“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
– KJV Colossians 3:1-2
The Christian life is a pilgrimage; it is a journey home. Here on our pilgrimage we must watch and pray, we must let nothing draw our affections off God in Christ (Matt. 26:41; Luke 21:34). We must agonizingly struggle against temptations within and without, in wholehearted dependence and full reliance upon the Holy Spirit who is with us as the comforting presence and sustaining power of Christ. We have been redeemed, but we await a Heavenly City, a Heavenly Country as our inheritance in Christ, where we will live in bliss with the Triune God for all eternity (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 19-22).
When we arrive home, we shall see Jesus face to face, we will be safe and secure from all alarm, and we will come to the completion of our sanctification process in Him (Phil. 1:6; 3:9ff; Jude 24-25; 1 Thess. 5:23-24). When we see Jesus our Bridegroom face to face this will culminate and consummate in the complete satisfaction of all of our soul’s desires (Rom. 8:18-25)! When we arrive home, Jesus, our Precious Savior, and Glorious Bridegroom, will welcome us as the Bride that He has redeemed, and bought, and transformed by His Spirit (Rev. 1:4-8).
The Bible teaches us that when we see our Beloved Bridegroom with our own eyes, we will be transformed fully and completely to be like Him! We are lovely in His sight now, but when we look upon Him and behold Him, we will be made beautiful and fully holy like Him. The Bible teaches us that it is this longing and desire of seeing Him face to face, and being made completely like Him that motivates us to holiness and purity in Him now:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3
As we travel on our pilgrimage now, knowing Jesus is with us–our ever-loving, ever-faithful Immanuel, God “with us”–so we long to get home. But how do we get home not merely safely as we desire, but joyfully and with delight in this present age? Particularly as we do know from Scripture and experience how many dangers, toils, and snares there can be in the Christian life?! We are to keep our eyes upon Jesus now by faith, meditating upon His love for us, and seeing His goodness with eyes of faith as He is held out to us in preaching and in Holy Scripture. We are to learn to meditate upon Heavenly blessings that we already possess to a certain degree in Christ, that will become fully ours in heaven (see Col. 3:1-3).
As the Puritan forefathers taught us, we are to have “heaven in one eye” throughout our earthly pilgrimage, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1ff)!J. R. Beeke and R. J. Pederson. Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), xxiii. We long to see the place that Christ has been preparing for His Beloved Bride. In fact, with the Holy Spirit, or in the Spirit, we cry together: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:17). Richard Sibbes wrote
This life is a life of desires and longings, the marriage with Christ shall not be consummated until heaven.Richard Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 228.
J. I. Packer wrote in his wonderful book A Quest for Godliness: “Basic to [the Puritans] pastoral care was their understanding of the Christian’s present life as a journey home, and they made much of encouraging God’s people to look ahead and feast their hearts on what is to come.”J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 334. See for example: Isaac Ambrose, Looking Unto Jesus, and Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest. Believers ought to meditate upon the glories that are to be revealed to us in Christ, and then in us and for us in Christ as heirs of all of His wonderful blessings. This can affect our hearts with deep love, desiring to be good stewards of our time and seeking to please Him with the gifts and grace.
Heaven in our destination—where Christ is now—and this is the home we truly long for. The soul that has tasted God’s goodness in Christ doesn’t want heaven merely as His reward, but His reward is God in Christ. He wants Christ first, before all things, without the taint and hindrance of sin upon His affections, preventing him from loving Christ as much as he can imagine, and would like to (Psa. 16:5; Rom. 7:25; 1 Cor. 2:9). For the believing, mature soul, heaven is heaven, because His Beloved Bridegroom Christ is there. Richard Sibbes wrote so beautifully: “It is the presence of God that makes all things sweet and comfortable. What makes heaven to be heaven, but because God is there?Richard Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 228.
We should ponder this future grace to be revealed to us each day of our lives here to motivate us to more love, and more holiness, and consistent service for Him! John Owen wrote that the best preparation for the glory we shall be exposed to in eternity, is by gazing now upon the glory of Christ in preparation of heaven. This spiritual desiring through mediation upon Jesus as He is revealed in His Person and Work will transform us and prepare us for heaven as Jesus prepares heaven for us. He wrote:
For if our future blessedness shall consist in being where He is, and beholding His glory, what better preparation can there be for it than in a constant contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the Gospel, unto this very end, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory.John Owen, The Glory of Christ, in Works, I: 275.
As we behold Christ by faith now in our communion with Him, we will long to have our conjugal love consummated in heaven. Our communion with Him will make us cry out the more vehemently for His return. We desire to see Him face to face increasingly more. This will help us to be sober-minded, watchful, and constantly looking to the skies to behold His glory (1 Pet. 4:7; Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:32-39; Rev. 1:5ff).
“Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”
– Rev. 22:20
Speaking of only human experiences that are lovely and enjoyable, when a Bridegroom here on earth is engaged to be married, he plans, prepares, longs for the day of marriage and consummation with his beautiful bride. This earthly experience is a shadow, a prototype of the Heavenly Marriage and the wonderful, eschatological consummation that is to be revealed by Christ to His Bride! (Psa. 45; Eph. 5:21-32). It is our privilege and duty in Christ Jesus, to long and look forward to this Great Day, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb where all will be rejoicing and bliss (Rev. 19). Thomas Shepard wrote that it is the Christian’s duty to be
…Constantly and continually ready to meet Christ and to enjoy communion with Him. Because we are betrothed (espoused) to Christ, we ought to be in a constant and continual readiness to meet Christ, and to have immediate communion with Him.Thomas Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, 68-69.
