A Name in Heaven, the Truest Ground of Joy
By Matthew Mead
"However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you—but rejoice that your names are written in heaven!" Luke 10:20
Our Lord Christ, here in the text, calls off his disciples from rejoicing much, in that which yet was as lawful and likely a cause of rejoicing as any—namely, victory over infernal spirits, and success against the powers of darkness. He call them to fix their joy upon a good infinitely to be preferred to that, and desired before it, and that is—a name written in heaven! "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you—but rejoice that your names are written in heaven!"
In the words you have a prohibition and an exhortation. Something from which they are forbidden; something to which they are invited.
That from which they are prohibited is, rejoicing in their success over infernal spirits; "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you."
That to which they are invited is, to rejoice in a mercy of a much nobler nature, and that is, their share and interest in the glory and blessedness above, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven!"
I shall begin with the PROHIBITION, and speak a little to that. "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you."
This does clearly imply, that this casting out of devils, by the power of the disciples' ministry, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, was matter of great joy to them; and one would think, if anything in the world could justify the running out of their joy—this casting out of devils might. For,
1. It was a great and miraculous gift of Jesus Christ.
2. It was a gift foretold by the prophets, as reserved for gospel times.
3. It was a victory over the most potent enemy, who laughs to scorn all human power. A stronger one than he must come and bind him.
4. It was a victory very conducing to the honor of the Lord Christ, that his weak disciples, in his name alone, could make the powers of hell submit and stoop. So that certainly here was, in the success of this service, sufficient cause of joy to the disciples. And yet says our Lord Christ to them, "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you." It is not an absolute prohibition—but rather we may call it a cautionary limitation, "Do not rejoice so much in this." Though it was a true ground of joy, yet the Lord Christ takes them off from it by raising their hearts above it, to a higher and nobler cause of joy; and that for a two-fold end.
First, To free them from the danger of spiritual pride, which is very apt to insinuate itself into our rejoicing. The success of Christian duty is too apt to puff up and swell us beyond our proportions. The prosperity of the creature in its attempts, becomes a temptation "to sacrifice to its own net, and burn incense to its own dragnet." [Hab. 1.16.] When spiritual pride mixes itself with our joy in God, we take from him more than we give to him—we rob him of his glory, while we rejoice in his mercy.
Therefore the Lord Christ takes them off from this to a higher object. The devils are subject to you, it is true; the power of the gospel in your mouths and ministry, has cast Satan like lightning from heaven, it is true; and I know that your hearts are filled with joy—for so it is said in the seventeenth verse, "They returned again with joy." "Well," says the Lord Christ, "Do not rejoice in this. Why should your affections be terminated in these things, when you have a nobler object for your joy to enlarge upon, and that is, the electing love of God, your portion in the eternal mansions! Your joy in the subduing infernal spirits may be your snare; while they are subject to you one way, spiritual pride may subject you to them in another way; and so, though you conquer, yet they will overcome. Therefore do not rejoice in this."
Secondly, To teach us that no temporal mercy should terminate the delight of our souls—but that we should use all outward blessings as a ladder whereby to ascend to God in our affections.
The way to allay and moderate the joy of the soul, in common and present mercies—is to realize the things of the invisible world, and let out our hearts much to the glories above. The design of Christ and the gospel is to spiritualize the Christian's joy, and place it upon the chief good; "therefore do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you."
Question. But you will say, "Why should we not rejoice in this?"
Answer. I will give you a three-fold reason for it.
Reason 1. Because this gift of casting out demons, may be given—where the love of God is not enjoyed; Matt. 7.22,23, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Many may cast out devils in the name of Christ—and yet after all be cast out themselves by Christ! Judas was one of those who cast out devils—and yet Judas was cast out himself.
That enjoyment, whatever it is (be it gifts, be it relations, be it honors) which may be separated from the love of God in Christ—can be no true ground of rejoicing. Therefore what our Lord Christ says of casting out of devils, I may justly say of all things below, which we place our contentment in, and look upon as matter of joy, "However, do not rejoice in these."
Reason 2. It is a vanity to rejoice much—in anything which we cannot rejoice in long. What the apostle says, 1 Cor. 13.8, "Prophecies shall fail, tongues shall cease, knowledge shall vanish away;" the same I may say of all common and sublunary mercies and comforts—they shall fail and vanish! "The fashion of this world passes away," 1 Cor. 7.31.
What pleasure can that man take in his expedition, whose voyage is for a year—and his food but for a day? Just so, what pleasure can that man take, who sets out for eternity with the pleasures and contentments of nothing but mortality? Therefore though you may have all that heart can wish of the comfort and prosperity of this world, yet notwithstanding, do not rejoice in this!
Reason 3. Why should we rejoice much in that which cannot rescue us out of the hands of eternal misery? None of these earthly things which we glory in, can. They are poor lying delights, which, like the Jordan River, empty all their sweetness, into a stinking and sulphurous sea! (the Dead Sea)
When I see the rich man in the parable "clothed with purple, and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day," Luke 16.19, methinks I could wish my lot might be at his table—rather than with an ulcerous Lazarus "begging for crumbs at his door." But when I look again, and find him paying his reckoning in tormenting flames—who would have his pomp and glory at this price! He buys his pleasures too dear—who pays for them with the loss of his soul!
We may have all the comforts that this world can afford—and yet die comfortless in our sins! We may we be rejoicing in our relations today—and yet shut out of all relation to God tomorrow! So whatever we possess of the comforts of this world—do not rejoice in these things—but rejoice that your names are written in heaven!
And this brings me to the EXHORTATION, in which the true ground of a Christian's joy is propounded, and preferred before all other joy. "Do not rejoice in any of these things—but rather in that your names are written in heaven!" Joy in temporal mercy is not absolutely prohibited—but a higher joy is preferred. An interest in heaven is a far greater mercy—than casting out devils on earth. Therefore rejoice that your names are written in heaven!
