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17. The blessed privilege of seeing God explained
They shall see God.
These words are linked to the former and they are a great incentive to heart-purity. The pure heart shall see the pure God. There is a double sight which the saints have of God.
1 In this life; that is, spiritually by the eye of faith. Faith sees God’s glorious attributes in the glass of his Word. Faith beholds him showing forth himself through the lattice of his ordinances. Thus Moses saw him who was invisible (Hebrews 11:27). Believers see God’s glory as it were veiled over. They behold his ‘back parts’ (Exodus 33:23).
2 In the life to come; and this glorious sight is meant in the text, ‘They shall see God.’ A pleasant prospect! This divines call ‘the beatifical vision’. At that day the veil will be pulled off, and God will show himself in all his glory to the soul, as a king on a day of coronation shows himself in all his royalty and magnificence. This sight of God will be the heaven of heaven. We shall indeed have a sight of angels and that will be sweet, but the quintessence of happiness and the diamond in the ring will be this, ‘We shall see God’. If the sun be absent it is night for all the stars. The angels are called ’stars’ (Job 38:7). But it would be night in heaven if the Sun of Righteousness did not shine there. It is the king’s presence makes the court. Absalom counted himself half-alive unless he might see the king’s face (2 Samuel 14:32). ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’. This sight of God in glory is, first, partly mental and intellectual. We shall see him with the eyes of our mind. If there be not an intellectual sight of God, how do the ’spirits of just men made perfect, see him? But second, it is partly corporeal; not that we can with bodily eyes behold the bright essence of God. Indeed the Anthromorphites and Vorstians erroneously held that God had a visible shape and figure. As man was made in God’s image so they thought that God was made in man’s image; but God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and being a Spirit is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17). He cannot be beheld by bodily eyes. ‘Whom no man hath seen nor can see’ (1 Timothy 6:16). A sight of his glory would overwhelm us. This wine is too strong for our weak heads.
But when I say our seeing of God in heaven is corporeal, my meaning is that we shall with bodily eyes behold Jesus Christ, through whom the glory of God, his wisdom, holiness, and mercy, shall shine forth to the soul. Put a back of steel to the glass and you may see a face in it. So the human nature of Christ is as it were a back of steel through which we may see the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6). In this sense that scripture is to be understood, ‘With these eyes shall I see God’ (Job 19:26, 27).
Now concerning this blessed sight of God, it is so sublime and sweet that I can but draw a dark shadow of it. We shall better understand it when we come to heaven. Only at present I shall lay down these nine aphorisms or maxims.
1 Our sight of God in heaven shall be a transparent sight. Here we see him ‘through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). But through Christ we shall behold God in a very illustrious manner. God will unveil himself and show forth his glory so far as the soul is capable to receive. If Adam had not sinned yet it is probable he should never have had such a clear sight of God as the saints in glory shall have. ‘We shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2). Now we see him as he is not. He is not mutable, not mortal. There we shall see him ‘as he is’ in a very transparent manner. ‘Then shall I know even as also I am known’ (1 Corinthians 13:12), that is, ‘clearly’. Does not God know us clearly and fully? Then shall the saints know him (according to their capacity) as they are known. As their love to God, so their sight of God shall be perfect.
2 This sight of God will be a transcendent sight. It will surpass in glory. Such glittering beams shall sparkle forth from the Lord Jesus as shall infinitely amaze and delight the eyes of the beholders. Imagine what a blessed sight it will be to see Christ wearing the robe of our human nature and to see that nature sitting in glory above the angels. If God be so beautiful here in his ordinances, Word, prayer, sacraments; if there be such excellency in him when we see him by the eye of faith through the prospective glass of a promise, O what will it be when we shall see him ‘face to face’! When Christ was transfigured on the mount he was full of glory (Matthew 17:2). If his transfiguration were so glorious, what will his inauguration be? What a glorious time will it be when (as it was said of Mordecai) we shall see him in the presence of his Father, ‘arrayed in royal apparel, and with a great crown of gold upon his head’ (Esther 8:15). There will be glory beyond hyperbole. If the sun were ten thousand times brighter than it is, it could not so much as shadow out this glory. In the heavenly horizon we behold beauty in its first magnitude and highest elevation. There we shall ’see the king in his glory’ (Isaiah 33:17). All lights are but eclipses compared with that glorious vision. Apelles’ pencil would blot, angels, tongues would but disparage it.
