1 CORINTHIANS 2:9.—“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
THESE words primarily refer to the higher knowledge which is in reserve for the Christian in heaven. St. Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church of “the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which none of the princes of this world knew.” He tells them that they know something of it here, but shall know far more of it hereafter. Upon earth, they see “through a glass darkly,” but in heaven they shall see “face to face.” In the next world, all doubts and perplexities shall be removed from the understanding, and the mind shall enjoy clear and satisfactory perceptions of divine things. All the previous views upon such subjects will seem so dim, in comparison with the final vision and disclosure, that it may be said that eye has never seen, nor ear ever heard, nor heart ever conceived of it before. Not that the spiritual man while here below has had no inkling of the eternal vision, and no glimpse of the eternal truth; but his knowledge is so inferior to what is poured into the mind when it enters heaven, that it seems nothing in comparison.
But although the primary reference of the text is to an intellectual perception, rather than to an emotional enjoyment; though the apostle directs attention rather to the soul’s knowledge, than to the soul’s happiness; yet it is natural to refer these words, as we so generally do, to the blessedness of the redeemed in heaven. Probably the majority of readers suppose that “the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”—those particular things which the apostle had in mind, as not visible by the earthly eye, not audible by the mortal ear, and not cognizable in this mode of existence—are the same that are described under the glowing imagery of the sea of glass, the sapphire pavement, the jasper foundations, and the gates of pearl. It is the heavenly happiness, rather than the heavenly knowledge, which commonly comes into mind when this text is quoted. And this, we have said, is natural and proper. No violence is done to the apostle’s teaching, when his words are followed in to their implication, and followed out to their full significance.
For, heavenly knowledge produces heavenly happiness. To see, with a clear calm perception, the truths and the facts of eternity, is joy. Much of the dissatisfaction and unrest of the Christian life, upon earth, arises from indistinct and inadequate perceptions. The soul “sees through a glass darkly,” or, as the original signifies, “looks, through a mirror, into an enigma.” It gropes its way in twilight, and a thick atmosphere. Like the mariner in a fog, it peers into the distance, and strains the eye, but sees no distinct object. In such a condition, though there may not be positive unhappiness, because there is hope that the winds and the sun will dispel the mist, yet there is no full and complete satisfaction. Not until the sun actually shines, and the long line of the coast quivers in the liquid light, and the mountain ranges lift themselves into bold view, are the eye and the heart of the mariner at rest.
Spiritual knowledge, then, in its influence and effects, is spiritual enjoyment, and the words of the apostle may therefore be understood to teach, that the happiness which a believer will experience in heaven is so surpassingly great, in comparison with what he has experienced upon earth, that it may be said that his eye has not seen, nor his ear heard, nor his heart conceived of it.
In order to understand this truth, and feel its impression, we must remember that the Christian life upon earth is a race and a fight, and consequently cannot be a rest and a paradise. The Scriptures uniformly represent the course and career of a believer, this side the grave, as one of conflict, toil, and effort. “Except a man take his cross daily, he cannot be my disciple. In the world, ye shall have tribulation.” These are the declarations of the Founder of Christianity, and they enunciate the real nature of his religion, as it must exist in a world that is sinful, full of temptation, and unfriendly to holiness. “We are troubled on every side; we are perplexed; we are persecuted; we are cast down. We continually bear about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus. We are always delivered unto death, for Jesus’ sake.” These are the assertions of one of the most eminent and successful of Christ’s disciples; and although he was called to experience more of external opposition and persecution than the Church at large, it is probable that he had his compensation, in being freer than most Christians from internal conflict and trouble. Whether, then, we consider the direct declaration of Christ himself, or the complaints of his people, we find that the life of a believer, so long as he is upon earth, is one of effort and struggle.
For those who live in the peaceful times of the Church, this struggle and endeavor is chiefly of an inward kind. The life of a Christian, in more senses than one, is a hidden life. What a subterranean current of temptation, and resistance, is silently running at this very instant in millions of human hearts. The world sees none of it; but the unseen combat with the invisible foe is every moment going on. How unceasingly is the conflict between the new man and the old man, the conscience and the will, the spirit and the flesh, the grace of God and the indwelling corruption, waging in the soul of every child of God. In the market-place, in the house of God, in the privacy of the closet, in the intercourse of the household, how incessantly is the temptation presenting itself, and how constantly by the grace of God is it repulsed.
