20.9.13

"The Justice and the Joy of Heaven" by John Donne

I read sermons regularly. I enjoy it and I fancy that it improves my own preaching, though I suppose I must leave that verdict with my congregants. Regardless, I have oft been instructed well by pastors past and wish, on this occasion, to pass on one such worthwhile specimen. 

Here, then, I humbly present to thee, most esteemed reader of mine, a sermon. A sermon which comes at the conclusion of a series on heaven. 

The Justice and the Joy of Heaven
by John Donne

Justice: As it is said of old cosmographers, that when they had said all that they knew of a country and yet much more was to be said, they said that the rest of those countries were possessed with giants or witches or spirits or wild beasts, so that they could pierce no farther into that country; so when we have traveled as far as we can with safety, that is, as far as ancient or modern expositors lead us in the discovery of these new heavens and new earth, yet we must say at last that it is a country inhabited with angels and archangels, with cherubim and seraphim, and that we can look no farther into it with these eyes. Where it is locally, we inquire not; we rest in this, that it is the habitation prepared for the blessed saints of God; heavens where the moon is more glorious than our sun, and the sun as glorious as he that made it; for it is he himself, the Son of God, the sun of glory. A new earth, where all their waters are milk and all their milk, honey; where all their grass is corn, and all their corn, manna; where all their soil, all their clods of earth are gold, and all their gold of innumerable carats; where all their minutes are ages, and all their ages, eternity; where every thing is every minute, in the highest exaltation, as good as it can be, and yet super-exalted and infinitely multiplied by every minute's addition; every minute infinitely better than ever it was before. Of these new heavens and this new earth we must say at last that we can say nothing; for "the eye of man hath not seen, or ear heard, nor heart conceived the state of this place." We limit and determine our consideration with that horizon with which the Holy Ghost hath limited us, that it is that new heaven and new earth, "wherein dwelleth righteousness."

Here then the Holy Ghost intends the same new heavens and new earth which he does in the Apocalypse, and describes there by another name the new Jerusalem. But here the Holy Ghost does not proceed, as there, to enamor us of the place by a promise of improvement of those things which we have and love here, but by a promise of that which here we have not at all. There and elsewhere the Holy Ghost applies himself to the natural affections of men. To those that are affected with riches, he says that the new city shall be all of gold and in the foundations all manner of precious stones. To those that are affected with beauty, he promises an everlasting association with that beautiful couple, that fair pair, which spend their time in that protestation: "Behold, thou art fair, my beloved," says he, and then she replies, "Behold, thou art fair, too," noting that mutual complacency between Christ and his Church there. To those which delight in music he promises continual singing, and every minute a new song. To those whose thoughts are exercised upon honor and titles, civil and ecclesiastical, he promises priesthood, and if that be not honor enough, a royal priesthood. And to those who look after military honor, triumph after their victory in the militant church. And to those that are carried with sumptuous and magnificent feasts, a marriage supper of the Lamb, wherein not only all the rarities of the whole world but the whole world itself shall be served; the whole world shall be brought to that fire and served at that table. But here the Holy Ghost proceeds not that way, by improvement of things which we have and love here: riches or beauty or music or honor or feasts, but by an everlasting possession of that which we hunger and thirst and pant after here and cannot compass, that is, justice and righteousness; for both these we want here and shall have both for ever in these new heavens and new earth. 

What would a worn and macerated suitor, oppressed by the bribery of the rich or by the might of a potent adversary, give or do or suffer that he might have justice? What would a dejected spirit, a disconsolate soul, oppressed with the weight of heavy and habitual sin, that stand naked in a frosty winter of desperation and cannot compass one fig leaf, one color, one excuse for any circumstance of any sin, give for the garment of righteousness? Here there is none that does right, none that executes justice, not for justice' sake. He that does justice, does it not at first; and Christ does not thank that judge, that did justice upon the woman's importunity. Justice is no justice, that is done for fear of an appeal or a commission. There may be found, that may do justice at first; at their first entrance into a place, to make good impressions, to establish good opinions, they may do some acts of justice; but after, either an uxoriousness towards wife or a solicitude for children or a facility towards servants or a vastness of expense quenches and overcomes the love of justice in them; in most it is not, and it dwells not in any. In our new heavens and new earth dwelleth justice. And that's my comfort: that when I come thither, I shall have justice at God's hands. 

Joy: If you look upon this world in a map, you find tow hemispheres, two half worlds. If you crush heaven into a map, you may find two hemispheres, too, two half heavens; half will be joy and half will be glory; for in these two, the joy of heaven and the glory of heaven, is all heaven often represented to us. And as of those two hemispheres of the world, the first hath been known long before, but the other, that of America, which is the richer treasure, God reserved for later discoveries. So though he reserve that hemisphere of heaven, which is the glory thereof, to the resurrection, yet the other hemisphere, the joy of heaven, God opens to our discovery and delivers for our habitation even whilst we dwell in this world. As God hath cast upon the unrepentant sinner two deaths, a temporal and a spiritual death, so hath he breathed into us two lives. Though our natural life were no life, but rather a continual dying, yet we have two lives besides that, an eternal life reserved for heaven, but yet a heavenly life, too, a spiritual life, even in this world. And as God doth thus inflict two deaths and infuse two lives, so doth he also pass two judgments upon man, or rather repeats the same judgment twice. For, that which Christ shall say to thy soul then at the last judgment: "Enter into thy master's joy," he says to they conscience now: "Enter into they master's joy." The everlastingness of the joy is the blessedness of the next life, but the entering is afforded here. 

Howling is the noise of hell, singing the voice of heaven; sadness the damp of hell, rejoicing the serenity of heaven. And he that hath not this joy here lacks one of the best pieces of his evidence for the joys of heaven, and hath neglected or refused that earnest by which God uses to bind his bargain, that true joy in this world shall flow into the joy of heaven, as a river flows into the sea. This joy shall not be put out in death and a new joy kindles in me in heaven; but as my soul shall not go towards heaven, but go by heaven to heaven, to the heaven of heavens (for all the way to heaven is heaven), so the true joy of a good soul in this world is the very joy of heaven; and we go thither, not that being without joy, we might have joy infused into us, but that as Christ says, "Our joy might be full," perfected, sealed with an everlastingness; for as he promises that no man shall take our joy from us, so neither shall death itself take it away, nor so much as interrupt it or discontinue it; but as in the face of death, when he lays hold upon me, and in the face of the devil, when he attempts me, I shall see the face of God (for, every thing shall be a glass, to reflect God upon me); so in the agonies of death, in the anguish of that dissolution, in the sorrows of valediction, in the irreversibleness of that transmigration, I shall have a joy which shall no more evaporate, a joy that shall pass up and put on a more glorious garment above, and be joy superinvested in glory. 

Amen. 



13.9.13

"The First Psalm" by Robert Burns

The First Psalm

     The man in life wherever placed,
          Hath happiness in store,
     Who walks not in the wicked's way,
          Nor learns their guilty lore. 

     Nor from the seat of scornful pride
          Casts forth his eyes abroad,
     But with humility and awe
          Still walks before his God. 

     That man shall flourish like the trees,
          Which by the streamlets grow;
     The fruitful top is spread on high,
          And firm the root below.

     Be he who blossoms buds in guilt,
          Shall to the ground be cast,
     And, like the rootless stubble, tost
          before the sweeping blast.

     For why? that God the good adore
          Hath given them peace and rest,
     But hath decreed that wicked men
          Shall never be truly blest.