The expression is in manner of speech much like that of our Lord Christ, in John 6:27, "Do not labor for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life." That is—do not labor so much for this or for that temporal good, but rather for eternal good.
Let us a little consider the expression, "Rejoice because your names are written in heaven!"
The Lord Christ might have said, Rejoice in your discipleship to me, that I have called you out of the world; when "not many wise in the world's eyes, or powerful, or wealthy are called." 1 Cor. 1.26.
The Lord Christ might have said, Rejoice that you have become new creatures, when "the whole world lies in wickedness." 1 John 5. 19.
The Lord Christ might have said, Rejoice that you are enlightened in the mysteries of the gospel, when "they are hidden from the wise and prudent." Matt. 11.25. But if Christ had fixed their joy in any of these, then the fountain and cause of all, would have been hidden. Therefore our Lord Christ leads them to the fountain from whence all these privileges are derived, and that is, the electing love of God; this being the cause of all future good to the creature.
Are you called out of the world? It is "because your names are written in heaven!"
Are you begotten of God? It is "because your names are written in heaven!"
Are you taken into membership with Christ, and thereby become the sons and daughters of God? It is "because your names are written in heaven!"
Have you the pledge of your inheritance in the sealings of the spirit upon your hearts? It is "because your names are written in heaven!"
Can you subdue corruptions within, and resist temptations without? are the devils subject to you? It is "because your names are written in heaven! Therefore do not rejoice so much because the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven!"
The apostle, in Phil. 4:3, speaks of names written in the book of life; "whose names are in the book of life." And in Rev. 13:8, you read of names written in the book of the Lamb; "All who dwell upon earth shall worship the beast, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." And here in the text you read of "a name written in heaven."
Those who have an interest in the electing love of God, who are his chosen ones—their names are written "in the book of life." But those lying in a fallen state with the rest of the lost world, must be redeemed with the blood of Christ—and when they come to share in the redeeming love of Christ, then they may be said to have their "names written in the book of the Lamb."
And when the Spirit of grace has changed and sanctified them, and given them a right to eternal life, then their "names may be said to be written in heaven!"
If you share in the electing love of God—you shall also share in the redeeming grace of Christ! And if you are redeemed by Christ—you shall share in the renewing and sanctifying work of the Spirit.
If your name is written in the book of life—it shall be written in the book of the Lamb. And if it is written in the book of the Lamb—it shall be written in heaven! And if it be written there—then "do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you—but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven!"
But I conceive that all these various phrases of the Holy Spirit, signify one and the same thing, to be written "in the book of life, and in the book of the Lamb," is all one in sense, with this phrase before us in the text, of "having our names written in heaven!"
The writing our names in heaven imports and implies three things.
1st, The foreknowledge of God. The names of believers are said "to be written in heaven," because they are as certainly and as distinctly known to God—as if their names were written and recorded there.
God is said "not to know the wicked," Matt. 7.23; but he "knows all that are his." "You only have I known, of all the families of the earth," Amos 3.2. "The foundation of the Lord stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows those who are his." 2 Tim. 2.19.
2dly, The writing our names in heaven implies an interest in the electing love of God. Phil. 4.3, "whose names are written in the book of life;" that is, who are in an elected state, chosen to salvation and eternal life. The book of life is God's immutable and eternal decree, wherein, as in a book, the names of the elect are written.
"Behold, what manner of love the father has bestowed upon us—that we should be called the sons of God!" 1 John 3.1. "This is the new name in the white stone, which none can know but those who receive it." Rev. 2.17.
3rdly, But then there is also a fitness for heaven. And this lies in our attainments in grace; when we are sanctified throughout, and our measure filled up—then we have a fitness for heaven and the state of glory.
We are decreed to this state by the eternal love of God, from before the foundation of the world; we are redeemed to it by the blood and death of Jesus Christ; we are called to it by the preaching of the gospel; but we are not actually entered into it, until we are renewed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
There are four doctrines which the words of the text afford to us.
Doctrine 1. That rejoicing in temporal mercies is warrantable; the Lord Christ does here allow of it—even when he prefers the joy of a name written in heaven before it.
Doctrine 2. That when the Lord given us any matter of rejoicing in the mercies and blessings which he bestows upon us, the best of us are too prone to take up with a carnal selfish joy; this doctrine is implied in that, "Do not rejoice."
Doctrine 3. That though rejoicing in outward mercies is good and warrantable, yet to terminate our joy, and let our hearts rest in them—is evil and sinful. "Do not rejoice in this;" that is—don't rejoice in this as the chief good, not as the highest cause of joy—so as to hinder your hearts from a higher and nobler matter of rejoicing.
Doctrine 4. That a right to, and saving interest in the glories of the eternal world—is a greater ground of joy than anything this present world can afford. The greatest ground of joy imaginable is to have a name written in heaven!
I shall pass by the two former doctrines, being only implied in the text, and speak a little to the third, to make way to the last, which I chiefly intend to insist upon.
Doctrine 3. That though rejoicing in outward mercies is good and warrantable—yet to terminate our joy, and let our hearts rest in them—is evil and sinful.
First, It proceeds from an evil CAUSE, and that is inordinate love of temporal objects. Joy in anything is proportioned to love. We never rejoice much in anything—but what we love much. Now, to have the choicest love of an immortal soul laid out upon, and center in, present and perishing comforts—is a great evil.
Secondly, It has an evil EFFECT.Hereby God is disparaged, the Lord Christ despised, the unseen glories of heaven neglected, and the soul in danger of being misled and ruined!
Thirdly, We hereby make a wrong use of the mercies of God, which are given to raise our hearts—not for our hearts to rest in! They are given to elevate our affections—not to terminate them in! They are given to draw our hearts up—not to swallow them up!
Present enjoyments should be as a looking-glass for the soul—to take a view of the goodness of God in! David says, "The earth is full of his goodness," Psalm 33.5. You may enjoy God in every creature, and have an account of his goodness from every comfort.
