Friday, June 14, 2013

Looking Up To Barry...Forever

Not long ago in a men's Bible study, we considered the doctrine of heavenly rewards. It's hard for us, especially in our day and age, to conceive of inequality coexisting with the perfection of heaven. Nevertheless, the Bible speaks of greater and lesser rewards (see, for instance, Matthew 6:19-20; 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-19). The Bible (not our experience or sentiments) is our standard of truth and the true revelation of Reality. We must bend to it, not the other way around. We must be shaped by it, not seek to shape it to our personal preference and opinion. That being said, often the more we submit to and meditate on the truth of Scripture, the more the truths that were initially hard or confusing begin to break open, showing forth their wisdom and beauty.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American pastor and theologian, was a man who earnestly submitted to and meditated on the truth of Scripture. His insights into the wisdom and beauty of biblical truth are often profound. One such instance is his explanation of how greater and lesser rewards in heaven are no damp to the joy of heaven, but rather add to the joy of heaven. Take the time to read through this slowly and carefully. You'll be glad you did. And I hope you see why my eternal joy will increase because I will look up to Barry Steele, forever.

From a December, 1740 sermon entitled, "The Portion of the Righteous" (emphasis added):
There are different degrees of happiness and glory in heaven. As there are degrees among the angels…; so there are degrees among the saints. … The glory of the saints above will be in some proportion to their eminency in holiness and good works here.
Christ will reward all according to their works. He that gained ten pounds was made ruler over ten cities, and he that gained five pounds over five cities Luke 19:17. 2 Cor. 9:6, “He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” And the apostle Paul tells us that, as one star differs from another star in glory, so also it shall be in the resurrection of the dead 1 Cor. 15:41. Christ tells us that he who gives a cup of cold water unto a disciple in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. But this could not be true, if a person should have no greater reward for doing many good works than if he did but few.
It will be no damp to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them. For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others.
And there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign through the whole society. Those who are not so high in glory as other, will not envy those that are higher, but they will have so great, and strong, and pure love to them, that they will rejoice in their superior happiness. Their love to them will be such that they will rejoice that they are happier than themselves; so that instead of having a damp to their own happiness, it will add to it. They will see it to be fit that they that have been most eminent in works of righteousness should be most highly exalted in glory. And they will rejoice in having that done, that is fittest to be done.
There will be a perfect harmony in that society; those that are most happy will also be most holy, and all will be both perfectly holy and perfectly happy. But yet there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those that are lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness, because they will see most of the image of God in them. And having the greatest love to them, they will rejoice to see them the most happy and the highest in glory.
And so, on the other hand, those that are highest in glory, as they will be the most lovely, so they will be fullest of love. As they will excel in happiness, they will proportionally excel in divine benevolence and love to others, and will have more love to God and to the saints than those that are lower in holiness and happiness. And besides, those that will excel in glory will also excel in humility.
Here in this world, those that are above others are the objects of envy, because that others conceive of them as being lifted up with it. But in heaven it will not be so, but those saints in heaven who excel in happiness will also in holiness, and consequently in humility. The saints in heaven are more humble than the saints on earth, and still the higher we go among them the greater humility there is. The highest orders of saints, who know most of God, see most of the distinction between God and them, and consequently are comparatively least in their own eyes, and so are more humble.
The exaltation of some in heaven above the rest will be so far from diminishing the perfect happiness and joy of the rest who are inferior, that they will be the happier for it. Such will be the union in their society that they will be partakers of each other’s happiness. Then will be fulfilled in its perfection that which is declared in 1 Cor. 12:26, 'If one of the members be honoured all the members rejoice with it.'
As I prepared for that men's Bible study and thought about how to make these ideas practical, Barry Steele came to mind and I had to fight off the tears. Tears of joy and longing and deep resonance with the wisdom of God's ways. If you know Barry Steele, you know he is going to have a larger jar than me! And it will make me HAPPIER to see it (it already does)! I will rejoice with him who rejoices! And I will be happier for it. Moreover, Barry will not look down on me with prideful superiority. No. Those who are more exalted in glory will also be those who have the greatest capacity for love and the most humility!

Don't you love the counter-cultural and, at times, even counter-intuitive wisdom of God?! I can just hear how Barry might respond...

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