This estate has three degrees: -- 1st, From the day of death to the resurrection; 2d, From the resurrection to the pronouncing of the sentence; 3d, After the sentence, which lasts eternally.
As soon as ever the regenerate man hath yielded up his soul to Christ, the holy angels take her into their custody, and immediately carry her into heaven (Luke xvi.22), and there present her before Christ, where she is crowned with a crown of righteousness and glory; not which she hath deserved by her good works, but which God hath promised of his free goodness to all those who, of love, have in this life unfeignedly served him, and sought Ms glory (Heb. i.14; xii.24; 2 Tim. iv.8; Rev. ii.10; 1 Pet. v.4.)
Oh, what joy will it be to thy soul, which was wont to see nothing but misery and sinners, now to behold the face of the God of glory! yea, to see Christ welcoming thee, as soon as thou art presented before him by the holy angels, with an Euge bone serve! |Well done, and welcome good and faithful servant, &c., enter into thy Master's joy.| And what joy will this be, to behold thousand thousands of cherubims, seraphims, angels, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers! (Col. i.6; Eph. i.21.) All the holy patriarchs, priests, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, and all the souls of thy friends, parents, husbands, wives, children, and the rest of God's saints, who departed before thee in the true faith of Christ, standing before God's throne in bliss and glory? If the Queen of Sheba, beholding the glory and attendance given to Solomon, as it were ravished therewith, brake out and said, |Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand ever before thee, and hear thy wisdom,| (1 Kings x.8), how shall thy soul be ravished to see herself by grace admitted to stand with this glorious company, to behold tie blessed face of Christ, and to hear all the treasures of his divine wisdom; how shalt thou rejoice to see so many thousand thousands welcoming thee into their heavenly society (Luke xv;) for as they all rejoiced at thy conversion, so will they now be much more joyful to behold thy coronation, and to see thee receive thy crown, which was laid up for thee against thy coming (1 Tim. iv.8.) There the crown of martyrdom shall be put on the head of the martyr, who for Christ's gospel's sake endured torments -- the crown of piety on the head of them who sincerely professed Christ -- the crown of good works on the good alms-giver's head, who liberally relieved the poor -- the crown of incorruptible glory on the head of those pastors, who by their preaching and good example have converted souls from the corruption of sin, to glorify God in holiness of life. Who can sufficiently express the rejoicing of this heavenly company, to see thee thus crowned with glory (Rev. vii.9), arrayed with the shining robes of righteousness, and to behold the palm of victory put into thy hand! O what gratulation will there be, that thou hast escaped all the miseries of the world, the snares of the devil, the pains of hell, and obtained with them thy eternal rest and happiness! for there every one joyeth as much in another's happiness as in his own, because he shall see him as much loved of God as himself; yea, they have as many distinct joys as they have copartners of their joy. And in this joyful and blessed state, the soul resteth with Christ in heaven till the resurrection; when the number of her fellow-servants and brethren shall have been fulfilled, which the Lord termeth but a little season (Rev. vii.9.)
The second degree of man's blessedness after death, is from the resurrection to the pronouncing of the final sentence. For at the last day,
1. The elementary heavens, earth, and all things therein, shall be dissolved, and purified with fire (2 Pet. ii.10, 12, 13.)
2. At the sound of the last trumpet, or voice of Christ, the Archangel, the very same bodies which the elect had before (though turned to dust and earth) shall arise again (1 Cor. xv.52; 1 Thess. iv.16; John v.28; Ezek. xxxvii.7, 8, &c.) And in the same instant, every man's soul shall re-enter into his own body, by virtue of the resurrection of Christ, their head (Rom. viii.11; Phil. iii.10, 11; 1 Thess. iv.14), and be made alive and rise out of their graves, as if they did but awake out of their beds (Rom. v.17; 1 Cor. xv.22.) And howsoever tyrants bemangled their bodies in pieces, or consumed them to ashes, yet shall the elect find it true at that day, that not an hair of their head is perished (Matt. xix.30.)
3. They shall come forth out of their graves, like so many Josephs out of prison; or Daniels out of the lion's den; or Jonahs out of the whale's belly; (1 Thess. iv.14; Dan. vi.23.)