Sometimes the wish arises that the temptations of this earthly course might be concentrated, and that the destiny of the soul might be decided by a single terrible conflict, instead of by this slow, pertinacious, life-long warfare. The acquisition of holiness, by a renewed man, resembles the ancient wars which were prolonged sometimes for more than a generation. The Dorians of Laconia fought seventy-six years with the Dorians of Messene, for the supremacy of that little patch of earth, the Peloponnesus. The Roman contended thirty years with the Samnite, for the possession of Italy, and forty years with the Carthaginian, for the dominion of the world. And the Christian fights his fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil, not in a day or a year, but through all his days, and all his years.
Now it is plain, that such a state of things cannot last forever. “There remaineth a rest, for the people of God.” Man was not designed by creation, to be eternally running a race, and eternally fighting a fight. He was intended for harmony, for peace, for joy. Nothing but sin has introduced such a condition of affairs. This struggle, and effort, results from the endeavor to get free from an unlawful and wrong state of the soul. Had man not fallen, his career would have been the serene and unhindered one of the angels of God. It was his original destination, to be conformed to law without any struggle of opposing desires; without any collision between will and conscience. As created, and unfallen, there was in man not the slightest conflict between his duty and his inclination, and consequently there was no need, so far as the Divine intention was concerned, of any race, or any fight. When, therefore, the grace of God quickens the “spirit,” and slays the “flesh,” in any individual man, and thus initiates that conflict between the two which St. Paul describes in the seventh chapter of Romans, it is not for the purpose of continuing the conflict through all eternity. It is a struggle only for time, and is to cease when time is over. The intention is, to bring in that perfect and blessed condition of the soul, in which all the powers are in right relations; in which the higher shall firmly rule the lower, and the lower shall submissively obey the higher.
Accordingly, the text teaches that the Christian who has been patient and faithful in running the race, and fighting the fight, will finally be relieved from the necessity of strain and effort. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The believer’s experience here upon earth has been trying and painful, and must not be taken as a specimen of the heavenly life. God has provided a blessed calm, and rest, beyond the tomb. It is something far beyond what the eye has seen here, what the ear has heard, what the heart has conceived of.
The believer is sometimes disheartened, from imagining that his life in eternity will be much like his life in time. As he throws his glance forward, he seems to see stretching before him an endless series of temptations and resistances, of successes and failures. As it is here, so he thinks it will be there—a perpetual race, an everlasting fight. But he should remember that the great God his Saviour intends to “perfect that which concerneth him;” to complete the work of sanctification in his soul. And this, too, by a direct intervention, when the soul leaves the body. As, at the new birth of his soul, God the Holy Ghost regenerated him by an instantaneous efficiency that was supernatural, and not a mere link in the ordinary movements of nature and providence, so, at death, the remaining corruption which the race and the fight have not succeeded in purging away, shall be removed by a corresponding decisive energy on the part of the Great Sanctifier.
This must be so. For our text tells us of a “preparation”—a personal and direct arrangement upon the part of God. And how is the sin which the holiest of men are conscious of in their very dying hour to be cleansed away, except by the finishing strokes of Divine grace? They have struggled with their inward corruption for many long years. They have not been idle in keeping the heart. They have not been unsuccessful; for they have grown more saintly, to the close of life. And yet, like St. Paul, although “having the first fruits of the Spirit they still groan within themselves, waiting for their adoption, to wit, their complete redemption.” (Rom. 8:23.) At the same rate of progress as in the past, it would require years; it might require one whole life-time after another; to extirpate entirely the remaining depravity. How shall it be cleansed away, and the soul stand a spotless soul in the presence of Him who cannot endure the least taint of depravity, except by that crowning and completing act of grace, by which the imperfectly sanctified believer, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, becomes a “justified man made perfect;” by which, when the believer beholds his Lord, “he shall be like him, for he shall see him as he is.”
We live in a world of natural laws and operations, and for this reason find it difficult to get out of the circle of slow and gradual processes. Our Christian character, here below, forms and matures very much like the fruits of the earth—first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. The oak builds up its fabric, by a slow assimilation of the nutritive elements, and compacts its fibre, by a long conflict with the winds and the storms; and we, too, strengthen our moral force, and confirm our virtue, by a similar method. We are in the habit, consequently, of supposing that there is no other method than this gradual one, and limit the Divine efficiency by it. We forget that God is the sovereign of both realms—the natural and the supernatural—and that he is able and free to work in either of them. Even in our own personal history, he has so wrought. That act by which, when we were dead in trespasses and sins, he made us alive unto righteousness, is not explainable upon natural principles. It was not by the gradual method of growth and education, that we made the passage from nature to grace. We were “created anew” in Christ Jesus.