To the believing eye, there is a transparency in the creature—faith can see divine goodness and bounty beaming through every mercy! Those who cannot see God's goodness and bounty beaming through every mercy—can never rightly use them, nor innocently enjoy them.
The sensual heart makes that which God made for a looking-glass, in which we might see him—to be a cloud to hide him! God made it for a window to let in the light of his love—and we make it a curtain to shut it out!
To let our hearts rest in present mercies is to make them our idols—and this is the highest abuse of God's mercies!
1. This God has expressly forbidden, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below," Exod. 20.4. To make the creature our chief good, is to put it in the room and place of God, and to make an idol for ourselves.
2. This hazards the continuance of our mercies. When once we begin to set up idols—it is time for God to pull them down! When once our hearts center in them—he will quickly remove them! One of these two things, God always does in this case: either he takes our comforts away from us—to recover our love to himself; or if he leaves them with us—and then he withdraws himself.
APPLICATION.Would you not have your hearts should terminate in any temporal mercy? Hearken to a double exhortation:
1. Whatever you love—let it also be your fear.Fear will be a bridle to love. Nothing has such advantage upon us to steal our hearts from God—as the things we love and delight in. Have you a child or relation you love, a friend or companion you love, etc. O be jealous of them, for these, "like wine—take away the heart!" Hos. 4.11.
If what you love is not your fear—it will be your loss and sorrow! If Samson had feared his Delilah as much as he loved her, he would have saved both his locks and his life. Solomon's wives became his woe! Spoiled children often repay their parents old age in tears and troubles, being thorns in their sides and a grief to their souls! Whatever you over love—you will find it to be your cross or your curse!
2. Live above all temporal pleasures!What! have you no nobler delights! Have you not a God to delight in! Have you not a Christ to solace your souls in communion with! What a poor thing it is—to put your souls off with those delights, wherein the brutes have as great a share as you!
Peace with God. Joy in the Holy Spirit. Peace of conscience. The hope of eternal glory. "A name written in heaven." These are the only proper pastime for immortal souls! This leads me to the observation, which I chiefly aim at.
A saving interest in the glories of the eternal world, is a truer and nobler cause of rejoicing, than anything which this present world can afford.
Doctrine 4. The greatest ground of joy imaginable is to have "a name written in heaven!"
I need produce no other proof of the truth of this doctrine, than the authority of the text itself; it stands clear in the light of its own evidence. The Lord Christ himself has said it—and therefore we ought to believe it is so.
But why is it so?
Reason 1."A name written in heaven" is a rich result of electing love! Love is the most comforting attribute in God—the best name the creature knows him by: "God is love," 1 John 4:16. There are three things to be considered in it.
1. Love acts with a priority to all other attributes.Wisdom contrives the good and felicity of the creature. Power and providence maturate and bring the contrivements of wisdom to pass. But love has the first hand in the work. It was love which first summoned the great counsel held by all the three persons of the Trinity, when neither men nor angels existed.
It was love that first pitched upon the Son, and laid him as the foundation of the whole structure of man's salvation and blessedness. Love sent Christ into the world—love put him to death—love made him an offering for sin! All the attributes of God act in the strength of love; and all the providences of God follow the motions of love.
2. Electing love is the proper source of all our other mercies.So the apostle makes it, Ephesians 1, "Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings;" how so? "according as he has chosen us in Christ." And what those spiritual blessings are, he tells you. "He has made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." "He has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence." "Having made known to us the mystery of his will." "In whom we have obtained an inheritance—that is, a name written in heaven!" All which the apostle resolves again into electing love, verse 11, "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will."
3. Love is the only attribute which God has acted to the utmost.We have never seen the utmost of his power—what God can do. But we have seen the utmost of his love—he has found a ransom for lost souls! Job 33.28, "He has laid help upon one who is mighty;" Psalm 89.19, "He has tabernacled divinity in flesh." 1 Tim. 3.16, "He has made his soul an offering for sin, laid upon him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53.11, "He has made us the righteousness of God in him;" 2 Cor. 5.21, "He has accepted us in the beloved." Eph. 1.6, "He has made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Eph. 2.6, "He has written our names in heaven." How can divine love put forth greater efforts of itself than these?
The love of God, is infinite love. It gives the soul interest in an infinite good, entitles it to an infinite blessedness, and so fills the soul with an infinite satisfaction. And is not a saving interest in God's electing love, the highest cause of rejoicing? The scripture compares love to wine—but the love of God is better than wine; Cant. 4.10. It gives "a name in heaven," which causes an eternal rejoicing.
Reason 2. "A name written in heaven" is a special mercy, which is given only to the Christian.David prays, Psalm 106.4,5, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you bear to your people." God records the names of hie people in the book of life, and there David would be recorded too; and why? "That I share in the prosperity of your chosen ones—and rejoice in the joy of your people."
Nothing is so great a cause of rejoicing and glorying as this. What if God gives you life, riches, relations, honors? There is no special mercy in all this. Can you prove your title to the love of God by any or all of these? A man may have life—and yet be dead to God, and dead in sin! A man may be rich, and yet wretched! We may have children—and yet be ourselves children of wrath for all that! God does not love us in giving us sons, unless he gives us his own Son! A man may have honor—and yet not be honored by God. Herod was honored by the people—and yet "eaten up with worms!" Acts 12.21,23.
Special mercies cause special rejoicing. Common mercies can cause but common joy. A name in heaven is a special mercy—this is not the lot of all; the names of the greatest part of the world are written in the dust! Jer. 17.13, "O Lord, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water." The expression has much in it; it travels with a curse.
"A name in heaven" imports the greatest happiness; so a name written in the dust implies the greatest misery.
A name written in the dust implies a short duration, a name of no continuance.
The dust is a place of putrefaction and corruption; what is buried in the earth soon turns to rottenness; so that a name written in the dust implies rottenness, according to Solomon, "The name of the wicked shall rot." Proverbs 10.7.
