True Saints, When Absent From The Body, Are Present With The Lord

Preached by Rev. Jonathan Edwards on the day of the funeral of the Rev. David Brainerd, Missionary to the Indians, from the Honorable Society in Scotland for the propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of a Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey; who died at Northampton in New England, October 9, 1747, in the 30th year of his age, and was interred on the 12th following.

Part 1 of 3

"We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8)

The apostle in this place is giving a reason why he went on with so much boldness and immovable steadfastness, through such labors, sufferings, and dangers of his life, in the service of his Lord, for which his enemies, the false teachers among the Corinthians, sometimes reproached him as being beside himself, and driven on by a kind of madness. — In the latter part of the preceding chapter, the apostle informs the Christian Corinthians, that the reason why he did thus, was that he firmly believed the promises that Christ had made to his faithful servants of a glorious future eternal reward, and knew that these present afflictions were light, and but for a moment, in comparison of that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. The same discourse is continued in this chapter, wherein the apostle further insists on the reason he had given of his constancy in suffering, and exposing himself to death in the work of the ministry, even the more happy state he expected after death. And this is the subject of the text, wherein may be observed,

1. The great future privilege, which the apostle hoped for: that of being present with Christ. The words in the original properly signify dwelling with Christ, as in the same country or city, or making a home with Christ.

2. When the apostle looked for this privilege, viz. when he should be absent from the body. Not to wait for it till the resurrection, when soul and body should be united again. He signifies the same thing in his epistle to the Philippians 1:22, 23: "But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor. Yet what I shall choose, I wot not. For I am in a strait between two; having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ."

3. The value the apostle set on this privilege. It was such that for the sake of it, he chose to be absent from the body. He was willing rather, or (as the word properly signifies) it were more pleasing to him, to part with the present life, and all its enjoyments, for the sake of being possessed of this great benefit.

4. The present benefit, which the apostle had, by his faith and hope of this future privilege, viz. that hence he received courage, assurance, and constancy of mind: agreeable to the proper import of the word that is rendered, "we are confident." The apostle is now giving a reason of that fortitude and immovable stability of mind with which he went through those extreme labors, hardships and dangers, which he mentions in this discourse. So that in the midst of all he did not faint, was not discouraged, but had constant light, and inward support, strength, and comfort in the midst of all: agreeable to the 16th verse of the foregoing chapter, "For which cause, we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." And the same is expressed more particularly in the 8th, 9th, and 10th verses, of that chapter, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." And in the next chapter, verses 4-10: "In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings, by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things."

Among the many useful observations there might be raised from the text, I shall at this time only insist on that which lies most plainly before us in the words, viz.— The souls of true saints, when they leave their bodies at death, go to be with Christ.

The souls of true saints go to be with Christ, in the following respects:

1. The Souls of True Saints will dwell with Christ forever

They go to dwell in the same blessed abode with the glorified human nature of Christ.

The human nature of Christ is yet in being. He still continues, and will continue to all eternity, to be both God and man. His whole human nature remains: not only his human soul, but also his human body. His dead body rose from the dead, and the same that was raised from the dead, is exalted and glorified at God’s right hand, that which was dead is now alive and lives for evermore.

