Life in Heaven
Heaven, which all hope to attain, is a state of rest, of peace; and perfect happiness. But what is the nature of that happiness? What am I to enjoy there? What shall I find there that will fill my heart with peace and blessedness too great for words to express? These are questions which receive various and contradictory answers.
Multitudes, wearied with labor, look forward to heaven as a state of eternal repose. They will have no more duties to perform, no more burdens to bear; necessity will no longer goad them to reluctant tasks. They will have nothing to do but " to sit among the lazy saints," and bask in the sunshine of the Divine favor. Others add to this repose some degree of social life. They will recline upon the banks of the heavenly Jordan, and recount to one another the various scenes of their past life, and they will hear from others - from the lips of Adam, and Moses, and David - an account of their personal history while in this world. The prevalent idea among Christians at the present day is, that heavenly happiness will consist in for ever singing the praise of the Lord. The multitudes of the saved will surround His throne, bowing before Him, and casting their golden crowns at His feet; they will for ever sing the song of Redeeming Love, and make the whole heavens resound with anthems to His praise and glory.
In all these opinions, and in many others, the fundamental idea is cessation from all useful and active employment. Heaven is to be an eternal holiday, a state of security from every danger, and of rest from all work. This, as you will see upon a little reflection, is a merely negative conception of it. It is making heaven to consist in what it is not rather than in what it is. There will not be any labor, or care, or anxiety, or bereavement. There will not be any tears
or sorrow. There will be no more pain. But this can be said of the stones in the street, and the lilies in the field, and of the material body, as it lies moldering to dust in the grave. But this is not happiness. It may be escape from the punishment due to sin; a release from those fears which torment so many in this world, with a sense of security for the future; but still this does not constitute a single element of happiness.
And if we take all that is positive in popular belief, we shall find but a few simple elements of happiness which could not long content an intelligent being, unless his or her nature was much changed from what it is in this life, and shorn of many of its noblest qualities. Whittier's poor Brother of Mercy spoke the truth who said
"To sit down clad in white robes and wear a golden crown, for ever and for ever" would be very poor and wearisome happiness, even if the repose was varied by conversation and song. No; if the common belief is true, heaven is not so perfect a life as this. Instead of advancing towards the perfection of the Divine character, we would sink down towards the condition of the brute and the clod when we enters the spiritual world. Our capacities for happiness are not so great as they are in this world, nor are the means of supply so various, full, and abundant. Our noblest faculties of reason and affection must lose their power, their very nature, before we could endure the torpor of eternal repose. We are now an instrument of myriad strings, and the common belief would destroy all conception of us as a real substantial being, and of the spiritual world as anything but an empty name, and leave us only one string to thrum upon in dull monotony through eternity. The conversation of such beings must become, in time, as trite as nursery rhymes. They would long to return to earth and undergo its labors and suffer its pains, or even think
than to be a useless drone in the universe.
There is but little said directly in the Bible about the special means of our happiness in heaven. But every page of the Word declares the essential nature of a heavenly life. It is written so plainly and declared in so many forms, that it would seem impossible for any one who desired to know, to come to any other than one conclusion, and that is, that heaven must consist in a life of active use. If we examine our natures with any degree of care and wisdom, we cannot fail to see that all our happiness flows and must flow from the normal, healthy activity of our faculties, and the more full, varied, and harmonious the activity is, the greater our happiness. Reason and experience teach us this. Repose and rest are pleasant; but it is action that makes them so. Sleep is sweet and refreshing; but it is the labor of waking hours that makes it so. Eternal sleep is eternal death. It is delightful to throw off all the burdens of labor, to put the yoke of duty from the neck, and give the mind up to sport and play; free from all care. But if there was no sense of responsibility, and no special work to do, there would be no relief in our amusements, no recreation in our release from duty. The Lord has given us no useless faculties of head or heart. He intended them all for use. He formed them all to be the means of communicating to us some delight. And that delight can only be attained by their use. As the pipe and string make music only when they vibrate, so man's faculties, from the highest to the lowest, give him delight only when they are exercised. It is wise use that gives the largest measure of happiness, and this use is the only condition of happiness on earth or in heaven.
