FIRST "VERILY, VERILY."
THE HOME OF THE NEW MAN.
(John 1:50, 51.)
The first great question of the Old Testament is, "Where art thou?" (Gen. 3:9). This is God's question, addressed to fallen man, calling him to consider where he now is, whether his present state is right, and why he is not still with Him who made him. The first question of the New Testament is, "Where is He?" (Matt. 2:2) asked by men who have just been awakened by heavenly light to feel they need a God and Saviour, and who desire to know where He may be found; the answer to which is immediately given by the Evangelist,—"Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is, God with us." God's question reveals man's state, that he is not where God placed him. Man's question draws forth the purpose of God's heart, that "God is with us," fallen as we are, and that our nature, spite of our fall, is His tabernacle.
The first of the reiterated Amens touches both these truths. Our Lord thus opens the series: "Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Henceforward ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man"; words which imply that heaven, man's proper home, long shut, shall now be opened, and that all that man has lost shall be restored in and through his heir, that is, the "Son of Man." Thus the first "Verily, Verily," declares the proper Home of the New Man. Heaven is his home: heaven again is opened to him. The old man by disobedience lost this home, the Paradise in which as God's son he could converse with and see God; and is shut out and shut up in bondage in outward nature, because, having lost God's life, he is unfit for heaven. The new man, formed by the indwelling of the Word of God, and "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:10), by a necessary law of his life, which is of God and heaven, through putting off and dying to the old and fleshly life, comes back again to opened heavens and to their angel hosts, as to his true home and proper dwelling-place. This is the witness borne by the first reiterated Amen: "Verily, Verily, Henceforward (Note: The words here, ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι, are rendered "hereafter" in our Authorised Version, and when our Version was made this was a correct translation. So we pray in the General Confession, "that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life;" that is, not at some future time, but "from this time forward.") ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
These words were spoken by One who had just had heaven opened to Him, who being found in fashion as a man humbled Himself and became obedient, not only to death, even the death of the cross, but also to that mystic death in baptism, which showed to men the one only way by which as fallen creatures they could come back to God's kingdom. Therefore, when in submission to the Baptist's witness, all the people were baptized,—thus, though they understood it not, confessing man's state, as by nature dead to God, and that only by death to this nature can any be delivered,—"it came to pass, that Jesus also was baptized, and as He came up out of the water heaven was opened to Him, and a voice from heaven said unto Him, Thou art my beloved Son: in thee I am well pleased" (Luke 3:21, 22). Thus was heaven opened again to man. Then He, to whom it was thus opened, comes forth to tell men of their true home, and how it may again be reached and entered: not by hiding from ourselves our present state, that we are dead to God and fallen from Him; but by confessing all this, first by a mystic death in the baptismal waters, when we are sacramentally buried with our Head, and then by dying and being buried with Him in that other greater baptism, which He spoke of when He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished" (Luke 12:50); in the assurance that when we thus take our true place, as dead to God, and subject to His judgment, He will take His place as Saviour, and say to us, as He said to Christ, when He took our place, "Thou art my beloved son." All this indeed, of the way of man's return to his true home, from which he fell by disobedience, though set forth in type in Christ's baptism, does not come out in word until the second "Verily, Verily," which tells us that the way into the kingdom is only through those deep waters which Jordan typified. But the blessed fact that heaven is henceforth opened to man,—that he shall again see that world of light and love, for which he was formed, and from which he has so long been banished,—that he shall be made a new creature, fit to deal with spiritual things, not only man, but "Son of Man," begotten again to a lively hope by Jesus Christ,—and that in his way back to his true home he shall be conscious of heavenly companions, angels of God, ascending and descending on him,—all this is witnessed in this first "Amen, Amen," thus showing the true home of the new man, that is, of man renewed through Christ Jesus. The old man is of the earth, and, akin and bound to earth, he neither cares for, nor sees, the things of heaven. But the new man is of heaven; and, heavenly in his birth, even while on earth can walk in and show the life and light of heaven. This is the burden of the first reiterated Amen: "Ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
