There are four things which principally prepare the way to enter into it; particularly, 1. The glorious appearing of Christ; 2. The general resurrection; 3. The last judgment; and, 4. The saints' coronation.
The passage of paradise is not now so blocked up as when the law and curse reigned. Wherefore finding, beloved Christians, a new and living way consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, the flesh of Christ, by which we may with boldness enter into the holiest, I shall draw near with fuller assurance; and, finding the flaming sword removed, shall look again into the paradise of our God. And because I know that this is no forbidden fruit, and withal that it is good for food, and pleasant to the spiritual eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one truly wise and happy; I shall, through the assistance of the Spirit, take and eat thereof myself, and give to you, according to my power, that you may eat. The porch of this temple is exceeding glorious, and the gate of it is called Beautiful. Here are four things as the four corners of this porch.
1. The most glorious coming and appearing of the Son of God may well be reckoned in his people's glory. For their sake he came into the world, suffered, died, rose, ascended; and for their sake it is that he will return. To this end will Christ come again to receive his people unto himself, that where he is, there they may be also. The bridegroom's departure was not upon divorce. He did not leave us with a purpose to return no more. He hath left pledges enough to assure us to the contrary. We have his word, his many promises, his ordinances, which show forth his death till he come; and his Spirit, to direct, sanctify, and comfort till he return. We have frequent tokens of love from him, to show us he forgets not his promise, nor us. We daily behold the forerunners of his coming, foretold by himself. We see the fig-tree putteth forth leaves, and therefore know that summer is nigh. Though the riotous world say, My Lord delayeth his coming; yet let the saints lift up their heads, for their redemption draweth nigh. Alas! fellow-Christians, what should we do if our Lord should not return? What a case are we here left in! What! leave us in the midst of wolves, and among lions, a generation of vipers, and here forget us! Did he buy us so dear, and then leave us sinning, suffering, groaning, dying daily; and will he come no more to us? It cannot be. This is like our unkind dealing with Christ, who, when we feel ourselves warm in the world, care not for coming to him; but this is not like Christ's dealing with us. He that would come to suffer, will surely come to triumph. He that would come to purchase, will surely come to possess. Where else were all our hopes? What were become of our faith, our prayers, our tears and our waiting? What were all the patience of the saints worth to them? Were we not left of all men the most miserable? Christians, hath Christ made us forsake all the world, and to be forsaken of all the world? to hate all, and be hated of all? and all this for him, that we might have him instead of all? And will he, think you, after all this, forget us and forsake us himself? Far be such a thought from our hearts! But why staid he not with his people while he was here? Why? Was not the work on earth done? Must he not take possession of glory in our behalf? Must he not intercede with the Father, plead his sufferings, be filled with the Spirit to send forth, receive authority, and subdue his enemies? Our abode here is short. If he had staid on earth, what would it have been to enjoy him for a few days and then die? He hath more in heaven to dwell among; even the spirits of many generations. He will have us live by faith, and not by sight.
O fellow-Christians, what a day will that be, when we, who have been kept prisoners by sin, by sinners, by the grave, shall be brought out by the Lord himself! It will not be such a coming as his first was, in poverty and contempt, to be spit upon, and buffeted, and crucified again. He will not come, O careless world! to be slighted and neglected by you any more. Yet that coming wanted not its glory. If the heavenly host, for the celebration of his nativity, must praise God; with what shoutings will angels and saints at that day proclaim glory to God, peace and good-will toward men! If a star must lead men from remote parts, to come to worship the child in the manger; how will the glory of his next appearing constrain all the world to acknowledge his sovereignty! If, riding on an ass, he enter Jerusalem with hosannas; with what peace and glory will he come toward the New Jerusalem! If, when he was in the form of a servant, they cry out, |What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?| what will they say when they shall see him coming in his glory, and the heavens and the earth obey him? |Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.