Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Eternal Value of Good Works and Suffering

There are different degrees of happiness and glory in heaven. As there are degrees among the angels, viz. thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers; so there are degrees among the saints. In heaven are many mansions, and of different degrees of dignity. The glory of the saints above will be in some proportion to their eminency in holiness and good works here...It will be no damp to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them. For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others. And there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign through the whole society. Those who are not so high in glory as other, will not envy those that are higher, but they will have so great, and strong, and pure love to them, that they will rejoice in their superior happiness. Their love to them will be such that they will rejoice that they are happier than themselves; so that instead of having a damp to their own happiness, it will add to it. They will see it to be fit that they that have been most eminent in works of righteousness should be most highly exalted in glory.

Jonathan Edwards “The Portion of the Righteous”

Edwards used this argument to make application to the passages in Scripture that speak of varying degrees of reward in heaven for those who have sown diligently for the Kingdom of God and the cause of Christ (Luke 6:38, 19:11-27, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Galatians 6:9). If each is rewarded according to their works, there will be varying degrees of blessedness in heaven, since there are varying degrees of good done by the servants of Christ. This might be hard to imagine since there will be nothing but joy in the eternal state, but Edwards comments that the intensity of the joy will vary from one to another based on the Christian’s life. Every vessel will be filled to capacity, only the size of each will vary. Some will be able to hold more, but those of less means will not envy those of greater because they too will be filled to overflowing. 

If this holds true for good works, it would seem to also be the case for suffering. If every believer were blessed in exactly the same way in heaven, then it would virtually eliminate the personal and lasting relevance of anything done or experienced in this life. There would be less reward for the trials endured by the eminent Christians of centuries past- missionaries who suffered in distant lands or martyrs burned at the stake. Obviously, the chief end of all that takes place is that each event increases the glory of God. So in that sense, there is a grand purpose for the sake of others and to the increase of God’s praise, but I’m speaking of the increase to the individual referenced in the previously cited passages. There is value in the good one does as well as in the pain he suffers, and it isn’t only of temporal importance. Everything has eternal ends as well. When God works all things for the good of the Christian (Rom. 8:28), His view is not just for the wilderness side of the Jordan River. He’s also looking to the time when His beloved are in the land promised to them, and they find rest from their works and suffering. Without this view, present experiences would certainly be useful for the building of one’s faith in this life, but it diminishes the significance of the deeds that one performs or the difficulties another endures if they receive the same in the end as he whose works are burned up by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). This means that God has purpose for your cancer, for the loss of your spouse, for persecution, and so on. Patient endurance and childlike dependence work for the increase of your eternal joy. God is sovereign over every event that takes place in the world He has made (Matt. 10:29), and not one second or experience is in vain, but instead reverberates into and throughout eternity.