Monday, June 11, 2012

The work of the living

In Sydney, last week, not only did we experience the rare event of the transit of Venus, but there was also a partial eclipse of the moon. These events caused me to reflect on the significance of what Wolfe is encouraging us to do in thinking about Heaven.

We cannot see the earth in its fullness ourselves (unless we are one of the lucky few who have travelled into space), or its interaction with the universe, but we know that we are part of it – the sun, moon and stars all tell me that. However, until the middle of the last century we didn’t even have photographs of the earth as seen from space. Watching the partial eclipse last Monday night, watching the shadow of the earth pass across the moon gave a glimpse into the size and scope of our planet, its substance experienced in its shadow.

The third and fourth chapters of Setting our Sights on Heaven draw to a close the biblical teaching on heaven contained in part one. Wolfe focuses here on the apostolic message that calls Christians to “set their minds” on heaven, looking closely at three key passages to do this: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, Colossians 3:1-4 and 1 Peter 1:13.

Wolfe concludes from these (and “other Scripture texts”) that heavenly-mindedness consists of: meditation, orientation and anticipation, bearing the fruits of consecration and supplication (p. 48).

Given that meditation is a bit of a lost art (and Wolfe means turning one’s mind to a subject and deliberately thinking about it, as opposed to emptying one’s mind altogether) and as previously mentioned I have been leafing through Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest and he focuses deliberately on this, I thought it would be useful to look closely at this idea of meditation.

One of the key things that we need to do is to have some substance to meditate on. Meditation is not just reading the Bible. Baxter and Wolfe make this clear. But we need to have something to turn our minds to. Wolfe does this in a practical way in the fourth chapter giving a heavenly-mindedness to topics of marriage (and parenting), money and possessions, mistreatments and misery. Here he is looking not only on our contemplation, but also on how our meditation impacts our behaviour.

Wolfe uses the Bible to inform his meditation on these topics. We are to be like the righteous man who delights in meditating on God’s word day and night (Psalm 1:2). According to Baxter, “meditation turns the truths received and remembered into warm affection, firm resolution, and holy conversation.” (Ch. XII Section 3). How often do we sit and reflect on God’s word when it is not physically in front of our eyes?

Baxter devotes whole chapters to outlining this process and its importance for the Christian. He outlines the use of our memory, judgement and our faith in our meditation. We are to be grounded in the Bible, and Baxter epitomises this as he encourages his readers’ meditations. He encourages us to approach our meditations properly, preparing ourselves in a manner worthy of what we are about to contemplate. Furthermore, he encourages comparison with the world around us, with intellectual pursuits, with our senses, with the “glorious works of creation”, with what God has already given to the Christian, with the Church as it is now, all compared to heaven.

When I look and see the shadow of the earth pass over the moon in a lunar eclipse, I am reminded of the shadow that is our current existence and the life that is to come. The shadow indicates substance; it does not replace it. The world I live in, the things I enjoy can all be in service of my constant delighting in God’s word and setting my sights on heaven: what is there and what is to come.

Having set thy heart in tune, we now come to the music itself. Having got an appetite, now approach to the feast, and delight thy soul as with marrow and fatness. Come, for all things are now ready. Heaven and Christ, and the exceeding weight of glory are before you. Do not make light of this invitation, nor begin to make excuses; whatever thou art, rich or poor, though in alms-houses or hospitals, though in highways and hedges, my commission is, if possible, to compel you to come in; and blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God! The manna lieth about your tents; walk out, gather it up, take it home, and feed upon it. (Baxter, The Saints' Everlasting Rest, Ch. XIV, Section 1)

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