I have said that this comes out in the witness borne by Christ, immediately after His baptism, to the disciples first gathered to Him. These were men all sprung from the stock of Israel, fallen, as the Church is now, under an alien rule, and torn within by endless separations. But, though fallen, they were not forsaken. A witness, sent from God, had come preaching repentance. And not a few had felt his words were true, who, having for a season been his disciples, through his teaching come ere long to be disciples of a higher Master. Some, like Andrew, by their earthly teacher are directed to the Lord Himself (John 1:35-37). Others, like Peter, are "brought to Jesus" by some brother in the flesh, who, having first followed one sent of God, is now following the Lord (John 1:40-42). Some again, like Philip, are "found and called" directly by the Lord Himself, as it is written, "Jesus findeth Philip" (John 1:43): while others, like Nathaniel, are called by those whom Christ has called (John 1:45), who are perhaps the commonest type of true disciples. It is to one of these last, and not to John or Peter, that our Lord specially addresses this "Amen, Amen," saying, "Henceforward ye shall see"; for the promise of "opened heavens" is to all, even to the weakest and least distinguished of His true disciples. But something must be learnt ere this is reached. The disciple has to learn that he is seen, before he hears what he shall see. So our Lord, before He says, "Ye shall see heaven opened," first says, "Before that Philip called thee, I saw thee" (John 1:48). For we must be made to feel that our Lord sees us through and through before we can be taught what we ourselves shall see in due season. Then follows the confession, the result of feeling ourselves known,—"Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel." And then come the words, "Because I said, I saw thee, thou believest. Thou shalt see greater things than these. Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Henceforward ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
Now this promise of Christ refers to that which had in vision been revealed of old, when at Bethel Jacob saw a ladder linking heaven with earth, with angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord Himself above, saying to weary man, "Behold, I am with you"; forcing Jacob to say, "The Lord is in this place, and I knew it not: this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen. 33:12-17). All this is here revealed, not in vision, but as a present fact, to which, even if we see it not, this first reiterated Amen of the True Witness bears sure testimony, declaring that communion with the unseen world is again restored to man in Christ, that heaven so long shut is henceforth open to him, because our nature is none other than the house of God, and even this flesh has become through grace the gate of heaven; yea, that the Lord Himself is in this place, even though we knew it not, but have lain down to sleep, like Jacob, with stones for pillows, as if there was no present God. Christ's flesh is the ladder joining heaven and earth. And in making this revelation, this first "Verily, Verily," further declares man's proper name, lost in Adam, but restored again in Christ Jesus, that he is not "seed of the woman" only, great as are the glories which gather round this name, but "Son of Man," heir of undivided man, before separation of any kind had entered in. But upon the full import of this title, "Son of Man," I will not enter here, as it comes before us more fully in the testimony (in the Sixth "Verily, Verily") as to the Divine Nature of the new man in Christ Jesus. I turn rather to the promise, that "henceforward we shall see heaven opened, and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
The promise is, first, that man shall henceforth see his long-lost heavenly home. Is it then possible for us here to come to opened heavens? Is not heaven further than the sun; and is it not therefore simply incredible that we should see or hold communion with it? No—Christ's words are true. We may through Him here enter heaven and enjoy God's presence as really and fully as His saints of old, from Adam in Paradise to John in Patmos. Heaven is not far off. Heaven is our home. Nothing but our flesh, with its fallen self-hood and unbelief, hinder our seeing the kingdom which is at hand (Matt. 3:2). For what is heaven but the spirit-world of light, which is lost or shut to the natural man, only because by the fall the life of God is crushed, and spiritual sight and sense are gone, so that man though a spirit is content to live in earthly things, not indeed without cravings for a spirit-home, as every false religion and superstition testify, nor without ceaseless protests, in his yearnings, hopes, and fears, nay even in his very dreams, that the outward world is not the only one. For indeed man is a spirit, in a house of clay, and therefore, though he knows it not, is an inhabitant of an inward, as well as of an outward, world. Outwardly indeed, as in the present body and its life, we are in a world lighted only by the sun of nature; but inwardly our spirits even now are in a spirit-world, which only is not opened to the natural man, because to open it to such would be to open the dark world, into which by sin we all have fallen. But if by grace man is right with God,—if through Christ he is brought back in spirit from self-will and self-love to trust God,—the opening of the unseen only opens again the world of light and love, which is man's proper home and true dwelling-place. What therefore will be manifested to each man at his death may be anticipated here, and entered into more or less, just as we live in Christ, and Christ in us. Opening heaven is but opening the inward spiritual world, which mercifully is shut to us till we are restored to peace with God through Christ Jesus.
