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Coop's Column - Designed to the Inheritance of Jesus

"Designed to the Inheritance of Jesus" blog entry from Coop's Column.

Yogi Berra once commented, “I know the future. It’s just like the present, only longer.” Christians demur: They believe that the best—by far—is yet to come. God’s Word convinces them that the Lord’s favorite tense is future, that the entire human drama is moving toward a grand finale for believers, and that Jesus bids them not to miss it.

When Christians gather for Sunday worship, boldly they repeat together the ancient confession: “I believe in the life everlasting.” They take fresh hope from St. Paul’s assuring words: “And so we shall be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:18). John Calvin considered “meditation upon the future life” so crucial to healthful Christian living  that he listed it as one of  three marks of the Christian life. And Lewis Smedes, twentieth-century heir of the Calvinist Reformation, never tired of proclaiming: “Keep hope alive, and hope will keep you alive.” 

When Christians declare their hope for a tomorrow full of bright promise, they do so not because (their) life today has been uninterruptedly tranquil, Pollyanna-cheery. It’s not a matter of “Life’s good today; why wouldn’t it be better tomorrow?” Quite the contrary. As often as not, saints hear God’s call to reckon upon his promise and practice Christian hope when their present circumstances are anything but promising—when life’s winds have been blowing hard against the little boat of their souls. It is there and then that they hear their Savior calling them to place their trust firmly in him, and to have confidence that he shall guide their fragile craft safely to harbor. They discover that practicing such rugged hope renews them, refreshes their spirits, and supplies them with strength to endure present distress. 

Seventeenth-century Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor, in Holy Living and Holy Dying, wrote: 

“Now suppose thyself in as great a sadness as ever did load thy spirit, wouldst thou not bear it cheerfully and nobly if thou wert sure that within a certain space some strange and excellent fortune would relieve thee, and enrich thee, and recompense thee, so as to overflow all thy hopes and thy desires…? Now then, when a sadness lies heavy upon thee, remember that thou art a Christian designed to the inheritance of Jesus; … consider how great is that joy, how infinite is that change, how unspeakable is the glory, how excellent is the recompense, for all the sufferings in the world…. Here thou art but a stranger travelling to thy country, where the glories of a kingdom are prepared for thee; it is therefore a huge folly to be much afflicted because thou has a less convenient inn to lodge in by the way.”

But meditating on the future life does even more. It also quickens Christians’ longing for greater—and still greater—fellowship with their precious Savior. To be sure, they do enjoy the gift of new life in Christ now. But God’s Word assures them that present delight is but a foretaste—a small sip—of what is to come. Thus, when they set their hearts toward imagining the day when fellowship with their Lord will be sweeter and better by far, then Christians pray with increasing fervor: “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly” (cf. Phil. 1:20-24; Rev. 22). They declare—no, they sing out!—the grand expectation: 

In mansions of glory and endless delight, I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;

I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow: if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

How better to enflame that longing, to quicken that desire for fuller fellowship, than by making meditation upon the future life a part of one’s regular practice? And where better to do so than in the company of the saints gathered on Sunday for worship? For it is there—“in the sanctuary,” among pilgrims who are enroute together—that saints practice the skill of lifting their minds and hearts above life’s present circumstances and training them on the best “which is yet to come.”

I spent most of the summer of 1979 doing doctoral research in Geneva, Switzerland. Switzerland—it goes without saying—is impossibly beautiful, and Geneva is a dream destination for any Calvinist. But what began gloriously for me eventually turned into dull tedium and grinding dreariness. Separated from Marcia and our three small children, I was homesick. 

My study leave having reached its merciful end, my heart skipped a beat for joy—and relief—as I boarded the aircraft. In Chicago I phoned home to arrange for Marcia to pick me up at the Grand Rapids airport. A few minutes into the conversation, she handed the phone to our four-year-old son, who had been begging to talk. His only question to me—a plea, really: “Daddy, when am I going to be where you are?”

That longing question is the finest description I know of the Christian’s present desire for the life to come. Saints eagerly await that coming day of full fellowship with their Lord. They may not be clear about details of life in the world to come, but one thing is they do know: They will be where Jesus is. Knowing that makes all the difference for them. It keeps them going until the grand day appears.