St Augustine's Grove Park
September 6th, 1992
And the life of the world to come II
Last Sunday we considered why it is important to find out as much as we can about the life of the world to come.
It was, we thought, like studying and architect's plan for a building which you when I are helping someone to put up. If you're not working to such a plan but just piling bricks on top of each other at random then the end-result is going to be just as unsatisfactory to us as it was to that builder Jesus told us about this morning who started building a tower without working out the cost.
Second in importance to the fact that such a plan exists and is being followed by the builders, is the importance of every one having at least some idea in his mind's eye of what the building is going to look like when complete. Otherwise the builders at work will lose interest during the intermediate stages of the building's construction and wonder if what they are doing is worthwhile.
Now we shall look at the Plan or Blueprint which Christians are working to.
The Shorter Catechism you remember tells us that God's plan for us is that we should "glorify God and enjoy him for ever". That, the Catechism says, is the "Chief End of Man".
Now there may be someone here this morning who is saying to himself, "well that's all very nice, but I'm not really all that interested in the life of the world to come, or even whether it there is such a thing. This world is quite enough to cope with for the present, and I mean to enjoy it to the full. Why should I think about it at all?"
If that's what you're thinking let me put you one simple question. "Whose life are you thinking about: your own or someone else's?"
Just imagine you were standing by the deathbed of someone you really love. Can you really see yourself saying "Well my dear this is the end of your life and as far as I'm concerned I neither know nor care what happens to you from now on. Frankly I'm not all that interested in the life of the world to come or whether there is even such a thing."
You see what I mean? These were the very words that a moment or two ago we thought of someone uttering about themselves. And very high-minded it can sound Too! Very disinterested and unselfish if made in the right tone of voice as if to say "thank you very much but I don't need God's promises at this stage in my life."
But the selfsame statement made to someone else on the verge of death sounds very very different. We would accuse anyone who said such a thing of being callous and uncaring and utterly self-Centred.
For if there is one question in the world which really matters to and about a dying person it is the question "What Next?" we simply dare not adopt such a don't-know- don't-care attitude towards them even if it honestly represents the view we hold ourselves – which I doubt!
So without more ado let us look at what is packed into that phrase "to glorify God and to enjoy him forever".
We shall Glorify God. Time and again the Bible uses the word "Glory" to describe what God is like. Glory is closely linked with the ideas of sovereignty and majesty, and St John says of Jesus in the prologue of his gospel that "We beheld his glory, glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth".
Later, on Maundy Thursday, John records that Jesus spoke to his heavenly Father of "the glory which I had with you before ever the world was" and said of those who believe in him "I have given them the glory which you gave to me that they may be one as we are one."
Glory then, is something which lifts up, which magnify is and which unites.
And the nearest everyday words I can think of to compare it to are satisfaction and achievement. Doesn't the word "Glory" suggest itself in connection with them?
Think of what it feels like to be told that you have passed an exam with top grades; think of what an athlete feels like when he has come first in a race; think of how an architect feels when he stands back and looks at the building which has taken so long to complete now standing in all its glory, looking like he always intended it should be even before he put his plan on paper; think of a show-jumper (and his horse) which have just had a clear round; think of a mother the first time she breastfeeds her newborn child.
What links all these experiences together is that sense of satisfaction and achievement which I have described as the glow and which and the Bible calls Glory.
Of course any glory we experience in this life is transitory and passes away like any other feeling or sensations. There is absolutely no way we can capture it, so to speak, and put it in a bottle to sample later. Indeed the surest way of losing glory is to get too possessive about it. The person who is endlessly admiring what he has achieved soon becomes complacent, whereas it is God's intention that we should go on "from glory to glory advancing". The scholar who's got good grades in GCSE is expected to progress to university and an honours degree; the mother who has successfully given birth to her child is expected to bring that child up "in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of his name". The last thing we can afford to be is satisfied in any permanent lasting sense with what we have so far achieved.
St Irenaeus described to the Glory of God as the Living Man and the end of man as being the Vision of God. If we are to see God as he is in his glory we must purify ourselves as he is pure. "Blessed are the pure in heart" said Jesus "for they shall see God". The theme is the same wherever you go in the Bible. The Chief End of man is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever.
Next Sunday we shall look at the matter of enjoyment. But let me end this morning by stressing the importance of those words "for ever".
Part of the problem of glory in this world as I have said is that it doesn't last "for ever". The glimpses of God's glory which he gives us at the moments of achievement and fulfilment pass away. They are meant to be appetisers for that weight of eternal glory which God has prepared for us in his heavenly kingdom.
Do notice that word weight. Just as we cannot bear too much light or heat in this life, neither can we carry too much weight around too long. And glory, like gold is a heavy substance. If we try to carry around with us in this life all the glory which God has prepared for us we should soon find the weight of it intolerable.
That is why I think he only lets us have it in small dollops and never for very long at a time It is, to use the old-fashioned legal term, an earnest or first instalment of what we shall receive in full when we are strong enough to carry it round with us all the time.
But that lies in the future, beyond the grave. That is the hope which is set upon us and one reason, as Saint John says, for purifying ourselves as he is pure. "We are now the sons of God. It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is in glory"
Never let us say again either to ourselves still less to anyone we really love "I am not really interested in the life of the world to come ".
In the last analysis the life of the world to come is the only thing really worth being interested in. And any glory we experience in this life is just an infinitesimally small sip of the joy which will be fully ours in the life of the world to come.
And that joy and glory will last for ever!
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