Let us take some examples of this "opened heaven" from the experience, first of Christ, and then of His disciples.
First comes the opening of heaven which took place at Christ's baptism. Here no details are given as to what He saw. The fact only is recorded that "when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased" (Luke 3:21, 22); and that, as an almost immediate result, he was specially tempted of the devil, a voice from hell at once questioning the truth witnessed by the voice from heaven, and saying again and again, "If thou be the Son" (Luke 4:3, 9). All this is surely still fulfilled in Christ's members. What they see may not at first be clear. They may see no more of that spiritual world which is opened to them than a new-born babe sees of the outward world which it has come into. They may even mis-see the things around them, as we do for years on earth: they may for awhile "see men as trees walking" (Mark 8:24). They may as yet have no words to speak of what they see: the very meaning of it may be altogether hidden from them. Yet heaven is opened to them: other eyes can see this, for the spirit like a dove now abides on them;—no longer "the mark of the beast" (Rev. 13:17), whether of the serpent, dog, or fox, but "the spirit like a dove," of steadfast love and gentleness;—and (what they cannot forget) a voice has sounded in their ears, "Thou art my beloved child." Till now, though of God's elect, "to whom," while even in the flesh, "pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises" (Rom. 9:4), because as yet but children in the faith, we may have differed nothing from servants (Gal. 4:1-3), though we are called in Christ to inherit all. But now we have heard the heavenly witness, "Thou art my beloved son," sealing the truth of our baptism, that our Father loves and is well pleased with us. Now we know that we are sons: a voice from hell may challenge this truth, tempting us to prove we are sons by what we can do, rather than by the fact that as children we can in all things trust our Father. But the voice from hell cannot prevail. Heaven is opened to us; and, if it be but for a glimpse, that glimpse can never be forgotten.
As a second example of "opened heavens," let us take the scene commonly called the Transfiguration, which also shows what Christ's members may attain to while in this present life. For Christ's transfiguration is as surely a stage of Christian experience as His baptism, fasting, or temptation; not perhaps so early a stage, for the transfiguration only very shortly precedes His death; yet one which may most certainly be known, if we follow on to be partakers of His sufferings. For it is not in the Gospel which shows Christ as the eternal Word, but in those which reveal Him as Abraham's seed and Son of Man, that this scene is recorded, to teach all Abraham's sons, yea, even all the sons of Adam, that they may reach, not to opened heavens only, or to the voice saying, "Thou art my beloved son," but to a communion with saints, such as is recorded here, to speak and walk with those, who, though they passed hence ages ago, are yet, like Moses and Elias, very near, even caring for, and talking with, us. And indeed may we not ask whether this transfiguration was a change in the Beloved Son, so that He appeared as He was not before; or was it not rather in His disciples, so that they now saw Him as He had always been; living in two worlds, both in the seen and unseen; walking on the earth, and yet "the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13); talking with men, yet communing with the departed, in the very light of God? Whichever view we take, the lesson is the same. We may come, and indeed "have come, to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:22, 23).
