Our highest reason for living is famously best defined by the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. Some of the most precious words elsewhere in the Shorter Catechism describe the benefits believers will receive at the resurrection. Amongst other things they will be “made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity”. This blessed vision of God and enjoyment of God is one of the highest matters we can consider.
Something of this begins after death. The Larger Catechism says that at death believer’s “souls are then made perfect in holiness”. They are “received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory”. We know very little and can speak very little about heaven. Yet this is the most important thing about heaven. What more do we need to know?
James Durham gives a fuller explanation of what this means. It comes from some sermons on Revelation 14:13. The sermons were entitled, The Blessedness of the Death of those that die in the Lord, and more especially in an evil time. James Durham (1622-1658) was a diligent minister who was searching but careful in his sermons. Renowned for eminent godliness and humility, he was also able to resolve complex questions and issues.
He was a minister for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. Gifted in expounding the Scriptures, he left commentaries on difficult books such as Job, Song of Solomon and Revelation. While expounding the Book of Revelation from the pulpit, he devoted two days each week for fasting and prayer. This was to seek divine help for a correct understanding of its meaning. He expressed simple trust on his deathbed. “For all that I have preached and written”, he said. “There is but one scripture I can remember or dare grasp…‘Whosoever cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out’”.
This taster from Durham’s helpful sermons on the blessedness of dying in the Lord is valuable. After reading more, we may well come to agree with the editor of the sermons John Carstares. “Now blessed eternally be our blessed Lord Jesus who by his accursed but most blessed Death, has procured all this blessedness that attends and follows the death of them that die in Him. They are all blessed and shall be blessed despite the devil, the world and the remainder of corruption dwelling in them till their dying day. He himself has pronounced the blessing on them and who shall, who dare, who can, reverse it? They are all blessed that live and die in the Lord, and none but they.”
Everything Necessary to Make Us Completely Happy
In this happiness, all good things necessary for making them completely happy come together. Four things, in particular, must come together to make all who die in the Lord blessed.
1. Enjoying God as the chief good. No one and nothing else can communicate true happiness or make one truly happy.
2. Being made fit and suited for enjoying God. Without this, we could not nor ought not, enjoy God fully and directly in our present condition.
3. It requires full measures and degrees of enjoying God.
4. Enjoying God perpetually and eternally.
All these come together to complete the happiness of those that die in the Lord.
1. Enjoying God as the Chief Good.
They fully enjoy God as the chief good. They are where Abraham is. He is in the kingdom of his father and so are they. Thus, they are most happy. When Christ speaks of this blessedness to his disciples, He tells them that they will sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11). They have places among those who stand by (Zechariah 3:7). They see his face and thus are happy. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). When we speak of enjoying God, it is far – very far – above and beyond what we can express. It must surely be great happiness and delight when the object of their delight is no created thing, but the infinite and all-sufficient God. Pure, heavenly and excellent delight must flow from enjoying God with whom is the fountain of life (see Psalm 36:9).
2. Being Made Fit and Suited for Enjoying God.
They are made fit and suited to enjoy God in a full measure and a high degree. If we could imagine man’s understanding to be enlarged so as to conceive of God. Enlarged very far beyond that which we can now imagine or conceive. It will then be dilated and filled. It will then have a distinct and fully satisfying knowledge of the great mystery of the adorable Trinity. Christ assures his disciples of this in John 14:20. “At that day”, they would know that He is in the Father.
The affections will then be given greater capacity to receive. They will be filled and satisfied with delight in enjoying God with a clear and distinct knowledge. This satisfies angels and must satisfy the spirits of just men made perfect. It makes them happy to behold and enjoy Him. The greatest happiness that Scripture speaks of is to be in Christ’s company beholding the glory He has received from the Father (see John 17:24). David, Paul and some that have gone a few years or months since into that blessed rest are in this condition. If you could suitably conceive what this is, it would make you long to die in the Lord. It would make you through grace give all diligence in time to make that happiness sure.
3. Full Measures and Degrees of Enjoying God.
They will be made fit and suited for enjoying God in a full measure and high degree. They will actually enjoy Him in a full measure and degree. There is nothing more desirable or to be desired. This is full glory and full joy. None can imagine or wish for more. The capacity given to them will not need to be further enlarged. There are different degrees of glory and some conceive and receive more and some less. Yet all are filled. They are filled with the love and loving-kindness of God. Filled with that fullness of joys and those pleasures that are at His right hand (see Psalm 16:11). They have all this in reality and not just bare notions of it. They have it all communicated to them in an incomprehensible (at least to us now) way.
4. Enjoying God perpetually and eternally.
This enjoyment of God is perpetual and eternal. Forever and ever without pause or interruption. It is not only a full but an everlasting joy and glory. Sorrow and sighing will then forever flee away and everlasting joy will be upon their heads for evermore (see Isaiah 35:10). The crown is eternal and imperishable. It is a crown of life which is perpetually flourishing. Yet all that we have said falls hugely short of the reality. Our attempt to express it is unworthy to be compared with the happiness of those that die in the Lord. If any of them heard us speak of their condition they would wonder to hear us do it so childishly, poorly, meagrely and sorrily. O that we could stretch ourselves to believe what we cannot distinctly conceive of this blessedness!
Why Only Those that Die in the Lord Have This Blessedness
1. Only those that Die in the Lord have been Freed
Only those that die in the Lord Christ have received His atonement. He has satisfied God’s justice in relation to their sin. Therefore, only they are freed from the curse by believing in Him (John 3:18 & 36). Those who believe have had their debt (the handwriting against them, Colossians 2:14) cancelled. Those who do not believe have the debt still hanging over their heads. They will be summoned before the Judge and cast in prison [i.e. hell] for their uncancelled debt. They must lie there till they pay the utmost farthing which will never be done (see Matthew 5:26).
2. Only those that Die in the Lord have been Adopted
Only those that are in Christ and die in him are privileged with the adoption of sons. Consequently, only they have a right to heaven and eternal life. To as many as received Him, He gave power to become the sons of God, that is, to as many as believed on His name (John 1:12). “And if sons, then heirs and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). If we are not sons then we are not heirs.
3. Only those that Die in the Lord have been made New Creatures
Only those that live and die in Christ are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6: 15). Unless a man is born again he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). There are none born again except they that are in Christ. Our regeneration and faith in Christ go together inseparably. Therefore none can be happy except those that live and die in Him.
You can also download and read a free e-booklet by Durham called Backsliding.