THE NEW JERUSALEM
“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it;
for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”
The beloved disciple in this chapter gives us a particular description of the heavenly world, as it appeared to him in vision. In condescension to our infirmities, which render it difficult for us to form clear conceptions of invisible and spiritual things, this happy world is represented to us as a magnificent city which, in allusion to the ancient metropolis of Judea, is styled the New Jerusalem.
To show the symmetry and proportion, which prevail in heaven and the perfect safety of its inhabitants, this city is said to be four square, and to be surrounded by a wall, great and high, with a guard of angels at every gate.
It had three gates on every side, to show that, from all parts of the world, there is a way open to heaven for those who are suitably qualified to enjoy it; and that persons will come from the East, and the West, and the North, and the South, to sit down together in the kingdom of God. On these gates the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were inscribed, to intimate that none but the true Israel of God will be allowed to enter therein. On the twelve precious stones, which composed the foundations of the city walls, were engraved the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; intimating, that the church in heaven, like the church on earth, is built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner Stone. To show how far heaven exceeds the world in which we live, those things which we here prize most highly are represented as being there applied to the most common and ordinary uses. The wall itself was composed of jasper, its foundations of the most precious stones; its gates of pearl, and even the streets were paved with the purest gold, transparent as glass.
Conceive then, my friends, if you are able, how splendid, how glorious, how dazzling such a city must appear, thus composed of gold, pearls, diamonds, and all manner of precious stones, when the sun poured upon it his meridian beams, and filled every part of it with a blaze of light. Yet even this falls far short of the truth; for the city was illuminated not by the beams of the natural sun, but by the glory of God, and the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. Nor is this all. To us nothing is more cheering, more valuable, more necessary than the light of the sun; and without it, the most magnificent cities would lose all their beauty in our eyes. But in the New Jerusalem even this is not wanted; for, says the apostle, the city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. It is this part of the apostle’s description which I propose more particularly to consider; and my object is to show that the inhabitants of heaven have no need of the sun, or any other created luminary.
With a view to illustrate and establish this truth, let us inquire, “what are the purposes for which we need the celestial bodies, while we reside in this lower world?”
These purposes are particularly enumerated in the first chapter of Genesis, where we have an account of their creation. And God said, let there be light in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven, to give light upon the earth. Such are the purposes for which the heavenly luminaries were created; such the uses which they were designed to subserve. But for none of these purposes will they be needed by the inhabitants of the heavenly world.
I. The principal purpose here mentioned, for which the heavenly bodies were created, and for which we need them in this lower world is, to give light upon the earth. In fulfilling the end of their creation, they subserve at once our convenience and happiness; for truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun. How dark, how cheerless, how unfit for the habitation of man would this world be without them. But agreeable and necessary as they are to us, the New Jerusalem needs them not for this purpose; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. My friends, how infinitely must that light surpass ours, and how little do those who enjoy it need the beams of the natural sun; which when shining in meridian splendor reflects but one faint ray of Jehovah’s glory. We may indeed conceive of this luminary as only a vast mirror, placed opposite to one of the open gates of heaven, receiving and reflecting to creatures, some rays of that stream of light which issues from it far and wide. But while even this luminary is, as it were, only a moon, which shines with borrowed light, the Lord God is indeed a Sun; a Sun indebted to none for his beams; for, says the apostle, God is light; nay, he is the Father of lights, giving light to all, but receiving it from none. He dwelleth continually in his own light; in light unapproachable by mortals, and covers himself with light and majesty as with a garment. Such, such is the being who enlightens the New Jerusalem.
And the Lamb is the light thereof.
The unfathomable flood of light and glory, which unceasingly flows from the Father, is collected and concentrated in the person of his Son; for He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person. Heaven is therefore illuminated not only with God’s glory, but with the brightness of his glory, with the brightest and most dazzling effulgence of divine, untreated light, a light which enlightens and cheers the soul, as well as the body. Of the nature and degree of this light, who but the happy beings that enjoy it can form any conception. There are indeed several passages in Scripture, which seem intended to give us some idea of it, but they serve little more than to convince us that it is altogether inconceivable.