I almost fear to speak of what is opened here. Yet the Gospels declare these things; and, as a stage of Christ's life, they must, sooner or later, be a stage of our experience, if to us to live is Christ. For He is the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. If therefore He lives in us, we must, like Him, be begotten of the Holy Ghost; and then, like Him, be men of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. If He lives in us, men will esteem us stricken and smitten of God: we must, if like Him, be numbered among the transgressors (Isa. 53:3, 4, 12). But there are other things which come with this experience, and among them is this foretaste of the glory, which is to be revealed in us; that as we pray (Luke 9:28-30), with some of those who love us most, the appearance of our countenance shall change, and heavenly companions be seen communing with us, speaking of the Exodus (S. Luke says, ἔλεγον τήν ἔξοδον αῦτοῦ, v. 31) which we must accomplish, from that city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8), when through the strait and narrow gate of death we shall go out for ever from the house of bondage. Surely it is a wondrous scene, that man, while yet on earth, and still clothed with the body of humiliation, should in spirit hold direct and conscious communion with the saints of ages past who are within the veil. Yet this too is part of the promise: "Ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God, ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
But this blessing, like all things spiritual, is not without its peril to imperfect disciples. We see this in Peter and the two brethren who were with him. That opening of heaven and communion with the departed, which is safe and blessed for the Perfect Man, awakens thoughts in imperfect disciples, which, if followed out by them, would give to creatures a place and honour which belongs to God alone. For while the Perfect One calmly communes with the departed, touching His departure out of this world unto the Father, the imperfect disciples are saying, "Let us make here three tabernacles," not only "one for thee," but "one for Moses, and one for Elias" (Luke 9:33). They would give a place to the departed, which is not rightly theirs. And that this is a peril ever attending the first opening of communication with the spirit-world, is seen not here only, but in the other cases recorded in Scripture, where even the beloved John, once and again, when heaven opened to him, fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who spake with him; and was corrected by the words, "See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren which have the testimony of Jesus: worship God" (Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9). The Church's history is full of examples of this. That Church, above the rest, which claims peculiarly to be St Peter's, has practically repeated Peter's words as to making tabernacles for the departed. But the Church of Rome could not have erred here as she has, had she never had visions akin to that set before us in the Transfiguration. Men do not worship the host of heaven unless they see them. Such an error shows how near the saints have been to some; how truly their presence has been felt as a reality. But spite of their presence we are called back to "Jesus only" (Matt. 17:8), by the voice which says, "This is my beloved Son: hear ye Him."
How wise and loving then was the Hand which at the fall at once shut Paradise to man, severing him from a communion with the spirit-world, for which, as fallen, he was unfit,—for there like can only reach to like,—and gave him instead at the gate of Eden cherubic forms (Gen. 3:24), "figures of the true" (Heb. 9:24), instead of purely spiritual communications; forbidding him, as fallen, that is in self-hood, to seek communion with the unseen, either by wizards, necromancers, or consulters with familiar spirits (Deut. 18:9-12); because, as fallen, by laws which the old man little understands, in the spirit-world he could only reach spirits like himself, by whom he would be worse deceived; but which yet opens heaven again as soon as man is fitted in and by Christ to return to such communications. But even disciples have to learn how to use this communion, for like all good things it may be awfully abused. The peril may be judged from this, that, even when with the Master His dearest disciples first come to opened heavens, the sight awakens thoughts and words which need correction. We need to be educated to behave ourselves in the new and glorious home to which our Father's grace brings us.
Such are some of the openings of heaven vouchsafed to the Son of Man, in all which, as members of His body, we are called to share with Him. That at His baptism is, I trust, generally known: that at the Transfiguration is much less understood, only because few follow on by a daily death (1 Cor. 15:31) to apprehend that for which they are apprehended. Lest, however, any should suppose that such visions are peculiar to the Head, Holy Scripture has recorded other like openings of heaven, granted not to the Lord only, but to His disciples. To take all the instances recorded would fill a volume. Two vouchsafed to Peter and John, types, as the Church has long seen (see on the Twelfth "Verily, Verily"), of the active and contemplative life, may suffice as examples of the way God's saints are led to this experience.
