« AnteriorContinuar »
division by a reference to a few of the notes on which he grounded it. In the absence of such assistance, I would remark, that the most express passage which I can find in confirmation of his opinion is that of St. Paul in 2 Cor. xii, wherein he asserts that he was caught up to the third heaven. This text unquestionably establishes the exist ence of three heavens; but it does not inform us in what the distinction between them consists: nor can I discover any passage which instructs us which is the first heaven, which is the second, or which is the third. The sacred writers in some places appear to adopt current popular notions, and instead of giving us original information upon them, interweave them in their discourses as received and unquestionable truths. Wherever this is done, it sanctions the popular opinion; and if it be the case in St. Paul's allusion to the third heaven, we should be led to examine, what were the received opinions of the Jews in his day to which he may be supposed to yield his inspired sanction respecting the three different heavens. My library is scanty, and I have no access to rabbinical lore: I must therefore content myself with the hope that some modern Lightfoot will condescend to give us a little tractate upon this interesting part of the question. In the mean time, I would observe that, as the Scriptures do not expressly teach us the boundaries between the three several heavens, we must look for the scriptural ground of the distinction pointed out by Mede in the different applications of the word heaven: for I presume he would deduce from one set of passages that they must refer to the air; from another, that they
j Gen. i. 20. k Gen. xxvii, 28.
must refer to the starry region; and from a third, that they must refer to some region beyond the
As to the air or sublunary heaven, the places are numerous where that sense applies. We have "the fowls flying in the open firmament of heaven;"j" the dew of heaven ;"k the heaven giving rain ;"l &c. The starry heaven is pointed out by such passages as these : God set lights in the firmament of heaven ;"'m "lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven."a It is plain that neither of these notions of heaven militates against my idea of this earth being in due time counted amongst the number of happy and celestial spheres.
But the third heaven spoken of by Mede may appear to do so; for he roundly asserts that it is the abode of angels and blessed spirits. I am not, however, aware that there is any thing in the Scriptures inconsistent with the idea that the holy angels are inhabitants of the stars, (which, doubtless, were designed for inhabitancy,) or of any thing which places their abode in that which Mede calls "the third heaven." I think it may admit of a question, whether the opinion of that very learned writer was not in some degree warped by the popular belief touching that unknown region. And here let me ask, what does the popular belief amount to? Is it not, that above the remotest stars there is some glorious roof, the other side of which is, as it were, the heavenly pavement; and that within that region is the place of happiness, where God, and Christ, and holy angels, and blessed spirits dwell? For this, or for any notion like
1 James v, 18. m Gen. i. n Deut. ix, 19.
this, I doubt whether it be possible to exhibit a satisfactory scriptural foundation. I grant that the Scriptures speak of heaven being God's throne; and that there are many parallel phrases; but I conceive that such expressions may be employed with a kind of poetical sublimity, to give us exalted conceptions of the Deity; and that they are not intended to convey any definite notions beyond this; much less that they imply of necessity that God's residence is in the place called the third heaven: for the same Scriptures teach us to attribute omnipresence unto God, and expressly affirm “that heaven, even the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him."o The true explanation of such language, as speaks of heaven being God's throne, seems to be founded on this principle. To suggest the thought of any thing exalted, we naturally look upwards to the sky, or what in common phrase is called heaven :- The heaven for height,' seems a natural expression : For look how high the heaven is above the earth:"p—therefore in labouring to describe God's majesty, we resort to this image. We cannot however upon reflection suppose, that it implies any local habitation, any fixed material throne for the infinite Spirit who pervades all parts of the universe. Or if this mode of accounting for such phrases be unsatisfactory, we may take up the notion, that wherever God manifests his glory in a peculiar manner, there is heaven. On this accursed and ruined earth God is not accustomed to make visible displays of his presence. Even here, indeed, "he leaves not himself without witness, in that he giveth us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, fill
ing our hearts with food and gladness :" but yet he retires and conceals himself from our view:
Behold I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see ' him."r It is reasonable to suppose, that His glory, concealed from us, is in other worlds peculiarly manifested; and as these worlds are situated in the firmament of heaven, what objection is there to the conclusion, that when the Scriptures speak of God's throne being in heaven, or use other expressions indicating a clear display of his presence and glory in the sky, they teach us that such displays as we are strangers to on earth are made in those celestial spheres? To this notion we may refer a great number of passages: such, for instance, as Deut. xxvi, 15, and Isa. lxiii, 15, where heaven is called God's "holy habitation;"" the habitation of his holiness and of his glory." Such expressions do not infer any empyreal court above the stars: they may be understood of the heavenly bodies themselves.