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25, we are taught that those who are full of expectation for the return of the Bridegroom are those who are truly full of the Holy Spirit, and are being matured under His influences to be preparing and ready and watchful and alert without distractions from dissipation, drunkenness, and the cares of this life (Matt. 25:1-13; Luke 21:34). The believing and watchful soul of the bride should possess both desire and hope as she awaits the return of the Bridegroom! Thomas Shepard wrote that there are two affections of the soul that chiefly look to a good absent: desire and hope. Hope is like the eye that goes out and looks, and desire is like the feet that runs out and longs. By hope and desire, we go forth to meet the Bridegroom.Thomas Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, 112. Do you have this kind of hope and desire in Christ?
The more the believer’s affections are drawn to Christ, and long to be with Him for all eternity, the more He will vehemently, and even violently (Matt. 11:12: “the violent take it by force!”) will seek heaven above all things. The soul smitten by love for Christ has “set its affections on things above where Christ is at the right hand of God” because it knows that when Christ appears, then glory that has begun in regeneration will be fully consummated! (Col. 3:1-4). The believing soul longs for heaven so much that it cannot rest on this journey in complacent and contented satisfaction until it embraces Christ in heaven. Sibbes wrote:
For the soul of a Christian, like Noah’s dove, cannot rest in any glory here, till it return to the ark, till it come to the enjoyment of perfect glory, and have blissful communion with Christ forever and ever in heaven.Richard Sibbes, The Brides’ Longing, in Works, VI: 536.
As we love Christ sincerely as Mediator here on our journey home, we shall see Him as our treasure that must be obtained. There will be an increased and longing desire to be ever closer to Him.Thomas Neast, ibid., I: 182-83. He wrote that a true and longing love for Christ will never be languishing but always be growing as it feeds on Christ; gains confidence of access to Christ, and to God the Father through Him. As we grow in His love and His likeness so we will learn to cry with the Psalmist from the heart:
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”
– ESV Psalm 73:25
Christ will become our chief desire, the chief longing of our hearts as we grow in God’s grace and love. We will say: “Deus meus est omnia” or more particularly to our Great Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ we will cry out:
“Christus meus est omnia!” or,
“Christ is my all!”Thomas Neast, ibid., I: 182-83.
When it seems our hearts are growing dull or apathetic, let us remember Richard Sibbes’ advice:
When you find your hearts dull and cold, and inactive to do good. Then fetch fire…from the Second Coming of Christ, from the love of God in Christ, from the love of His appearance. Oh, rouse up and quicken your hearts with such considerations….Those that desire the coming of Christ exercise themselves much in holiness because they exercise themselves in the beginning of heaven here on earth.Richard Sibbes, The Brides’ Longing, in Works, VI: 551, 555.
But we must be careful to remember that we are not home yet, and so let us be careful that our hearts not grow cold as we await; let us be alert, watching dissipation and drunkenness and distractions from the cares of this life that seek to take our affections of Christ and place them on the world, or something fleshly (Luke 21:34). Shepard wrote: “Spiritual defilement and disobedience to God is a forsaking of the husband, a total secret forsaking of Christ.Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, 65. Jesus tells the Church at Ephesus in the Book of Revelation that they had lost their “first love”: “…Thou hast left thy first love” (Rev. 2:4). The kind and gracious Lord Jesus Christ calls them to repentance, to return to the service that they had before they fell away into sin where their hearts were engaged and desirous of things other than Christ.
This reminds the soul that Christ is our first love, and there are works that follow in pleasing Christ as our “First Love”, but there are also many things that compete for this primacy of place, and the soul must be aware of this. Holy love is to remember that Jesus is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega of our salvation who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His precious blood and has made us a Kingdom, priests to His God and Father (Rev. 1:5-6). Shepard poignantly asked professing believers:
Where is your heart? Have you not lost your love, your first love? ….The soul is prepared to meet Christ…if the soul has lost its affections [for Christ], it recovers them from the creatures who stole them away from Christ.Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, 72.
What is the believer’s specific hope when the Bridegroom returns? Shepard raises our affections with a glorious answer!
All our sinful deformities will be taken away, and He shall adorn His Bride in perfect beauty. Jesus will openly acknowledge His Bride and declare His love for her before the world. He that has made it His glory to confess Christ in a holy life, Christ will confess him before God and the angels, and so before all the world. Jesus will say: ‘I have given them that glory, united them, and made them flesh of my flesh, that the world may know thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.’ Christ has been desiring after them in glory (John 17:24), now, their desires being fulfilled…now He rejoices with exceeding joy…He shall rejoice over you with loud singing!Thomas Shepard, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, 514, 515, 517.
Because we have this great hope in Christ Jesus, let our affections burn hot in vehement passion for Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us seek to be affected from deep within our hearts, so that we, in light of His abundant goodness and grace, because of His glorious beauty and majestic grace, we might offer to Him our most perfect sacrifice! Because He was broken for us, and in love laid down His life for us, let us offer up to Him our most valuable possession—our very selves—and let us, with the woman in Mark 14, give our hearts to Him, in undivided and wholehearted devotion to our Loving Bridegroom!
Let us seek to gaze at His beauty by faith (Isa. 33:17; Heb. 12:1-2), becoming like Him, and learning to love Him more increasingly, and serving Him with all that is within us—for His glory, and our enjoyment.
In Christ’s Love,