The Bible everywhere inculcates this life of active use. We are commanded to love others; to do them good; to let our light shine; to improve the talents the Lord has given us; to work in His vineyard; and everywhere He promises to reward us according to our deeds. Many suppose we are to do our work in this life and to receive our reward in another. This is true in one sense. But the reward is not for work, as people pay wages; but in the work itself. In keeping the commandments there is great reward. The only way in which we shall be rewarded in the spiritual world for work done in this is in the strength and culture we get by it, and the consequent increase of capacity to do and to receive. In endeavoring to ascertain the nature of heavenly happiness, then, let us keep this eternal law of the Divine order and of man's spiritual nature continually in view, as our guide and rule of reason.
Heaven is a state of greater happiness than this world because we shall find there more abundant, various, and perfect means for the exercise of every faculty of the will and the understanding.
All happiness flows from love. There is no exception to this law. The wicked find their delight in the indulgence and gratification of their evil lusts. It is the gratification of the affection, whether good or evil, which constitutes the delight. But the delights which flow from evil are soon turned to pain, because they are contrary to the Divine order; while those that originate in the exercise of good affections enlarge our capacities for happiness. The love of self and the world receives its poor and momentary reward; but it contracts the heart, and closes it against the inflowing love of the Lord, and arrays those who exercise it against Him, and against every human being; while the love of the Lord and the neighbor opens the heart to Divine influences, and conjoins us to each other, to angels, and the Lord.
The happiness of heaven consists preeminently in the fact that all pure and noble affections will have the widest scope and the most abundant means for their development, and I know of no other way in which that happiness can be described, than by stating the facilities we shall find there for the exercise of our affections, and some of the most general forms which they will assume.
1. In heaven we shall be in perfect freedom. All freedom springs from love. We feel free when we can carry into effect the ends of life, or do what we please. In this world we are restricted by the nature of material substances, by our necessities, by opposition from others, and innumerable other things, from carrying out our affections into complete effect. But in heaven
all these obstacles will be removed. Space will not separate us from those we love. They will
all be with us. Necessity will not compel us to forego any delight. We shall have abundant means to gratify every taste and every desire. We shall meet with no opposition from others. On the contrary, every one will do all in their power to assist us in the attainment of our ends. We shall find helping hands and encouraging hearts on every side. We shall find those who can tell us all we desire to know, and assist us in all we desire to do.
Reflect a moment upon this one element of heavenly happiness. You can form some estimate of it from your experience in this life. Suppose you have an ardent desire to accomplish some great good for yourself or for humanity in this world. The moment you propose it you find every one desirous of helping you. You find sympathy, encouragement, and helping hands in every movement, and you are borne up and carried along on the flood-tide of goodwill to the full accomplishment of your end. What consciousness of power it would give you ! What certainty of success! What security, satisfaction, and peace! You will find this happiness to perfection in heaven. Every heart, and brain, and hand will be yours. Yes, and vastly more than that; all the Divine forces will favor you; omnipotence will be yours.
2. There will be no conflict between the various faculties and degrees of your own mind. Every nature will be homogeneous throughout in all its planes and degrees. You will not have to practice any self-denial. You will have no right eye to pluck out, no offending hand or foot to cut off, no life to lay down. You will love the Lord and the neighbor supremely, and therefore you cannot have any personal ends to gratify in preference to their good. There is no ground for self-denial, for your selfhood consists in loving others; and the only room for self-denial would be in preventing yourself from doing all in your power to promote the happiness of others - in making your life an idle and useless one.
This harmony of nature will be especially manifest in the perfect unity of the will and the understanding. In this life they are distinct. We love and desire what we do not know how to attain, and we have a knowledge of truth which we do not love to obey and do. Hence there is a perpetual conflict between the will and the understanding, and a sense of incompleteness and a want of satisfaction in all we do.
But it will not be so in heaven. We shall know how to do all that we love to do, and we shall love to do all that we know how, and we shall do it. There will be no overplus of knowledge or of will. Thus every deed will be complete. It will be to us the perfect ultimation and embodiment of our affection and thought, and consequently will perfectly content us. What a profound satisfaction there must be in this! What fullness and completeness it must give to the activities of every day! Our work will content us; our affection is perfectly satisfied! We see no way in which it could have been done better. There is nothing lacking and nothing over.
3. Our work will not only content us, but it will content others also. There will be no envy or jealousy. Each one will hold the same relation to others in the same society that an organ of the mind or the body holds to the other organs. Each one will have his pr her special function, some use which they can perform better than any one else. As the hand can do some things better than the eye, and the eye some things better than the ear, and so on with every organ in the body, so each member of a society can perform their own use better than any one else in the whole heavens. They will delight to do it, and all will delight to acknowledge their special use.
