Here is high preferment for the saints. They shall be advanced to a kingdom. There are some who, aspiring after earthly greatness, talk of a temporal reign here, but then God's church on earth would not be militant but triumphant. But sure it is the saints shall reign in a glorious manner: Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.' A kingdom is held the acme and top of all worldly felicity, and this honour have all the saints'; so says our Saviour, Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' All Christ's subjects are kings. By the kingdom of heaven is meant that state of glory which the saints shall enjoy when they shall reign with God and the angels for ever; sin, hell and death being fully subdued. For the illustration of this I shall show first wherein the saints in heaven are like kings.
Kings have their insignia or regalia, their ensigns of royalty and majesty.
1 Kings have their crowns. So the saints after death have their crown-royal. Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life' (Revelation 2:10). Believers are not only pardoned but crowned. The crown is an ensign of honour. A crown is not for every one. It will not fit every head. It is only for kings and persons of renown to wear (Psalm 21:3). The crown which the poor in spirit shall wear in heaven is an honourable crown. God himself installs them into their honour and sets the crown-royal upon their head. And this crown that the saints shall wear, which is divinely orient and illustrious, exceeds all other.
(i) It is more pure. Other crowns, though they be made of pure gold, yet they are mixed metal; they have their troubles. A crown of gold cannot be made without thorns. It has so many vexations belonging to it, that it is apt to make the headache. Which made Cyrus say, did men but know what cares he sustained under the imperial crown, he thought they would not stoop to take it up. But the saints' crown is made without crosses. It is not mingled with care of keeping, or fear of losing. What Solomon speaks in another sense I may say of the crown of glory, It adds no sorrow with it' (Proverbs 10:22). This crown, like David's harp, drives away the evil spirit of sorrow and disquiet. There can be no grief in heaven any more than there can be joy in hell.
(ii) This crown of glory does not draw envy to it. David's own son envied him and sought to take his crown from his head. A princely crown is oftentimes the mark for envy and ambition to shoot at, but the crown the saints shall wear is free from envy. One saint shall not envy another, because all are crowned, and though one crown may be larger than another, yet everyone shall have as big a crown as he is able to carry.
(iii) This is a never-fading crown. Tertullian says that this crown is not made out of either roses or gems. Other crowns quickly wear away and tumble into the dust: Doth the crown endure to all generations?' (Proverbs 27:24). Henry VI was honoured with the crowns of two kingdoms, France and England. The first was lost through the faction of his nobles; the other was twice plucked from his head. The crown has many heirs and successors. The crown is a withering thing. Death is a worm that feeds in it; but the crown of glory is immarcescible, it fadeth not away' (1 Peter 5:4). It is not like the rose that loses its gloss and vernancy. This crown cannot be made to wither, but like the flower we call Everlasting, it keeps always fresh and splendent. Eternity is a jewel of the saints' crown.
2 Kings have their Robes. The robe is a garment wherewith Kings are arrayed. The King of Israel and the King of Judah sat clothed in their robes' (2 Chronicles 18:9). The robe was of scarlet or velvet lined with ermine, sometimes of a purple colour, when it was called Purpura,; sometimes of an azure brightness. Thus the saints shall have their robes. I beheld a great multitude which no man could number of all nations and kindreds, clothed in white robes' (Revelation 7:9). The saints, robes signify their glory and splendour; white robes denote their sanctity. They have no sin to taint or defile their robes. In these robes they shall shine as the angels.
3 Kings have their Sceptres in token of rule and greatness. King Ahasuerus held out to Esther the golden sceptre (Esther 5:2); and the saints in glory have their sceptre, and palms in their hands' (Revelation 7). It was a custom of great conquerors to have palm branches in their hand in token of victory. So the saints, those kings have palms', an emblem of victory and triumph. They are victors over sin and hell. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb' (Revelation 12:11).
4 Kings have their Thrones. When Caesar returned from conquering his enemies, there were granted to him four triumphs in token of honour, and there was set for him a chair of ivory in the senate and a throne in the theatre. Thus the saints in heaven returning from their victories over sin shall have a chair of state set them more rich than ivory or pearl, and a throne of glory (Revelation 3:21). (i) This shall be a high throne. It is seated above all the kings and princes of the earth. Nay, it is far above all heavens (Ephesians 4). There is the airy heaven, which is that space from the earth to the sphere of the moon; the starry heaven, the place where are the stars and those 'superior planets', as the philosophers call them, planets of higher elevation, as Saturn, Jupiter, Mars etc.; the empyrean heaven, which is called the third heaven' (2 Corinthians 12:2). In this glorious sublime place shall the throne of the saints be erected. (ii) It is a safe throne. Other thrones are unsafe; they stand tottering. Thou hast set them in slippery places' (Psalm 73:18); but the saints' throne is sure. He that overcomes shall sit with me upon my throne' (Revelation 3:21). The saints shall sit with Christ. He keeps them safe, that no hand of violence can pull them from their throne. O ye people of God, think of this; though now you may be called to the bar, yet shortly you shall sit upon the throne.
Having shown wherein the saints in glory are like kings, let us see wherein the kingdom of heaven excels other kingdoms.
1 It excels in the Founder and Maker. Other kingdoms have men for their builders, but this kingdom has God for its builder (Hebrews 11:10). Heaven is said to be made without hands' (2 Corinthians 5:1), to show the excellency of it. Neither man nor angel could ever lay stone in this building. God erects this kingdom. Its builder and maker is God'.
2 This kingdom excels in the riches of it. Gold does not so much surpass iron as this kingdom does all other riches. The gates are of pearl' (Revelation 21:21). And the foundations of the wall of it are garnished with all precious stones' (verse 19). It is enough for cabinets to have pearl; but were gates of pearl' ever heard of before? It is said that Kings shall throw down their crowns and sceptres before it (Revelation 4:10), as counting all their glory and riches but dust in comparison of it. This kingdom has deity itself to enrich it, and these riches are such as cannot be weighed in the balance; neither the heart of man can conceive, nor the tongue of angel express.
3 This kingdom excels in the perfection of it. Other kingdoms are defective. They have not all provisions within themselves, nor have they all commodities of their own growth, but are forced to traffic abroad to supply their wants at home. King Solomon sent for gold to Ophir (2 Chronicles 8:18), but there is no defect in the kingdom of heaven; here are all delights and rarities to be had. He that overcometh shall inherit all things' (Revelation 21:7). Here is beauty, wisdom, glory and magnificence. Here is the Tree of Life in the midst of this paradise. All things are to be found here but sin and sorrow, the absence whereof adds to the fullness of this kingdom.
4 It excels in security. Other kingdoms fear either foreign invasions or intestine divisions. Solomon's kingdom was peaceable awhile but at last he had an alarum given him by the enemy (1 Kings 11:11,14). But the kingdom of heaven is so impregnable that it fears no hostile assaults or inroads. The devils are said to be locked up in chains (Jude 6). The saints in heaven shall no more need fear them than a man fears that thief's robbings who is hanged up in chains. The gates of this celestial kingdom are not shut at all by day' (Revelation 21:25). We shut the gates of the city in a time of danger, but the gates of that kingdom always stand open to show that there is no fear of the approach of an enemy. The kingdom has gates for the magnificence of it, but the gates are not shut because of the security of it.
5 This kingdom excels in its stability. