By Lewis Bayly
Here my meditation dazzles, and my pen falls out of my hand; the one being not able to conceive, nor the other to describe, that most excellent bliss, and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. iv. 17; Rom. viii. 18)-whereof all the afflictions of this present life are not worthy-which all the elect shall with the blessed Trinity enjoy, from that time that they shall be received with Christ, as joint-heirs (Rom. viii. 17) into that everlasting kingdom of joy.
Notwithstanding, we may take a scantling thereof. The holy scriptures thus set forth (to our capacity) the glory of our eternal and heavenly life after death, in four respects-1st, Of the place; 2d, Of the object; 3d, Of the prerogatives of the elect there; 4th, Of the effects of these prerogatives.
1. Of the Place.
The place is the heaven of heavens, or the third heaven, called paradise (Psal. xix. 5; 2 Cor. xii. 24;) whither Christ (in his human nature) ascended far above all visible heavens. The bridegroom's chamber (Psal. xix. 5; Matt. xxv. 10), which by the firmament, as by an azured curtain spangled with glittering stars, and glorious planets, is hid, that we cannot behold it with these corruptible eyes of flesh. The Holy Ghost framing himself to our weakness, describes the glory of that place (which no man can estimate) by such things as are most precious in the estimation of man; and therefore likeneth it to a great and holy city, named the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. xxi. 2, &c.), where only God and his people who are saved, and written in the Lamb's book (ver. 24 & 27), do inhabit; all built of pure gold, like unto clear glass or crystal (ver. 11, 18, 19, 20;) the walls of jasper-stone: the foundations of the walls garnished with twelve manner of precious stones, having twelve gates, each built of one pearl (ver. 21:) three gates towards each of the four corners of the world (ver. 13), and at each gate an angel (ver. 12), as so many porters, that no unclean thing should enter into it (ver. 27.) It is four square (ver. 16), therefore perfect: the length, the breadth, and height of it are equal, 12,000 furlongs every way; therefore glorious and spacious. Through the midst of her streets ever runneth a pure river of the water of life, as clear as crystal (Rev. xxii. 1); and on the other side the river is the tree of life (ver. 2), ever growing, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and gives fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree are health to the nations. There is therefore no place so glorious by creation, so beautiful with delectation, so rich in possession, so comfortable for habitation. For there, the king is Christ--the law is love-the honour, verity-the peace, felicity-the life, eternity. There is light without darkness, mirth without sadness, health without sickness, wealth without want, credit without disgrace, beauty without blemish, ease without labour, riches without rust, blessedness without misery, and consolation that never knoweth an end. How truly may we cry out with David, of this city, "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O thou city of God!" Psal. lxxxvii. 3; and yet all these things are spoken but according to the weakness of our capacity. For heaven exceedeth all this in glory, so far, as that no tongue is able to express, nor heart of man to conceive, the glory thereof, as witnesseth St. Paul (2 Cor. xii. 4; 1 Cor. ii. 5), who was in it, and saw it. O let us not then dote so much upon these wooden cottages, and houses of mouldering clay, which are but the tents of ungodliness, and habitation of sinners; but let us look rather, and long for this heavenly city, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. xi. 10;) which he, who is not ashamed to be called our God hath prepared for us (Heb. xi. 6.}
2. Of the Object.
The blissful and glorious object of all intellectual and reasonable creatures in heaven is the Godhead, in Trinity of Persons, without which there is neither joy nor felicity; but the very fulness of joy consisteth in enjoying the same.
This, object we shall enjoy two ways:-
1. By a beatific vision of God.
2. By possessing an immediate communion with this divine nature.
The beatifical vision of God is that only that can content the infinite mind of man. For every thing tendeth to its centre. God is the centre of the soul: therefore, like Noah's dove, she cannot rest nor joy till she return and enjoy him.
