Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Celestial City

This past week I completed reading John Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress to my children. But I found it difficult to read the last chapter. It was not because of the twinge of sadness I felt at coming to the end of such a wonderful tale. No, it was a different feeling which quite surprised me. Let me use Bunyan's words to say it.

Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men [to the Celestial City], I looked in after them, and behold the city shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold; and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps, to sing praises withal. There were also of them that had wings and they answered one another without intermission, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. And after that they shut up the gates; which, when I had seen, I wished myself among them.

I wished myself among them. Reading Bunyan's biblically saturated imaginary description of Christian and Hopeful crossing the river of death and then ascending the mountain and entering into the joy of their Lord provoked vehement longings in my soul to experience the same thing. God used this to powerfully remind me that this is what I am on this pilgrimage for. This is what I long for for my wife and children. This is what I long for for you, my flock.

Just 'listen in' to a portion of Bunyan's story:

The man then asked, "What must we do in the holy place?"
To whom it was answered, 'You must there receive the comfort of all your toil, and have joy for all your sorrow; you must reap what you have sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, and tears, and sufferings for the King by the way. In that place you must wear crowns of gold, and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One; for "there you shall see him as he is." There also you shall serve him continually with praise, with shouting and thanksgiving, whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes shall be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. There you shall enjoy your friends again that are gone thither before you; and there you shall with joy receive even every one that follows into the holy place after you. There also you shall be clothed with glory and majesty, and put into an equipage fit to ride out with the King of Glory. When he shall come with sound of trumpet in the clouds, as upon the wings of the wind, you shall come with him; and when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment, you shall sit by him; yea, and when he shall pass sentence upon all the workers of iniquity, let them be angels or men, you also shall have a voice in that judgment, because they were his and your enemies. Also, when he shall again return to the city, you shall go too with sound of trumpet, and be ever with him.

O to have the trumpeters of God greet us "with ten thousand welcomes from the world!" O to hear the King say, "Enter in!" O to join in the song "Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever!" This is more joy than a mortal soul can bear.

I experienced a touch of that joy as I read this to my children. The Spirit painted the picture so vividly in my mind that I could not help but wish myself among them.

But one day, by the grace of God alone, I do hope to be there. It makes me want to dig deep and fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life. It makes me want to pour everything I have into being faithful unto death so that I will receive the crown of life. I hope it does the same for you. Let's set our sights on the celestial city and let that joy carry us as we walk this pilgrim pathway together.

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