Again, it may be alleged, that we hold on scriptural grounds, that Christ is ascended into heaven ; and what heaven can this be, but the empyreal heaven, the place of happiness? To this I answer, that the Scriptures likewise teach us, that "Christ is ascended up far above all heavens,"s which seems to be an expression forbidding us to limit him to the third, or any particular heaven. It is also said that " he sitteth at the right hand of God;"t that is, at His right hand whom no heavens can contain ;u which, joined
o 1 Kings vii, 27. p Ps. ciii, 11. 9 Acts xiv, 17. r Job xxiii, 8, 9. s Eph. iv, 10. t Coloss. iii, 1. u 1 Kings viii, 27.
to the ordinary arguments upon this point, may lead us to give a figurative interpretation to the session of Christ; and equally so to his abode in any fixed place; and rather to conceive of him as having, after his ascension into the clouds, risen-we know not precisely how or whither as respects locality-but, risen to the highest dignity and glory with his Father as one of the apostles explains it," being by the right hand of God exalted ;" and as it is expressed by another, "being made being made higher than the heavens."w
As we may be opposed by objections drawn from Christ's ascent into heaven, so likewise we may be met by others taken from the numerous assertions of his descent from thence. It may be alleged that such texts imply that heaven is some happy place where he dwelt previously to his incarnation; and so, that there is a proper local residence of the Deity from which he came down. But it may be answered, that in these phrases heaven does not necessarily imply any other place than the stars; and that Christ's dwelling there, as distinguished from his coming down on the earth, does not mean any thing more than such a manifestation of the divine presence as we have already supposed to be made in the heavenly bodies. Our Lord did not cease to be in heaven when he thus came down from thence. He teaches Nicodemus that he continued still there : And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven."x In truth it is plain that the passages which speak of Christ's having come down from heaven refer to his divinity alone, and not to his humanity which never was in heaven until
his ascension: but in what sense can his divinity be said to have come down, except the expression be used in condescension to our imperfect faculties, or unless it be understood to denote a manifestation (a partial manifestation) of Deity on earth?" The Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the onlybegotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."'y Christ himself tells us, He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father:"z the Father:"z"not that any man hath seen the Father," in person; but that the Son did make a manifestation of the Father in his glorious attributes of wisdom, power, and goodness. Thus, whenever we discriminate between the divinity and humanity of our Lord, we are prevented from limiting the divine nature to a fixed local heaven; we are constrained to recognise the ubiquity of him "who fills all things;" and can never understand such phrases as Christ's "coming down from heaven" previous to his incarnation, or "God's throne being in heaven," in any other sense than as denoting certain manifestations of a nature which is every where present whether perceived or not.
But still St. Paul asserts that there is a third heaven; and I agree so far with Mede as to suppose it to be the abode of blessed spirits, though not of angels. In making this admission, however, I do not allow the third heaven to be what Mede seems to understand by it; and what the popular apprehension conceives it. In fact, by the third heaven the Apostle appears to mean the place of departed souls ; that portion of hades to which the spirits of the good are assigned during their separation from the body. body. This may be inferred from
v Acts ii, 33. w Heb. vii, 26. x John iii, 13. y John i, 14.
z John xiv, 9.
