by Thomas Guthrie
(About the Author: Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873), a Free Church of Scotland minister, was born in Brechin, Scotland, and educated at Edinburgh and Paris. In 1830 he took the pastorate of Arbirlot Established Church. In 1840 he was called to St. John's Church in Edinburgh. When a divisive controversy arose in the Established Church, Guthrie left St. John's, and with other clergymen organized the Free Church of Scotland. He built the Free St. John's Church and ministered there for twenty years to large crowds. Guthrie was known for his excellence in sermon preparation and delivery. He was the editor of Sunday Magazine, and wrote numerous devotional books and studies of Scripture.)
"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12).
One thing is often set against another in the experience of the Christian; and also in the every-day procedure of the providence of God. So it was with Jacob that night he slept in Bethel. A ladder rose before him in a vision. It rested on earth, and reached to the stars, forming a highway for a multitude of angels, who ascended and descended in two dazzling streams of light. It was the bright sign of a redemption which has opened a path for our return to God.
Taking my text, I remark-
I. Heaven Is an Inheritance.
How prone are men to attach importance to their own works, and to seek at least some shining points of goodness in them-like grains of gold in a mass of rock! We are reluctant to believe that those things for which others praise us, apart from Christ, have no merit; but appear in the sight of the holy and heart-searching God as "filthy rags" (Is. 64:6). Nor is it easy to believe that the loveliest, the purest, the most virtuous of womankind, a mother's pride and a household's honor, must be saved just as the vilest outcast is saved-as a brand plucked out of the fire.
Volumes of theology have been written, and long controversies have waxed hot, about whether heaven is, or is not, in part, the reward of our own good works. Now it appears to me that there is one word in my text, whose voice authoritatively and summarily settles that matter. That word is: inheritance. What is inheritance? The pay of a soldier is not inheritance; neither are the fees of a lawyer or a physician; nor the gains of trade; nor the wages of labor.
In the terms of a court of law, the saints hold heaven, not by conquest but by heritage.
None in heaven has earned a place-no "rights" there, but privilege granted! There all eyes are fixed on Jesus; every look is love; gratitude glows in every bosom, and swells in every song; now with golden harps they sound the Savior's praise; and now, they cast their crowns in one glittering heap at the feet which were nailed on Calvary. The faith of earth is just a reflection of the fervors of heaven; this the language of both-"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory."
II. Heaven Is a Heritage of Free Grace.
In consequence of a distant relationship, earthly heirs have sometimes entered on the property of those between whom and them there existed no acquaintanceship, nor friendship, nor fellowship; for whom, in fact, they entertained no regard while they lived. But it is by no such obscure connection or remote relationship, that the inheritance of the saints becomes ours. We are constituted its heirs by virtue of sonship; we, who were once afar off-the seed of the serpent, the children of the devil, the children of wrath even as others-becoming sons by that act of grace, which has led many to exclaim with John, "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1).
Thus heaven, is not only an inheritance, but a home. Home! That word quickens the pulse, warms the heart, stirs the soul to its depths, makes age feel young again, rouses apathy into energy, sustains the sailor on his midnight watch, inspires the soldier with courage on the field of battle, and imparts patient endurance to the worn-down sons of toil!
Grace sanctifies these lovely affections, and imparts a sacredness to the homes of earth by making them types of heaven. As a home the believer delights to think of it. Thus when, lately bending over a dying saint, and expressing our sorrow to see him laid so low, with a radiant countenance he raised and clasped his hands, and exclaimed, "I am going home."
When we arrive at our heavenly home, what a meeting there will be of parents and children, brothers and sisters, and death-divided friends! And, when they have led our spirit up through the long line of loving angels to the throne, what happiness to see Jesus, and get our warmest welcome from the lips of Him who redeemed us by his blood, and, in the agonies of His cross, suffered for us more than a mother's pangs-"the travail of his soul" (Is. 53:11). Heir of grace! Your estate lies there.
III. The Heirs of Heaven Require to Be Made Fit.
I knew a man who had amassed great wealth but had no children to inherit it, so he left his riches to a distant relative. His successor found himself suddenly raised from poverty to affluence.
In his original obscurity he had been a happy peasant, whistling his way home from the plough to a thatch-roofed cottage. Child of misfortune! He buried his happiness in the grave of his benefactor. Neither qualified by nature, nor fitted by education, for his position, he was separated from his old friends, only to be despised by his new associates. In his case, the hopes of the living and the intentions of the dead were alike frustrated, because the heir had not been made meet for the inheritance.
Is such training needful for an earthly estate? How much more for the heavenly inheritance. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). No change in earthly condition can adequately represents the difference between the state of sin in which grace finds us, and the state of glory to which it raises us.
The most ignorant and debased of our city outcasts, the most wretched and loathsome wanderer of these streets, is better fitted to be received into the bosom of a Christian family, than you are, by nature, fit to be received into the kingdom of heaven. A sinner there were more out of place than a ragged beggar in a royal palace. Compared with the difference between a man, as grace finds him, and heaven gets him, how feeble are all earthly distinctions!
