I’ve been thinking a good deal about the Christian hope over the past several weeks. In view of the difficulties of this present life (both internally and externally), nothing brings greater joy to my soul than to reflect upon what we have been promised in Christ Jesus. One book that has been especially helpful in this regard has been The Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson. Here’s an excerpt from Part VII on what is means to say “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”
To a believer death is great gain. A saint can tell what his losses for Christ are here, but he cannot tell how great his gains are at death. ‘To me to die is gain.’ Death to a believer is crepusculum gloriae, the daybreak of eternal brightness. To show fully what a believer’s gains are at death were a task too great for an angel; all hyperboles fall short of it; the reward of glory exceeds our very faith. Let me give you some dark views and imperfect lineaments only of that infinite glory the saints shall gain at the hour of death. ‘To me to die is gain.’
[I] Believers at death shall gain a writ of ease from all sins and troubles; they shall be in a state of impeccability: sin expires with their life. I think sometimes what a happy state that will be, never to have another sinful thought, and to have a quietus from all troubles. Here David cried out, ‘My life is spent with griefs, and my years with sighing.’ Psa 31:10. Quid est diu vivere, nisi diu torqueri [Long life is merely long torment]. Augustine. Life begins with a cry, and ends with a groan; but at death all troubles die.
[II] Believers at death shall gain the glorious sight of God. They shall see him;
(1.) Intellectually with the eyes of their mind, which divines call the beatific vision. If there were not such an intellectual sight of God, how do the spirits of just men, made perfect, see him?
(2.) They shall behold the glorified body of Jesus Christ; and if it be pleasant to behold the sun, how blessed a sight will it be to see Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, clothed with our human nature, shining in glory above the angels! Through Christ’s flesh, as through a transparent glass, some bright rays and beams of the Godhead shall display themselves to glorified eyes. The sight of God through Christ will be very delightful; for the terror of God’s essence will be taken away; his majesty will be mixed with beauty, and sweetened with clemency. It will be infinitely delightful to the saints to see the amiable aspects and smiles of God’s face.
[III] The saints at death shall not only have a sight of God, but shall enjoy his love. There shall be no more a vail on God’s face, nor shall his smiles be chequered with frowns, but his love shall discover itself in all its orient beauty and fragrant sweetness. Here the saints pray for his love, and they have a few drops; but there they shall have as much as their vessels can receive. To know the love that passeth knowledge will cause a jubilation of spirit, and create such holy raptures of joy in the saints, as are superlative, and would soon overwhelm them, if God did not make them able to bear it.
[IV] Believers at death shall gain a celestial palace, a house not made with hands. 2 Cor 5:5: Here the saints are straitened for room; they have but mean cottages to live in; but they shall have a royal palace to live in hereafter. Here is their sojourning house, there in heaven is their mansionhouse, a house built high above all the visible orbs, bespangled with light, and enriched with pearls and precious stones. Col 1:12, and Rev 21:19. It is not their landlord’s house, but their Father’s house, and stands upon consecrated ground. John 14:4. It is represented by transparent glass, to show its holiness. Rev 21:1I.
[V] Believers at death shall gain the sweet society of glorified saints and angels; which will add to the felicity of heaven, as every star adds some lustre to the firmament.
(1.) The society of the glorified saints. We shall see them in their souls, as well as in their bodies. Their bodies will be so clear and bright, that we shall see their souls shining through them, as wine through the glass. Believers at death will have close converse with glorified saints. How delightful will it be, to be freed from all the sinful corruptions, pride, envy, passion and censoriousness, which as scars disfigured them here! In heaven there will be perfect love among the saints; as the olive and myrtle, they will sweetly embrace each other. If in the transfiguration Peter knew Moses and Elias, whom he never saw before, Matt 17:7, much more, in the glorified state, will saints perfectly know one another, though they never saw each other before.
(2.) The saints at death will behold the angels with the glorified eye of their understandings. The wings of the cherubims (representing the angels) were made of fine gold, to denote both their sanctity and splendour. Angels are compared to lightning, Matt 28:8, because of those sparkling beams of majesty, which as lightning shoot from them. When saints and angels meet and sing together in concert in the heavenly choir, what divine harmony, what joyful triumphs will there be!