For instance, St. John informs us, that he saw in vision a mighty angel come down from heaven, and that the earth was lightened with his glory. But if the glory of a single angel was sufficient to lighten the earth, what must be the glory of the Lord of angels; and how overpowering the light of heaven, where millions of angels continually reside, and God and the Lamb display their brightest glories!
Again: When Christ appeared to the same apostle, his eyes were as a flame of fire, and his feet as brass glowing in a furnace, and his countenance as the sun shining in his strength; so that, unable to support the sight, St. John fell at his feet as dead. But if his glories were thus overpowering when, in condescension to the weakness of his servant, he drew a veil over them, what must they be in the regions above, where they are seen in all their brightness, without any interposing veil?
Once more: When Moses came down from the mount, after a short interview with God, his face shone with a luster so dazzling, that even his brother and the elders of Israel were unable to gaze upon it. But if a transient view of the glory of God, seen as it were through a glass darkly, could impart such a luster to a piece of animated clay, what insufferable splendor must the constant presence of Jehovah give to the diamond walls, the pearly gates, and the golden streets of the New Jerusalem? How must they glow and shine, as in a furnace, when the Sun of Righteousness pours upon them his effulgent beams, in a full tide of glory! and how must the spiritual bodies of their inhabitants, which resemble the glorified body of their Redeemer, eclipse all that is called brilliant and dazzling on earth? We are indeed assured that all the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, and as the brightness of the firmament forever and ever. Say then, my friends, does the New Jerusalem need any created luminaries to shine in it, or do its inhabitants need the light of the sun, when every individual among them is himself a sun? Not only the moon, but the sun itself would be invisible, amid these celestial glories; or if visible, it would appear only as a cloud, or a dark spot on the face of the celestial sky. Then, says the prophet, shall the moon be confounded and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.
As the inhabitants of heaven will not need the light of created luminaries; so, we may add, they will no more need the assistance of human teachers, or of the means of grace. These means are often compared to the sun and moon by the inspired writers, because they are instrumental in imparting spiritual light and knowledge to the church, as the sun is in giving light to the world; and because the light which they convey to believers, is no less necessary to their souls, than the light of the sun is to their bodies. But however necessary these means may be to the church on earth, they will be entirely needless to the church in heaven; for when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away; and the word of God, the sacrament of the supper, and the Lord’s day; however well calculated they may be to strengthen the faith and hopes of Christians here, will be of no use when faith is changed to sight, and hope to fruition. Hence the prophet informs God’s people, that when that happy time shall arrive, the sun shall no longer be their light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give them light; but the Lord shall be unto them an everlasting light, and their God their glory; that is, they shall no longer be indebted to human teachers, or created means for light and instruction; but see and be taught by God himself. The spiritual light which they will then enjoy will as far exceed that with which they are at present favored, as the glory of God and the Lamb exceeds the glory of the natural sun; and their advances in divine knowledge will be proportionally rapid and extensive. The prophet Isaiah, when speaking of the increased privileges and means of grace which Christians will enjoy even in this world, in the latter ages of the church, informs us that the light of the moon shall then be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven fold, as the light of seven days.
But if the church is hereafter to be favored with such increased degrees of spiritual light and divine knowledge, even on earth, who can conceive of the light which the church in heaven enjoys, where they see God as he is, and know him even as they are known. Well may it be said of those who enjoy this that they have no need of the spiritual sun or moon, or of those burning and shining lights which God has placed in his golden candlestick to enlighten the church on earth.
Little do they need human teachers, who know incomparably more of divine things than all the prophets and apostles united knew, while here below. Little do they need the Bible, who have forever escaped all its threatenings, who are enjoying all its promises, who intuitively understand all its doctrines, and who have arrived at that heaven to which it points out the way. Little do they need the Sabbath or the symbols of Christ’s crucified body, who enjoy an everlasting Sabbath, and behold face to face the glorified body of their Redeemer. Do we need a candle when the sun shines? As little do they need any of these privileges and means which we now highly and deservedly prize.
