Sometimes it has been said that there are people who are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. Is this true? Are the concerns of this life and the life to come in direct tension? Do we need to moderate the constant stress in Scripture on heavenly mindedness? (Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 6:19-21; 2 Corinthians 5:1-11; Hebrews 11:16). We need to be careful. The old adage seems to rest on the assumption that eternal considerations are only one of a number of priorities. It tends to downplay the spiritual in favour of the practical. But Scripture unites both together (Matthew 22:37-40; Micah 6:8). Both are required and neither excludes the other. In fact, we need heavenly mindedness in order to have the right motivation and perspective on our earthly duties. We need a distinctly heavenly way of life.
Earthly mindedness and heavenly living are contrasted in Philippians 3:19-20. But this heavenly mindedness is mainly connected to Paul’s example (v17) which is contrasted with that of the enemies of the cross of Christ. It is as though Paul was saying beware of following of those who mind earthly things, for their end is destruction; but rather follow those whose way of living is in heaven, for their end is, salvation. How can we identify those who have such a heavenly manner of living?
Jeremiah Burroughs says that they are those who esteem the things of heaven to have greater significance than those of the earth. They are able to be content with enjoying little in this world. A heavenly, godly man or woman can tell you how to live a joyful and happy life even if they lack the things of this world. They can not only live joyfully lacking many comforts, but they can suffer the loss of all. They can suffer hard things, afflictions, torments and tortures with joyful hearts (Hebrews 11:13- 14, 36-40 and Hebrews 10:32-34).
Their hearts are greatly filled with heavenly riches: much grace, holiness, much of the image of God, much spiritual life. A Christian’s life manifests much of the excellency of heaven, much of the glory of heaven shines in their faces. The hearts of the saints are filled with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace and this is greatly manifest in their lives. They cannot be comfortable in the enjoyment of all things in this world if they are deprived of the heavenly enjoyments. They are troubled when they do not feel those influences from heaven in their souls they have previously. They are willing to die and leave this world with much comfort, joy and peace in the hope of eternal life.
But the question is: how does such a person and way of living deal with the realities of this life or is it just an escape? Does it impact on others in this world? What use and what good does it have? Burroughs goes on in the following updated extract to provide some answers.
1. Heavenly Living is convincing
Heavenly living will be very convincing. You will convince others that you have something more than they have when they see you live in a heavenly way. The men of the world know the things of the world and that they have set their hearts on them. But when they see those that profess religion mingle themselves with the earth in the same way that they do, they will think that such are motivated by the same principles they themselves are. But heavenly living will convince them, when they see Christians rising above this in the whole course of their lives. They see an evenness and proportion in their course. At all times and in all matters they conduct themselves as those who are of another world.
A stranger may act for a while act just like a native, but one who has been born there knows how to find out in one thing or another whether this is so. It is very hard for men to conduct in the right way if they do not have true grace though they may appear sometimes to be very heavenly. A true citizen of heaven will discern at one time or another if they do not have grace. The truth is also that unregenerate people will reveal their true heritage too.
But when Christians have a constant way of life that is heavenly, it is very convincing. There are the rays of heaven around them, they have the lustre of heaven shining wherever they go, and in all company. Surely such a person seems to be in heaven continually. This will force the very consciences of others to say: “certainly these are the citizens of heaven if any are.”
The rich man wanted Abraham to send someone to warn his brethren who had risen from the dead, because they would hear him. We might say that if God would send one from heaven to live among people and preach to them, surely they would pay attention to him. Would it not be a great benefit to the world if God would send a saint from heaven, or an angel to converse in a bodily way among us? Yet Christians should live as if they came from heaven every day, as if they had been in heaven conversing with God. When in the morning they seek to get alone between God and their souls, they should never stop striving until they get their hearts so much in heaven that when they come down to their family their very faces may shine. And that you may see by how they live that certainly they have been with God upon the mount.
Do you live in such a way that your family and your neighbours may see that you have been in heaven that morning? Every morning we should have some converse with heaven. If we did our way of living would be convincing all the day long and very profitable to the world. Christians that live in a heavenly way are of very great use in the places where they live. When Christ ascended up to heaven, He gave gifts to men. And if we would oftener ascend up to heaven, we would be more able to be beneficial to the world.
2. Heavenly Living causes growth
Those who live in a heavenly way grow mightily, they thrive in grace to an exceeding degree in a very little time. They grow to attain to a very great measure of communion with God the Father and with Jesus Christ. Every day they grow more and more spiritual, having so much of heaven within them. It is true that they will be perfect when they come into heaven at last but drawing from heaven is what makes them grow. The influence from heaven causes the saints to grow.
The ground in which flowers and herbs grow may be the most fertile possible and they may be the best rooted they can be. But if they do not have any influence from heaven on them (by rain and sunshine) they will not grow much, or even at all, but rather quickly wither: So it is with Christians, they may have as much means of growing as is possible, as much of the ordinances as possible, yet if they do not have rich dews from above they will not grow. Or if there is any growth, they will either bear no fruit or else it will be very shrivelled and sour fruit. The fruit that has most of the beams of the sun grows riper and sweeter than other fruit. But fruit that grows in the shade is sour fruit. The reason that the saints have so little fruit, and that it is so sour is because they do not have more influences from heaven. They do not stand in the open sun, their souls are not presented daily before God to have the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness shining from heaven on them. Rather something stands between heaven and their souls. But just as heavenly living is convincing so it should be a growing way of life.
