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 2 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)

[Editor’s note: We saw that the souls of the true saint is united with Christ, abides with Him as the God-Man and will dwell in view of Him. In this second part of the sermon, we shall consider how the souls of the true saint will go to be with Christ in two further respects.]

4. The Souls of True Saints shall enjoy immediate fellowship with Christ

Departed souls of saints are with Christ, as they enjoy a glorious and immediate intercourse and converse with him.

While we are present with our friends, we have opportunity for that free and immediate conversation with them, which we cannot have in absence from them. And therefore, by reason of the vastly more free, perfect, and immediate intercourse with Christ, which the saints enjoy when absent from the body, they are fitly represented as present with him.

The most intimate intercourse becomes that relation which the saints stand in to Jesus Christ; and especially becomes that most perfect and glorious union they shall be brought into with him in heaven. They are not merely Christ’s servants, but his friends, John 15:15. His brethren and companions, Ps 122:8; "yea, they are the spouse of Christ." They are espoused or betrothed to Christ while in the body; but when they go to heaven, they enter into the King’s palace, their marriage with him is come, and the King brings them into his chambers indeed. They then go to dwell with Christ constantly, to enjoy the most perfect converse with him. Christ conversed in the most friendly manner with his disciples on earth. He admitted one of them to lean on his bosom, but they are admitted much more fully and freely to converse with him in heaven. Though Christ be there in a state of glorious exaltation, reigning in the majesty and glory of the sovereign Lord and God of heaven and earth, angels and men, yet this will not hinder intimacy and freedom of intercourse, but rather promote it. For he is thus exalted, not only for himself, but for them. He is instated in this glory of head over all things for their sakes, that they might be exalted and glorified. When they go to heaven where he is, they are exalted and glorified with him, and shall not be kept at a more awful distance from Christ, but shall be admitted nearer, and to a greater intimacy. For they shall be unspeakably more fit for it, and Christ in more fit circumstances to bestow on them this blessedness. Their seeing the great glory of their friend and Redeemer, will not awe them to a distance, and make them afraid of a near approach, but on the contrary, will most powerfully draw them near, and encourage and engage them to holy freedom. For they will know that it is he that is their own Redeemer, and beloved friend and bridegroom: the very same that loved them with a dying love, and redeemed them to God by his blood, Mt 14:27, "It is I; be not afraid." Rev 1:17, 18, "Fear not: — I am he that liveth, and was dead." And the nature of this glory of Christ which they shall behold, will be such as will draw and encourage them. For they will not only see infinite majesty and greatness, but infinite grace, condescension, and mildness, and gentleness and sweetness, equal to his majesty. For he appears in heaven, not only as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but as the Lamb in the midst of the throne," Rev 5:5, 6. He shall be their shepherd, to "feed them, and lead them to living fountains of water," Rev 7:17, so that the sight of Christ’s great kingly majesty will be no terror to them, but will only serve the more to heighten their pleasure and surprise. When Mary was about to embrace Christ, being full of joy at the sight of him again alive after his crucifixion, Christ forbids her to do it for the present, because he was not yet ascended. John 20:16, 17, "Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." As if he had said, "This is not the time and place for that freedom your love to me desires: this is appointed in heaven after my ascension. I am going thither: and you, my true disciples, shall, as my brethren and companions, soon be there with me in my glory. And then there shall be no restraint. That is the place appointed for the most perfect expressions of complacence and endearment, and full enjoyment of mutual love." And accordingly the souls of departed saints with Christ in heaven, shall have Christ as it were unbosomed unto them, manifesting those infinite riches of love towards them, that have been there from eternity. They shall be enabled to express their love to him, in an incomparably better manner than ever they could while in the body. Thus they shall eat and drink abundantly, and swim in the ocean of love, and be eternally swallowed up in the infinitely bright, and infinitely mild and sweet beams of divine love: eternally receiving that light, eternally full of it, and eternally compassed round with it, and everlastingly reflecting it back again to the fountain of it.

5. The Souls of True Saints shall share in the blessedness of Christ

The souls of the saints, when they leave their bodies at death, go to be with Christ, as they are received to a glorious fellowship with Christ in his blessedness.

