Thus, Goodwin exhorts, “Let us therefore take God for our portion, whatsoever else becomes of us, whatsoever befalls us; let what will come, what afflictions, what throbs, what miseries or crosses will come, heaven will make amends for all; God will be better to thee than all.” Indeed, for the Puritans, the hope of someday dwelling in the presence of God in Christ—Immanuel—was “the very heaven of heaven.” All other glories and trials pale in comparison.
While the Puritans are often remembered for preaching about the horrors of hell, they gave far more attention to the glories of heaven. They sought, as Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) put it, to keep “their hearts raised up to heaven.” Richard Baxter (1615–1691) exhorted his readers to “bathe thy soul in heaven’s delights” and offered twelve reasons why such contemplation is beneficial. To that end, the Puritans preached and wrote often on the subject, exploring the glorious heights of the heavenly realms and considering key questions about the future state.
One of the Puritans’ favorite descriptions of heaven was “Immanuel’s Land,” a phrase rooted in Isaiah 8:8 and famously associated with the dying words of the Scottish Puritan Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661). Rutherford’s deathbed confession—“Glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s Land”—inspired the poet Anne Ross Cousin (1824–1906) to pen the hymn “The Sands of Time are Sinking” (alternatively titled “Immanuel’s Land”).
Among all the splendors of Immanuel’s Land, the Puritans often focused on the presence of God in Christ as the height of future glory. Baxter defined the saints’ everlasting rest as “the perfect endless fruition [enjoyment] of God by the perfected saints.” Goodwin noted, “He doth not only promise us great and glorious things to be created by him, but he himself will be our heaven.” In the Puritan mind, heaven’s greatest glory will be the presence of Christ.
This Christocentric view of heaven is exemplified in John Bunyan’s (1628–1688) beloved allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, which depicts a Christian’s journey through this world toward his heavenly home. Bunyan’s characters frequently converse about the glories that await them in the Celestial City and their faith-filled desire to meet their King. Longing for Immanuel’s Land distinguishes authentic believers from insincere imposters in the story. The disingenuous Pliable, for example, is eager to hear about the joys of heaven but abandons his journey at the first sign of distress.
Exposing his lack of faith, he doesn’t consider future glory worth the cost of his present sufferings (cf. Rom 8:18).
Whenever Bunyan’s characters discuss heaven, Immanuel Himself is often the focus. When Prudence asks Christian why he desires to go to Mount Zion, Christian responds, “Why there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross.” This emphasis becomes especially apparent as Christian and his companion Hopeful reach the end of their journey. Here, at the climax of Bunyan’s story, Christ is central in each scene. He is their comfort in death, the very hope of heaven, and the Lord of the land they long to reach.
Christ, The Comfort in Death
As Christian and Hopeful make their final approach to the Celestial City, they are shocked to discover the River of Death lying before them. When their angelic guide explains that none may bypass this final obstacle, they reluctantly wade into the waters. This final trial almost proves to be too much for Christian to bear. The fearful pilgrim begins to sink, convinced that God has abandoned him in his sins once and for all.
As the darkness closes in, Hopeful is able to comfort his friend by drawing attention to Christ: “Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ makes you whole.” This simple but profound reminder is sufficient for restoring Christian’s hope, as he cries out, “Oh, I see him again! And he tells me, ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.’”
Bunyan expresses how Jesus serves as the believer’s hope in life and death. As the waters of death surround a person, one glimpse of Christ is sufficient to restore courage. The promise of God’s presence mediated through His Son (Isa. 43:1–2) transforms a person’s fears, even in the face of death.