Eternity in Our Hearts

The expectation of seeing Christ by sight in heaven must inform how we live by faith here on earth.

This side of eternity, the Christian life is like an engagement. It is lived in anticipation of the wedding day. As Christians, we live in between the already of our betrothal to Christ and the not-yet of the wedding feast of the lamb. We are to be like the bride-to-be who takes every occasion to prepare for life with her beloved.

 

Few things better capture the anticipation of seeing Christ face-to-face than a wedding. On January 14, 1632, the Scottish Presbyterian pastor and theologian Samuel Rutherford wrote a letter drawing attention to this phenomenon. He states, “Our love to [Christ] should begin on earth, as it shall be in heaven; for the bride taketh not by a thousand degrees so much delight in her wedding garment, as she doth in her bridegroom.”

If you have ever been to a wedding, you will appreciate Rutherford’s observation. No matter how beautiful her dress, the bride never walks down the aisle with her gaze on her gown. Her focus is on her soon-to-be husband. Rutherford extends the illustration to help us see more clearly the real wonder of heaven. He continues, “So we, in the life to come, howbeit clothed with glory as with a robe, shall not be so much affected with the glory that goeth about us, as with the bridegroom’s joyful face and presence.” Under the surface of Rutherford’s old-fashioned prose is a profound illustration. As stunning as heaven will be, what makes it so marvelous is that we will finally see our Savior’s face. The church as the bride will be with Jesus as the groom, and they will live happily ever after.

Nearly two centuries after Rutherford wrote his famous letters, an English poet named Anne Cousin penned the well-known hymn “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” based on Rutherford’s “sweet sayings.” One stanza in particular encapsulates the drama of beholding Christ in glory:

The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

This side of eternity, the Christian life is like an engagement. It is lived in anticipation of the wedding day. As Christians, we live in between the already of our betrothal to Christ and the not-yet of the wedding feast of the lamb. We are to be like the bride-to-be who takes every occasion to prepare for life with her beloved. The expectation of seeing Christ by sight in heaven must therefore inform how we live by faith here on earth.

On a more basic level, the eagerness felt by engaged couples exposes a fundamental desire that all people share: a longing for eternity. This point is well made by the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:9–11:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Let’s consider two ways this text teaches us about our longing for eternity. First, we are told that God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11). One modern commentator has called this verse “the greatest statement of divine providence in the whole of Scripture.” What makes this biblical text so striking is that there is much in life that is far from beautiful. But the Preacher isn’t unaware of the ugliness that pervades the world. His question in verse 9 echoes the curse pronouncement in the garden of Eden: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” This is not merely a rhetorical question that is detached from the pressures of real life experience (see 1:3). The apparent futility of hard work with little gain is something he has witnessed firsthand. “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (3:10).

To be clear, the biblical record affirms the dignity of work. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were commanded to execute their duties with the promise of being fruitful (Gen. 1:28–31; 2:15–17; see Eccl. 3:13). But after the fall, work is toilsome (Gen. 3:17–19). We no longer perform our tasks in the lush environs of a garden but in the harsh conditions of a wilderness filled with thorns and thistles, failure and frustration. As the Preacher laments in Ecclesiastes 2:23, “Work is a vexation.” When we face hardship in our careers, injustice in the workplace, and defeat in completing assignments, we are confronted with the painful truth that this fallen world will never yield lasting gain. Vocational dissatisfaction reminds us that we were made for something greater than that which our hobbies and careers can offer.

Read More