4. All the bodies of the elect being thus made alive, shall arise in that perfection of nature whereunto they should have attained by their natural temperament, if no impediment had hindered (Isa. lxv.20); and in that vigour of age that a perfect man is at about three and thirty years old, each in their proper sex. To which divines think the apostle alludes when he saith, |Till we all come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age (or stature) of the fulness of Christ,| Eph. iv.13. Whatsoever imperfection was before in the body (as blindness, lameness, crookedness) shall then be done away. Jacob shall not halt, nor Isaac be blind, nor Leah blear-eyed, nor Mephibosheth lame: for if David would not have the blind and lame to come into his house, much less will Christ have blindness and lameness to dwell in his heavenly habitation. Christ made all the blind to see, the dumb to speak, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, that came to him to seek his grace on earth: much more will he heal all their imperfections whom he will admit to his glory in heaven. Among those tribes, there is not one feeble; but the lame man shall leap as an hart, and the dumb man's tongue shall sing (Psal. cv.37; Isa. xxxv.6.) And it is very probable, that seeing God created our first parents, not infants, or old men, but of a perfect age or stature, the anaplasis, or new creation from death, shall every way be more perfect than the plasis, or first frame of man, from which he fell into the state of the dead. Neither is it like that infancy, being imperfection, and old age corruption, can well stand with the state of a perfect glorified body.
5. The bodies of the elect being thus raised, shall have four most excellent and supernatural qualities: For,
(1.) They shall be raised in power, whereby they shall for ever be freed from all wants and weakness, and enabled to continue, without the use of meat, drink, sleep, and other former helps (1 Cor. xv.43.)
(2.) In incorruption, whereby they shall never be subject to any manner of imperfections, blemish, sickness, or death (1 Cor. xv.41; Isa. lxv.20.)
(3.) In glory, whereby their bodies shall shine as bright as the sun in the firmament (Matt. xiii.43; Luke ix.31;) and which being made transparent, their souls shall shine through far more glorious than their bodies (1 Thess. iv.17.) Three glimpses of which glory were seen -- first, in Moses's face (Exod. xxxiv.29;) secondly, in the Transfiguration (Matt. xvii.2;) thirdly, in Stephen's countenance (Acts vi.15:) three instances and assurances of the glorification of our bodies at that glorious day. Then shall David lay aside his shepherd's weed, and put on the robe of the King's Son, Jesus, not Jonathan's (1 Sam. xviii.4.) Then every true Mordecai (who mourned under the sackcloth of this corrupt flesh) shall be arrayed with the King's royal apparel (Esther i.4), and have the crown-royal set upon his head, that all the world may see how it shall be done to him whom the King of kings delighteth to honour. If now the rising of one sun make the morning so glorious, how glorious shall that day be, when innumerable millions of millions of bodies of saints and angels shall appear more glorious than the brightness of the sun, the body of Christ in glory surpassing all!
(4.) In agility, whereby our bodies shall be able to ascend, and meet the Lord at his glorious coming in the air, as eagles flying unto their blessed carcase (Matt. xxiv.28.) To this agility of the glorious bodies of the saints the prophet alludes, saying, |They shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they Shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint,| Isa. xl.31. And to this state may that saying of Wisdom be referred: |In the time of their vision they shall shine, and run to and fro, as sparks among the stubble.|
And in respect of these four qualities, Paul calleth the raised bodies of the elect spiritual (1 Cor. xv.46;) for they shall be spiritual in qualities, but the same still in substance.
And howsoever sin and corruption make a man, in this state of mortality, lower than angels, yet surely, when God shall thus crown him with glory and honour (Psal. viii.5), I cannot see how man shall be anything inferior to angels. For are they spirits? so is man also in respect of his soul: yea, more than this, they shall have also a spiritual body, fashioned like unto the glorious body of the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. iii.21), in whom man's nature is exalted by a personal union into the glory of the Godhead, and individual society of the blessed Trinity (Heb. ii.16), an honour which he never vouchsafed angels: and in this respect man hath a prerogative above them. Nay, they are but spirits appointed to be ministers unto the elect (Heb. i.14; Psal. xci.11;) and as many of them, who at the first disdained this office, and would not keep their first standing, were for their pride hurled into hell (Jude, ver.6; 2 Pet. ii.4.) This lesseneth not the dignity of angels, but extols the greatness of God's love to mankind.
But as for all the elect, who at that second and sudden coming of Christ shall be found quick and living, the fire that shall burn up the corruption of the world, and the works therein, shall in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, overtake them as it finds them, either grinding in the mill of provision, or walking in the fields of pleasure, or lying in the bed of ease (2 Pet. iii.10, 11, 12; 1 Cor. xv.51; Luke xvii.31;) and so (burning up their dross and corruption) of mortal, make them immortal bodies: and this change shall be unto them instead of death.
