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Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category

The following passages come from Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, “Heaven: A Character, Not a Locality.” Is the future state one that leaves the earth behind? Not according to Chalmers! Profound thoughts here. Heavenly ….. and earthy!

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“This may serve to rectify an imagination, of which we think that all must be conscious—as if the grossness of materialism was only for those who had degenerated into the grossness of sin ; and that, when a spiritualizing process had purged away all our corruption, then, by the stepping stones of a death and a resurrection, we should be borne away to some ethereal region, where sense, and body, and all in the shape either of audible sound, or of tangible substance, were unknown. And hence that strangeness of impression which is felt by you, should the supposition be offered that in the place of eternal blessedness, there will be ground to walk upon; scenes of luxuriance to delight the corporeal senses ; or the kindly intercourse of friends talking familiarly, and by articulate converse together; or, in short, any thing that has the least resemblance to a local territory, filled with various accommodations, and peopled over its whole extent by creatures formed like ourselves—having bodies such as we now wear, and faculties of perception, and thought, and mutual communication, such as we now exercise. The common imagination that we have of paradise on the other side of death, is, that of a lofty aërial region, where the inmates float in ether, or are mysteriously suspended upon nothing –where all the warm and sensible accompaniments which give such an expression of strength, and life, and colouring, to our present habitation, are attenuated into a sort of spiritual element, that is or meagre, and imperceptible, and utterly uninviting to the eye of mortals here below—where every vestige of materialism is done away, and nothing left but certain unearthly scenes that have no power of allurement, and certain unearthly ecstasies, with which it is felt impossible to sympathise. The holders of this imagination forget all the while, that really there is no essential connexion between materialism and sin—that the world which we now inhabit, had all the amplitude and solidity of its present materialism, before sin entered into it that God so far, on that account, from looking slightly upon it, after it had received the last touch of His creating hand, reviewed the earth, and the waters, and the firmament, and all the green herbage, with the living creatures, and the man whom He had raised in dominion over them, and He saw every thing that He had made, and behold it was all very good. They forget that on the birth of materialism, when it stood out in the freshness of those glories which the great Architect of Nature had impressed upon it, that then “ the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” They forget the appeals that are made everywhere in the Bible to this material workmanship—and how, from the face of these visible heavens, and the garniture of this earth that we tread upon, the greatness and the goodness of God are reflected on the view of His worshippers. No, my brethren, the object of the administration we sit under, is to extirpate sin, but it is not to sweep away materialism. By the convulsions of the last day, it may be shaken, and broken down from its present arrangements; and thrown into such fitful agitations, as that the whole of its existing framework shall fall to pieces; and with a beat so fervent as to melt its most solid elements, may it be utterly dissolved. And thus may the earth again become without form, and void, but without one particle of its substance going into annihilation. Out of the ruins of this second chaos, may another heaven and another earth be made to arise; and a new materialism, with other aspects of magnificence and beauty, emerge from the wreck of this mighty transformation; and the world be peopled as before, with the varieties of material loveliness, and space be again lighted up into a firmament of material splendour.”

Works 7:283-285

“And it is indeed an homage to that materialism, which many are for expunging from the future state of the universe altogether—that ere the immaterial soul of man has reached the ultimate glory and blessedness which are designed for it, it must return and knock at that very grave where lie the mouldered remains of the body which it wore-and there inquisition must be made for the flesh, and the sinews, and the bones, which the power of corruption has perhaps for centuries before, assimilated to the earth that is around them and there, the minute atoms must be re-assembled into a structure that bears upon it the form and the lineaments, and the general aspect of a man—and the soul passes into this material framework, which is hereafter to be its lodging place for ever—and that, not as its prison, but as its pleasant and befitting habitation—not to be trammelled, as some would have it, in a hold of materialism, but to be therein equipped for the services of eternity-to walk embodied among the bowers of our second paradise-to stand embodied in the presence of our God.”

Works 7:286-287

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Being a huge Chalmers fan, one of the things I love the most about him is his vision, his idealism.  He longed for the Christianization of Scotland.  He wanted the Lord’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.  And he worked for it, being a wise and faithful steward.

He had reason to be hopeful.  The Bible gives great promises about the success of the Gospel among the nations.  The leaven will leaven the lump.  The small mustard seed will grow into a great tree, the glorious refuge for the fowl of the heavens.

And yet, as I read critical historians on Chalmers and others sympathetic with him (most recently, I’ve been reading up on Thornwell and Smyth in the antebellum South), I am reminded that our hopes must never morph into our Messiah.  Promises are one thing.  But we need to give ear to other portions of biblical revelation that qualify how those promises will work out in this world.  Prior to the return of Christ on the clouds, there will be no Christian utopia.  History can have a brutal way of giving us a reality check.  Chalmers had hopes for Scotland, but they were disappointed.  So with Thornwell and with Smyth for the American South.  Heaven on earth is ever elusive; and though it comes close, it is at the same time just beyond reach.  Frustratingly so.

But lest our hopes of a better day for Christianity in the West be dashed to the ground, we need the reality check of the Scriptures.  Jesus also said that in the world we shall have tribulation.   The love of many will wax cold.  The tares must remain with the wheat.  We must suffer with him, and then on the day of Christ we will be glorified.

That shouldn’t mean we must be resigned to pessimism.  Or that we shouldn’t hold out ideals – even concrete ones – and vigorously strive after them.  I long to see once again what Wells called ‘the delicious paradise’ of New England Puritan community; and I’m convinced I have a mandate to drive me and a (general) promise to encourage.

But may it never become my Jesus.  May I ever learn to say with Him, not my will, but thine be done.  May I learn to be patient.  And may I ever lay up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, where thieves do not break through or steal.  Because even if Rhode Island becomes Christianized, it will still remain a part of this age.  And the fashion of this age is fading away.

The now and the not yet is a biblical tension.  So it is not surpising that we feel the strain now.  We are caught in the middle.  Our strain in this world may find partial relief, here and there.  But “that which is perfect” must wait for another day.

Even so, come, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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