As the wife is received to a joint possession of her husband’s estate, and as the wife of a prince partakes with him in his princely possessions and honors, so the church, the spouse of Christ, when the marriage comes, and she is received to dwell with him in heaven, shall partake with him in his glory. When Christ rose from the dead, and took possession of eternal life, this was not as a private person, but as the public head of all his redeemed people. He took possession of it for them, as well as for himself, and they are "quickened together with him, and raised up together." — And so when he ascended into heaven, and was exalted to great glory there, this also was as a public person. He took possession of heaven, not only for himself, but his people, as their forerunner and head, that they might ascend also, "and sit together in heavenly places with him," Eph 2:5, 6, "Christ writes upon them his new name," Rev 3:12; i.e., he makes them partakers of his own glory and exaltation in heaven. His new name is that new honor and glory that the Father invested him with, when he set him on his own right hand, as a prince, when he advances anyone to new dignity in his kingdom, gives him a new title. Christ and his saints shall be glorified together, Rom 8:17.

The saints in heaven have communion, or a joint participation with Christ in his glory and blessedness in heaven, in the following respects more especially.

First, they partake with him in the ineffable delights he has in heaven, in the enjoyment of his Father.

When Christ ascended into heaven, he was received to a glorious and peculiar joy and blessedness in the enjoyment of his Father, who in his passion hid his face from him — such an enjoyment as became the relation he stood in to the Father, and such as was a meet reward for the great and hard service he had performed on earth. Then "God showed him the path of life, and brought him into his presence, where is fullness of joy, and to sit on his right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore," as Ps 16:11. "Then the Father made him most blessed forever: he made him exceeding glad with his countenance;" as in Ps 21:6. The saints, by virtue of their union with Christ, and being his members, do in some sort partake of his childlike relation to the Father, and so are heirs with him of his happiness in the enjoyment of his Father, as seems to be intimated by the apostle, in Gal 4:4-7. The spouse of Christ, by virtue of her espousals to that only-begotten Son of God, is as it were, a partaker of his filial relation to God, and becomes the king’s daughter, Ps 45:13, and so partakes with her divine husband in his enjoyment of "his Father and her Father, his God and her God." A promise of this seems to be implied in those words of Christ to Mary, John 20:17. Thus Christ’s faithful servants "enter into the joy of their Lord," Mt 25:21-23, and "Christ’s joy remains in them;" agreeably to those words of Christ, John 15:11. Christ from eternity is, as it were, in the bosom of the Father, as the object of his infinite complacence. In him is the Father’s eternal happiness. Before the world was, he was with the Father, in the enjoyment of his infinite love, and had infinite delight and blessedness in that enjoyment; as he declares of himself in Prov 8:30: "Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him." And when Christ ascended to the Father after his passion, he went to him, to the enjoyment of the same glory and blessedness in the enjoyment of his love, agreeable to his prayer the evening before his crucifixion, John 17:5: "And now, O Father, glorify me with thine own self, with the glory I had with thee before the world was." And in the same prayer, he manifests it to be his will that his true disciples should be with him in the enjoyment of that joy and glory, which he then asked for himself, John 17:13: "That my joy might be fulfilled in themselves:" verse 22, "And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them." This glory and joy of Christ, which the saints are to enjoy with him, is that which he has in the enjoyment of the Father’s infinite love to him, as appears by the last words of that prayer of our Lord, John 17:26, "That the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them." The love which the Father has to his Son is great indeed. The Deity does, as it were, wholly and entirely flow out in a stream of love to Christ, and the joy and pleasure of Christ is proportionably great. — This is the stream of Christ’s delights, the river of his infinite pleasure, which he will make his saints to drink of with him, agreeable to Ps 36:8, 9: "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house: thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light." The saints shall have pleasure in partaking with Christ in his pleasure, and shall see light in his light. They shall partake with Christ of the same river of pleasure, shall drink of the same water of life, and of the same new wine in the Father’s kingdom, Mt 26:29. That new wine is especially that joy and happiness that Christ and his true disciples shall partake of together in glory, which is the purchase of Christ’s blood, or the reward of his obedience unto death. Christ, at his ascension into heaven, received everlasting pleasures at his Father’s right hand, and in the enjoyment of his love, as the reward of his own death, or obedience unto death. But the same righteousness is reckoned to both head and members. Both shall have fellowship in the same reward, each according to their distinct capacity.

That the saints in heaven have such a communion with Christ in his joy, and do so partake with him in his own enjoyment of the Father, greatly manifests the transcendent excellency of their happiness, and their being admitted to a vastly higher privilege in glory than the angels.

Second, the saints in heaven are received to a fellowship or participation with Christ in the glory of that dominion to which the Father has exalted him.

