"i believe in God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; I believe in the Communion of Saints, in the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body, and the Life Everlasting".
MY brethren, we believe in Heaven: but what is Heaven ? Our friends die—men die by myriads; at every ticking of the clock some fifty souls have passed away;—yet not a breath of sound shakes the curtain of impenetrable darkness which hangs between us and the unseen world. A fair child sighs away his innocent soul, and in a moment, perhaps, "He hath learnt the secret hid Under either pyramid; "— but to his parents, in their agony, comes no faintest whisper from the intervital gloom. Not to one of all the unnumbered generations whose dust is blown upon the desert winds has it been permitted to breathe one syllable or letter of the dim and awful secret beyond the grave. And yet the faith of man has not been shaken, nor, for all this deep, unbroken silence, has he ever ceased to believe that He who called us into being will bless, will save, will cherish the souls which He hath made. We feel sure He did not mean us merely " to be born weeping, to live complaining, and to die disappointed," and so cease to be, but that He has a new home for us in other worlds. It is the fact which we believe; the details are not revealed to us. And hence each race has fancied its own ideal of heaven. The Greek had his Elysian plains, where the Eidola—the shadowy images of the dead—moved in a world of shadows ; and his Islands of the Blest, where Achilles and Tydides unlaced the helmets from their flowing hair. The Scandinavian dreamed of his green Paradise hereafter amid the waste. Few indeed have been the nations who have not imagined that there remains for holy souls beyond the grave some "Island valley of Avilion, Where falls not hail or rain, or any snow, Nor ever wind blows loudly".
And all Christians, that they may be enabled to give some form to that which cannot be uttered, have dwelt with rapture on the glowing symbols of the poet of the Apocalypse—the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, and her light like unto a stone most precious, even unto a jasper stone; and the gates of pearl, and the foundations of precious stones, and the pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, and the Tree of Life, with its leaves for the healing of the nations. Symbols only,—yet exquisite symbols of the poet's vision, which dull philosophies may scorn, but in which a Dante and a Milton delighted; symbols which come back to us with the freshness and the sweetness of childhood, as we sing the hymns, so dear to Christian worship, of "Jerusalem the golden," or " There is a land of pure delight." Yet even these symbolic passages do not thrill the heart so keenly as others, which speak with scarce a symbol, and simply tell of a life without life's agonies, and the vision of God undark-ened by mists of sin. " They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters ;and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." And if we need any symbols to help us, they are symbols of transparent meaning; green meadows, where men may breathe God's fresh air, and see His golden light; glorified cities, with none of the filth and repulsiveness of these, but where no foul step intrudes ; white robes, pure emblem of stainless innocence ; the crown, and the palm-branch, and the throne of serene self-mastery over our spiritual enemies; and the golden harp, and the endless song,—which do but speak of abounding happiness, in that form of it which is, of all others, the most innocent, the most thrilling, the most intense.
What may be the physical conditions of Heaven we cannot tell, and perhaps the very phrase may be meaningless of that place where they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God. But so far as Heaven is a place at all, its fundamental conception is that it is a place where sin is not. No guilty step may pass the gates of pearl, no polluting presence fling shadows on the golden streets. They who live there are the angels, and just men made perfect, and the spirits of the saints in light. And if we ever get there, we shall be as they; for to be there is to see the face of God, and to see the face of God is to be changed into the same image from glory to glory. There life's stains shall have been purged away; and the gold shall be mixed with dross no longer, nor the fine gold dim. But oh, to have been disenchanted utterly, for ever, from the low aims of the world ! oh, to have been set free for ever from the yoke of habit and the power of temptation ! oh, to desire only, and to do only, what is good, without evil being ever present to us ! oh, to do perfectly what here we have but imperfectly attempted ! oh, to be what here we have only seemed to be or wished to be! oh, to be honest, true, noble, sincere, genuine, pure, holy to the heart's inmost core ! Is not that Heaven ? Is it not a state rather than a place ? is it not a temper rather than a habitation ? is it not to be something rather than to go somewhere ? Yes, this, this is Heaven. What more we know not. In other stars, amid His countless worlds, for all we know God may have work for us to do. Who knows what radiant ministrations; what infinite activities; what never-ending progress; what immeasurable happiness; what living ecstasies of unimaginable rapture, where all things are lovely, honourable, pure. This, this is Heaven! And why should we not believe that the God who is so good to us hath such good things in store for all who love Him ? All the good and true, all the pure and noble, shall be there. And all on earth who have ever been high and sweet and worthy, out of every tribe, and kindred, and nation, and language,—ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands !
Let us then labour to enter into that rest. For if, as we Christians believe, Christ hath died to give us entrance into such a Heaven as this, we must believe the same Gospel which tells us, not obscurely, that it is not a reward but a continuity, not a change but a development. If we desire Heaven we must seek it here—if we love Heaven we must love it now. Heaven means holiness; " Heaven means principle Heaven means to be one with God.
Eternal Hope, p. 11.