The dust is a place of oblivion. What is written in heaven is recorded forever—but what is written in the dust is soon forgotten; so says Bildad of the wicked. "All memory of their existence will perish from the earth. No one will remember them. They will be thrust from light into darkness, driven from the world. People are appalled at their fate. They will say—This was the home of a wicked person, the place of one who rejected God." Job 18:17-21.
The earth is designed for burning; it is decreed to be fuel for the conflagration of the great day, when "the Lord Christ shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire," 2 Thess. 1.7,8. So says the apostle, 2 Pet. 3.10, "The day of the Lord will come, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up!" Whatever is of affinity to earth must feel the flames of that dreadful day! Not only the dust of the earth—but the treasures of the earth—the pleasures of the earth, the names written in the dust, earthly affections, earthly delights, earthly designs, earthly hearts—all together must make fuel for that fire! For "the earth, and all the works that are therein, shall be burnt up!"
You see what a curse, that a name written in the dust is; and yet the names of the greatest part of men and women in the world are written there. To have a name written in heaven, is the portion but of few; it is a special privilege, by which the Lord distinguishes his people from the rest of the world; and therefore to have a name in heaven is cause of rejoicing indeed.
Reason 3. A name written in heaven, manifests that person to be in the highest relation to God.You are his children, his sons and daughters, the adopted of the Lord! What can be greater ground of unimaginable joy?
What is it which clothes your child with honor and fame—but the nobleness of his descent? and how does your honor and greatness come to descend upon him—but by being of the same blood? It is the nearness of the relation, which entitles him to all. So all that is in God, all his excellencies, all his attributes, his wisdom, his power, his love, his justice, his providence—all are yours, and work for your benefit and advantage, by virtue of your relationship to him.
There is a two-fold relation to God, a relation of servants and of sons. But the difference between them is very great, especially in five things.
1st,The relation of servants is a common relation. All creatures in the world are God's servants—as he is the great master and householder of heaven and earth. God has servants of all sorts, good and bad; he has "good and faithful servants," Matt. 25.23, and he has "wicked and slothful servants," verse 26. He has some that honor him, and some that rebel against him. God has many servants that take wages of him—but do the devil's work.
All creatures stand in this relation to God, the very devils themselves are subject to his command; "Every knee bows to him, both of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth," Phil. 2.10.
But the relation of sons is a special relation, which appertains only to a few. God has many servants—but he has but few sons; he has many in subjection—but few sons. All are his subjects—but all are not his sons.
2dly,The relation of servants is a mercenary relation; the duty of that relation is drawn forth by the rewards of it; servants work for hire, it is wages they chiefly look for. God has many such servants, that are merely mercenaries in all their duties. They know God is a good master, pays well, and keeps a good table; his commands are equal, and his rewards are bountiful, therefore they own him. As many followed the Lord Christ when he was upon earth, not because of his mercies—but because of his morsels; not because they would be saved—but because "they ate of the loaves and were filled," John 6.26. It was not for the sake of his person—but his provision; not out of love to the truth, so much as the wages.
The Lord Christ has many such servants now, that call themselves the Servants of Christ, and Ministers of Christ—but they are but mercenaries to him. It is the salary they look at, more than the service; dignities more than duty; the preferments of the church, more than the concernments of it. They have the flesh-hook of the law in their hand, 1 Sam. 2.13,14, often to serve themselves—but the book of the law is in their hand but seldom, whereby they should "save themselves and them that hear them," 1 Tim. 4.16. These follow Christ, indeed—but it is for the loaves. No wages—no work! Like those in Mal. 3.14, who cry out, "What profit is it to serve God?"
But now the relation of sons is more sincere. Sons obey and serve in love—not for the reward. They labor—because they love. Not but that the children of God may look at the rewards promised. Moses was sincere in all his performances, and yet "he had a respect to the recompense of the reward," Heb. 11.26. Christ was a son in the highest relation, the son of God's choicest regard, Matt. 17.5, and yet it is said of him, in his "enduring the cross, and despising the shame," that he "had an eye to the joy which was set before him," Heb. 12.2. A dutiful child may look at his inheritance; yet he would pay the obedience of a son, though he were to receive no father's blessing.
3dly,The relation of sons, is a communicative relation. The relation of a servant is not so. A master does not impart all his mind, nor disclose his secrets—to his servant. He lays upon him his commands—but does not trust him with his secrets. So says our Lord Christ, John 15.15, "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knows not what his Lord does." But a father will disclose and communicate his heart to his child—he will tell all his mind, and will, and counsels, to his son.
4thly,The relations of servants gives no claim; it does not entitle them to the estate of their Lord. The law allows them a present maintenance—but no share in the inheritance.
But the relation of a son is entitling—it gives a claim. By virtue of his sonship, he has a title to what is his father's—his father's riches, his father's honors, etc. If you are the "children of God," you are born heirs, and your inheritance is the greatest in this world or in the next; for God himself is your portion! All he is, and all he has—is "the lot of your inheritance!"
5thly,The relation of servants is not lasting; it is arbitrary, founded on will and pleasure of the master. You take one servant, and put away another, at your pleasure. But the relation of a son is abiding, it lasts forever, to the end of being. So says our Lord Christ, John 8.35, "The servant abides not in the house forever—but the son abides forever." If you are the children of God, you are taken into a lasting relation which shall never end! God is your father forever, and you are his children forever—it is an everlasting relationship!
How should we rejoice in this near relation to the great God! To be a child of God is the highest title in the world. David was made but son-in-law to a king, not born a son; and this sonship was but to an earthly king, who dies like other men, Psalm 82.7, and yet the thoughts of it wrought to astonishment in him: "Do you think it is a small matter to become the king's son-in-law?" 1 Sam. 18.23. What is it then to be taken into an eternal sonship to an everlasting father, before whom the kings of the earth are as grasshoppers; who "brings the princes to nothing, and makes the judges of the earth as vanity!" Isaiah 40.22,23.