[VI] Believers at death shall gain perfection of holiness. Here grace is but in cunabulis, ‘in its cradle,’ very imperfect; so that we cannot write a copy of holiness without blotting: here believers receive but primitias Spiritus, ‘the first fruits of the Spirit.’ Rom 8:83. At death the saints will arrive at perfection; their knowledge will be clear; their sanctity perfect; their sun will be in its full meridian splendour. They need not then pray for increase of grace; for they shall love God as much as they would love him, and as much as he desires to have them love him. They shall be in respect of holiness as the angels of God.
[VII] At death, the saints will gain a royal magnificent feast. I told you before what a glorious palace they shall have; but a man may starve in a house, if there be no cheer. The royal banquet which saints have at death is shadowed out in Scripture by a marriage-supper. Rev 19:9. Bullinger and Gregory the Great understand by the marriage-supper of the Lamb, the stately, magnificent festival the saints will have in heaven, when they shall feed on the tree of life. Rev 22:2. They shall have the heavenly nectar and ambrosia, ‘the spiced wine, and the juice of the pomegranate.’ Cant 8:8. This royal supper of the Lamb will not only satisfy hunger, but prevent it. ‘They shall hunger no more.’ Rev 7:16. Nor can there be any surfeit at this feast, because a fresh course will be continually served. New and fresh delights will spring from God; therefore the tree of life in paradise is said to bear twelve sorts of fruit. Rev 22:2.
[VIII] Believers at death shall gain honour and dignity; they shall reign as kings. We read therefore of the ensigns of their royalty, their white robes and crowns celestial. Rev 4:4. We read that the doors of the holy of holies were made of palm-trees and open flowers, covered with gold. I Kings 6:6 s. An emblem this of the victory and triumph, and the golden garland of honour wherewith God invests the saints glorified. When all worldly honour shall lie in the dust, the mace, the star, the robe of ermine, the imperial diadem, then shall the saints, honour remain; not one jewel shall be plucked out of their crown. At death they shall gain a blessed eternity. If the saints could have the least suspicion or fear of losing their glory, it would much cool and imbitter their joy; but their crown fadeth not away. I Pet 5:5. As the wicked have a worm that never dies, so the elect have a crown that never fades. Ever, is a short word, but it has no end. In fine erit gaudium sine fine [At the last our joy shall be never-ending]. Bernard. ‘The things which are not seen are eternal.’ 2 Cor 4:18. ‘At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.’ Psa 16:6: Who can span eternity? Millions of ages stand but for ciphers in eternity. Ever in Christ’s bosom is the elah, or highest strain of the saint’s glory.
How come the saints to have all this gain? They have a right to all this gain at death upon several accounts, as by virtue of the Father’s donation, the Son’s purchase, the Holy Ghost’s earnest, and faith’s acceptance. Therefore the state of future glory is called the saint’s proper inheritance. Col 1:12. They are heirs of God and have a right to inherit.
So how should this encourage us? Thomas Watson continues:
If saints gain such glorious things at death, well may they desire it. Does not everyone desire preferment? Nemo ante funera felix [No-one is content before his death]. Faith gives a title to heaven: death gives the possession. Though we should be desirous of doing service here, yet we should be ambitious of being with Christ. Phil 1:13. We should be content to live, but willing to die. Is it not a blessed thing to be freed from sin, and to lie for ever in the bosom of divine love?
Is it not a blessed thing to meet our godly relations in heaven, and to be singing divine anthems of praise among the angels? Does not the bride desire the marriage day especially if she has the prospect of a crown? What is the place we now live in, but a place of banishment from God? We are in a wilderness, while angels live at court. Here we are combating with Satan, and should we not desire to be out of the bloody field, where the bullets of temptation fly fast, and receive a victorious crown?
Think what it will be to have always a smiling look from Christ’s face! to be brought into the banqueting-house, and have the banner of his love displayed over us! O ye saints, desire death; it is your ascension-day to heaven. Egredere, anima, egredere! said Hilarion on his death-bed, ‘Go forth, my soul, Go forth!’ Another holy man said, ‘Lord, lead me to that glory which I have seen as through a glass; haste, Lord, and do not tarry.’ Some plants thrive best when they are transplanted; so believers, when transplanted by death, cannot but thrive, because they have Christ’s sunbeams shining upon them. What though the passage through the valley of the shadow of death be troublesome! who would not be willing to pass a tempestuous sea, if he were sure to be crowned so soon as he came to shore?
May these thoughts fill our heart on this Lord’s Day.