Let us look then at the vision granted to Peter (Acts 10:9-16), when "he saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it were a great sheet, knit at the four corners, and let down to earth, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air"; all which were seen, not only "let down" out of heaven, but "received up again together"; which taught him, what he had not learnt, though he had followed Christ for years, and had received the promised Spirit and the tongue of fire,—the lesson we are all so slow to learn,—that we "should call no man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28). If few as yet have learnt this, it is only because few as yet have seen this vision, which only comes when such as have known Christ after the flesh are brought through the outpouring of the Spirit to know Him in the spirit. This is an experience peculiar to the Book in which it is recorded, the purpose of which, (for each book of Scripture has its special aim,) is to show how those who have known Christ after the flesh may be led to know Him in the spirit, and so be brought from the Old into the New Covenant, from the letter to the spirit, from bondage to true liberty. We do not find this experience in the Gospels. In them we have types of the experience of disciples while as yet they know Christ only after the flesh; when, having left their nets or earthly callings at His word, they emerge from being mere Jews or John's disciples to walk with and be followers of the Lord; while yet they still are "carnal, babes in Christ" (1 Cor. 3:1); following Him indeed, but most unlike Him; still full of self; disputing who shall be greatest: striving while He is submitting; soon stumbled at His cross; yet truly loving Him, and gifted and sent out by Him to preach His gospel, and to do some of His works; but all the while regarding Christ as separate from them, as One to be followed indeed, but not yet one with them and in them. This latter experience comes out in the book which we call The Acts of the Apostles, where we are shown how carnal disciples become spiritual, and learn and prove that Christ lives in them, by His indwelling Spirit. Alas! how few here reach this: how many are offended if they are even told that till they reach it they are carnal. And yet as long as we only know Christ as outside of, rather than as formed and growing in us, though we may have given up much to follow Him, and like Peter have confessed Him Lord and Christ, and by Him and with Him been used to feed thousands, we may still only know Him after the flesh, and be still strangers to the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10). We shall deny this till the brighter light begins to dawn. We shall surely confess it when we reach to that which Peter saw when heaven opened to him. Then we may see, what we have long confessed, that "there is nothing unclean of itself" (Rom. 14:14); that "to the pure all is pure" (Titus 1:15); that a disciple of Christ may, nay is commanded to, "eat" (Acts 10:13), that is, receive and conjoin to himself, all sorts of creatures; that as all had descended, so all should ascend; that, though they had been unclean, "God had cleansed them" (Acts 10:15); because something had been done for them by the wondrous incarnation and resurrection of the Eternal Son, by which all creaturely defilement, be it what it may, had been and could be put away. Who really understands this truth, that by becoming man,—who is himself an epitome of creation, containing the essences and lives and faculties of all creatures,—He by whom all things were made, in whom all things consist (Col. 1:16, 17), has linked Himself to all, and by His blood has cleansed all? "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell, that having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him He might reconcile all things to Himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:19, 20). Heaven opened now teaches Peter this. Many a day had he been in bondage as to clean and unclean, not through any carelessness about God's will, but rather through the desire to please Him, or at least to keep His word. Now the meaning and end of Christ's Incarnation, and of His offering, begin to open to him,—the meaning of His coming down, as the sheet was let down out of heaven,—the meaning of His stooping, as He says, to be "a worm and no man" (Psalm 22:6),—of His becoming a Lamb (John 1:29), yea and a Lion also (Isa. 38:13; Lam. 3:10; Hos. 13:7); for it is as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" that "He opens the book" (Rev. 5:5),—the meaning of His going back into heaven in our nature, (even as the sheet was taken up again with all the living creatures,) and appearing there as the Lamb and the Lion also (Rev. 5:5, 6),—all this is gradually learnt. And when a soul, like Peter here, really sees what is involved in the creature's return in Christ to God,—when we see how in Christ all the faculties in man, the lowest as well as the highest, have been sanctified and raised from earth to heaven,—how not the ox or lamb only, that is service and meekness, but even the lion and eagle (Rev. 4:7), that is force and keenest insight, may one and all be consecrated, and stand around the throne,—then is learnt the lesson which Peter slowly apprehended,—that we "should call no man common or unclean"; a wondrous lesson surely, now as of old only to be learnt, as Peter learnt it here, through "opened heavens."
But there are visions still more wondrous than this, for Peter's example shows us only such openings of heaven as may be reached by those who live the active life of faith and conflict. John shows us those visions which may and must be seen by the passive suffering life of contemplation. The man in Patmos, separated from his brethren, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ, sees things which he must indeed write in a book and send (for so he is commanded, Rev. 1:9, 11) to the seven churches, but which the churches, living as they do, will little understand, though the things seen may be fulfilling in heaven, that is the world of spirits, all around them. I do not attempt to open these visions. They are like the heavenly city they speak of, open to all, but opened here to few; with gates that never shut by day, and there is no night there, but into which there can in no wise enter anything that defileth, or worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but only those who are written in the book of the life of the Lamb, that is the patient life of self-sacrifice (Rev. 21:25, 27). For as it is the Lamb who alone opens the seven-sealed book, so is it the life of the Lamb which alone can enter these glories. Glimpses however of these visions must be known to some, for there will ever be Johns as well as Peters among Christ's followers; and such cannot but see what John once saw (Rev. 1:13-16); how One like unto the Son of Man walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; in priestly robes; for is He not the Priest, whose office it is to keep alive the fire, and trim the lights in God's sanctuary; but showing the woman's breast, (Note: "Girt about the paps," Rev. 1:13. St John here uses the word μαστὸς, which is the woman's breast, while μάζος is the breast of a man. Compare what is said of the angels, in Rev. 15:6—περιεζωσμένοι περὶ τὰ στήθη, κ.τ.λ.) for in the Lord the man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man (1 Cor. 11:11), made again, like Adam unfallen (Gen. 1:27, and compare Gen. 2:21, 22, and Col. 3:10), where there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female (Gal. 3:28), but a new creature and a new man in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). This is not the form in which the Son of Man is seen at first, for to redeem us He took our likeness, "the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7), and was circumcised upon the eighth day (Luke 2:21, 27), that so, sharing the shame of our divided nature, He might bear its curse, and heal the breach, and through death bring us back in and for Himself, again to bear the undivided image of Him who formed man in His likeness.