After the passage was made, we did indeed find that a process was commenced within our hearts that bore all the marks of a gradual, a continuous, and, alas! a very slow movement. Our inordinate and earthly affections declined very gradually. Our envy, our pride, our malice, waned away so slowly, that we sometimes queried whether it was a waning, or a waxing. On the other hand, our devout and spiritual affections—our love, joy, peace, faith, hope—grew so slightly and feebly, that we could be certain that they had grown, only by comparing ourselves with ourselves after long intervals. Our sanctification has been progressive, and not instantaneous; and in these respects finds its parallel in the leaven that gradually pervades the whole mass, and in the mustard-seed which requires months and years for its expansion. But our regeneration was instantaneous. We have, therefore, within the sphere of our own experience, the proof that God works both instantaneously and progressively; by a method that is startling, and a method that is uniform. He begins a work by a fiat, and then he carries it forward by a culture. He instantaneously creates us new men in Christ Jesus, and then he gradually educates us towards the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus.
We are not, therefore, to limit the Divine efficiency either to a creating, or to an educating function, solely. We ought not to suppose that because our regeneration was instantaneous, the development and maturing of Christian character must be so likewise, and that therefore we may neglect the means of grace and of growth. And on the other hand, we ought not to think that because our sanctification proceeds so gradually, and is worked out by the trial, temptation, and discipline of a whole lifetime, therefore all rapid changes are forever excluded from our future history, and God will never intervene with a more determined and decisive influence.
Our text helps us out of our proneness to err, by directing attention to what God is intending to do in the souls of his children, when in his providence they shall be summoned before him. No one can appear in his presence with remaining sin. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” But we know that so long as we are in the flesh, the “motions of sins in our members” do continue to molest, and sometimes to foil us. Between the last moments upon earth, and the first moments in heaven, there must, therefore, pass upon us that transformation by which the imperfect believer becomes the perfected saint. It is not a radical change, like that which introduced us into the kingdom of God. It is not the formation of a new heart, and a right spirit. But it is the completion, by a swift and mighty act of the Holy Spirit, of a process that was commenced it may be long years ago, and which has lingered and fluctuated with our feeble and hesitating efforts after holiness. He who upon earth has run the race, and fought the fight, will discover in that supreme moment when he first stands face to face with the Holy One, that Divine grace has been sufficient for him. He will find himself to be perfectly holy, and perfectly happy. All that he has heretofore experienced of peace and joy is as nothing, in comparison with the blessedness which now fills his soul.
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived of it before. In comparison with the past imperfection, the present spotlessness, and purity, and complete deliverance from all corruption, will appear almost incredible. Undoubtedly the feeling of surprise will mingle with the other emotions that will distend the redeemed soul, when it enters heaven. And this surprise will spring from the strange consciousness of being sinless. That moral corruption which was born with the soul; which grew with its growth, and strengthened with its strength; which received, indeed, its death wound by the sword of the Spirit, in regeneration, yet continued to show signs of lingering vitality down to the very hour of bodily dissolution—that sin which has been a steady element in the consciousness of the man, never leaving nor forsaking him so long as he was upon earth, is now gone forever. Well may “the redeemed of the Lord come to Mount Zion, with singing and everlasting joy.” Well may they say: “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive of the wonderful transformation which the final act of sanctifying grace produces in the soul.”
It was owing to the opinion that the complete sanctification of the Christian must be brought about by the ordinary influences of the Spirit, in the use of the common instrumentalities, that the doctrine of a cleansing in the intermediate state crept into the Church. Thoughtful and spiritual minds, like Augustine for example, perceived that indwelling corruption attends the Christian up to the very hour of death. They knew that no sin, however slight, can appear before God. Hence they supposed that the last stages of sanctification must occur beyond the tomb. They imagined that a certain period must be allotted in the future life to the imperfectly sanctified Christian, in which his remaining corruption should be removed by the ordinary method of trial and discipline, and he thus be made “without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing,” preparatory to going into the light of the Divine countenance. But upon their own principles, there was no need of such an intermediate cleansing. Their view of grace ought to have precluded it. Augustine and his followers held, with great decision, the doctrine of irresistible grace—the doctrine of an immediate and powerful energy of the Holy Spirit, by which the most marked changes can be wrought instantaneously in human character. Had they applied this theory of Divine influence to the completion of the work of sanctification, as they did to its inception, the notion of a gradual purgation beyond this life would not have arisen in their minds.
The text, then, has turned our attention to that final act of God’s redeeming grace, spoken of in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (37), by which,
“at death, the soul of a believer is made perfect in holiness, and immediately passes into glory.”
The eye hath not seen its operation, the ear hath not heard it, and the heart of man cannot comprehend it. Yet it is one of “the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Having begun a work of grace in the fallen soul, he will carry it forward unto “the day when he makes up his jewels”—the day of the perfecting and final act of grace—and every child of God may say confidently with the apostle: “I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.”