II. Another purpose for which God formed the sun was, we are told, to divide the day from the night.
To creatures constituted as we are, the vicissitude of day and night, which is thus produced by the sun, is equally necessary and agreeable; and we ought ever to remember and acknowledge the wisdom and goodness to which it is owing. Our bodies and our minds are soon fatigued, and indispensably require the refreshment of sleep. For taking this refreshment, the silence and darkness of night afford an opportunity peculiarly favorable, an opportunity which we should seek in vain, were the earth enlightened with continual day. “As the mother,” says a beautiful writer, “as the mother moveth about her house, with her finger on her lips, and stilleth every noise, that her infant may not be disturbed, as she draweth the curtains around its bed, and shutteth out the light from its tender eyes; so God draweth the curtains of darkness around us; so he maketh all things to be hushed and still, that his great family may sleep in peace.” But though while we thus need the refreshment of sleep, the goodness of God appears in providing a proper season for its enjoyment, yet we may easily perceive that it would be a great privilege to be freed from the necessity of sleeping, and especially from that subjection to weariness and fatigue which occasion the necessity. At present, almost one-third of our time is lost in slumber; and our most important business, our most interesting pursuits, our greatest pleasures, are continually interrupted by its necessary recurrence. But with the inhabitants of heaven this is not the case. They neither need nor know the vicissitude of day and night. The spirits of the just made perfect are already like the angels; and their bodies, though sown in weakness, will be raised in power, incapable alike, of weariness, sickness or pain. Do the rays of light grow weary in their flight from the sun? or does the thunder-bolt need to pause and seek refreshment, in the midst of its career? As little do the inhabitants of heaven become weary in praising and enjoying God. As little do they need refreshment or repose; for their spiritual bodies will be far more active and refined than the purest light; and their labor itself will be the sweetest rest. Hence heaven is styled the rest which remains for God’s people, and they are represented as serving him unceasingly in his temple above. They will not therefore, lose a third part of eternity in sleep. No night will be necessary to refresh them; the pulse of immortality will beat strong in every vein; the golden harp will never drop from their hands; their tongues will never grow weary of extolling their God and Redeemer, but will through eternity pour forth songs of praise as unceasing as the displays of those glories which excite them. And as they will need no nights, so they will have none. St. John, once and again assures us, that there shall be no night there; and the prophet Isaiah, in allusion to the same thing, says to the church, Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; but the Lord shall be to thee an everlasting light. Where God is the sun, there can indeed be no night; for his glory cannot be eclipsed or diminished. He must shine in all the ineffable brightness of the Godhead, without diminution, without interruption and without end; and will thus shine in those regions of eternal day, when all the lamps of heaven are extinguished in everlasting night.
How little then do the mansions which are illuminated by his glory need the revolving sun, or the changeable moon, to enlighten them.
III. Another purpose for which the heavenly bodies were created was to serve for signs, and for the regulation of the seasons. In this, as in other respects, they are eminently useful to a world like ours. The heat of the sun is no less necessary, than its light; but the convenience and happiness of man require that this heat should be communicated to us in different degrees, at different periods. An uninterrupted spring, summer, or autumn, and still more a perpetual winter, would prove injurious and destructive in the highest degree. Yet all these seasons are useful in their turn; even winter, the least pleasing of the four, is no less necessary to the earth, exhausted by the fertility of autumn, than sleep is to man, wearied by the labors of the day. That this agreeable and necessary vicissitude of the seasons is occasioned by the different positions of our world with respect to the sun, you need not be told; and the wisdom and goodness, which have thus provided a season for every purpose, are equally obvious.
The heavenly bodies, we are informed, are also appointed for signs. By their apparent changes of place, and by the different appearances which they produce in the atmosphere, they point out the proper time for various operations; guide the mariner in his pathless way through the deep, and assist him, as well as the husbandman, to foresee in some measure those changes in the weather, which may prove either beneficial or injurious. Hence our Saviour observes to the Pharisees, that they could discover the face of the sky, and even the irrational animals are guided and directed with respect to their motions; for says the prophet, The stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed time; the turtle, the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming. But however necessary the celestial luminaries may be for signs and seasons on earth, they are needed for neither of these purposes by the inhabitants of heaven. They need no pole star to guide their rapid flight through the immeasurable ocean of ethereal space; for God, their sun, is everywhere, and where he is, there is heaven; there they are at home. They need no signs to warn them of approaching storms, or impending dangers; for they enjoy uninterrupted sunshine and perpetual peace. No storms, no dangers invade their mansions of eternal rest. The sun, says St. John, shall not light on them nor any heat. Nor will they need the vicissitude of seasons. The heavenly world requires not the rest which winter gives to render it fruitful. The tree of life, which produces twelve manner of fruits, yields its fruits every month; such fruit as angels eat, and at its root the river of life continually flows. They shall therefore hunger no more, neither thirst any more, for the Lamb shall feed them, and lead them to fountains of living waters; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them, and wipe away all tears from their eyes. No passing cloud will ever veil even for a moment his soul-enrapturing, life-giving beams, which banish winter as well as night from heaven. No chilling blasts shall cool their fervor; no sudden showers extinguish the flame of love which glows in celestial bosoms, but the rainbow shall ever encircle the throne, and spring, summer, and autumn, all united into one, eternally prevail. Surely then, the New Jerusalem needs not the sun for seasons or signs.