All this is seen at the very beginning of that Revelation, which, from "a door opened in heaven" (Rev. 4:1), leads on to "heaven opened" (Rev. 19:11), when the Priest is seen as King of kings and Lord of lords, out of whose mouth goeth the sharp sword, which must smite all flesh, both of free and bond, and great and small (Rev. 19:15-18); after which is seen the new heaven and new earth, where there shall be no more death, and the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:1, 2), with the river of the water of life, and the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:1, 2). This too surely has been shown to some, but only shown, now as of old, by the coming to us of one of the angels which have the seven vials full of the seven last plagues (Rev. 21:9). Angels with earthly mercies too often through our weakness only hide from us the heavenly city. It is the angel with the plagues, who comes with judgments on the creature, who yet says, as he did to John, "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." Not until these last plagues are fulfilled can any enter the temple (Rev. 15:8), or see fully the things within the veil; for the way into the holiest is not made manifest while the first tabernacle, in which we groan, being burdened, is yet standing (Heb. 9:8; 2 Cor. 5:1, 2). But the veil, though not yet taken away, is rent (2 Cor. 3:16; Matt. 27:51; Heb. 10:20) for all through Christ's sufferings. Thus even here may we get some glimpses of our home.
But does heaven thus open to believers now? Is it granted to Christians at this day to have the secrets of the spirit-world revealed in vision to them? Again I answer, what is heaven? Is it not the world of light, unseen by sense, that spiritual sphere into which man is brought in Christ, as partaker of His resurrection; where things are perceived which flesh and blood can never see, and joys are tasted which are not of this world? So long indeed as we are dead in sins, the things which occupy us most are the objects which the outward senses see, or hear, or taste, or handle. In these man lives, often for years, not wholly without witness of another world, which dimly rises before him in his fears or aspirations. But with Christ another world appears. Spiritual things, of which perhaps we may have heard,—for in every age God has His witnesses,—become now matters of experience. Truths, which have been hid under a veil, begin to open to us. We now see what we never saw before, the things of Christ, who is the truth, and the things of God, who is a spirit. We may as yet little understand what God is opening to us. But whenever the things of God, once unconsidered, occupy our hearts,—when sin, righteousness, and judgment, are daily before our eyes,—when we see Jesus interceding for us,—still more when Holy Scripture is unveiled, so that in the law, the prophets, and the gospels, we see wonders touching Christ and His kingdom, which never dawned on us before,—then heaven is truly opening to us, even if at the time we know it not.
And the proof is this, that all those truths, which opened to Christ, or to Peter or John, in the visions which we have considered, when heaven opened to them,—whether it be the witness that we are sons, or the assurance that God is now well pleased, or the consciousness that departed saints are very near us, or the truth that no man henceforth is common or unclean, or that the risen Lord is walking in our midst, as the Priest amid the seven golden candlesticks,—all these truths will now be matters respecting which we too can say, not only that we believe, but see them ourselves, though they are not of this world, but of heaven. Where these are seen, heaven is opened. There may yet be clouds,—there will be clouds,—and we may fear as we and others enter through them (Luke 9:34), but, spite of our fears, the cloud itself is but the gate of heaven, and angel hosts are all around.