All that God bestowed upon Moses could not satisfy his mind, unless he might see the face of God (Exod. iii. 13:) therefore the whole church prayeth so earnestly, "God be merciful unto us, and cause his face to shine upon us." (Psal. lxvii. l, and lxxx. 1.) When Paul once had seen this blessed sight, he ever after counted all the riches and glory of the world (in respect of it) to be but dung (Phil. iii. 8, 11); and all his life after was but a sighing out (cupio dissolvi), "I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ." (Phil. i. 23.) And Christ prayed for all his elect in his last prayer, that they might obtain this blessed vision: "Father, I will that they which thou hast given me be (where?) even where I am, (to what end?) that they may behold my glory," &c. (John xvii. 14.) If Moses's face did so shine, when he had been with God but forty days, and seen but his back parts (Exod. xxxiv. 29; xxxiii. 31), how shall we shine, when we shall see him face to face for ever, and know him as we are known, and as he is! (1 Cor. xiii. 12; 2 Cor. iii. 18; 1 John iii. 2.) Then shall the soul no longer be termed Marah, bitterness, but Naomi, beautifulness; for the Lord shall turn her short bitterness to an eternal beauty and blessedness (Ruth i. 20.)
The second means to enjoy this object is, by having-an immediate and an eternal communion with God in heaven. This we have,-first, by being, as members of Christ, united to his manhood, and as by the manhood, personally united to the Word, we are united to him, as he is God; and, by his Godhead, to the whole Trinity. Reprobates at the last day see God, as a just Judge, to punish them; but, for lack of this communion, they shall have neither grace with him, nor glory from him. For want of this communion, the devils, when they saw Christ, cried out, Quid nobis tecum? "What have we to do with thee, O Son of the most high God?" (Mark v. 7.) But, by virtue of this communion, the penitent soul may boldly go and say unto Christ, as Ruth unto Boaz (Ruth iii. 9), "Spread, O Christ, the wing of the garment of thy mercy over thine handmaid; for thou art my kinsman." This communion God promised Abraham, when he gave himself for his great reward (Gen. xv. 1.) And Christ prayeth for his whole church to obtain it (John xvii. 20, 21.) This communion St. Paul expresseth in one word, saying, that God shall be all in all to us (1 Cor. xv. 28.) Indeed, God is now all in all to us; but by means, and in a small measure. But in heaven, God himself immediately, in fulness of measure, without all means, will be unto us all the good things that our souls and bodies can wish or desire. He himself will be salvation and joy to our souls, life and health to our bodies, beauty to our eyes, music to our ears, honey to our mouths, perfume to our nostrils, light to our understandings, contentment to our wills, and delight to our hearts. And what can be lacking, where God himself will be the soul of our souls? Yea, all the strength, wit, pleasures, virtues, colours, beauties, harmony, and goodness, that are in men, beasts, fishes, fowls, trees, herbs, and all creatures, are nothing but sparkles of those things which are in infinita perfection in God. And in him we shall enjoy them in a far more perfect and blessed manner. He himself will then supply their use: nay, the best creatures which serve us now shall not have the honour to serve us then. There will be no need of the sun nor of the moon to shine in that city; for the glory of God doth light it (Rev. xxi. 23.) No more will there be any need or use of any creature, when we shall enjoy the Creator himself.
When, therefore., we behold anything that is excellent in any creatures, let us say to ourselves, How much more excellent is he who gave them this excellency! When we behold the wisdom of men, who overrule creatures stronger than themselves; outrun the sun and moon in discourse, prescribing many years before in what courses they shall be eclipsed; let us say to ourselves, How admirable is the wisdom of God, who made men so wise! When we consider the strength of whales and elephants, the tempest of winds, and terror of thunder, let us say to ourselves, How strong, how mighty, how terrible is that God, that makes these mighty and fearful creatures! When we taste things that are delicately sweet, let us say to ourselves, O how sweet is that God from whom all these creatures have received their sweetness! When we behold the admirable colours which are in flowers and birds, and all the lovely beauty of nature, let us say, How fair is that God that made these so fair!
And if our loving God hath thus provided us so many excellent delights, for our passage through this Bochim (Judg. ii. 5), or valley of tears, what are those pleasures which he hath prepared for us, when we shall enter into the palace of our Master's joy! How shall our souls be there ravished with the love of so lovely a God! So glorious is the object of heavenly saints: so amiable is the sight of our gracious Saviour.