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The Incomprehensibly Glorious, but Real Blessings of Heaven for the People of God

Are you ready to die? I trust you aren’t put off by that question. I’m not asking if you want to die right now, although reading what Paul wrote in Philippians 1:19ff. appears to suggest that if the decision were up to him, he would prefer to die and be with Christ.

So, let me ask again: are you ready to die? If the answer is No, it may well be due to your failure to understand what awaits the believer on the other side of life in this world. Have you given much thought to what Scripture tells us about life in the presence of Jesus Christ, a life free from the torment of temptation, a life devoid of disease and distress, a life immersed in a kind of joy and satisfaction that is both unimaginable and yet quite real?

Many have written of the glory of life in the new heaven and new earth. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) has written of it in his sermon, Heaven: A World of Love. Few can match Edwards for the manner in which he describes our experience following physical death. If anyone is in Edwards class, it is surely Richard Baxter, as found in his classic work, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. Baxter (1615-1691) was one of the more significant and influential seventeenth-century English Puritans. Among the more than 140 books that he wrote, The Reformed Pastor and The Saints’ Everlasting Rest are the most well known.

When she heard of my “retirement” as lead pastor at Bridgeway Church here in OKC, Joni Eareckson Tada sent me an incredibly encouraging letter, together with a copy of Tim Cooper’s updated and abridged version of Baxter’s work on heaven (Crossway, 2022). Joni actually wrote the Foreword for this book, and I am so very glad she thought of me and sent it my way. The first edition of Baxter’s book, published in 1650, was 853 pages long, containing some 350,000 words! Cooper’s abridgement is only around 35,000 words. I vaguely recall trying to digest the original version when I was in seminary, but gave up. But not this time. Cooper has provided us with a readable digest of the best from Baxter, and I hope you’ll make the effort to purchase a copy and dive deeply into its pages.

My aim in several articles to follow is simply to select certain passages from Baxter and add a few choice comments where appropriate. I trust you will be as encouraged as I was in reading them, and that your answer to the question, “Are you ready to die?” will be “Yes and Amen,” even if God should choose to grant you many more years of life on earth.

The primary text Baxter used to build his case is Hebrews 4:9 – “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” What is this “rest” of which the biblical author speaks? How might we describe it? Let’s listen to Baxter as he unfolds for us the unimaginable but very real glory of the “rest” God has prepared for his people.

“I will begin,” writes Baxter, “by describing what is contained in this Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God. First of all, this rest contains a cessation from all motion or action that implies the absence of the end. When we have reached the harbor, we have finished sailing. When the workman has his wages, he has completed his work. All motion ends at the center, and all means cease when we have the end. Thus there will be no more prayer, because there will be no more necessity, only the full enjoyment of what we prayed for. We will not need to fast, weep, and watch anymore, being out of the reach of sin and temptations. Nor will we need instruction and exhortation: preaching is done; ministry ceases; the sacraments are now past their use. The laborers are called in because the harvest is gathered; the tares are burnt, and the work is done (Matt. 13:24-30). The unregenerate are past hope; the saints are past fear forever.

This rest contains a perfect freedom from all the evils that accompanied us through our course in this world, for nothing enters heaven that defiles or is unclean (Rev. 21:27). Doubtless, there is no such thing as grief and sorrow there. Nor is there such a thing as a pale face, feeble joints, languishing sickness, groaning fears, consuming cares, or whatever deserves the name of evil. A gale of groans and a stream of tears will accompany us to the very gates, and there they will bid us farewell forever. Our sorrow will be turned into joy, and no one will take our joy from us” (34-35).

So, once again, knowing this to be true, are you ready to die?

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