What harmony and loving regard this would produce in the society and in the whole heavens! Imagine such a society in this world. Every member is in their place, and delights to be in it. Each one can do something that will be useful to the whole society better than any one else, and he does it perfectly, and all delight to acknowledge his use. What unity and power such a society or government would possess, and what happiness they would find in working together for a common end! Such will be the happiness of every society in heaven. Each one will be content with their function because it will content all others; and all others will be content with it because the person who performed it was filled with delight in doing the good, and because no one else could do it so well. Thus, while each person is a complete human being, they are also a complement to every other member of a heavenly society, and they are all rounded into a symmetrical and perfect whole. Each one serves the whole, and all serve each one.
Can you conceive of any state, so far as regards yourself personally, that could be more conducive to perfect peace and happiness than this? There is not a discord in your whole nature; there are no conflicting elements within or without you. All the faculties of will, of understanding, of reason, and even sense, act in perfect harmony with each other. There could be no hesitation whether to speak or act; there could be no doubt about how we ought to act, or what we should say. There would be no imperfection in our utterance. We could express ourselves fully to the nicest shade of meaning; there would be no danger of being misunderstood. The hand and foot, and the whole spiritual body, would perfectly obey the will. Every faculty and organ would move as one and reach the desired attainment.
This would be rest worthy of the name. Not the rest of inaction and death, but the rest from every jar and discord and constraint. The rest of perfect freedom, of harmonious activities that invigorate rather than exhaust. This would be the peace of heart and mind, of reason and act, all reposing upon each other, and moving joyously in accord with all other movements without and within.
4. But not only will all the elements of our own natures be in perfect harmony with each other, and with all who dwell in the heavens, and with the Lord, but every object without and around us will also be in perfect harmony with us. It is impossible for us to conceive how much this state of the outward world would enhance our happiness. But its effect must be far greater than we have any words to express, or imagination to conceive. To see everywhere around us, and above us, within the whole scope of our vision, nothing to offend us, nothing to suggest the feeling or the thought that anything is wanting to the perfection of the scene. Not only to see beauty everywhere, in landscape and home, but just the kind of beauty that is the most delightful to us. Wherever the eye rests to be able to say, that suits me; that equals my ideal. And far more than this, not only to be content with it, but to see the significance of everything. How little we know of the meaning of the outward world! The flower is lovely, the landscape beautiful, the mountain sublime, but we gather only a vague and imperfect meaning from them. They say but little to us. But in heaven it is not so. Everything in particular and in general will answer to our affections and thoughts; will be our idea; and we shall feel a personal interest in it. There will be the same harmony and unity of the whole outward world with the whole world within, that there is between the various faculties of our being. Imagine yourself to be in such a world, in such a state, where perfect harmony reigns! even with your present capacities for happiness, your senses dimmed and muffled with the veil of clay. And could you ask for anything more? What more could you ask? It equals your highest conceptions, and you could not ask for what you could not conceive. There would be no want of satisfaction; no vague longing for some unattained and unattainable good. Your affections and thoughts would rest in peace and perfect contentment.
5. But if we should stop here, we should have a very poor and imperfect conception of heavenly happiness. I have as yet stated but little more than the means for the attainment of happiness. We shall not only be in this harmonious and perfect state as to the essential conditions of happiness, but all our capacities will be largely and variously increased in power. The senses will become inconceivably more delicate and acute. The sight will become amazingly sharpened. Two causes will heighten the brilliancy of all colors, and the splendor in which all objects will be seen: the vastly increased purity and power of spiritual light, and a corresponding increase of sensitiveness and capacity in the eye. The light is so great that the light of our sun is mere darkness compared with it. The atmospheres glow and sparkle as if composed of rainbows and diamond dust. There are colors which cannot be formed from material light, and each color is far more clear, distinct, and brilliant, than the brightest on earth. The sense of touch is so delicate and acute in the spiritual body, and so perfectly adapted to all outward things, that every contact will give the most exquisite delight. We shall be all alive with sensation.