the Apostle's doubt, as to whether he himself was in or out of the body, during his rapture into that place; for this doubt would seem to be expressed in reference to the place being the proper place of the disembodied. It may be inferred more strongly from his proceeding to call this third heaven by the name of Paradise; for I apprehend he speaks not of two raptures, one into heaven, and another into Paradise; but uses the latter term exegetically to expound the former. If then the third heaven be identical with Paradise, it is identical with the place of departed souls; the place to which Christ promised the repentant thief that he should be with him when he was about to resign his fleshly tabernacle. To this view of the third heaven I am aware it may be objected, that it appears incongruous to consider it at the same time the place to which Christ went DOWN, (for he descended into hades,) and the place to which Paul was caught up. But besides that “UP” and “DOWN" are merely relative terms, and consequently the same situation may be up or down according to its position relatively to other places to which a reference is tacitly made, it is to be observed that the words used by St. Paul are ɛws and as which do not necessarily imply either up or down ; but simply that he was caught into the third heaven, and thus no inconsistency arises.
Considering the third heaven as Paradise, or the blessed part of hades, where the dead who die in the Lord do rest from their labours,"a then we have only two other heavens to account for; the one the circumambient air or sublunary heaven, pertaining to this our globe; the other the starry
The difficulty to which I allude is as follows. We are led by the parable of Dives and Lazarus; by the descent of Christ into hades; by the doctrine of a resurrection; and by numerous other arguments, to believe that there is a place where the souls of the faithful are in rest and peace during their separation from the body. That this is not the place of their reward (or, if you will, their proper heaven) is clear, because all the promises which refer to the glorious state of reward refer to the resurrection as the period of it. And it will puzzle those, who hold that good men go to heaven when they die, to explain upon their principles for what purpose they are to appear at the general judgement, or what augmentation of happiness awaits their already beatified spirits at the resurrection of their bodies. But then, on the other hand, it is asserted by the Apostle, that
depart and be with Christ is far better," and, that he was "willing 'to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." Since Christ is gone into heaven, it is plausibly argued, that to depart and be with him, being then absent from the body,' is to go to heaven at once; and of course to be completely happy in the beatified vision of God. But what then becomes of the separate state? This doctrine serves to annihilate it. But mark how the difficulty may be solved. If Christ be not limited to what they understand by the empyreal heaven, or heaven in the popular acceptation, it is perfectly intelligible that the Apostle, who had already been in the place of departed souls, might there have met and conversed with his Saviour; and might anticipate similar enjoyments, in the same place, when, being delivered from the burden of the flesh, he should take up his more stated abode there. Moses and Elias came to the holy mount to converse with Jesus; Jesus appeared to Paul when he drew nigh to Damascus; he appeared to him also on other occasions to direct and cheer him in his ministry and is it unreasonable to imagine that he should likewise, at proper seasons, appear to the departed spirits of Paul and other saints, during their abode in hades, and so justify the anticipation that to depart and be with Christ is far better?
This solution, it will be observed, proceeds on the supposition, that to be with Christ is to enjoy personal communion with the glorified manhood of our Lord, conceiving that he may in his manhood sionally gladden the souls in hades. But this supposition is not necessary to the subject. For there is a sense
b Phil. i, 23.
in which St. Paul, in his anticipation, not of heavenly reward and glory but of a sojourn in hades, might expect to be with Christ, even though the bodily presence of Christ was not to appear in hades, but to continue in the heavens to which he ascended until he come to make a heaven of earth. The phrase used by St. Paul of being with Christ is the same which Christ uses of being with his Church :—“ Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."d Now what is the sense in which Christ is with his Church? Is it not in spirit? In the same sense then St. Paul might expect to enjoy communion with him in hades; and if it be said that this sort of communion he had already upon earth, the answer is, that while in the flesh his bodily nature might hinder his perception of that spiritual communion in the degree to which he looked forward to it when released from that encumbrance. He therefore does not account this present communion a 'being with Christ,' comparatively with that higher degree of it which he anticipated in hades, and to which, in this view, he applies the expression.
My Reader may possibly exclaim that the views which I have suggested are most unsatisfactory, because they leave no distinct impression upon the mind as to where God is, and where Christ is, whom we have been used to consider in heaven, even in some definite and peculiar place. It may, however, deserve serious reflection, whether the thing objected does not in reality tend to confirm the notions I have advanced. For if my views leave no distinct abode to the Deity, are they not more accordant with the sublime principles inculcated in
d Matt. xxviii, 20.
c 2 Cor. v, 8.