Then shall the soul with joyfulness greet her body, saying, O well met again, my dear sister: How sweet is thy voice! How comely is thy countenance, having lain hid so long in the clefts of the rocks, and in the secret places of the grave! (Canticles ii.14.) Thou art indeed an habitation fit, not only for me to dwell in, but such as the Holy Ghost thinks meet to reside in, as his temple, for ever. The winter of our affliction is now past; the storm of our misery is blown over and gone. The bodies of our elect brethren appear more glorious than the lily-flowers on the earth; the time of singing hallelujah is come, and the voice of the trumpet is heard in the land. Thou hast been my yoke-fellow in the Lord's labours, and companion in persecutions and wrongs, for Christ and his gospel's sake; now shall we enter together into our Master's joy. As thou hast borne with me the cross, so shalt thou now wear with me the crown. As thou hast with me sowed plenteously in tears, so shalt thou reap with me abundantly in joy. O blessed, ever blessed be that God, who, when yonder reprobates spent their whole time in pride, fleshly lusts, eating, drinking, and profane vanities, gave us grace to join together in watching, fasting, praying, reading the scriptures, keeping his sabbaths, hearing sermons, receiving the holy communion, relieving the poor, exercising, in all humility, the works of piety to God, and walking conscionably in the duties of our calling towards men. Thou shalt, anon, hear no mention of thy sins, for they are remitted and covered (Psal. xxxii.1); but every good work which thou hast done for the Lord's sake shall be rehearsed and rewarded.
Cheer up thy heart, for thy Judge is flesh of thy flesh, and bone of thy bone (Dan. ix.21, &c.) Lift up thy head, behold these glorious angels, like so many Gabriels, flying towards us, to tell us that the day of our redemption is come (Luke xxi.28), and to convey us in the clouds to meet our Redeemer in the air. Lo, they are at hand! Arise, therefore, my dove, my love, my fair one, and come away (Cant. ii.1, 3.) And so, like roes, or young harts (verse 17), they run with angels towards Christ, over the trembling mountains of Bether,
6. Both quick and dead being thus revived and glorified, shall forthwith, by the ministry of God's holy angels (Luke xvii.34, 35, 36), be gathered from all the quarters and parts of the world, and caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord, in the air (1 Thess. iv.17), and so shall come with him, as a part of his glorious train, to judge the reprobates and evil angels (1 Cor. vi.1, 3.) The twelve apostles shall sit upon twelve thrones (next Christ) to judge the twelve tribes, who refused to hear the gospel preached by their ministry; and all the saints, in honour and order, shall stand next to them, as judges also, to judge the evil angels, and earthly-minded men (1 Cor. vi.2, 3.) And as every of them received grace in this life to be more zealous of his glory, and more faithful in his service, than others, so shall their glory and reward be greater than others in that day (Rev. xxii.12; 2 Cor. v.6.)
The place whither they shall be gathered unto Christ, and where Christ shall sit in judgment, shall be in the air (1 Thess. iv.17), over the valley of Jehoshaphat, by Mount Olivet, near to Jerusalem, eastward from the temple, as it is probable, for four reasons: --
1. Because the holy scripture seems to intimate so much in plain words: |I will gather all nations into the valley of Jehoshaphat and plead with them there. Cause thy mighty one to come down, O Lord: let the heathen be awakened and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about,| Joel iii.1, 2, 11, 12. Jehoshaphat signifieth, the Lord will judge. And this valley was so called from the great victory which the Lord gave Jehoshaphat and his people over the Ammonites, Moabites, and inhabitants of Mount Seir (2 Chron. xx;) which victory was a type of the final victory which Christ, the Supreme Judge, shall give his elect over all their enemies in that place at the last day, as also the Jews interpret it -- (see Zech. xiv.4, 5; Psal. li.1, 2, &c.) -- all agreeing that the place shall be thereabouts.
2. Because that as Christ was thereabouts crucified and put to open shame, so over that place his glorious throne should be erected in the air, when he shall appear in judgment to manifest his majesty and glory. For it is meet that Christ should in that place judge the world with righteous judgment, where he himself was unjustly judged and condemned.
3. Because that seeing the angels shall be sent to gather together the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other, it is most probable that the place whither they shall be gathered to shall be near Jerusalem and the valley of Jehoshaphat; which cosmographers describe to be in the midst of the superficies of the earth: if the termini à quibus be the four parts of the world, the terminus ad quem must be about the centre.
4. Because the angels told the disciples that as they saw Christ ascend from Mount Olivet (Acts i.11), which is over the valley of Jehoshaphat, so he shall in like manner come down from heaven. This is the opinion of Aquinas, and all the schoolmen, except Lombard and Alexander Hales.
5. Lastly, When Christ is set in his glorious throne, and all the many thousands of his saints and angels, shining more bright than so many suns in glory, sitting about him (Matt. xxv.31; Jude, ver.14; Rev. xx.11, 12), and the body of Christ in glory and brightness surpassing them all; the reprobates being separate, and remaining beneath upon the earth (for the right hand signifieth a blessed, the left hand a cursed estate), Christ will first pronounce the sentence of bliss upon the elect (Matt. xix.28;) and he will thereby increase the grief of the reprobate that shall hear it, and he will shew himself more prone to mercy than to judgment (Psal. cxlv.9; Isa. xxviii.21.) And thus, from his throne of majesty in the air, he will, in the sight and hearing of all the world, pronounce unto his elect, |Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, from the beginning of the world,| &c. Matt. xxv.34.