The saints, when they ascend to heaven as Christ ascended, and are made to sit together with Christ in heavenly places, and are partakers of the glory of his exaltation, are exalted to reign with him. They are through him made kings and priests, and reign with him, and in him, over the same kingdom. As the Father has appointed unto him a kingdom, so he has appointed to them. The Father has appointed the Son to reign over his own kingdom, and the Son appoints his saints to reign in his. The Father has given to Christ to sit with him on his throne, and Christ gives to the saints to sit with him on his throne, agreeably to Christ’s promise, Rev 3:21. Christ, as God’s Son, is the heir of his kingdom, and the saints are joint heirs with Christ, which implies that they are heirs of the same inheritance, to possess the same kingdom, in and with him, according to their capacity. Christ in his kingdom reigns over heaven and earth. He is appointed the heir of all things, and so all things are the saints’: "whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come," all are theirs; because they are Christ’s, and united to him, 1 Cor 3:21-23. The angels are given to Christ as a part of his dominion. They are all given to wait upon him as ministering spirits to him. So also they are all, even the highest and most dignified of them, "ministering spirits, to minister to them who are the heirs of salvation." They are Christ’s angels, and they are also their angels. Such is the saints’ union with Christ, and their interest in him, that what he possesses they possess, in a much more perfect and blessed manner than if all things were given to them separately, and by themselves, to be disposed of according to their discretion. They are now disposed of so as, in every respect, to be most for their blessedness, by an infinitely better discretion than their own, and in being disposed of by their head and husband, between whom and them there is the most perfect union of hearts, and the most perfect union of wills.

