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TEXT: I Corinthians 13:12
SUBJECT: A String of Pearls #3
In June of 1657, Mrs. Mary Blake of London, England, died and went to heaven. A day or two later, her pastor and many other friends gathered at a church to remember the dear lady, to mourn their loss of her, and to rejoice in her present and permanent happiness.
To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord; to leave the sorrows of this life is to enter a joy unspeakable and full of glory. Her pastor's name was Thomas Brooks, a famous Puritan preacher and author. The sermon he preached in Mary's honor was called A String of Pearls or the Best Things Reserved Till Last.
The comparison is an apt one: if a single pearl is lovely and valuable, how much more a string of pearls? And if the Lord gave us one gift when we die, that would be wonderful, but what if He gave us a long string of gifts? That would be even better! And that's what He does when we die. The blessings we have in this life are many and fine, but the blessings we will have the next life will be even more and better.
For the people left behind, death is an awful thing; it's a piercing pain in the soul and an emptiness I can't find the words to describe. That's what death does to the living. But death is not a bad thing for the one who dies in Christ! That day-even if the first part of it is filled with pain and fear-is far happier than the next happiest day of his life! It's like the wedding of a young couple in love; it's like the crowning of a king who had lived a long time as a beggar.
What are the blessings we receive when we die in Christ? That's what the long sermon of Thomas Brooks is about. Thus far, he has named two things: upon his death, a believer obtains an big inheritance and takes a much needed rest.
This is what we've studied so far: these are the first two pearls on the Puritan's strand. The third blessing is one you maybe haven't thought about. But Thomas Brooks did. He calls it:
"The best sight and knowledge of God".
Before we get to Brooks on this one, let me take a minute or two to say a couple of things for myself.
First of all, the Puritan assumes that knowledge is valuable-not just the practical knowledge you can put to use in making money or a reputation or whatever it is you're looking for.
If you read the lives of brilliant men-Christians or not-you find an intense curiosity: they want to know things for the sake of knowing them. Change a word or two, and the saying of George Washington Carver might have been spoken by Moses or Socrates or Edison or Einstein or Stephen Hawking:
"Mr. God, what's a peanut for?"
Knowledge is a treasure in and of itself. Even if you can't do anything with it. Knowledge is valuable. Thomas Brooks looks at this knowledge as being one of the rarest blessings of heaven. Any moron can admire streets paved with gold or gates made of pearl. But it takes a wise man to see that the gift of knowledge is also a precious gift.
In the second place, Brooks assumes that the vision and knowledge of God are good things.
How well would you like to know God in this life? We all say we'd like to know Him better, but I wonder if this is true? I suspect the full knowledge of God now would kill us. If you read the Bible, you'll find good people very unhappy about seeing God or one of His messengers. They're scared to death! When the glory of the Lord flickered in the Temple, the priests were happy, but when it filled the Temple they ran for their lives!
A clear vision of God in this life would be like a clear vision of the sun: blinding. A full knowledge of Him now would be like overloading a computer with programs and data: a crash!
But the afterlife-and especially in the Resurrection-we will be so drastically change for the better that we'll be able to take it the Vision Splendid-and enjoy it!
That's enough of me, let's get back to Thomas Brooks and his String of Pearls.
He starts with a contrast-between the knowledge of God we have now and what we'll have then.
"I readily grant that even in this world the saints do know the Lord, inwardly, spiritually, powerfully, feelingly, experimentally, transformingly, practically; but not withstanding all these things, the best knowledge of God is reserved till heaven".
Christians know the Lord now. The newest convert knows Him in a way the most learned (but unsaved) professor of theology does not! This is one of the promised blessings of the New Covenant-"They shall all know Me".
The knowledge we have of God is not just book learning-like the knowledge I have of Australia: I've read about it, but that's all-read about it. Our knowledge of the Lord is far deeper than that: Brooks calls it powerful, experimental and transforming. We have experienced the Presence of God and He has mightily changed us.
This is what we have now-we all do, though some more than others. But, what we have now is like a drop of water compared to an ocean of knowledge we'll have in heaven.
Everything you know about the Lord now will be magnified a billion times over-with all the mistakes taken out too. That's a dear thought to me: I have experienced the love of God in this life and know His forgiveness first hand. But I haven't any idea how loving and forgiving He is: if I read all the books in the world, and the Bible ten times a day, I wouldn't. But then, I will.
Already we know the Lord! But only in the way we "know" Spanish the first day of class-Bonus Nachos Senior!
Then, we'll know the love of Christ that passes knowledge!
A CLEAR KNOWLEDGE
The knowledge of God we now have is murky or opaque or through a glass darkly, but then, out knowledge will be clear.
"They shall have the clearest knowledge of God in heaven. Here, our visions of God are not clear".
The quote is very long, but let me stop here. We know God now, but our knowledge of Him is dark and out-of-focus. The causes are, as I see it: four: (1) The built-in limits of present human nature, (2) the mental effects of sin, (3) false teachers, and (4) the Lord's veiling of Himself.