| To think and speak of that day with horror doth well become the impenitent sinner, but ill the believing saint. Shall the wicked behold him, and cry, |Yonder is he whose blood we neglected, whose grace we resisted, whose counsel we refused, whose government we cast off!| and shall not the saints, with inconceivable gladness, cry, |Yonder is he whose blood redeemed us, whose Spirit cleansed us, whose law governed us; in whom we trusted, and he hath not deceived our trust; for whom we long waited, and now we see we have not waited in vain! O cursed corruption! that would have had us turn to the world and present things, and say, Why should we wait for the Lord any longer? Now we see, Blessed are all they that wait for him.| And now, Christians, should we not put up that petition heartily, |Thy kingdom come? The Spirit and the bride say, Come: and let him that heareth,| and readeth, |say, Come.| Our Lord himself says, |Surely I come quickly. Amen: even so, come! Lord Jesus.|
2. Another thing that leads to paradise is that great work of Jesus Christ, in raising the body from the dust and uniting it again unto the soul. A wonderful effect of infinite power and love! |Yea wonderful indeed,| says Unbelief, |if it be true. What, shall all these scattered bones and dust become a man?| Let me with reverence plead for God, for that power whereby I hope to arise. What sustains the massy body of the earth? What limits the vast ocean of the waters? Whence is that constant ebbing and flowing of the tides? How many times larger than all the earth is the sun, that glorious body of light? Is it not as easy to raise the dead as to make heaven and earth, and all of nothing? Look not on the dead bones, and dust, and difficulty, but at the promise. Contentedly commit these bodies to a prison that shall not long contain them. Let us lie down in peace and take our rest; it will not be an everlasting night, nor endless sleep. If unclothing be the thing thou fearest, it is that thou mayest have better clothing. If to be turned out of doors be the thing thou fearest, remember that, when |the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, thou hast a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.| Lay down cheerfully this lump of corruption; thou shalt undoubtedly receive it again in incorruption. Lay down freely this terrestrial, this natural body; thou shalt receive it again a celestial, a spiritual body. Though thou lay it down with great dishonor, thou shalt receive it in glory. Though thou art separated from it through weakness it shall be raised again in mighty power; |in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.| |The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then they who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.| Triumph now, O Christian, in these promises; thou shalt shortly triumph in their performance. This is the day which the Lord will make; we shall rejoice and be glad in it. The grave that could not keep our Lord, cannot keep us. He arose for us, and by the same power will cause us to arise. |For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.| Let us never look at the grave, but let us see the resurrection beyond it. Yea, let us be |steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know our labor is not in vain in the Lord.|
3. Part of this prologue to the saints' rest is the public and solemn process at their judgment, where they shall first themselves be acquitted and justified, and then with Christ judge the world. Young and old, of all estates and nations, that ever were from the creation to that day, must here come and receive their doom. O terrible! O joyful day! Terrible to those that have forgotten the coming of their Lord! joyful to the saints, whose waiting and hope was to see this day! Then shall the world behold the goodness and severity of God; on them who perish, severity; but to his chosen, goodness. Every one must give an account of his stewardship. Every talent of time, health, abilities, mercies, afflictions, means, warnings, must be reckoned for. The sins of youth, those which they had forgotten, and their secret sins, shall all be laid open before angels and men. They shall see the Lord Jesus, whom they neglected, whose word they disobeyed, whose ministers they abused, whose servants they hated, now sitting to judge them. Their own consciences shall cry out against them, and call to their remembrance all their misdoings. Which way will the wretched sinner look? Who can conceive the terrible thoughts of his heart? Now the world cannot help him; his old companions cannot; the saints neither can nor will. Only the Lord Jesus can; but there is the misery, he will not. Time was, sinner, when Christ would, and you would not; now, fain would you, and he will not. All in vain is it to |cry to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne;| for thou hast the Lord of mountains and rocks for thine enemy, whose voice they will obey, and not thine. I charge thee, therefore, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom, that thou set thyself seriously to ponder these things.
