so carried away, my passions are so excited, my imagination is so elevated, all the powers of my mind are stirred up so that I can think of nothing but of what the preacher is speaking about!" But the ear is not the medium by which you can guess anything of heaven. The "ear hath not heard" it. At other times perhaps you have heard sweet music, and hath not music charms, even on savage breasts like some of ours? We have heard music, whether poured from the lungs of man-that noblest instrument in the world-or from some manufacture of harmony, and we have thought, "Oh! how glorious this is!" and fancied, "This is what John meant in the Revelation-'I heard a voice like many waters, and like exceeding great thunders, and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps' and this must he something like heaven, something like the hallelujahs of the glorified." But ah! beloved, we made a mistake. "Ear hath not heard" it.
Here has been the very ground of that error into which many persons have fallen concerning heaven. They have said that they would like to go to heaven. What for? For this reason: they looked upon it as a place where they should be free from bodily pain. They should not have the head-ache or the tooth-ache there, nor any of those diseases which flesh is heir to, and whenever God laid his hand upon them they began to wish themselves in heaven, because they regarded it as a heaven of the senses-a heaven which the eye hath seen or the ear heard. A great mistake; for although we shall have a body free from pain, yet it is not a heaven where our senses shall indulge themselves. The laborer will have it, that heaven is a place,
Where on a green and flowery mount
Another will have it that heaven is a place where he shall eat to the full, and his body shall be satisfied. We may use these as figures, but we are so degenerate that we are apt to build a fine Mahometan heaven, and to think, there shall we have all the delights of the flesh; there shall we drink from bowls of nectared red wine, there shall we lavishly indulge ourselves, and our body shall enjoy every delight of which it is capable. What a mistake for us to conceive such a thing! Heaven is not a place for the delight of mere sense, we shall be raised not a sensual body, but a spiritual body. We can get no conceptions of heaven through the senses; they must always come through the Spirit. That is our first thought. It is not a heaven to be grasped by the senses.
But, secondly, it is not a heaven of the IMAGINATION. Poets let their imaginations fly with loosened wings, when they commence speaking of heaven; and how glorious are their descriptions of it! When we have read them, we say, "And is that heaven? I wish I was there." And we think we have some idea of heaven by reading books of poetry. Perhaps the preacher weaves the filigree work of fancy, and builds up in a moment by his words charming palaces, the tops of which are covered with gold and the walls are ivory. He pictures to you lights brighter than the sun, a place where spirits flap their bright wings, where comets flash through the sky. He tells you of fields where you may feed on ambrosia, where no henbane groweth, but where sweet flowers cover the meads; and then you think you have some idea of heaven: and you sit down and say, "It is sweet to hear that man speak, he carried me so away; he mace me think I was there; he gave me such conceptions as I never heard before, he worked on my imagination." And do you know, there is not a greater power than imagination. I would not give a farthing for a man who has not imagination he is of no use, if he wishes to move the multitude. If you were to take away my imagination I must die. It is a little heaven below, to imagine sweet things. But never think that imagination can picture heaven. When it is most sublime when it is freest from the dust of earth, when it is carried up by the greatest knowledge, and kept steady by the most extreme caution, imagination cannot picture heaven. "It hath not entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." Imagination is good, but not to picture to us heaven. Your imaginary heaven you will find by-and-by to be all a mistake; though you may have piled up fine castles, you will find them to be castles in the air, and they will vanish like thin clouds before the gale. For imagination cannot make a heaven. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to conceive" it.
Our next point is, that it is not a heaven of the INTELLECT. Men who take to themselves the title of intelligent, and who very humbly and modestly call themselves philosophers, generally describe heaven as a place where we shall know all things; and their grandest idea of heaven is, that they shall discover all secrets there. There the rook which would not tell its origin shall bubble forth its history, there the star which would not tell its date, and could not be made to whisper of its inhabitants shall at once unravel all its secrets; there the animal, the fashion of which could scarcely be guessed at, so long had it been buried amongst other fossils in the earth, shall start up again, and it shall be seen of what form and shape it really was:- there the rocky secrets of this our earth that they never could discover will be opened to them, and they conceive that they shall travel from one star to another star, from planet to planet, and fill their enobled intellect, as they now delight to call it, with all kinds of human knowledge. They reckon that heaven will be to understand the works of the Creator: and concerning such men as Bacon and other great philosophers, of whose piety we generally have very little evidence, we read at the end of their biographies-"He has now departed, that noble spirit which taught us such glorious things here, to sip at the fountain of knowledge, and have all his mistakes rectified, and his doubts cleared up." But we do not believe anything of the kind. Intellect! thou knowest it not! "It hath not entered into the heart of man." It is high; what canst thou know? It is deep; what canst thou understand? It is only the Spirit that can give you a guess of heaven.