3 This sight of God will be a transforming sight. ‘We shall be like him’ (1 John 3:2). The saints shall be changed into glory. As when the light springs into a dark room, the room may be said to be changed from what it was; the saints shall so see God as to be changed into his image (Psalm 17:15). Here God’s people are blackened and sullied with infirmities, but in heaven they shall be as the dove covered with silver wings. They shall have some rays and beams of God’s glory shining in them. As a man that rolls himself in the snow is of a snow-like whiteness; as the crystal, by having the sun shine on it, sparkles and looks like the sun; so the saints by beholding the brightness of God’s glory shall have a tincture of that glory upon them. Not that they shall partake of God’s very essence, for as the iron in the fire becomes fire, yet remains iron still, so the saints by beholding the lustre of God’s majesty shall be glorious creatures but yet creatures still.
4 This sight of God will be a joyful sight: ‘Thou shalt make me glad with the light of thy countenance’ (Acts 2:28). After a sharp winter, how pleasant will it be to see the Sun of Righteousness displaying himself in all his glory! Does faith breed joy? ‘In whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable’ (1 Peter 1:8). If the joy of faith be such, what will the joy of vision be? The sight of Christ will amaze the eye with wonder and ravish the heart with joy. If the face of a friend whom we entirely love so affects us and drives away sorrow, O how cheering will the sight of God be to the saints in heaven! Then indeed it may be said, ‘Your heart shall rejoice’ (John 16:22). And there are two things which will make the saints’ vision of God in heaven joyful.
(i) Through Jesus Christ the dread and terror of the divine essence shall be taken away. Majesty shall appear in God to preserve reverence, but withal majesty clothed with beauty and tempered with sweetness to excite joy in the saints. We shall see God as a friend, not as guilty Adam did, who was afraid, and hid himself (Genesis 3:10), but as Queen Esther looked upon King Ahasuerus holding forth the golden sceptre (Esther 5:2). Surely this sight of God will not be formidable but comfortable!
(ii) The saints shall not only have vision but fruition. They shall so see God as to enjoy him. Aquinas and Scotus dispute the case whether the ‘formalis ratio’, the very formality and essence of blessedness, be an act of the understanding or the will. Aquinas says that happiness consists in the intellectual part, ‘the bare seeing of God’. Scotus says that happiness is an act of the will, the enjoying of God. But certainly true blessedness comprehends both. It lies partly in the understanding, by seeing the glory of God richly displayed, and partly in the will, by a sweet delicious taste of it and acquiescence of the soul in it. We shall so see God as to love him, and so love him as to be filled with him. The seeing of God implies fruition. ‘Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’ (Matthew 25:21) not only behold it but enter into it. ‘In thy light we shall see light’ (Psalm 36:9); there is vision. ‘At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11); there is fruition. So great is the joy which flows from the sight of God as will make the saints break forth into triumphant praises and hallelujahs.
5 This sight of God will be a satisfying sight. Cast three worlds into the heart and they will not fill it, but the sight of God satisfies. ‘I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness’ (Psalm 17:15). Solomon says ‘The eye is not satisfied with seeing’ (Ecclesiastes 1:8). But there the eye will be satisfied with seeing. God and nothing but God can satisfy. The saints shall have their heads so full of knowledge and their hearts so full of joy that they shall find no want.
6 It will be an unweariable sight. Let a man see the rarest sight that is, he will soon be cloyed. When he comes into a garden and sees delicious walks, fair arbours, pleasant flowers, within a little while he grows weary; but it is not so in heaven. There is no surfeit. We shall never be weary of seeing God, for the divine essence being infinite, there shall be every moment new and fresh delights springing forth from God into the glorified soul. The soul shall not so desire God but it shall still be full. Nor shall it be so full but it shall still desire. So sweet will God be that the more the saints behold God the more they will be ravished with desire and delight.
7 It will be a beneficial sight. It will tend to the bettering and advantaging of the soul. Some colours, while they delight the eyes, hurt them. But this intuition and vision of God shall better the soul and tend to its infinite happiness. Eve’s looking upon the tree of knowledge prejudiced her sight. She afterwards grew blind upon it, but the saints can receive no detriment from the inspection of glory. This sight will be beneficial. The soul will never be in its perfection till it comes to see God. This will be the crowning blessing.
8 This sight of God shall be perpetuated. Here we see objects awhile, and then our eyes grow dim and we need spectacles, but the saints shall always behold God. As there shall be no cloud upon God’s face, so the saints shall have no mote in their eye. Their sight shall never grow dim, but they shall be to all eternity looking on God, that beautiful and beatifical object. O what a soul-ravishing sight will this be! God must make us able to bear it. We can no more endure a sight of glory than a sight of wrath. But the saints after this life shall have their capacities enlarged, and they shall be qualified and made fit to receive the penetrating beams of glory.