Reason 4."A name written in heaven" gives an assured hope of heaven. We are by this forever set free from all fear of miscarrying. If you have a title—never question the possession. If the right is yours, you shall surely inherit. When you look over a bundle of deeds, and see the name of such a particular person run through them all, and expressly mentioned in the deeds, and all things run in his name—you conclude that estate his, it belongs to him, and will come to him, for all the law is on his side.
It is so in the case in hand; if you have "a name written in heaven," the estate is yours, the conveyance is made to you. The covenant is the main deed, which is sealed in the blood of Christ, and therein the inheritance is made over and conveyed to you!
There is an inseparable connection between election and glorification. Though there are many links in the golden chain which reaches from election to glorification—yet not one of them can be broken! "Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." Romans 8.30.
It is observable in what tense the Spirit of God puts it; not in the future, as a thing to be done—but in a tense that notes it to be already done—to show the certainty of it. If our "names are written in heaven," we shall as surely share in the glories of it, as if already in possession; nay, we are already in possession:
1. Partly in Christ, who is already entered upon his inheritance in our behalf; Heb. 6.20, "Where the forerunner has entered for us." Hence that of the apostle, "He has made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus," Eph. 2.6.
2. Partly by the promise: we have the deeds, though we do not enjoy the estate; we keep the title, though we do not possess the inheritance.
3. Partly in the "first fruits of glory," Romans 8.23, which we receive by the Spirit of God, and the graces of the Spirit in our hearts. Entrance upon the least part of an estate, gives a right to the possession, as well as entrance upon the whole. Grace in the heart is a pledge of the holy land, the land of promise, whereby God does actually instate us in the glorious inheritance.
The first use shall be for examination. Is "a name written in heaven," the truest cause of rejoicing? Then let us see what cause of rejoicing we may have in ourselves, upon this account. The apostle's counsel is plainly to this purpose, Gal. 6.4, "Let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself, and not in another."
You have heard that there can be no true cause of joy in the heart—but "a name written in heaven!" Is "a name written in heaven" the chief ground of your joy?
Question. But you will reply, "Who can say his name is written in heaven? Who has thus far known the mind of the Lord? To whom has he at any time opened the sealed book of his secret decrees? Was ever any man admitted into the regions above, to search the eternal records of the divine purpose?"
Answer. Surely not. But yet let me, in answer to this, lay down two conclusions.
First, The knowledge of this, that our names are written in heaven, is attainable. Why else are we commanded to "make our calling and election sure?" Would the Lord Christ have called upon us to rejoice, because "our names are written in heaven," if it were a thing that could not be known? Surely therefore it is no such secret as lies out of the reach of faith's attainment.
Indeed, to wicked, unbelieving, and impenitent sinners—the knowledge of this is impossible. How can a man who forsakes God, know that his name is written in heaven, when God says, "Those who forsake him, their names shall be written in the dust?" But believers may attain to the knowledge of this.
Secondly, As the knowledge of it is attainable, so it is evident from scripture examples, that many have attained to it. God has sometimes unsealed the book of his decrees, and held it open to the believing eye; so that the soul has been enabled to read its interest in divine love, by the spiritual optics of faith; for "faith is the evidence of things not seen," Heb. 11.1. The soul is as yet enrapt up in gross matter, imprisoned in flesh, and confined to an abode in a tabernacle of clay; and therefore distanced from God, and utterly incapable of any farther converse and communion with him, than what is attainable by the mediation of faith.
Now faith enters within the veil, removes the soul out of the valleys of sense, and sets it upon the highest ground of gospel consolation, that it may stand at the fairest vantage ground, to get a prospect into the glory of the eternal world. Faith draws infallible conclusions of the goodness of its state, from the immutable decrees of electing love. What else made Job say, "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives! And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!" Job 19.25-27.
And what made Paul glory in the Lord Christ, crying out, "Who loved me, and gave himself for me!" Gal. 2.20. What made the church say, with so much confidence, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine!" Cant. 6.3.
Question. But the great question is, "How shall a man be able to know, that his name is written in heaven?"
Answer. There are certain discoveries of this in a man's self; which if we attend to, we may have a sure proof and witness of.
1. Effectual calling is a sure proof that your name is written in heaven!If the call of God has taken hold of our hearts—then our names are written in heaven! There is an inseparable connection between election and calling; and therefore, when the apostle bids us "give all diligence to make our calling and election sure." Though election is before calling (the one being an act of God in eternity; the other an act of God in time), yet the apostle puts the making our calling sure in the first place; because a man can never be sure he is elected—until he is first effectually called.
Now then, if you would know whether your names are written in heaven; satisfy yourselves in this, that the call of God has taken effectual hold of your hearts. Has it brought your souls off from everything below Christ, wholly to follow Christ? It is said, when Christ called Peter and Andrew, they presently "left their nets and followed him," Matt. 4.18,19. Every man has his nets—something that his soul is entangled in, until the call of God takes hold of him. Can you now, with Peter, when God calls—lay aside your nets to follow him?
For it is not every call which will witness the truth of our election: there is an external call of the word—which is ineffectual. It prevails not upon the sinner's heart, he turns a deaf ear upon it. This call leaves sinners as it finds them—in their sins and lusts! Matt. 20.16.
But then there is an internal and effectual call—when Word and Spirit go together, and work together, to bring the soul off from sin, and lust, and self, and world—to Jesus Christ, to live upon him as its portion, and conform to him as its pattern. Now if you are thus called, then is your name written in heaven—and therefore you may go and rejoice indeed—for if any in the world has cause, you have.
2. If the law of God is written in your heart—then your name is written in heaven! It is one of the great promises of the new covenant, that "God will write his law in our hearts," Heb. 8.10.
Question. Now you will say, "What is this law of God?"