But why tremblest thou, O humble, gracious soul? He that would not lose one Noah in a common deluge, nor overlook one Lot in Sodom; nay, that could do nothing till he went forth; will he forget thee at that day? |The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment, to be punished.| He knoweth how to make the same day the greatest terror to his foes, and yet the greatest joy to his people. |There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?| Shall the law? |The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made them free from the law of sin and death.| Or shall conscience? |The Spirit itself beareth witness with their spirit, that they are the children of God. It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?| If our Judge condemn us not, who shall? He that said to the adulterous woman, Hath no man condemned thee? neither do I; will say to us, more faithfully than Peter to him, Though all men deny thee, or condemn thee, I will not. Having confessed me before men, thee |will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven.|
What inexpressible joy, that our dear Lord, who loveth our souls and whom our souls love, shall be our Judge! Will a man fear to be judged by his dearest friend? or a wife by her own husband? Christian, did Christ come down and suffer, and weep, and bleed, and die for thee, and will he now condemn thee? Was he judged, condemned, and executed in thy stead, and now will he himself condemn thee? Hath he done most of the work already, in redeeming, regenerating, sanctifying and preserving thee, and will he now undo all again? Well then, let the terror of that day be never so great, surely our Lord can mean no ill to us in all. Let it make the devils tremble, and the wicked tremble, but it shall make us leap for joy. It must affect us deeply with the sense of our mercy and happiness, to see the most of the world tremble with terror, while we triumph with joy; to hear them doomed to everlasting flames, when we are proclaimed heirs of the kingdom; to see our neighbors, that lived in the same town, came to the same congregation, dwelt in the same houses, and were esteemed more honorable in the world than ourselves, now, by the Searcher of hearts, eternally separated. This, with the great magnificence and dreadfulness of the day, the apostle pathetically expresses: |It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe, in that day.|
Yet more: we shall be so far from the dread of that judgment, that ourselves shall become the judges. Christ will take his people, as it were, into commission with himself, and they shall sit and approve his righteous judgment. |Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?| Nay, |know ye not that we shall judge angels?| 1 Cor.6:2,3. Were it not for the word of Christ that speaks it, this advancement would seem incredible, and the language arrogant. Even Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied this, saying, |Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodlily committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.| Thus shall the saints be honored, and |the upright shall have dominion in the morning.| O that the careless world |were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!| that they would be now of the same mind as they will be when they shall see the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth also, and the works that are therein, burnt up! when all shall be on fire about them, and all earthly glory consumed. |For the heavens and the earth which are now, are reserved unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men. Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?|
4. The last preparative for the saints' rest is their solemn coronation and receiving the kingdom. For as Christ, their head, is anointed both King and Priest, so under him are his people made unto God both kings and priests, to reign, and to offer praises for ever. The crown of righteousness, which was laid up for them, shall by the Lord, the righteous Judge, be given them at that day. They have been faithful unto death, and therefore he will give them a crown of life. And according to the improvement of their talents here, so shall their rule and dignity be enlarged. They are not dignified with empty titles, but real dominion. Christ will grant them to sit with him on his throne, and will give them power over the nations, even as he received of his Father; and he |will give them the morning star.| The Lord himself will give them possession, with these applauding expressions: |Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.|
And with this solemn and blessed proclamation shall he enthrone them: |Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.| Every word is full of life and joy. |Come | -- this is the holding forth of the golden sceptre, to warrant our approach unto this glory. Come now as near as you will; fear not the Bethshemites' judgment; for the enmity is utterly abolished. This is not such a |Come| as we were wont to hear, |Come, take up your cross and follow me.| Though that was sweet, yet this is much more. |Ye blessed| -- blessed indeed, when that mouth so pronounce us! For though the world hath accounted us accursed, and we have been ready to account ourselves so; yet, certainly, those that he blesseth are blessed; and those only whom he curseth are cursed; and his blessing cannot be reversed. |Of my Father| -- blessed in the Father's love, as well as the Son's; for they are one. The Father hath testified his love in their election, donation to Christ, and in the sending of Christ, and accepting his ransom, as the Son hath also testified his. |Inherit| -- no longer bondsmen, nor servants only, nor children under age, who differ not in possession, but only in title, from servants; but now we are heirs of the kingdom, and joint-heirs with Christ. |The kingdom| -- no less than the kingdom! Indeed, to be King of kings and Lord of lords is our Lord's own proper title; but to be kings, and reign with him, is ours. The enjoyment of this kingdom is as the light of the sun; each has the whole, and the rest none the less. |Prepared for you| -- God is the Alpha as well as the Omega of our blessedness. Eternal love hath laid the foundation. He prepared the kingdom for us, and then prepared us for the kingdom. This is the preparation of his counsel and decree, for the execution whereof Christ was yet to make a further preparation. |For you| -- not for believers only, in general, who, without individual persons, are nobody; but for you personally. |From the foundation of the world| -- not only from the promise after Adam's fall, but from eternity.
Thus we have seen the Christian safely landed in paradise, and conveyed honorably to his rest. Now let us a little further, in the next chapter, view those mansions, consider their privileges, and see whether there be any glory like unto this glory.