As the glorified spouse of this great King reigns with and in him, in his dominion over the universe, so more especially does she partake with him in the joy and glory of his reign in his kingdom of grace, which is more peculiarly the kingdom that he possesses as head of the church, and is that kingdom wherein she is more especially interested. It was especially to reign in this kingdom that God the Father exalted him to his throne in heaven. He set his King on his holy hill of Zion, especially that he might reign over Zion, or over his church, in his kingdom of grace, and that he might be under the best advantages to carry on the designs of his love in this lower world. And therefore undoubtedly the saints in heaven are partakers with Christ in the joy and glory of the advancement and prosperity of his kingdom of grace on earth, and success of his gospel here, which he looks on as the peculiar glory of his reign. The good shepherd rejoices when he finds but one sheep that was lost, and his friends and neighbors in heaven rejoice with him on that occasion. That part of the family that is in heaven are surely not unacquainted with the affairs of that part of the same family that is on earth. They who are with the King, and the royal family that dwell in his palace, are not kept in ignorance of the affairs of his kingdom. The saints in heaven are with the angels, the King’s ministers, by which he manages the affairs of his kingdom, and who are continually ascending and descending from heaven to the earth, and one or other of them daily employed as ministering spirits to each individual member of the church below. To this we may add, the continual ascending of the souls of departed saints from all parts of the militant church. On these accounts the saints in heaven must needs be under a thousand times greater advantage than we here, for a full view of the state of the church on earth, and a speedy, direct, and certain acquaintance with all its affairs in every part. And that which gives them much greater advantage for such an acquaintance than the things already mentioned, is their being constantly in the immediate presence of Christ, and in the enjoyment of the most perfect intercourse with him, who is the King who manages all these affairs, and has an absolutely perfect knowledge of them. Christ is the head of the whole glorified assembly. They are mystically his glorified body, and what the head sees, it sees for the information of the whole body, according to its capacity. What the head enjoys is for the joy of the whole body. The saints, in leaving this world, and ascending to heaven, do not go out of sight of things appertaining to Christ’s kingdom on earth. But, on the contrary, they go out of a state of obscurity, and ascend above the mists and clouds into the clearest light, to a pinnacle in the very center of light, where everything appears in clear view. They have as much greater advantage to view the state of Christ’s kingdom, and the works of the new creation here, than while they were in this world, as a man that ascends to the top of a high mountain has a greater advantage to view the face of the earth, than he had while he was in a deep valley, or thick forest below, surrounded on every side with those things that impeded and limited his prospect. Nor do they view as indifferent or unconcerned spectators, any more than Christ himself is an unconcerned spectator. The happiness of the saints in heaven consists very much in beholding the glory of God appearing in the work of redemption. For it is by this chiefly that God manifests his glory, the glory of his wisdom, holiness, grace, and other perfections, to both saints and angels, as is apparent by many Scriptures. And therefore undoubtedly their happiness consists very much in beholding the progress of this work in its application and success, and the steps by which infinite power and wisdom bring it to its consummation. And the saints in heaven are under unspeakably greater advantage to take the pleasure of beholding the progress of this work on earth than we are, as they are under greater advantages to see and understand the marvelous steps that divine wisdom takes in all that is done, and the glorious ends he obtains, the opposition Satan makes, and how he is baffled and overthrown. They can better see the connection of one event with another, and the beautiful order of all things that come to pass in the church in different ages that to us appear like confusion. Nor do they only view these things, and rejoice in them, as a glorious and beautiful sight, but as persons interested, as Christ is interested, as possessing these things in Christ, and reigning with him in this kingdom. Christ’s success in his work of redemption, in bringing home souls to himself, applying his saving benefits by his Spirit, and the advancement of the kingdom of grace in the world, is the reward especially promised to him by his Father in the covenant of redemption, for the hard and difficult service he performed while in the form of a servant, as is manifest by Isa 53:10-12. But the saints shall be rewarded with him. They shall partake with him in the joy of this reward, for this obedience that is thus rewarded is reckoned to them as they are his members. This was especially the joy that was set before Christ, for the sake of which he endured the cross and despised the shame. And his joy is the joy of all heaven. They that are with him in heaven are under much the greatest advantages to partake with him in this joy. For they have a perfect communion with him through whom, and in fellowship with whom, they enjoy and possess their whole inheritance, all their heavenly happiness: as much as the whole body has all its pleasure of music by the ear, and all the pleasure of its food by the mouth and stomach, and all the benefit and refreshment of the air by the lungs. The saints while on earth pray and labor for the same thing that Christ labored for, viz. the advancement of the kingdom of God among men, the prosperity of Zion, and flourishing of religion in this world. And most of them have been made partakers with their Head in his sufferings, and "filled up (as the apostle expresses it) that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ." And therefore they shall partake with him of the glory and joy of the end obtained, Rom 8:17, "We are joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." 2 Tim 2:12, "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him." Christ, when his sufferings were past, and he left the earth and ascended into heaven, was so far from having done with kingdom in this world, that it was as it were but then begun. He ascended for that very end, that he might more fully possess and enjoy this kingdom, that he might reign in it, and be under the best advantages for it. In like manner, no more have the saints done with Christ’s kingdom on earth, when they ascend into heaven. "Christ came (i.e., ascended) with clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and was brought near before him, to the very end, that he might receive dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him," Dan. 7:13, 14. This shall be eminently fulfilled after the ruin of Antichrist, which is especially the time of Christ’s kingdom. And the same is the time when "the kingdom, and dominion, and greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most high God;" as verse 27. It is because they shall reign in and with Christ, the Most High, as seems intimated in the words that follow: "whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him." This is true, not only of the saints on earth, but also the saints in heaven. Hence the saints in heaven, having respect to this time, do sing, Rev 5:10, "We shall reign on the earth." And agreeably hereto, it is afterwards represented that when the forementioned time comes, the souls of them that in former ages had suffered with Christ, do reign with him, having as it were given to them new life and joy in that spiritual blessed resurrection, which shall then be of the church of God on earth. Thus, Mt 5:5, "The meek (those that meekly and patiently suffer with Christ, and for his sake) shall inherit the earth:" they shall inherit it, and reign on earth with Christ. Christ is the heir of the world, and when the appointed time of his kingdom comes, his inheritance shall be given him. Then the meek, who are joint heirs, shall inherit the earth. The place in the Old Testament whence the words are taken, leads to a true interpretation of them, Ps 37:11, "The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." That there is reference in these latter words, "the abundance of peace," to the peace and blessedness of the latter days, we may be satisfied by comparing these words with Ps 72:7, "In his days shall be abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth;" and Jer. 33:6, "I will reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth:" also Isa 2:4; Mic. 4:3; Isa 11:6-9, and many other parallel places. The saints in heaven will be as much with Christ in reigning over the nations, and in the glory of his dominion at that time, as they will he with him in the honor of judging the world at the last day. That promise of Christ to his disciples, Mt 19:28, 29, seems to have a special respect to the former of these. In verse 28, Christ promises to the disciples, that hereafter, "when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, they shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The saints in heaven reigning on earth in the glorious latter day, is described in language accommodated to this promise of Christ, Rev 20:4, "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them; and judgment was given them. — And they reigned with Christ." And the promise, Mt 19:29, seems to have its fulfillment at the same time: "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or fathers, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life;" i.e., in the time when the saints shall inherit the earth, and reign on earth, the earth with all its blessings and good things, shall be given in great abundance to the church, to be possessed by the saints. This shall they receive in this present world, and in the future everlasting life. The saints in heaven shall partake with Christ in the triumph and glory of those victories that he shall obtain in that future glorious time, over the kings and nations of the world, represented by his ruling them with a rod of iron, and dashing them in pieces as a potter’s vessel. To which doubtless there is a respect in Rev 2:26, 27, "He that overcometh, and keepeth my words unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations; (and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: as the vessel of a potter shall they be broken to shivers); even as I received of my Father." And Ps 149:5, to the end (Ps 149:5-9): "Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds;" (i.e. in their separate state after death; compare Isa 57:1, 2). "Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute upon them the judgment written: this honor have all the saints." Accordingly, when Christ appears riding forth to his victory over Antichrist, Rev 19, the hosts of heaven appear going forth with him in robes of triumph, verse 14. And when Antichrist is destroyed, the inhabitants of heaven, and the holy apostles and prophets, are called upon to rejoice, Rev 18:20. And the whole multitude of the inhabitants of heaven on that occasion, appear to exult and praise God with exceeding joy, Rev 19:1-8, and 11:15. They are also represented as greatly rejoicing on occasion of the ruin of the heathen empire, in the days of Constantine, chap. 12:10. And it is observable, all along in the visions of that book, that the hosts of heaven appear as much concerned and interested in the events appertaining to the kingdom of Christ here below, as the saints on earth. The day of the commencement of the church’s latter-day glory is eminently "the day of Christ’s espousals; the day of the gladness of his heart, when as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so he will rejoice over his church." And then will all heaven exceedingly rejoice with him. And therefore they say at that time, Rev 19:7, "Let us be glad, and rejoice, and give glory to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come."