Answer. It is the law of love, the law of holiness—a law that takes in all the duties that God requires of us, a law of universal obedience. Psalm 40.8, "Your law is within my heart;" it is a law that comprehends the whole rule of the new creature. The law within is a counterpart of the law without; so that, look whatever the word of God commands, the soul is enabled to perform, when this law is written in the heart.
Question. When is God said to write his law in the heart?
Answer. When he does powerfully impress a divine principle of grace, by his Holy Spirit, in the heart. Believers are said to be "the epistle of Christ, written not with ink—but with the Spirit of the living God," 2 Cor. 3.3. An epistle is nothing else but a paper, with the mind of a man written in it, and sent to another. Believers are "the epistle of the living God;" there his mind, and will, and law is written, not in tables of stone—but in the fleshly tables of the heart.
So that if the law of God is written in your heart—then may you know that your name is written in heaven!
Converting grace in the heart, is the best of God's eternal election; without which the eternal decree concerning us can never be read with clearness, nor understood with comfort. The decree travails and brings forth, in a work of grace in the heart. The mind of God, concerning our eternal condition, is best known by a sound conversion; for there he speaks plainly. That fountain of love which ran underground before, now bubbles up and breaks forth. In election, God spoke within himself; but in conversion, God speaks to the soul. In election, God wrote our names in heaven secretly; but in conversion, we see them written there openly.
A work of grace in the heart carries in it a four-fold witness:
1. That we are the objects of God's election.
2. That sin is pardoned through Christ's atoning sacrifice.
3. That God is reconciled by Christ's intercession.
4. That we are secure as to eternal salvation.
The least of these is worth a whole world! Who would not be willing to know himself, as the chosen of God? Who would not be glad to see sin pardoned? Who would not rejoice in a friendship with God—whose wrath burns to the lowest hell? Who would not triumph, in an assurance of being saved forever? Now if grace is wrought in your heart, this is your privilege—and you may rejoice in hope of glory. No better witness of our names written in heaven—than the image of God engraved in the heart!
The ungodly do not need descend in the deep, to search in hell—to see if their names be written, by the wrath and vengeance of God, in eternal misery. No! they may find it nearer home; there is a hell within them! There is the stench and filth of hell, in their vile affections! The smoke and flames of hell, are in their burning and raging lusts! The darkness of hell, is in their blind minds! And sometimes the torments of hell, are in their guilty and self-revenging consciences—that "worm which never dies!" Mark 9.44. Just so—many believers find a heaven in their own souls, a heaven of light, of love, of holiness, of joy and praise! "The kingdom of heaven is within you."
3. If true faith is wrought in your heart—then is your name written in heaven.1 John 5.10, "He who believes on the Son of God, has the witness in himself." Faith is a sure fruit of electing love: "As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed!" Acts 13.48. God does not elect us because we believe—but we believe because we are elected. (Election upon foreseen faith is an Arminian dream!) Faith is one of the first fruits which eternal love brings forth in the heart. Final unbelief is a sad witness of a reprobate state: so says our Lord Christ, "You believe not—because you are not of my sheep!" John 10.26.
Would you know then whether your name is written in heaven? then see if saving faith is wrought in your heart. Have you ever truly closed with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you heartily embrace him, as he is set forth in the gospel? Can you venture your soul, your salvation, your eternal all—upon the single foundation of the Redeemer's righteousness? Have you ever had actual application of the blood and righteousness of Christ to your own consciences, to take off that guilt of sin whereby your souls stand bound over to wrath and damnation? This faith is of the operation of God; and wherever this faith is found in the heart—the name of that man, that woman, is found in heaven! Therefore well may the apostle say, "In whom believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory!" 1 Pet. 1.8.
4. If the father's name is written on your foreheads—then are your names written in heaven!In Rev. 14:1, it is said of those who stood with the Lamb upon Mount Zion—that "the Father's name was written on their foreheads."
The name of God is written in the forehead—when we openly confess the truths of God, and are not ashamed of religion; nor ashamed to own God, and his ways, and ordinances, and people—in the midst of a profane, scoffing, and adulterous generation. Now says our Lord Christ, "He who confesses me before men," (that is—the name of Christ written on the forehead) "him will I confess before my father;" that is—he shall have a name written in heaven!
Do you repine at difficulties, shrink at sufferings, blush at being counted pious? Are you ashamed of Christ, his ways, his name, his people? Why if so, his name is not on your forehead.
Or can you lift up your heads, and show your faces, in the cause of Christ? "God is not ashamed to be called our God," Heb. 11.16. And will you be ashamed to be called his children, his saints, his witnesses? Moses was not ashamed, when he "regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt," Heb. 11.26. He had the father's name on his forehead.
5. If your great work is to have treasure in heaven—then your names are written in heaven!This is the counsel of the blessed Jesus, Matt. 6.20, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!" Luke 12.33,34 "Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
The treasures of most men are perishing, earthly treasures, cankered and moth-eaten treasures, treasures of vanity. Where is your treasure? Is it in this world—or in the eternal world? Is it in present vanities—or in future glory? Is it in present contentments—or in an everlasting inheritance? Is it in food and feasting—or is it in the light of God's countenance? Is it in profits, pleasures, and honors—or is it in grace and glory? Do you build, and plant, and sow in the eternal world, that hereafter you may reap an eternal harvest of blessedness? If so, then are your names written in heaven!
6. If your conversations are in heaven—then are your names written in heaven!Phil. 3.20, "Our conversation is in heaven." Many profess hope of heaven—but their conversations are upon the earth: like that foolish actor, that while his eyes were fixed upon the earth, cried, "O heavens!" they savor only earthly things—earthly profits, earthly comforts, earthly vanities.
Let a man's profession be ever so heavenly, his prayers and duties ever so heavenly—yet if they are over-topped by an earthly conversation, that man's religion is vain! The scripture says expressly, "If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him!" 1 John 2.15.