And therefore there is a certain place, a particular part of the external creation, to which Christ is gone, and where he remains. And this place is that which we call the highest heaven, or the heaven of heavens, a place beyond all the visible heavens, Eph 4:9, 10, "Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens." This is the same which the apostle calls the third heaven, 2 Cor 12:2, reckoning the aerial heaven as the first, the starry heaven as the second, and the highest heaven as the third. This is the abode of the holy angels: they are called "the angels of heaven," Mat. 24:36; "The angels which are in heaven," Mk 13:32; "The angels of God in heaven," Mt 22:30, and Mk 12:25. They are said "always to behold the face of the Father which is in heaven," Mt 18:10. And they are elsewhere often represented as before the throne of God, or surrounding his throne in heaven, and sent from thence, and descending from thence on messages to this world. And thither it is that the souls of departed saints are conducted when they die. They are not reserved in some abode distinct from the highest heaven: a place of rest, which they are kept in till the day of judgment, such as some imagine, which they call the hades of the happy. But they go directly to heaven itself. This is the saints’ home, being their Father’s house: they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and this is the other and better country to which they are traveling, Heb. 11:13-26. This is the city they belong to; Phil 3:20, "Our conversation (or as the word properly signifies, citizenship) is in heaven." Therefore this undoubtedly is the place the apostle has respect to in my text, when he says, "We are willing to forsake our former house, the body, and to dwell in the same house, city or country, wherein Christ dwells;" which is the proper import of the original. What can this house, or city, or country be, but that house, which is elsewhere spoken of as their proper home, and their Father’s house, and the city and country to which they properly belong, and whither they are traveling all the while they continue in this world, and the house, city, and country where we know the human nature of Christ is? This is the saints’ rest: here their hearts are while they live, and here their treasure is: "The inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, that is designed for them, is reserved in heaven;" 1 Pet 1:4, and therefore they never can have their proper and full rest till they come here. So that undoubtedly their souls, when absent from their bodies (when the Scriptures represent them as in a state of perfect rest), arrive hither. Those two saints, that left this world, to go to their rest in another world, without dying, viz.Enoch and Elijah, went to heaven. Elijah was seen ascending up to heaven, as Christ was. And to the same resting place, there is all reason to think that those saints go, who leave this world by death. Moses, when he died in the top of the mount, ascended to the same glorious abode with Elias, who ascended without dying. They are companions in another world, as they appeared together at Christ’s transfiguration. They were together at that time with Christ in the mount, when there was a specimen or sample of his glorification in heaven. And doubtless they were also together afterwards with him, when he was actually and fully glorified in heaven. And thither undoubtedly it was, that the soul of Stephen ascended, when he expired. The circumstances of his death demonstrate it, Acts 7:55, etc. "He being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man (i.e. Jesus in his human nature) standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him. — And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Before his death he had an extraordinary view of the glory that his Savior had received in heaven, not only for himself, but also for all his faithful followers, that he might be encouraged by the hopes of this glory, cheerfully to lay down his life for his sake. Accordingly he dies in the hope of this, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." By which doubtless he meant, "receive my spirit to be with thee, in that glory, wherein I have now seen thee, in heaven, at the right-hand of God." And thither it was that the soul of the penitent thief on the cross ascended. Christ said to him, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." Paradise is the same with the third heaven, as appears by 2 Cor 12:2, 3, 4. There what is called the third heaven in the second verse, is in the fourth verse called paradise. The departed souls of the apostles and prophets are in heaven, as is manifest from Rev 18:20, "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets." The church of God is distinguished in Scripture, from time to time, into these two parts: that part of it that is in heaven, and that which is in earth, Eph 3:14, 15, "Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Col 1:20, "And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven." Now what things in heaven are they for whom peace has been made by the blood of Christ’s cross, and who have by him been reconciled to God, but the saints in heaven? In like manner we read, Eph 1:10, of God’s gathering together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him." The spirits of just men made perfect are in the same city of the living God, and heavenly Jerusalem, with the innumerable company of angels, and Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, as is manifest by Heb 12:22-24. The church of God is often in Scripture called Jerusalem, and the apostle speaks of the Jerusalem which is above, or which is in heaven, as the mother of us all. But if no part of the church be in heaven, or none but Enoch and Elias, it is not likely that the church would be called the Jerusalem which is in heaven.

2. The Souls of True Saints will dwell in the view of Christ

The souls of true saints, when they leave their bodies at death, go to be with Christ, as they go to dwell in the immediate, full and constant sight or view of him.