Our minds will always be limited, but they are more limited for life in this age than they will be for life in the next age. This means-even if Adam had not fallen into sin, our knowledge of God would be severely limited by what we are. It is something like a dog's knowledge of human language: a smart dog will understand many commands, but the brainiest dog has no opinion on the meaning of life.
Along with the limitations, sin has added perversions to our knowledge of God. Adam and Eve didn't know everything about God, of course, but it never crossed their minds to make an image of Him: that's a perversion of knowledge. It has affected every one of us.
False teachers have muddled up things even worse. They take young Christian minds and put so much folly and heresy into them that it takes years of hard study, thinking, and repentance, to get it out and replace it with something better.
The Lord can hide Himself and His purposes from us when He wants to. Job is the classic case here; he cried and begged, and pleaded with the Lord to answer him, but He didn't-not in Job's time, at least-and when He did, He answered another set of questions and not the ones Job put to Him.
Our great hymn says, "Though the darkness hide Thee". It is true that God is hidden from us, at times, but I think rather than saying, darkness hides Him, we ought to say He is hidden in Light! Paul says He dwells in a light that no man can approach. That means we can't see Him as clearly as when He gives us a new set of eyeballs to look with.
Take all these things away and our vision of God clears up wonderfully.
At death the believer's portion is a clear knowledge of God!
A FULL KNOWLEDGE
If our vision of God is now dark and fuzzy, it is also shallow. But in heaven, the knowledge will be full. Brooks says
"They shall have the fullest knowledge of God. Here our knowledge of God is weak, but in heaven it will be full and complete. `I have many things to say to you-says Christ--`but you cannot bear them now'".
Much of what we know about God is true: when we say He is A Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth" we are right: He is all of these things.
But how much do we know about these things? What is a Spirit? All I can say is it's the opposite of a body-but that's a puny understanding, isn't it? It's like the wind, but in what way is it like the wind and unlike it? I'm already stuck.
The point is: we know some true things about the Lord, but our knowledge of these true things is like a baby's knowledge of books. Does a baby know anything about a book? Sure he does: he knows it is good to eat, and makes a funny noise when he tears out the pages! But is this all there is to know about books? The baby's knowledge of the book is true as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far.
And neither does our knowledge of God-in this life. But in the life to come, it will be greatly deepened. Brooks says it will be full and complete, but I think he's wrong there. No one can thoroughly know God but God Himself, but our knowledge will be far greater then than now.
And that's something to look forward to and pulls the sting of death from those who want to know the Lord.
AN IMMEDIATE KNOWLEDGE
The knowledge we'll have of God in heaven will also be immediate.
"The sight and knowledge of God will be immediate. Here our knowledge of God is mediate; we see Him, but only through the glass of His Word or works".
On this heading, the Puritan uses the word, immediate, in a way we don't use it very often. To us, immediate is the opposite of gradual or slow. He doesn't mean it that way: he means it in the sense of direct or without things in-between.
The mystics have always sought the direct experience of God in this world. Some say they've achieved it, but I'm not so sure they have. But, whether they have or not, we know that God reveals Himself to us now through things: through His Word, through nature, through conscience, through His church, and so on.
These things connect us to the source of life the way a pipe connects a city to a body of water. They're absolutely necessary. In this life. But, in the life to come, the pipes are no longer needed, for the Water has come to us and we have gone to Him.
This is what Paul is getting at in our verse: Now, we see the Face of God through a tinted window, but one day, the window will be rolled down and we'll see Him face-to-face.
If the knowledge of God in His Word is as thrilling as it is now, just imagine how amazing it must be when we meet Him with nothing in-between!
When John saw heaven, he could not find a Temple in it, for it was.a secular city? No.
"For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple of it!"
What an astonishing knowledge it must be! To know God-no longer through books and sermons and pious mediations, but to know Him Personally!
A PERMANENT KNOWLEDGE
The knowledge that is clear and deep and direct will also be permanent. Brooks says
"The sight and knowledge that they shall have of God in heaven shall be permanent and constant. Now, saints have a happy sight of God, and soon it is lost".
He is right on both points: we have a dear knowledge of God now, but how fleeting the knowledge is! I'm thinking of the Lord and His glory and grace, but then an evil thought pushes into my mind and, the thought of God is no more. Or, even if the thought isn't evil, I'm mediating on the Lord and the phone rings or I'm praying in bed and I fall asleep. I know a dear Christian lady who thought long and hard on the Lord, but now-late in life-she has Alzheimer's Disease and, as far as I can tell, she doesn't think about the Lord at all anymore.
How sad this is! To remember the Lord only to forget Him five minutes later. But in heaven, our knowledge of God will be permanent and constant. Nothing will interrupt our fellowship with Him and it will last forever!
If heaven is a new, clear, full, and lasting knowledge of God, then Thomas Brooks is right: the best things are reserved till last. And no pearl on the string is more precious than this one.
We have a lot to look forward to!
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