For whenever man's true home is opened, the servants of that home also are seen, even the "angels who ascend and descend upon the Son of Man"; ever near, though unseen by sense, ministering to man's wants (1 Kings 19:5, 6), or directing his steps (Gen. 16:9), or barring his way, if he turns aside from God (Num. 22:24, 26); never waiting to be thanked, content, either in ascending or descending, to honour God or succour man; and therefore excelling in strength, because they do His will (Psalm 103:20). So when heaven opened to Isaiah, and he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, and when at the sight he cried, "I am a man of unclean lips," a seraph also was seen flying to him with a live coal from off the altar of the Lord, saying, "Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thy sin is purged away" (Isa. 6:1-7). So again, when Daniel saw his great vision, and was fallen to the earth, one whose face was as the light appeared, and set him upon his knees, and said, "O man greatly beloved, unto thee am I now sent. Fear not; peace be unto thee; be strong; yea, be strong" (Dan. 10:5-19). Still more does the gospel reveal this intimate sympathy between the spirit-world and man. Angels are present in the assemblies of believers (1 Cor. 11:10). The angels of children behold the face of their Father who is in heaven (Matt. 18:10). Yea, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:10). The special promise of this first reiterated Amen is, that henceforward man shall be conscious of this heavenly host, and "shall see angels, ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
The old man sees nothing of this. To the eye of sense heaven is closed; the ministers of heaven are unperceived, though they are on every hand. But with the new man and his new life comes, first the faith, and then the knowledge, of ministering spirits ever present to keep us in our way. It was so with Christ: it is so when He is formed in us. Angels were heard singing at His birth (Luke 2:9, 13); angels guide His early steps (Matt. 2:13); angels minister to Him in His temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11): angels appear strengthening Him in the garden (Luke 22:43); angels at His grave roll away the stone, and declare that He is not here but risen (Matt. 28:2, 6). He is seen of angels (1 Tim. 3:16) first and last. And as He is, so are we in this world. For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. And therefore we also, even as He, need and receive this heavenly help, while for a season with Him we are lower than the angels. For the new man's life under opened heavens calls for heavenly help. Worldly aids are not enough for this calling. Opened heavens do not deliver man from present want. He to whom heaven was opened immediately hungered (Matt. 4:2), and was with the wild beasts (Mark 1:14). Nay, opened heavens open hell. The voice from heaven, witnessing that we are sons of God, is at once followed by a voice from hell, calling us to question and doubt our right to this title (Matt. 3:17; 4:3). Often in such temptations nature seems in peril of dissolution; but the hosts of heaven are close at hand. And like the prophet's servant, when our eyes are opened, (and it is the inward eye alone which sees these things,) we perceive that chariots and horses of fire are all around, and that they that are with us are more than they that are against us (2 Kings 6:17). Thus does "heaven opened" show "angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man," and that the servants of our Father's house are near. Surely, as one said of old, "he must be the king's own son, on whom the servants of the king ascend and descend;" (Note: Chrysostom, in Johannem, Hom. xxi. § 1.) he must be the heir of heaven to whom the heavens open.
This, then, is the witness of this first "Amen, Amen." Heaven is the home of the new man, and holy angels are his servants and companions. Till man finds this home he cannot rest. He may be a wanderer in a desert land, or a captive in prison, though he knows it not, or a madman, dreaming of wealth, while he is in beggar's rags; but whilst he is of the world, he has no home, for the world has still no heart (Hosea 7:11), and "without hearts there is no home." But the home is not far off. Heaven is near, for God is near; and the kingdom of heaven is henceforth open to all who can believe God. Oh, that He who went before us may lead us in His way, to see that wondrous sight, so often partially, so soon fully to be, known, when opened heavens shall be seen by all, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (Isa. 40:5). As Christ's members we are called to share this even now with Him. One work of His promised Holy Spirit is to take of the things of Christ, (and He says, "All things that the Father hath are mine,") and to show them unto us. But only as we are partakers of His experience can we come where He is gone before. He came to opened heavens by baptism, fasting, and temptation; by a transfiguration, by the cross, by resurrection. There is yet no other way. Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom. There is but one way by which our nature can be brought to God, and that is shown in Christ Jesus. This is the special burden of the next reiterated Amen, "Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Table of Contents Chapter 2 Home The Writings of Andrew Jukes