IV. Lastly: Another purpose, for which the heavenly bodies were created, was to show the flight, and mark the divisions of time. For this, as well as for other purposes, they are highly necessary to man. Were there no such divisions of time, as days and years, we should probably think even less of its flight, than we do at present; we could only form uncertain conjectures respecting either the portion of our lives, that had elapsed, or that which probably might remain; and should find it far more difficult, than we now do, so to number our days as to apply our hearts to wisdom. Were it not for the changes which increasing age produces in our bodies, we should scarcely realize that we were growing older; and our sands would probably be run out, ere we suspected that one half of them were spent. Christians could not then be comforted, nor sinners alarmed, by the reflection, that they were one day or one year nearer to death; conscience would lose half its power, and the ambassadors of Christ be deprived of one of their most effectual weapons. In addition, the past history of the church and the world would be involved in inextricable perplexity, uncertainty and confusion; no past or future period of time could be marked with precision, and the portion which has elapsed since the creation of the world, or the birth of our Saviour, could not be ascertained; the word of God would lose much of its value; and the approach of events foretold in prophecy could not be known till they actually arrived. But though such divisions of time, as days and years, are thus necessary on earth, they will be perfectly needless to the inhabitants of heaven. With them, time has ended and eternity begun; and eternity neither needs, nor is capable of division. They know with the utmost certainty, that their happiness will never, never end. Why then should they wish to know, what possible advantage could it be to them to know, at any given period, how many days or years had passed away since they arrived in heaven? Even were such divisions of time known there, they could find no leisure to count them; or should they attempt it, they would soon find it impossible. Successive millions of ages will there fly so rapidly away, that even the continually expanding minds of the blessed, would soon become unable to enumerate or even to conceive of their number; and they would be lost and overwhelmed in attempting to measure the duration of their own existence. You have doubtless, my friends, often observed that, when your minds have been intently or pleasingly occupied, you have become almost unconscious of the flight of time; minutes and hours have flown away with apparently unusual swiftness, and the setting or rising sun has surprised you long before you expected its approach. But in heaven, the saints shall be entirely lost and swallowed up in God; and their minds will be so completely absorbed in the contemplation of his ineffable, infinite, untreated glories, that they will be totally unconscious how time, or rather how eternity passes; and not only years, but millions of ages, such as we call ages, will be flown ere they are aware. Thus a thousand years will seem to them but as one day; and yet so great, so ecstatic will be their felicity, that one day will be as a thousand years. And as there will be nothing to interrupt them, no bodily wants to call off their attention, no weariness to compel them to rest, no vicissitude of seasons or of day and night, to disturb their contemplations, it is more than possible that innumerable ages may pass away, before they think of asking how long they have been in heaven, or even before they are conscious that a single hour has elapsed.
But we must pause It doth not yet fully appear what we shall be; and we hardly dare describe, or even think of so much as appears. But do those who enjoy such things, need the sun to mark the flight or division of time No: ten thousand thousand suns, lighted up, one after the other, in long succession, would he insufficient for this, and would all fade away and become extinct, while the happiness of celestial beings was as it were but just commencing. He only, who is the Sun of the New Jerusalem, is able to measure the duration of the existence of its inhabitants, nor can even He measure its extent with any measure shorter than His own.
And now, my Christian friends, you who are Israelites indeed, ye who are pilgrims on earth, seeking another and better country; ye who look and long for Christ’s second appearing, whose treasure, and whose hearts, and whose conversation are in heaven! since you are soon to bid adieu to the sun and moon forever, and go to those happy mansions where you will need them no more, —forget them and all sublunary objects for a moment, and carried by faith to the summit of that great and high mountain on which St. John stood in vision, contemplate with him the New Jerusalem, your future habitation.