3. Heavenly Living brings much glory to God
It is a way of living that greatly glorifies God. O the glory that God would have from our living in heaven! Let your light so shine before men, that others beholding your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven. The image of the God of Heaven is displayed indeed when people’s lives are heavenly. The Lord takes great delight in having His glory spread around by His saints, to have some reflection on the world. Though the beams of the sun do not shine on a wall you can use a mirror to cast the reflection of them on a wall. The saints by their heavenly living may (just as with a mirror) take the beams of the glory of God that shine in heaven and reflect them on the world and the faces of others. The hearts of the saints should be like a mirror taking the beams of the glory of God and casting them around where they are. Thus, your heavenly Father would come to be glorified by you.
Let every Christian think in this way, “my way of living is such and such; but what glory do I bring to God by my life? Do others glorify God by beholding the lustre of the holiness of God in me? Do they see cause to blesse God that they see so much of the glory of God in me? It is certain that more of the glory of God shines in the gracious, holy, spiritual living of a Christian, than in the sun, moon, stars. More than in the works of creation and providence in heaven and earth. Though all that God has created (sun, moon, stars, seas, earth, plants etc) has much of the glory of God, yet heavenly living declares more of the glory of God than all these. Though the heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1) every believer in the Church should shine as a star in the heavens. They should be as the gospel is, a mirror in which we might behold the glory of God even (as it were) with open face.
4. Heavenly Living brings much glory to God’s People
Heavenly living will bring much glory to yourselves: Though it is true that the saints should aim at the glory of God most, yet if they live in a heavenly way glory will come to themselves whether they will it or not. It is impossible that they would not be honoured in the consciences of others when they walk in a heavenly way of life. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 shows that in our glorifying God, we glorify ourselves also. The apostle prays for the Thessalonians that they might walk so that they might have so much of the grace of God in them, that the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified in them. This is what all the saints should desire and endeavour after, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified in them. But also that you would be glorified in Christ. Labour that Christ may be glorified in your lives, and you shall be glorified in Him. We should desire that Christ may have glory in our glory, and then we shall have glory in Christ’s glory. This is a sweet and blessed life, when the saints have such hearts, that they pray to have no glory, but what God may have glory in. Then God responds (as it were), “Is it so? Do you desire no further glory in this world, but that which I may have glory in? Then I will have no glory in this world, but what you will have glory in.” Christ will make us partakers of His glory as well as we shall make Him partaker of our glory.
5. Heavenly Living Makes Suffering easier
Heavenly living will make all sufferings to be very easy, it will be nothing to suffer any thing you meet with in this world, if you live in heaven. All reviling, reproaches and wrongs will be nothing, if you have a heavenly way of life. You will despise all these things that the men of the world think to be such great matters. Those who have conversed in heaven will never will be greatly stumbled for any sufferings. They are “light afflictions” which are “but for a moment” (2 Corinthians 4:17) because our eye is above all these things.
Christ showed His glory to Peter, James and John at His transfiguration on the mount. These were same disciples He took with Him at His agony in Gethsemane where His soul was heavy unto death. Christ wanted none of His disciples to see Him in His agony except Peter, James, and John who saw Him in His transfiguration on the mount in His glory. Those who can converse much with Christ in glory, in heaven may be permitted to see Christ in His agony and it will do them no hurt. It might have stumbled the others to see Him in this agony. But these disciples knew that though He was in agony now, He was a glorious Saviour they could still believe and trust. So, if we can converse with God in glory on the mount, we will be able to bear whatever agony we see Christ in afterwards. Stephen had the stones rattling about his ears, yet when he saw the heavens opened it was nothing to him, he fell asleep, he rejoiced in the expectation of heaven. Conversing with heaven makes all sufferings in the world nothing.
6. Heavenly Living is very safe
Heavenly living is very safe, you will be free from snares and temptations. Earthly-minded living subjects us to temptations but living in heaven will free us from temptations. When is the bird in danger of the snare? It is when she comes down to peck on the ground. If she could just keep herself above ground always, she would be free from the snare and net. This is what John Chrysostom said, “keep above, and then you will be free from the snare of the hunter”.
No doubt there are other ways in which those who have a constant perspective beyond temporal things are able to be of greater use in this world. This world needs more heavenly minded people who live in a heavenly way, not less. Those who are much in prayer are able to much in the strength of divine help and blessing. We need heavenly ministers such as Robert Murray M’Cheyne was, who could communicate eternal realities and be a channel of heavenly blessing because he sought to bring the atmosphere of heaven into the pulpit.
If anything could encompass his way of life, the following seems to summarise it best, “I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.” How much more useful we might be on this earth if only we were living in a more heavenly way drawing from the fulness of Christ in heaven!
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