When we are absent from our dear friends, they are out of sight, but when we are with them, we have the opportunity and satisfaction of seeing them. So while the saints are in the body, and are absent from the Lord, he is in several respects out of sight, 1 Pet 1:8, "Whom having not seen, ye love: in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing," etc. They have indeed, in this world, a spiritual sight of Christ, but they see through a glass darkly, and with great interruption, but in heaven they see him face to face, 1 Cor 13:12. "The pure in heart are blessed; for they shall see God," Mt 5:8. Their beatific vision of God is in Christ, who is that brightness or effulgence of God’s glory, by which his glory shines forth in heaven, to the view of saints and angels there, as well as here on earth. This is the Sun of righteousness that is not only the light of this world, but is also the sun that enlightens the heavenly Jerusalem, by whose bright beams it is that the glory of God shines forth there, to the enlightening and making happy of all the glorious inhabitants. "The Lamb is the light thereof; and so the glory of God doth lighten it," Rev 21:23. None sees God the Father immediately, who is the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Christ is the image of that invisible God, by which he is seen by all elect creatures. The only-begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him, and manifested him. None has ever immediately seen the Father, but the Son; and none else sees the Father any other way, than by the Son’s revealing him. And in heaven, the spirits of just men made perfect behold his glory. They see the glory of his divine nature, consisting in all the glory of the Godhead, the beauty of all his perfections: his great majesty, almighty power, his infinite wisdom, holiness, and grace. They see the beauty of his glorified human nature, and the glory which the Father has given him, as God-man and Mediator. For this end, Christ desired that his saints might "be with him, that they might behold his glory," Jn 17:24. And when the souls of the saints leave their bodies, to go to be with Christ, they behold the marvelous glory of that great work of redemption, and of the glorious way of salvation by him, which the angels desire to look into. They have a most clear view of the unfathomable depths of the manifold wisdom and knowledge of God, and the most bright displays of the infinite purity and holiness of God which appear in that way and work, and see in another manner than the saints do here, what is the breadth and length, and depth and height, of the grace and love of Christ, appearing in his redemption. And as they see the unspeakable riches and glory of the attribute of God’s grace, so they most clearly behold and understand Christ’s eternal and unmeasurable dying love to them in particular. And in short, they see everything in Christ that tends to kindle, enflame, and gratify love, and everything that tends to satisfy them, and that in the most clear and glorious manner, without any darkness or delusion, without any impediment or interruption. Now the saints, while in the body, see something of Christ’s glory and love, as in the dawning of the morning, we see something of the reflected light of the sun mingled with darkness. But when separated from the body, they see their glorious and loving Redeemer, as we see the sun when risen, and showing his whole disk above the horizon, by his direct beams, in a clear hemisphere, and with perfect day.

3. The Souls of True Saints shall enjoy a full manifestation of their union with Christ

The souls of true saints, when absent from the body, go to be with Jesus Christ, as they are brought into a most perfect conformity to and union with him. Their spiritual conformity is begun while they are in the body. Here beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image. But when they come to see him as he is, in heaven, then they become like him in another manner. That perfect sight will abolish all remains of deformity, disagreement, and sinful unlikeness, as all darkness is abolished before the full blaze of the sun’s meridian light. As it is impossible that the least degree of obscurity should remain before such light, so it is impossible the least degree of sin and spiritual deformity should remain with such a view of the spiritual beauty and glory of Christ, as the saints enjoy in heaven, when they see that Sun of righteousness without a cloud. They themselves shall not only shine forth as the sun, but shall be as little suns, without a spot. For then is come the time when Christ presents his saints to himself, in glorious beauty; "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;" and having holiness without a blemish.

Then the saints’ union with Christ is perfected. This also is begun in this world. The relative union is both begun and perfected at once, when the soul first being quickened by him closes with Christ by faith. The real union, consisting in the vital union and that of hearts and affections, is begun in this world and perfected in the next. The union of the heart of a believer to Christ is begun when it is drawn to him, by the first discovery of divine excellency, at conversion. Consequent on this drawing and closing of his heart with Christ, is established a mutual vital union with Christ, whereby the believer becomes a living branch of the true vine, living by a communication of the sap and vital juice of the stock and root, and a member of Christ’s mystical body, living by a communication of spiritual and vital influences from the head, and by a kind of participation of Christ’s own life. But while the saints are in the body, there is much remaining distance between Christ and them. There are remainders of alienation, and the vital union is very imperfect, and so consequently is the communications of spiritual life and vital influences. There is much between Christ and believers to keep them asunder, much indwelling sin, much temptation, a heavy-molded frail body, and a world of carnal objects, to keep off the soul from Christ, and hinder a perfect coalescence. But when the soul leaves the body, all these clogs and hindrances shall be removed, every separating wall shall be broken down, and every impediment taken out of the way, and all distance shall cease. The heart shall be wholly and forever attached and bound to him, by a perfect view of his glory. And the vital union shall then be brought to perfection. The soul shall live perfectly in and upon Christ, being perfectly filled with his spirit, and animated by his vital influences, living as it were only by Christ’s life, without any remainder of spiritual death, or carnal life.

… to be Continued