Behold a city, built with the most perfect regularity, extending in every direction farther than the eye can reach, surrounded by a wall of jasper, of immeasurable height, and entirely composed of gold, pearls, diamonds and precious stones. See its golden streets thronged with inhabitants, whose bodies composed of light seven times refined, are far more dazzlingly bright and glorious than all the sparkling gems which surround them. See among them the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles and martyrs, distinguished from their fellow saints by their superior brightness. See the gates guarded, and the streets filled by thousands of thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand of angels and arch-angels, thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, each one of whom seems sufficiently glorious to be himself a god. See the golden streets, the diamond walls and pearly gates of this celestial city, reflecting from every part streams of light and glory, which flow in a full tide from all directions, not from the sun, but from a throne, more dazzlingly bright than ten thousand suns, raised high in the midst. See the innumerable stirring throngs of saints and angels, enveloped in the boundless flood of light and glory, all falling prostrate before the throne, and with one voice praising Him who liveth forever and ever. Hear their united voices, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, exclaiming, Alleluia! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Blessing and glory, and honor, and power, be unto Him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever. Then raise your eyes to contemplate the object of this worship, Him who fills this throne. See the Ancient of days, the great I Am, the Being of beings, the Being who is, the Being who was, the Being who shall be forever. See at his right hand a man, the friend, the brother, the Redeemer of man, clothed with the brightness of his Father’s glory, the express image of his person. See him with a countenance of mingled majesty, meekness, condescension and love, surveying the countless myriads of his people around him, and his eye successively meeting their eyes in turn, and pouring into their souls such ineffable happiness, as is almost too much even for immortals to bear.
But why do I attempt to describe what is indescribable, to utter what is unutterable, to lead you to conceive of what is inconceivable? In vain do I call upon you to see these things; for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. And we may add, happy is it for us that we cannot see them. The sight would be too dazzling for mortal eyes, too much for mortal frames to bear. Suffice it to say, it is a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. It is glory; it is a weight of glory; it is a far more exceeding weight of glory. It is a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. This, this renders it perfect and complete. Were it not eternal, it were nothing. But it is so. Yes, let immortals hear and rejoice that the New Jerusalem is eternal as the Being that formed it.
My Christian friends, is such our eternal habitation? Do we look for such things? What manner of persons then ought we to be? How ought we to conduct? How ought we to feel? I cannot tell you. May the Spirit of God tell you, for he alone is able to do it.
Unwillingly, my friends, do I leave the contemplation of these enrapturing scenes. Unwillingly do I descend from the mount of God, and leave heaven behind. I am ready to say with the disciples on the mount of transfiguration: It is good to be here. But duty calls us down, and we must descend. We must descend to address sinners, groveling in the dust, who are so strongly attached to this vain, dark, empty world, that no motives, no persuasion, no entreaties, can induce them to rise and aim at heaven. You have heard, my earthly-minded hearers, a faint, O how faint a description of that heavenly world which you slight, and which you are bartering for the unsatisfying, perishing vanities of time and sense.
But faint as the description is, is it not sufficient to show you the madness, the folly of neglecting heaven for the sake of anything which this world contains? Can you be contented lose this heaven forever? Yet lose it you must, unless you speedily transfer your affections from earth to heaven, and become followers of them, who through faith and patience are now inheriting the promises.
If you are not washed in the blood, and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, heaven will never open to you its gates; the angelic guard will never admit you; for hear the words of eternal truth: There shall in no case enter it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Therefore if any are found, at death, defiled with sin unrepented of, that abominable thing which God hates, they shall in no wise be admitted into the kingdom of heaven; but must be cast into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There they will painfully need the light of the sun, but will not enjoy it; for to them is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. To add to their wretchedness, they will, like the rich man in the parable, behold heaven afar off, and see others admitted into it, while they are thrust out. O then, my friends, be persuaded before you lose forever the light of the sun, and the more precious light of the gospel, to obtain the qualifications necessary, for admission into that city, which has no need of the sun, or moon to shine in it, because the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.