What would heaven would be to man with his ruined nature, his low passions, and his dark guilty conscience. Incapable of appreciating its holy beauties, of enjoying its holy happiness, he would find nothing there to delight his senses. And, supposing him once there, were there a place of safety out of it, how he would long to be away, and keep his eye on the gate to watch its opening, and escape as from a doleful prison!
People talk strangely of going to heaven when they die; but unless your heart is sanctified and renewed, what were heaven to you? An abhorrent vacuum. Neither angels nor saints would seek your company, nor would you seek theirs. Unable to join in their hallowed employments, to sympathize with, or even to understand their holy joys, you would feel more desolate in heaven than we have done in the heart of a great city, without one friend, jostled by crowds who spoke a language we did not understand, and were aliens alike in dress and manners, in language, blood, and faith.
On that eternal Sabbath, what would they do, who hear no music in church bells, and say of holy services, "When will they be over?" Oh, the slow, wary march of the hours of never-ending Sabbath devotions! Oh, the painful glare of a never-setting Sabbath sun!
Such is by nature the disposition of all of us. "The heart is desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). The carnal mind has an aversion to spiritual duties, and an utter distaste for spiritual enjoyments. Nor is that all the truth. However it may lie concealed, like a worm in the bud, "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7).
Therefore, the heaven that purifies the saint would be exasperate the hatred of the sinner; and the more God's holiness and glory were revealed, the more would this enmity be developed. Sin, could it sink root in heaven, would grow more rankly, more hating and more hateful than on earth, and man would cast on God an eye of deeper and more intense enmity.
Hence the need of being made, by a change of heart, new creatures in Jesus Christ. Hence, also, the need, which by reason of indwelling and remaining corruption, even God's people daily feel of getting, with a title to the heavenly inheritance, a greater fitness for it. In other words, you must be sanctified as well as saved. This work, so necessary, as we have seen, in the very nature of things, has been assigned to the Holy Spirit. It was the office of the Son to purchase heaven for the heirs. And it is the office of the Spirit to prepare the heirs for heaven. Thus renewed, purified and at length wholly sanctified, we shall carry a holy nature to a holy place, and be presented "faultless, before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24).
IV. As Heaven Is the Gift of God, Our Fitness for It Is the Work of God.
By whatever instruments God executes His work, whether the means He uses to sanctify His people be dead books, or living ministers, be sweet or severe, common or striking providences, the work is not theirs, but His.
Let me illustrate this point by a reference to the case of Lazarus. On the day when he was raised from the dead, Lazarus had two things to thank Christ for. His gratitude was due for what Jesus did without human instrumentality, and also for what He did by it; both for the "Lazarus come forth!" that restored the dead, and for the "Loose him and let him go!" Not only for life, but for the liberty without which life had been a doubtful blessing. What enjoyment had there been in life so long as the face-cloth was left on his eyes, and his limbs were bound fast in the windings of the tomb?
Pointing to Lazarus-who was, perhaps, endeavoring at that moment, like a newly-awakened sinner, to fling off his shroud, and be free-Jesus addressed the spectators, saying, "Loose him, and let him go!" And thus God deals with renewed souls. Liberty follows life. To His Holy Spirit, and, in a subordinate sense, to providence in its dealings, to ministers in the pulpit, to parents, teachers, and all other human instruments, he says, Undo the bonds of sin-loose them, and let them go!
To bring the subject home, have we solid scriptural ground for believing, that the same spirit-freeing words have been spoken of us? Have we been freed from habits that were to us as grave-clothes? And, emancipated from passions which once enslaved us, are we now, at least in some measure, doing what David undertook, when he said, "I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart" (Ps. 119:32)? In growing holiness-in heavenly desires that shoot upward to the skies-in godly resolutions that aim at, if they do not always attain, a lofty mark-"the lust of the flesh," and the "pride of life," nailed to a cross where, if not yet dead, they are dying daily in longings that aspire after a purer state and a better land-in these things have you at once the pledge of heaven and the meetness for it? If so, "this is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes" (Ps. 118:23). As delightful as marvelous! What joy, what peace should it impart to the hearts of those who, feeling themselves less than the least of God's mercies, unworthy of a crust of bread or of a cup of water, hail in these the bright tokens of a blood-bought crown-that coming event which casts its shadow before!
But if, without this fitness, you are indulging the hope that, when you die, you will succeed to the inheritance-ah! How shall the event, the dreadful reality, undeceive you! Ponder these words, I pray you, "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).
Believe me, the only proof that God has chosen us is that we have chosen Him. The distinguishing mark of heirs is some degree of fitness for the heirship. In saints, the spirit is willing even when the flesh is weak; the body lags behind the soul; the affections outrun the feet; and the desires of those who are bound for heaven, are often far on the road before themselves.
By these signs you may know yourself. Can you stand that touchstone?