Now we come to the point-"He hath revealed it unto us by his Spirit." I think this means, that it was revealed unto the apostles by the Spirit, so that they wrote something of it in the Holy Word; but as you all believe that, we will only hint at it, and pass on. We think also that it refers to every believer, and that every believer does have glimpses of heaven below, and that God does reveal heaven to him, even whilst on earth, so that he understands what heaven is, in some measure. I love to talk of the Spirit's influence on man. I am a firm believer in the doctrine of impulse, in the doctrine of influence, in the doctrine of direction, in the doctrine of instruction by the Holy Spirit; and I believe him to be an interpreter one of a thousand, who reveals unto men his own sinfulness, and afterwards teaches him his righteousness in Christ Jesus. I know there are some who abuse that doctrine, and ascribe every text that comes into their heart as given by the Spirit. We have heard of a man who, passing by his neighbor's wood, and having none in his own house, fancied he should like to take some. The text crossed his mind-"In all those things Job sinned not." He said "There is an influence from the Spirit. I must take that man's wood." Presently, however, conscience whispered, "Thou shalt not steal," and he remembered then that no text could have been put into his heart by the Spirit, if it excused sin or led him into it. However we do not discard the doctrine of impulse, because some people make a mistake; and we shall have a little of it this morning-a little of the teaching of God's gracious Spirit, whereby he reveals unto us what heaven is.
First of all, we think a Christian gets a gaze of what heaven is, when in the midst of trials and troubles he is able to cast all his care upon the Lord, because he careth for him. When waves of distress, and billows of affliction pass over the Christian, there are times when his faith is so strong that he lies down and sleeps, though the hurricane is thundering in his ears, and though billows are rocking him like a child in its cradle, though the earth is removed, and the mountains are carried into the midst of the sea, he says, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Famine and desolation come, but he says, "Though the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall there be fruit on the vine, though the labor of the olive shall fail, and the field shall yield no increase, yet will I trust in the Lord, and stay myself on the God of Jacob." Affliction smites him to the ground; he looks up, and says, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." The blows that are given to him are like the lashing of a whip upon the water, covered up immediately, and he seems to feel nothing. It is not stoicism; it is the peculiar sleep of the beloved. "So he giveth his beloved sleep." Persecution surrounds him; but he is unmoved. Heaven is something like that-a place of holy calm and trust-
"That holy calm, that sweet repose Which none but he who feels it knows. This heavenly calm within the breast
But there is another season in which the Christian has heaven revealed to him; and that is, the season of quiet contemplation. There are precious hours, blessed be God, when we forget the world-times and seasons when we get quite away from it, when our weary spirit wings its way far, far, from scenes of toil and strife. There are precious moments when the angel of contemplation gives us a vision. He comes and puts his finger on the lip of the noisy world; he bids the wheels that are continually rattling in our ears be still; and we sit down, and there is a solemn silence of the mind. We find our heaven and our God; we engage ourselves in contemplating the glories of Jesus, or mounting upwards towards the bliss of heaven-in going backward to the great secrets of electing love, in considering the immutability of the blessed covenant, in thinking of that wind which "bloweth where it listeth," in remembering our own participation of that life which cometh from God, in thinking of our blood-bought union with the Lamb, of the consummation of our marriage with him in realms of light and bliss, or any such kindred topics. Then it is that we know a little about heaven. Have ye never found, O ye sons and daughters of gaiety, a holy calm come over you at times, in reading the thoughts of your fellowmen? But oh! how blessed to come and read the thoughts of God, and work, and weave them out in contemplation. Then we have a web of contemplation that we wrap around us like an enchanted garment, and we open our eyes and see heaven. Christian I when you are enabled by the Spirit to hold a season of sweet contemplation, then you can say-"But he hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit;" for the joys of heaven are akin to the joys of contemplation, and the joys of a holy calm in God. But there are times with me-I dare say there may be with some of you- when we do something more than contemplate-when we arise by meditation above thought itself, and when our soul, after having touched the Pisgah of contemplation by the way, flies positively into the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. There are seasons when the Spirit not only stands and flaps his wings o'er the gulf, but positively crosses the Jordan and dwells with Christ, holds fellowship with angels, and talks with spirits-gets up there with Jesus, clasps him in his arms, and cries, "My beloved is mine, and I am his; I will hold him, and will not let him go." I know what it is at times to lay my beating head on the bosom of Christ with something more than faith-actually and positively to get hold of him; not only to take him by faith, but actually and positively to feed on him; to feel a vital union with him, to grasp his arm, and feel his very pulse beating. You say. "Tell it not to unbelievers; they will laugh!" Laugh ye may; but when we are there we care not for your laughter, if ye should laugh as loud as devils: for one moment's fellowship with Jesus would recompense us for it all. Picture not fairy lands; this is heaven, this is bliss. "He hath revealed it unto us by his Spirit." And let not the Christian, who says he has very little of this enjoyment be discouraged. Do not think you cannot have heaven revealed to you by the Spirit; I tell you, you can, if you are one of the Lord's people; and let me tell some of you, that one of the places where you may most of all expect to see heaven is at the Lord's table. There are some of you, my dearly beloved, who absent yourselves from the supper of the Lord on earth; let me tell you in God's name, that you are not only sinning against God, but robbing yourselves of a most inestimable privilege. If there is one season in which the soul gets into closer communion with Christ than another, it is at the Lord's table. How often have we sang there,
"Can I Gethsemane forget? Or there thy conflicts see, Thine agony and bloody sweat, And not remember thee?