9 It will be a speedy sight. There are some who deny that the soul is immediately after death admitted to the sight of God, but I shall make good this assertion that the saints shall have an immediate transition and passage from death to glory. As soon as death has closed their eyes they shall see God. If the soul be not presently after death translated to the beatifical vision, then what becomes of the soul in that juncture of time till the resurrection?
Does the soul go into torment? That cannot be, for the soul of a believer is a member of Christ’s body mystical, and if this soul should go to hell a member of Christ might be for a time damned. But that is impossible.
Does the soul sleep in the body as some drowsily imagine? How then shall we make good sense of that scripture ‘We are willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8)? If the soul at death be absent from the body then it cannot sleep in the body.
Does the soul die? So the Lucianists held that the soul was mortal and died with the body, but as Scaliger observes, it is impossible that the soul being of a spiritual uncompounded nature should be subject to corruptibility. Such as say the soul dies, I would demand of them wherein the soul of a man differs at death from the soul of a brute? By all which it appears that the soul of a believer after death goes immediately to God. ‘This day shalt thou be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). That word ‘with me, shows clearly that the thief on the cross was translated to heaven. For there Christ was (Ephesians 4:10). And the word ‘this day, shows that the thief on the cross had an immediate passage from the cross to paradise, so that the souls of believers have a speedy vision of God after death. It is but winking, and they shall see God.
See the misery of an impure sinner. He shall not be admitted to the sight of God. ‘The pure in hearts only shall see God. Such as live in sin, whose souls are dyed black with the filth of hell, they shall never come where God is. They shall have an affrighting vision of God, but not a beatifical vision. They shall see the flaming sword and the burning lake, but not the mercy-seat. God in Scripture is sometimes called a ‘consuming fire’, sometimes the ‘Father of lights’. The wicked shall feel the fire but not see the light. Impure souls shall be covered with shame and darkness as with a mantle, and shall never see the king’s face. They who would not see God in his ordinances shall not see him in his glory.
Is there such a blessed privilege after this life? Then let me persuade all who hear me this day:
1 To get into Christ. We cannot come to God but by Christ. Moses when he was in the rock saw God (Exodus 33:32). In this blessed rock, Christ, we shall see God.
2 To be purified persons. It is only the pure in heart who shall see God. It is only a clear eye can behold a bright transparent object. Those only who have their hearts cleansed from sin can have this blessed sight of God. Sin is such a cloud as, if it be not removed, will for ever hinder us from seeing the Sun of Righteousness. Christian, have you upon your heart ‘holiness to the Lord’? Then you shall see God. There are many, says Augustine, could be content to go to heaven, but they are loath to take the way that leads thither. They would have the glorious vision but neglect the gracious union.
There are several sorts of eyes which shall never see God the ignorant eye, the unchaste eye, the scornful eye, the malicious eye, the covetous eye. If you would see God when you die, you must be purified persons while you live; ‘We shall see him as he is; and every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself’ (1 John 3:2, 3).
Let me turn myself to the pure in heart.
1 Stand amazed at this privilege, that you who are worms crept out of the dust should be admitted to the blessed sight of God to all eternity. It was Moses, prayer, ‘I beseech thee, show me thy glory’ (Exodus 33:18). The saints shall behold God’s glory. The pure in heart shall have the same blessedness that God himself has. For what is the blessedness of God but the contemplating his own infinite beauty!
2 Begin your sight of God here. Let the eye of your faith be still upon God. Moses by faith ’saw him who is invisible’ (Hebrews 11:27). Often look upon him with believing eyes, whom you hope to see with glorified eyes. ‘Mine eyes are ever towards the Lord’ (Psalm 25:15). While others are looking towards the earth as if they would fetch all their comforts thence, let us look up to heaven. There is the best prospect. The sight of God by faith would let in much joy to the soul. ‘Though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable’ (1 Peter 1:8).
3 Let this be as cordial-water to revive the pure in heart. Be comforted with this, you shall shortly see God. The godly have many sights here that they would not see. They see a body of death; they see the sword unsheathed; they see rebellion wearing the mask of religion; they see the white devil. These sights occasion sorrow; but there is a blessed sight a-coming, ‘They shall see God.’ And in him are all sparkling beauties and ravishing joys to be found.
4 Be not discouraged at sufferings. All the hurt that affliction and death can do is to give you a sight of God. As one said to his fellow-martyr, ‘One half hour in glory will make us forget our pain’. The sun arising, all the dark shadows of the night fly away. When the pleasant beams of God’s countenance shall begin to shine upon the soul in heaven, then sorrows and sufferings shall be no more. ‘The dark shadows of the night, shall fly away. The thoughts of this beatifical vision should carry a Christian full sail with joy through the waters of affliction. This made Job so willing to embrace death: ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God’ (Job 19:25, 26).
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