Come ye.] Here is our blessed union with Christ, and, by him, with the whole Trinity.
Blessed.] Here is our absolution from all sins, and our plenary endowment with all grace and happiness.
Of my Father.] Here is the author from whom, by Christ, proceeds our felicity.
Inherit.] Here is our adoption.
The kingdom.] Behold our birth-right and possession.
Prepared.] See God's fatherly care for his chosen.
From the foundation of the world.] O the free, eternal, unchangeable election of God!
How much are those souls bound to love God, who of his mere good will and pleasure chose and loved them before they had done either good or evil (Rom. ix.3.)
For I was hungry, &c.] O the goodness of Christ, who takes notice of all the good works of his children to reward them! How great is his love to poor Christians, who takes every work of mercy done to them for his sake, as if it had been done to himself! Come ye to me, in whom ye have believed before ye saw me (John xx.29; 1 Pet. i.8), and whom ye have loved and sought for with so much devotion, and through so many tribulations. Come now from labour to rest, from disgrace to glory, from the jaws of death to the joys of eternal life. For my sake ye have been railed upon, reviled, and cursed (Matt. v.11;) but now it shall appear to all those cursed Esaus that you are the true Jacobs that shall receive your heavenly Father's blessing; and blessed shall you be. Your fathers, mothers, and nearest kindred, forsook and cast you off for my truth's sake which you maintained (Psal. xxvii.10; Matt. xix.29;) but now my Father will be unto you a father, and you shall be his sons and daughters for ever (John xx.17; 2 Cor. vi.18.) You were cast out of your lands and livings, and forsook all for my sake and the gospel's: but that it may appear that you have not lost your gain, but gained by your loss, instead of an earthly inheritance and possessions, you shall possess with me the inheritance of my heavenly kingdom; where you shall be for love, sons; for birth-right, heirs; for dignity, kings; for holiness, priests; and you may be bold to enter into the possession of it now, because my Father prepared and kept it for you ever since the first foundation of the world was laid.
Immediately after this sentence of absolution and benediction, every one receiveth his crown, which Christ the righteous Judge puts upon their heads, as the reward which he hath promised, of his grace and mercy to the faith and good works of all them that loved bis appearing (2 Tim. iv.8; 1 Pet. v.4.) Then every one taking his crown from bis head, shall lay it down, as it were, at the feet of Christ; and prostrating themselves, shall with one heart and voice, in an heavenly sort and consort, say, |Praise, and honour, and glory, and power, and thanks, be unto thee, O blessed Lamb, who sittest upon the throne, wert killed, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, to reign with thee in thy kingdom for evermore. Amen.| (Rev. iv.10.)
Then shall they sit in their thrones and order, as judges of the reprobates, and evil angels (1 Cor. vi.1, 2, 3, &c.; Matt. xix.13), by approving, and giving testimony to the righteous sentence and judgment of Christ the Supreme Judge.
After the pronouncing of the reprobates' sentence and condemnation, Christ will perform two solemn actions --
1. The presenting of all the elect unto his Father; |Behold, O righteous Father, these are they whom thou gavest me: I have kept them, and none of them is lost. I gave them thy word, and they believed it, and the world hated them, because they were not of the world, even as I was not of the world. And now, Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me; and that I may be in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one: that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.| (John xvii.12, 14, 23, 24.)
2. Christ shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, that is, shall cease to execute his office of mediatorship (1 Cor. xxv.24;) whereby, as he is King, Priest, Prophet, and Supreme Head of the Church, he suppressed his enemies, and ruled his faithful people by his spirit, word, and sacraments: so that his kingdom of grace over his church in this world ceasing, he shall rule immediately, as he is God, equal with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, in his kingdom of glory evermore. Not that the dignity of his manhood shall be any thing diminished; but that the glory of his Godhead shall be more manifested: so that as he is God, he shall from thenceforth in all fulness, without all external means, rule all in all.
From this tribunal-seat, Christ shall arise, and with all his glorious company of elect angels and saints, he shall go up triumphantly, in order and array, unto the heaven of heavens, with such a heavenly noise and music, that now may that song of David be truly verified, |God is gone up with a triumph, the Lord with the sound of the trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises, sing praises to our King, sing praises: for God is the King of all the earth, he is greatly to be exalted.| (Psal. xlvii.4, 5, 6, 8.) And that marriage-song of John, |Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. Allelujah; for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.| (Rev. xix.6, 7.)
The third and last degree of the blessed state of a regenerate man after death, begins after the pronouncing of the sentence, and lasteth eternally without all end.