And then you see what an easy transition it is to heaven:-
"And when these failing lips grow dumb, And thought and memory flee;
O my erring brethren, ye who live on, unbaptized, and who receive not this sacred supper, I tell you not that they will save you-most assuredly they will not, and it you are not saved before you receive them they will be an injury to you;-but if you are the Lord's people, why need you stay away? I tell you, the Lord's table is so high a place that you can see heaven from it very often. You get so near the cross there, you breathe so near the cross, that your sight becomes clearer, and the air brighter, and you see more of heaven there than anywhere else. Christian, do not neglect the supper of thy Lord; for if thou dost, he will hide heaven from thee, in a measure.
Again, how sweetly do we realize heaven when we assemble in our meetings for prayer. I do not know how my brethren feel at prayer meetings; but they are so much akin to what heaven is, as a place of devotion, that I really think we get more ideas of heaven by the Spirit there, than in hearing a sermon preached, because the sermon necessarily appeals somewhat to the intellect and the imagination. But if we enter into the vitality of prayer at our prayer meetings, then it is the Spirit that reveals heaven to us. I remember two texts that I preached from lately at our Monday evening meeting, which were very sweet to some of our souls. "Abide with us, for the day is far spent," and another, "By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him and found him." Then indeed we had some foretaste of heaven. Master Thomas would not believe that his Lord was risen. Why? Because he was not at the last prayer- meeting; for we are told that Thomas was not there; and those who are often away from devotional meetings are very apt to have doubting frames; they do not get sights of heaven, for they get their eye-sight spoiled by stopping away.
Another time when we get sights of heaven is in extraordinary closet seasons. Ordinary closet prayer will only make ordinary Christians of us. It is in extraordinary seasons, when we are led by God to devote, say an hour, to earnest prayer — when we feel an impulse, we scarce know why, to cut off a portion of our time during the day to go alone. Then, beloved, we kneel down, and begin to pray in earnest. It may be that we are attacked by the devil; for when the enemy knows we are going to have a great blessing, he always makes a great noise to drive us away; but if we keep at it, we shall soon get into a quiet frame of mind, and hear him roaring at a distance. Presently you get hold of the angel, and say, "Lord, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." He asks your name. You begin to tell him what your name was:
"Once a sinner, near despair, Sought thy mercy-seat by prayer; Mercy heard and set him free; Lord, that mercy came to me.'
You say, "What is thy name, Lord?" He will not tell you. You hold him fast still; at last he deigns to bless you. That is certainly some foretaste of heaven, when you feel alone with Jesus. Let no man know your prayers; they are between God and yourselves; but it you want to know much of heaven, spend some extra time in prayer; for God then reveals it to us by his Spirit.
"Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish." You have been saying in your hearts, "The prophet is a fool, and this spiritual man is mad." Go away and say these things; but be it known unto you, that what ye style madness is to us wisdom and what ye count folly "is the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom." And if there is a poor penitent here this morning, saying, "Ah! sir, I get visions enough of hell, but I do not get visions of heaven;" poor penitent sinner, thou canst not have any visions of heaven, unless thou lookest through the hands of Christ. The only glass through which a poor sinner can see bliss is that formed by the holes in Jesus' hands. Dost thou not know, that all grace and mercy was put into the hand of Christ, and that it never could have run out to thee unless his hand had been bored through in crucifixion. He cannot hold it from thee, for it will run through; and he cannot hold it in his heart, for he has got a rent in it made by the spear. Go and confess your sin to him, and he will wash you, and make you whiter than snow. If you feel you cannot repent, go to him and tell him so, for he is exalted to give repentance, as well as remission of sins. Oh! that the spirit of God might give you true repentance and true faith; and then saint and sinner shall meet together, and both shall not only know what "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard:" but
"Then shall we see, and hear, and know
Till that time we can only have these things revealed to us; the Spirit; and we will seek more of that, each day we live.