The same perfection will exist in the sense of hearing. This sense is closely allied to the affections, communicating directly with them. It is this fact that gives to music its power. We know that each affection expresses itself by a peculiar tone of voice. Sorrow moans and wails; quiet and gentle affections flow forth in soft and winning harmony; joy is loud and jubilant. Some chords are so plaintive, that they move us to tears quicker than any words. Indeed, some states of affection can be expressed much more fully and clearly by music than by words. If this is so here, what must it be in heaven, where the senses are much more acute, and the whole nature is attuned to finer harmonies than we can conceive! There are no discords there, nor do the inhabitants of heaven learn music as we do; it is spontaneous. At certain times, the affections of the angels flow forth in song; and then the song becomes the perfect embodiment and expression of the affection. And such is the similarity of state, that thousands and tens of thousands join in it in perfect concord. The particular states which gave it birth are fully expressed in the various parts and movements of the song, and all combine like various chords in one grand harmony. All who hear it understand it, and are affected by it. Thus every heart in the whole society vibrates in unison, is delighted, exalted, and thrilled by it. What voices the angels must have! We hear some in this world that thrill us with delight; what then must they be in heaven? Every tone is clear, round, smooth, and sweet; every chord is perfect; every note has its meaning, a meaning that is fully understood. All voices blend in perfect harmony, and give full and varied expression to every particular in the affection sung. And then with what acute perception they listen to this musical expression of pure, innocent, and exalted affections! Such delights will constitute one of the elements of heavenly happiness.
So we might employ a whole discourse upon the various delights of each sense, simply carrying out the general principle in some details to their logical consequence. Eternity will not exhaust, but increase their variety and perfection. But it is enough for our present purpose to know that the senses are far more acute, act with far more precision, and are more exquisitely adjusted to all outward forms. And all forms, colors, sounds, and qualities of external objects are correspondingly perfect, and clearly defined.
It is a very common idea that all things in the spiritual world (if there are any things there) are vague and indistinct in outline, shadowy, unreal, and illusory. But this is directly the reverse of the truth. They are far more real and distinct to every sense. Every person becomes more individualized. The lines which mark the identity of the angels are far more nicely and accurately drawn than they can be in this world. And this clear distinction in form, in office and quality of character, will constitute one of the perfections of the heavenly state. While all will act in harmony, each element in the society will become more distinct from every other.
6. Another element of heavenly happiness consists in the fact that all the inhabitants live in the present, and are totally absorbed in it. It is a very common opinion that one of the great sources of pleasure in heaven will consist in reviewing our former life in this world. But a little reflection will convince us that there could not be much pleasure in that. It does not give us much pleasure here to look back upon the past; why should it there? There would certainly be as much pain as pleasure in it. We shall be so fully absorbed in the various activities and delights of the present, and the new and attractive forms of the Divine wisdom, that we shall not think of the past or the future. There will be no regrets for the past, and we shall borrow no trouble about the future. The Lord will fill our hearts so full of absorbing activities and exquisite delights, that there will be no room for remembrance or expectation. We shall take no thought for the morrow; but, like lilies and sparrows, grow and sing, and in all possible ways communicate our delights, and trust implicitly in the Lord. There will be no sting from the past, no shadow of doubt about the future. We shall be ever busy and active in giving to others; and while we do it, and in doing it, the Lord will give to us good measure, pressed down and running over, through others, and immediately from Himself; and so the eternal years will be an eternal succession of delights.
7. But although we live in the present we shall not remain stationary. The law of mental and spiritual development, which is clearly established in this life, will not be annulled in the spiritual world. On the contrary, it will be carried out under more favorable conditions. All the powers of the mind gain strength and expand by action. Our affections grow stronger and purer by exercise. So do the reason and the understanding. The more you put into the mind the more capacious it becomes. The more you know, the more rapidly you can learn, and the more you see there is to learn. The more you enlarge the range of your affections, the purer and stronger they become. The more you love others, the more your capacity to love increases, and the increase is not by a diminished, but by an accelerated ratio. A wise man can learn a thousand things more easily than a child can learn one. When a person once looks beyond themselves and begins to do good to others, it is much easier to do two good actions than one. When you have given a dollar to your neighbor, from love to him or her, you can give two much more easily than you did the first.
Now, carry this law on into the spiritual world, and what must be the consequences? Do you not see that the infant born today may pass beyond the present attainments of the highest angel? Do you not see that there are, and can be, no assignable limits beyond which the regenerate soul may not pass? That our capacities for knowing, and loving, and, consequently, for happiness, must forever increase in a continually accelerating ratio? What shall we become, then, when millions of ages have rolled away? The cup of life's happiness, full today, and by this fullness made larger for tomorrow; every affection giving birth to a purer, higher, and more glorious truth, and every new truth preparing the way for a sweeter, lovelier, more blessed affection, and so on, for ever rising, for ever perfecting, for ever nearer the Lord. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be!" No, it doth not. The highest angel cannot conceive it. Oh, the grandeur, the glory of the blessedness of human destiny! As a necessary consequence of this continual and rapid expansion and perfection of our natures, you can see that no one grows old in heaven. You can see that what Swedenborg says upon the subject must be true, for it is the legitimate result of principles which we all acknowledge and see in constant operation in this life.