Thus Abraham enjoys these things, when they come to pass, which were of old promised to him, and which he saw before hand, and rejoiced in. He will enjoy the fulfillment of the promise of all the families of the earth being blessed in his seed, when it shall be accomplished. And all the ancient patriarchs, who died in faith of promises of glorious things that should be accomplished in this world, "who had not received the promises, but saw them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them," actually enjoy them when fulfilled. David actually saw and enjoyed the fulfillment of that promise, in its due time, which was made to him many hundred years before, and was all his salvation and all his desire. Thus Daniel shall stand in his lot at the end of the days pointed out by his own prophecy. Thus the saints of old that died in faith, not having received the promises, are made perfect, and have their faith crowned by the better things accomplished in these latter days of the gospel, Heb. 11:39, 40, which they see and enjoy.

Third, the departed souls of saints have fellowship with Christ, in his blessed and eternal employment of glorifying the Father.

The happiness of heaven consists not only in contemplation, and a mere passive enjoyment, but consists very much in action. And particularly in actively serving and glorifying God. This is expressly mentioned as a great part of the blessedness of the saints in their most perfect state, Rev 22:3, "And there shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him." The angels are as a flame of fire in their ardor and activity in God’s service. The four animals, Rev 4 (which are generally supposed to signify the angels), are represented as continually giving praise and glory to God, and are said not to rest day nor night, verse 8. The souls of departed saints are, doubtless, become as the angels of God in heaven in this respect. And Jesus Christ is the head of the whole glorious assembly, as in other things appertaining to their blessed state, so in this of their praising and glorifying the Father. When Christ, the night before he was crucified, prayed for his exaltation to glory, it was that he might glorify the Father, John 17:1, "These words spake Jesus, and lift up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee." And this he doubtless does, now [that] he is in heaven, not only in fulfilling the Father’s will, in what he does as Head of the church and Ruler of the universe, but also in leading the heavenly assembly in their praises. When Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, and ate and drank with his disciples at his table (giving them therein a representation and pledge of their future feasting with him, and drinking new wine in his heavenly Father’s kingdom), he at that time led them in their praises to God, in a hymn they sang. And so doubtless he leads his glorified disciples in heaven. David was the sweet psalmist of Israel, and he led the great congregation of God’s people in their songs of praise. Herein, as well as in innumerable other things, he was a type of Christ, who is often spoken of in Scripture by the name of David. And many of the psalms that David penned, were songs of praise that he, by the spirit of prophecy, uttered in the name of Christ, as head of the church, and leading the saints in their praises. Christ in heaven leads the glorious assembly in their praises to God, as Moses did the congregation of Israel at the Red Sea, which is implied in its being said that "they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb," Rev 15:2, 3. In Rev 19:5, John tells us that "he heard a voice come out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great." Who can it be that utters this voice out of the throne, but the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne, calling on the glorious assembly of saints to praise his Father and their Father, his God and their God. And what the consequence of this voice is, we have an account in the next words: "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying Alleluia; for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth."

… to be Continued