Posted by: Billy Marsh | September 27, 2007

Heaven On Earth: On The Way To Heaven

Jonathan EdwardsIn Stephen Nichols’ book, Heaven On Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’s Vision Of Living In Between, he spends the first chapter giving a little biographical information on Edwards in order not to deceive his readers that Edwards was “Superman”. If you read this book, you will see that Nichols does a superb job at showing that even though this teaching was at the heart of Edwards’ theology, he like you and me, did/will not always put it into practice. However, in chapter two, Nichols begins where every Christian life ought to end, namely the theme of love.

The title of chapter two is “On the Way to Heaven”. Nichols based this section off of the Edwards sermon, “Heaven is a World of Love”. The deficiency in the Christian life which leads to escapism is in essence a lack of true Christian love (29). For Edwards, the nature of heaven and the nature of God does not permit the earthbound Christian to be disconnected from and apathetic towards the natural world. According to Edwards, Heaven is a place full of eternal and perfect love: Love between the Godhead, love between the saints, and love for the new heaven and earth. However, at its base, Edwards theology of the Christian life is founded upon his theology of God, and in this case, God’s relationship to heaven. Nichols says of Edwards, ” [His] portrait of heaven has as its center God, an infinite fountain of love (31)”. The love shared in the Trinity, such as the love of the Father for the Son, is the bottomless well from which all of the saints will dip their buckets into and will drink from with one another for an eternity.

Thus, love reigns in heaven. However, Nichols says that as soon as “Edwards points [his congregation] to heaven with one hand . . . with the other he directs their attention back to earth (32).” Edwards teaches that this endless love is something that the Father has lavished upon us now which ought not only help us patiently await the life to come, but also to desire more of the pleasure of God on the earth. At this point, Nichols says that Edwards draws the logical conclusion that:

As heaven is a world of love so the way to heaven is a way of love. . . . If you would be in the way to the world of love, you must live a life of love (33).

Nichols shows that for Edwards, Enoch in the OT was the best example of this lifestyle. He walked with God in such a way on earth that his transition to heaven “was as natural as simply taking another step (34).” If one is to rightly live in between two worlds, he or she must not compartmentalize earth and heaven. That person must seriously take into account both realities.

Mountains in the clouds

So, Edwards first exhorts us to strive to live in the way of love. Then, he ensures us that the way to heaven on earth gives us “the heavenly foretastes and delights (38).” Commenting on Edwards’ plea for us to cover this earth with the love of God, Nichols writes:

Love reigns when we sow harmony where there is strife, when we speak a kind and gracious word into the midst of conflict, when we bring beauty into a world of malice and darkness. Love reigns when we, even in our frailty, offer to ease each other’s burdens as we help one another carry our collective share of woe (Gal 6:2).

Therefore, what should compel us to strike a balance between two worlds? Love! If heaven is a world of love, then Edwards says that the path that leads there is the way of love. This love, however, must not be mistaken for any type of love. Edwards has a theological underpinning for his take on love, namely that it is rooted in the nature of the Christian God of the Bible; thus, one must be a Christian who loves with the love that the Father gives in order to be a pilgrim on the journey to heaven (1 Jn 4:7).

Nichols ends this chapter with a powerful paragraph using the language of Hebrews 11:13-16 in congruence with my articles on the Sojourner mentality. He summarizes:

And in this world we are called to live as Christians. We are ambassadors of another land, with a different set of customs, laws, and even a different language. As we represent this land and its Monarch, we must bear the marks of our home. We must live by its customs and speak its language, however foreign they may be (43).

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Responses

  1. Do we wait on God to give us the capability and desire to love or do we force ourselves to love?

  2. Bryan,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad that you have shared your thoughts on my blog. However, I’m not sure what you’re asking. But I’ll try and respond anyway.

    It seems in God’s Word, that if we are truly Christians, the ability to love is now an instinctive part of our new nature in Christ. Therefore if we are not loving, then we are not only in direct disobedience to God, but we are going against the supreme defining charateristic of being made new in Jesus.

    In 1 John 4:7, John teaches us that God has given us the ability to love and that whoever does love has been born of God and knows God. However, if we find that we are forcing ourselves to love, in my view, this is either a sign of extreme spiritual immaturity or a warning that perhaps we are not saved at all. In the very next verse, John writes in 4:8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Does this help answer your question?


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