"They who are in mutual love," he says, "are continually advancing to the springtime of their youth, and to a more and more gladsome and happy spring the more thousands of years they live; and this with continual increase to eternity, according to the degree and progress of mutual love, charity, and faith. Those of the female sex who have died in old age and enfeebled with years, and who have lived in faith in the Lord, in charity towards the neighbor and in happy marriage love with a husband, come after a succession of years more and more into the bloom of youth and early womanhood, and into a beauty which surpasses all conception of beauty that is ever perceptible to the sight. For it is goodness and charity forming and presenting their own likeness, and making the enjoyment and beauty of charity shine forth from every least feature of the countenance, - even so that they are very forms of charity. . . . This form is of ineffable beauty to the sight, affecting the very inmost life of the mind with charity. Through the beauty of this form truths of faith are presented in an image, and are even perceived from it. Such forms, or such beauties, do they become in the other life who have lived in faith in the Lord, that is in faith of charity. All the angels are such forms, with innumerable variety. Of these is heaven." (Arcana Coelestia, no. 553)
There is no old age, no infirmity, no sign of decay in heaven. Conceive every face you look upon to be a special and perfect form of some affection so that it shall be distinctly, variously, and adequately portrayed in every feature, gleam forth in mild but radiant splendors from the eye, be enthroned in the forehead, molded into beauty in the cheek, playing in smiles and lovely expression about the lips, flowing in harmony in the voice, rounding the whole form, and swaying it in graceful and gentle motions. And then conceive that you have the power of perceiving the meaning of every form and motion, and of being affected by it. It would send a thrill of joy through you even to look upon such forms of purity and loveliness. What then must be the happiness of seeing such faces and forms everywhere, and of associating with them freely in all heavenly ministries?
8. I have said but little about the relations of the angels to the Lord, and I have no space to do it now, except to say that they are with Him, where He is. They are one with Him, not immediately in His personal presence, as many suppose; they could not bear that; but they live in the sphere of His love, and in the light of His wisdom. They see Him in everything around them. They delight to acknowledge that all their possessions are His continual gift to them, and the various tokens of His love. All beautiful outward things, their habitations, their dress, their food, their beautiful ornaments, are His gifts; and they value them more as tokens of His love than they do for their beauty. They are objects which suggest His love and thoughtful care. And they have a perception of their meaning. The thought is not, see what beautiful things I possess; but see the munificence, the love, and wisdom of the Lord! My Father gave me these.
So in all their lovely ministries to one another, they remember that the brother angel is only the voluntary medium of the kindness. The Lord is the real giver. They ask no return for the favors they bestow. They rather thank the Lord that He has permitted them to be the almoners of His bounty; and so in all things they regard Him first. And when they think of Him, and open their hearts to Him, a new wave of life from Him flows into them, expanding them, making their natures more delicate and sensitive to deeper and more exquisite delights. The attractions of His love get a more powerful hold upon them. They become more perfectly magnetized by it, and He draws them gently and lovingly, closer to His infinite heart. They feel the new life thrilling through them, and they see it blossoming into all lovely forms around them. Thus He lives in them, and they in Him, and the angels are continually becoming more and more perfect in union with the Lord. It is the Divine of the Lord; the Divine love and the Divine wisdom, which constitute heaven; and all are in heaven just in the degree they can receive that love and wisdom. You have friends there. Some who walked by your side in these streets, and met with you to worship. We see their faces here no longer. We have put their material bodies away tenderly into the earth, where they are returning to dust. But they are in heaven. Their faces are radiant with the Divine love. They have thrown off the infirmities of age, and they are advancing towards the spring-time of an eternal youth. There are our children. Beautiful, lovely innocents! They, too, are unfolding in those soft and glowing vernal airs, and becoming forms of the Divine love and wisdom. Our places will soon be vacant here. May they not be left eternally vacant there! May the Lord in His infinite mercy help us all to begin a heavenly life here, that we may continue it there, and become the partakers of its ineffable and ever enduring blessedness!