I. In view of this truth, we remark, in the first place,
That Christians should encourage themselves in their continual race and warfare upon earth, by the recollection that they are not destined to run, and to fight forever. A time is coming when will and conscience, duty and inclination will be perfectly identical. This conflict between the flesh and the spirit is eventually to cease, and holiness will be the natural and irrepressible activity of the soul. We know, by bitter experience, how easy and effortless the process of sinning is to a sinner; we shall one day know, how easy and effortless the process of obedience is to a saint. There is a time coming, when the sorrow and fear by which God is now educating us will end, and we shall never grieve or be anxious again. Affliction will have accomplished its work within us, and then God will wipe away all tears. There is a time coming, when the weak and struggling human will is to be no more solicited and staggered by temptation; when there will be no remaining corruption to send up its appetites, and no unfriendly world of outward objects to seduce the soul from God. The race and the fight are not for eternity, but only for time.
II. In the second place,
The Christian should drive off sluggishness, by recollecting that “a man is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Tim. 2:5.) He must not fold his arms, and neglect the keeping of his heart here upon earth, because there is such a power in God to perfectly sanctify the human soul. Sanctifying influences are granted to man, not absolutely and unconditionally. They come to him in connection with the covenant of grace. They are a part of an economy. He therefore who has not entered into that covenant, and is not living under the economy as a whole, cannot participate in the benefits of a part of it. The whole or none, is the rule in spiritual things. He, therefore, who does not daily take up his cross on earth, must not expect to be the recipient of that crowning grace of the Holy Spirit which perfects the soul in holiness. This is the fatal error in the Sacramentarian theory of grace. The Papist supposes that a person may live an earthly and unspiritual life, and yet that by virtue of the merely outward baptism of the Church, the cleansing influence will be imparted. He forgets the apostolic dictum: “That a man is not crowned, except he strive lawfully”—that only he who carefully observes the rules of the game, and of the arena, is entitled to the rewards of the victor. He who attempts surreptitiously to obtain the prize; he who would steal the garland or the crown; will be repulsed ignominiously, and with contempt. He who thinks to secure those great and lofty things which God has prepared for them that love him, without passing through the antecedent and preparatory steps and stages, will in the last day meet with a terrible rebuke for his presumption, and his selfishness, and his worthlessness.
This consideration is enough to drive off sluggishness, and urge the Christian to constant activity. The completing of any work implies that it has been commenced, and has passed through some stages of progress. If there be nothing begun, it is absurd to speak of a finishing stroke. Every sin, therefore, that is resisted, every temptation that is repulsed, and every grace that is strengthened in the daily struggle, brings the work so much the nearer to its conclusion. By these efforts we evince that we “love God”—that we prefer his service, yearn after his holiness, and aspire after his blessedness. And “for those that love God,” there “is prepared what the eye hath not seen, nor the heart conceived of.”
III. In the third place,
The Christian, in view of the fact that God will eventually complete the work of sanctification, ought never to be discouraged, or despair of the result. If the doctrine of the text be true, the believer is certain to succeed. Let him “not be weary in well-doing, for in due season he shall reap, if he faint not.” That is a fine sentiment which Plutarch puts into the mouth of Coriolanus. In a battle with the Volscians, the Romans under Coriolanus had charged with fury, and broken the enemy’s centre, and put them to a total rout. As they were starting upon the pursuit, they begged of their general, who was shattered and half-dead with wounds and fatigue, that he would retire to the camp. “It is not for the victor to tire of the battle,” was the reply of Coriolanus, as he joined in the onward rush and sweep of his army. It is not for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; it is not for one who has been sprinkled with the expiating blood, and has been born of the Holy Ghost; to tire of the battle between the flesh and the spirit. Though the conflict may continue for many long years; though very often “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak;” though sometimes “the sorrows of death compass the soul, and the pangs of hell get hold of it;” still, the victory is sure in the end.
Upon such terms we can well afford to fight. Who would hesitate to enlist in a war, if he knew infallibly that he should survive, that he should conquer, and that he should obtain everything that he fought for? Yet such is the state of the case, with those that “love God,” and are “the called according to his purpose.” Every soul of man which here upon earth daily takes up the cross, is rapidly nearing that point where it shall lay it down. Every disciple of Christ who here in time walks with him in tribulation, and temptation, is approaching that serene and sheltered spot where temptation and tribulation are absolutely unknown. One thing is as certain as the other. Does a man know that he is daily fighting the fight; he may know infallibly, then, that one day he shall as victor cease the conflict, and lay down his armor.
William G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), 315–328.