Never talk of a name in heaven—so long as your hearts are buried in the earth! Where your hearts are—there your names are! If your hearts are earthly, your names are in the earth, "Carnal, worldly, sensual, enemy to God"—that is your name, and the scripture gives you no other! James 4.4, "He who is a friend of the world, is the enemy of God."
Now what is your life? How do you live? Do you live by sense—or do you live by faith? Do you live upon the creatures—or upon the promises?
It is said of the virtuous woman, Proverbs 31.14, that "she fetches her food from afar." So does the true believer; he uses the blessings of the creature—but he lives upon the blessings of the covenant.
"From afar." That is, far out of the sight and view of the natural eye—for it is bread the world knows nothing of. The natural man is blind and cannot see afar off. "God has set the world in their hearts." Eccles. 3.11. They are strangers to this heavenly joy.
"From afar." "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses," Luke 12.15. His "life is hid with Christ in God," Col. 3.3; and from thence are the comforts of his life. "He fetches his food from afar"—it is God in Christ, and the glories of the eternal world, which are the bread of his soul.
Do you fetch your food from far, or nearer home? Are you fed by sense—or does faith feed you with clusters fetched from the holy land? Do you serve flesh, lust, and sins, and times, which is the basest thraldom? Or do you serve Christ, whose service is perfect freedom? Romans 6.16, "You are slaves to the one whom you obey." His you are—whom you serve. The apostle Paul will tell you whom he serves, "God, whom I serve with my whole heart," Romans 1.9.
"Forgetting the things behind, I press towards the mark," Phil. 3.13. Outward privileges, carnal contentments, perishing hopes—these were once the things before him; but now he has turned about, and set his face the other way, and left them all behind him. "I press forward towards the mark." He is now ascending upon the wings of faith and love—above this dung and darkness—to the regions of light and glory!
If your conversation is in heaven, it is thus with you in one degree or other. Heavenly concernments are your work, and heavenly comforts are your support. It is not profits, pleasures, or honors, which can comfort and gladden you; but it is fruit from the tree of life, in the midst of the paradise of God, which nourishes you. If thus your conversation be in heaven—then is your name written in heaven!
The next use, shall be by way of EXHORTATION.
Is a name written in heaven the highest cause of rejoicing? And can you, upon examination, find that your names are written there? O then, fix your heart upon this mercy! Fasten your heart, your joy, your thankfulness, upon this privilege! Other things you may rejoice in, in their place, and by the by; but here your joy should be fixed! See how the Apostle breaks out into thanksgiving for this, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves!" Ephesians 1:3-6. His heart dwells in triumph upon this mercy; and so should ours also; the Lord Christ, here in the text, commands it, "Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven!"
Now let me propound to you six considerations, which are very proper motives to stir up your hearts to the practice of this duty.
Consider (1.) There is no name like this.
1. It is an honorable name: Isaiah 43.4, "Since you were precious in my sight, you have been honorable." If God pours contempt upon the creature—it must needs be vile and base. God is the true fountain of honor; if he puts honor upon us—it is the truest honor in the world.
2. It is "a better name than that of sons and daughters," Isaiah 56.4,5. "For I say this to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy, who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me: I will give them—in my house, within my walls—a memorial and a name far greater than the honor they would have received by having sons and daughters. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!" Though they have no children—yet they shall be my children; though they are without a name in the world—yet they shall have a name in my house.
3. It is a durable and lasting name. A name in the world may be lost: The wicked may defame it. Wickedness may corrupt it. God may blast it: "You have put out their name forever and ever," Psalm 9.5. Time may eat it out of the records of honor. But a name written in heaven, is a durable name, it can never be blotted out: "I will give them an everlasting name that shall never be cut off," Isaiah 56.5. As the inheritance is incorruptible, so the title is unalterable, and the heir immortal.
Consider (2.) A name written in heaven, is a blessing which sweetens all our other blessings.This land is mine, and these riches are mine, and this child is mine, and this honor is mine. Yes, and God is mine, and Christ is mine, and the white stone and the new name is mine, and heaven and eternal life is mine! Yes, this, this sweetens all.
What if you could be supposed to enjoy all outward blessings imaginable? the fairest estate, the highest honors, the sweetest children, the richest pleasures—yet in the midst of all these, if conscience should secretly gripe you within, and tell you you are "strangers and enemies to God," you have no part in Christ, no portion in his death, your names are not in the book of life, you are the children of God's curse: O, what a heart-sinking would this cause under all your fruitions! this one thing left in doubt, "I know not what will become of my soul to eternity!" is enough to bring us into straits in the midst of all our sufficiencies, to sour all our possessions, and to make the face of all our enjoyments look dim and unpleasant. Job 20.22, "In the midst of plenty, he will run into trouble, and disasters will destroy him."
Consider (3.) This is that which gives confidence and comfort in death, and makes us strong to grapple with that 'king of terrors'.What is it which makes even believers themselves, many of them, shrink at the thoughts of death; why, it is lack of evidence, they have never seen their names written in the book of life. The sight of this by faith, makes the soul triumph over death and despise the grave, and say with Simeon, "Now, Lord, let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation," Luke 2.29,30.
"We know," says the apostle, 2 Cor. 5.1, "that if our earthly tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." This we know, and are assured of; well, and what is the fruit of this assurance? he tells you in the second and fourth verses: "In this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
What is death, to the assured believer—but a speedy conveyance to the possession of that glory which divine love has entitled him to from everlasting?
Consider (4.) Herein joy can never run into excess.In temporal things it may; it is possible and common to rejoice and delight in outward mercies too much, for they are every way disproportional to the vast capacity of the soul; as unable to fill it, as the dim light of a candle is to give day to the world.
Hear what the prophet says in the case, Isaiah 28.20, "The bed is too short for a man to stretch himself upon it, and the covering too narrow for a man to wrap himself in it." How unsuitable is a short bed for a long body! so are perishing comforts to an immortal soul. And from hence it is that the apostle advises, in 1 Cor. 7.30, that "those who rejoice, should be as though they rejoiced not;" that is, in worldly things. But in spiritual and eternal concerns, joy cannot exceed; for infinite blessedness calls for infinite joy and delight.
