Posted by: Billy Marsh | October 9, 2007

Heaven On Earth: Being Good Citizens

Heaven on Earth/Stephen Nichols

In his book cataloguing Jonathan Edwards’ thoughts on living between two worlds, Heaven On Earth, Stephen Nichols imparts a great amount of wisdom and application  for the earthbound Christian in chapter three entitled, “Being Good Citizens”. This title ought to bring a certain Scripture text to mind, especially if you’ve been keeping up with my “Sojourner” series, namely Philippians 3:20:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Needless to say, after reading this chapter, I was glad to see that Nichols and I covered some of the same issues as well as coming to similar conclusions concerning the meaning of this passage. For a more indepth look at Phil 3:20, click here to view my exegetical paper which deals with Phil 3:17-4:1, looking heavily at the Greek text.

As I’ve stated before, Nichols bases each chapter off of a particular Edwards sermon that best reveals Edwards’ theology concerning the Christian’s pilgrim life. In this chapter, Nichols gleans from Edwards’ sermon titled, “The Pleasantness of Religion”.

But, we need to take a few steps back to set the context in order to see the relevancy of this sermon for being a good citizen. Nichols discusses the historical setting of Philippi showing that the city was a Roman city-state. The Philippians enjoyed many pleasures and amenities since they were legitimate Roman citizens. This enviornment would have been a constant temptation for them to love the world and to neglect the things of heaven. However, Nichols makes a further note that sheds more light on the Christian’s role as a citizen of heaven while remaining on earth. He says,

[Roman citizenship] did not mean that you longed to get out of Philippi . . . . Instead, it meant that you were entrusted with the task of bringing Rome and all of its achievements and glory to Philippi or Jerusalem or Alexandria, wherever you found yourself to be (47).

Then, Nichols correlates this application back to the believer, stating,

Christians do not reveal their heavenly citizenship by simply pining away for the blessed life to come. Rather, they show their citizenship by bringing heaven to earth (48).

In his sermon, “The Pleasantness of Religion”, Edwards writes, “It would be worth the while to be religious, if it were only for the pleasantness of it.” Therefore, as we menitioned from the previous chapter, the Christian life in the present is full of the fortastes of heaven. Being a Christian brings pleasure in God now in this life, not simply in the life to come. Nichols adds, “[Edwards’ pleasure argument] tells us that as citizens of heaven, we are to bring heaven, with all of its joys and delights, pleasure and sweetness, to earth (50).”

In this sermon, Edwards draws application from Proverbs 24:13, “My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.” Nichols shows that Edwards commends the believer “to eat, drink, and be merry as we enjoy the good hand of God . . . . Honey, Edwards learned from Proverbs, is good. We shouldn’t keep ourselves from enjoying it (51).” The simple fact that honey is good ought to encourage the Christian to enjoy and take pleasure in this life being thankful for the many ways that God has allowed us to see him in and through his creation.

Still, Christianity or “Religion”, as Edwards calls it, has more specific benefits for the believer with regard to the pursuit of pleasure. Nichols lists three reasons on how Edwards teaches that Christianity is pleasant:

  1. “It helps one realize how to fully enjoy sensory pleasure.”
  2. “The wicked, even while enjoying the pleasures of this life, have the ‘sting of conscience’ to deal with.”
  3. “Christianity is pleasant because it affords pleasures far beyond temporal or sensory or physical (51-53).”

Sequoias

Finally, Nichols uses an illustration taken from a poem by Wendell Berry in order to exhort citizens of heaven to make earth a better place. He quotes Berry saying, “Plant Sequoias (58).” Nichols applies this imagery urging believers to leave a Christ-glorifying legacy on earth. He pleads,

We plant sequoias for the generations to come, should Christ delay his return. We seek to bring the beauty and pleasure of enjoying this world to the surface amidst all of the evil and ugliness that vies for attention. We sow beauty so that others may reap beauty, so that they may see and know and love and praise God, the God of all beauty and of all pleasure (58).

Ultimately, our heavenly citizenship causes us to see this world for what it was really created to be, namely a place filled with beauty, pleasure, sweet honey, tall sequoias, and a people who bask in the glory of the Lord forever.

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