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TEXT: I Peter 1:8
SUBJECT: A String of Pearls #5: Joy
Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we return to the Puritan study we began a few weeks ago; it's called A String of Pearls by Thomas Brooks. The small book was first a very long sermon, preached at the funeral of Mrs. Mary Blake. The subtitle explains the sermon and why it was preached at the passing of a dear lady. It is The Best Things Reserved Till Last. If Mrs. Blake had God's rare blessings in this life, she had even more and better ones in the life to come. To the Christian, nothing good is ever lost, but every good he has now is improved on when he meets the Lord in death. I may have chosen my words poorly, for the believer does not meet the Lord in death-he meets Him in life!
This is what the Puritan sermon is about: the blessings we have when we quit this life for the life to come.
Thus far, we've looked at four of them. When the believer leaves this world, he receives-right then and there-his inheritance, his rest, a deep knowledge of Christ, and he comes into the smiling Presence of God. Note the word: smiling! Meeting the Lord is an appalling prospect-unless you're forgiven and accepted for Christ's sake! Which all believers are! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.unless He's your Father.
That's enough reviewing, let's move on to the fifth blessing we'll receive when we die. He starts off with a general statement and then narrows it down quite a bit. Let's have brief look at the big idea.
"The perfection of grace is reserved for glory. Though our graces be our best jewels, yet they are imperfect and do not shine in their full lustre. Oh the stains, the spots, the blots, and the blemishes that attend our choicest graces and services! Our best personal righteousness is stained with much unrighteousness, for perfection of grace and holiness are reserved for heaven".
Unbelievers can understand and desire some of the blessings of heaven. Who wouldn't want paradise instead of a Lake of Fire? Who wouldn't choose good health over sickness and happiness over sorrow? Everyone feels this way: in this way, nobody wants to miss heaven or go to hell.
But the blessing I just read doesn't appeal to most people. If there's one thing an unbeliever doesn't want, it is holiness-no less perfect holiness. But the Christian is charmed by holiness, he finds love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and so on, alluring qualities-things he wants for himself and wants more of than he has.
This is one of the things we can look forward to in heaven. Not only will we be freed from the consequences of sin (that would be nice too), but sin itself is no more and neither is partial holiness, a godliness that's mixed with immaturity, ignorance, and inconsistency.
In heaven, the believer will be everything God wants him to be-and in a lower sense-everything Christ is! For now, the fruit of the Sprit is green; in heaven it will be ripe-a ripeness that never goes bad!
The graces we have now are underdeveloped-at best. In heaven they will be fully developed. Oh what it must be to be there!
Having said this about our graces in general, Brooks goes on to single one out in particular. He wants us to think, long and hard, about the grace of joy that will be ours in heaven. This joy, he says, will be.
"A pure joy. Here our joys are mixed with sorrow, our rejoicing with trembling. In this life, the best have water with their wine.but in heaven they shall have joy without sorrow, light without darkness, sweetness without bitterness, summer without winter, health without sickness, honor without disgrace, glory without shame, and life without death".
I wonder how many conservative Christian pastors today would describe the believer's life in this world as a wine that's been watered down! Maybe he'd say non-fat milk!
In any event, you know what he's getting at. The joys of this life are real and deep, but they are not pure, for there's always a drop of sorrow or fear or guilt or uncertainty in them. Life is a trade-off. The man who marries a good wife receives a very great blessing-no doubt about that-but he also loses something. His gain is far greater than his loss, but the loss is also real.
But in heaven there is no give-and-take; it's a win-win world! The joys we have on earth, we'll still have, only multiplied by infinity and scoured of every stain.
Think of the happiness of summer vacation. But within a week or two, the happiness is mixed with some boredom, and about the first of August, it occurs to you that you've got to go back to school-and this year may be a lot harder than last year.
But in heaven the summer vacation goes on forever and it never gets dull or repetitious. Can you imagine that? School's out forever-and you don't have to go to work!
The joy of heaven is pure--and not mixed with anything that might mess it up for you. If it's a sunny day at the beach, the sun never goes down and you don't get a sunburn! If it's a great meal, you can eat forever without getting too full or too fat! If it's my kind of paradise-reading-then every book is more interesting than the one before it, and my eyes don't get tired. If it's a heaven for my wife, the nap never ends and nobody wants to know what's for dinner!
Just think of the happiest day of your life. The worst day in heaven is a million times better than that. The joy of heaven is free from every sin or worry or fear or regret. The only things lost to the saints in heaven are the unhappy things of this life.
A lady once came to C.S. Lewis, very distressed. She wanted to know if her dog would go to heaven. Lewis said he didn't think it would. But the lady told him she couldn't be happy without the dog. Lewis told her,
"Madame, if you must have your dog to be happy in heaven, you will have it".
He was right: nothing good on earth is lost in heaven! Our joy will be pure.
The joy of heaven will not only be pure, but it will also be full. You see the difference, don't you? A diamond may be without a flaw, but it could be bigger. In the same way, the joys of heaven will not only be without the flaws of earth, but they'll also be big-bigger than we can imagine! Brooks says,
"Here joy is always at an ebb, but there is the flood of joy.In heaven the joys will be so great that no geometrician can measure, so many that no arithmetician can count, and so wonderful that no orator can utter had he the tongue of men and angels. Joy shall be spread all over your body and through all the faculties of your soul.If all the earth were paper and all the plants of the earth were pens, and all the seas were ink, and every man, woman and child an able scribe, they would not be able to express the thousandeth part of those joys the saints shall have in heaven!"
Here is sacred rhetoric at its best! The joys of this life are like a low tide. I went to the beach in Alameda one day and the tide was so far out that I saw people wading a good half mile from the beach! But the joys of heaven are like the beach and the street behind it-and the whole world--a thousand feet under water! The Lord who once flooded the world with water will one day flood it with happiness! And unlike the Flood back then, the waters of this one will never drain off!
Then he wonders how many books it would take to record the joys of heaven. If the earth were a stack of papers and every green thing a pen and every human took shorthand not one tenth of one tenth of a percent of that joy could be put down on paper! But, of course not, what Jesus Christ did in thirty years would fill the earth with books-and more. Now, what will He do for us in eternity? The universe is too small for the book!
The joys of this life are good as far as they go: but therein lies the rub: they don't go far enough. But the joys of heaven do. What must it be to be there!
"The joy of the saints in heaven shall be a lasting joy. Here, there joy is quickly turned into sorrow, their singing into sighing, their dancing into mourning. Our joys here are like the farmer's joy in harvest, which is soon over, and then he must sow again in tears, before he can reap in joy, but in heaven the joy of the saints shall be constant".
There's an old saying in Austria: "Everything has an end, but the sausage, which has two". The saying is almost true, but not quite. The happiest marriage ends with death and loss and grief. In this world,
Things fall apart,
The center will not hold.
But in heaven, the center will hold and things don't fall apart! The joy of heaven has no end; it lives as long as God lives and as long as His promise is good. The last line of every fairy tale is also the Church's last line,
"And they all lived happily ever after".
The joys of heaven are real: pure, full, and lasting. This is one of the pearls on the string of your salvation. It's one of the best things that God has reserved till last-for you.
Thus, Paul was no patronizing us when he said: "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, which is far better!"
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