Consider (5.) This will be a everlasting and perpetuated joy.Therefore it is reasonable that we now rejoice in that which shall be our joy forever. Other joys have their periods and intermissions, their terms, and vacations; they ebb and flow, blossom and wither; a fit of sickness, or a pang of conscience, extinguishes all. But this joy is abiding, "No one can rob you of that joy," John 16.22.
It is true, that the children of God have many causes of sorrow. If they look inward, strong corruptions, hard hearts, weak graces, many temptations. But yet in God they have continual cause of rejoicing.
A name in heaven is an enduring ground of comfort; not like these transient shadows. Can stability be moved, or eternity expire? Nothing is matter of lasting joy—but that good which is commensurate in duration to the soul which is to be satisfied with it.
The times we live in are changeable and unstable; the hatred of true religion great; we see distractions at home, distresses abroad; the Lord is shaking heaven and earth, church and state. Our experience tells us how mutable are the wills, how fickle the favors, how sudden the frowns of men; how vain the hopes, how unsuitable the delights, which are drawn out of broken cisterns; how full of dross and dregs the most refined comforts and contentments of the world are. Nothing can be an enduring joy but this, which our Lord Christ propounds in the text, as matter of joy.
Who would not therefore retire from the noise of laughter, from the courtships of flattering gallants, from the clutter and vainglory of a disappointing world—to solace his soul in the joys and delights of the world to come?
Consider (6.) What heaven is.That will raise your hearts to rejoice in this privilege of a name written in heaven!
1. Heaven is the habitation of the great God, where he dwells in his infinite glory; so that "a name written in heaven," imports our future inheritance of that glory! Col. 3.4, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear—then shall we appear with him in glory."
2. Heaven is a freedom from all evil, both of sin and suffering; so that "a name in heaven" entitles us to a blessed redemption from all evil.
There is no SIN there. Grace weakens sin—but it is glory which abolishes it. Old Adam shall there be put off, never to be put on again. The Lord Christ will "present his church, in that day, faultless before the throne of his glory, with exceeding joy!" Jude 24.
There is no AFFLICTION there. Sin and sorrow came in together—and they shall go out together. There the Shunamite's son complains no more of his aching head, nor Mephibosheth of his lame feet. There Job's blotches are perfectly cured, and Lazarus' sores are all dried up!
3. Heaven is a place of all perfection.So that "a name written in heaven" entitles us to a perfection of state which we cannot hope for in this world: "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect," Phil. 3.12. All perfection is above.
There is perfection of FACULTIES: the understanding shall be elevated by the light of glory, into "the vision of God," 1 Cor. 13.12. The nature of God, the mystery of Three in One, the union of two natures in one person, the course of God's decrees and providence; these are deeps of God, and at present there is darkness upon the face of these deeps—but there the glorified eye shall see all.
The will shall there be perfectly holy, and swallowed up into the will of God.
There is perfection of PRIVILEGES; perfect union and communion. Here we lay hold of Christ; but there we shall have full possession of him. Here we hang upon him—but there we shall dwell in his embraces.
There is perfection of GRACES: here the children of God have perfection of parts—but not of degrees. Holiness in the best saint here, is mixed with some dregs of flesh and defilement. But there it shall be complete; we shall appear "not having spot or wrinkle," Eph. 5.27.
Love shall there be perfect: here we are either weary of the act, or apt to make a change of the object of our love, ever and anon swerving aside to the creature. But then we shall love without ceasing, upon one and the same object, without changing! There shall be an eternal solace and delight in God!
4. Heaven is the quintessence of all blessedness, the sum of all felicity.Reckon up all comforts and pleasures, and satisfactions, and delights, and happinesses—and put them all together, and then separate from them finiteness and imperfection—that is heaven.
So that a name written in heaven imports our future fruition of all blessedness. In a little while—you shall be let into all this blessedness!
All the objects of joy which are scattered among the creatures, are everlastingly heaped up in heaven! Whatever it is that you delight and joy in—it will be in heaven!
Do you delight in wealth? There are "unsearchable riches in heaven," Eph. 3.8. "Unending riches," Proverbs 8.18. Unsearchable, and therefore without bottom and without bound. Unending, and therefore without end.
Do you delight in honor and dignity? In heaven, the glory of the great God himself shall be put upon you, Col. 3.4. John tells us, "It does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know, when he shall appear, we shall be like him," 1 John 3.2. "Such honor have all his saints!" Psalm 149.9.
Is it pleasure you delight in? In heaven "there are rivers of pleasures," Psalm 36.8. "In Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures!" Psalm 16.11.
Do you delight in feasting? why in heaven there is plenty and variety, fullness without excess; "the bread of life, the tree of life, the fountain of life."
Do you delight in music? It is not fit that such a feast should be without music! In heaven the saints and angels are in one concord "singing eternal hallelujahs to him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever!"
Do you delight in magnificent residences? In heaven is "a house not made with hands—whose builder and maker is God!" "The city was pure gold, as clear as glass. The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve gems. The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass!" Revelation 21:18-21.
Thus you see, that heaven is the sum of all good, and the quintessence of all felicity! And your name is written upon all this! It is all yours, as the apostle says, 1 Cor. 3.21,22. "All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours."
Ministers are yours—to instruct you.
The world is yours—to supply you.
Life is yours—to prepare you for heaven.
Things present are yours—to support you in the way.
Things to come are yours—to crown you in the end.
What then remains? but as David advises, "Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice you righteous, and shout for joy all you that are upright in heart!" Psalm 32.11.
Whatever you enjoy in the world, yet let your joy be in God. Have you riches, honors, pleasures, children, health, beauty, etc. "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you—but rejoice that your names are written in heaven!" Luke 10:20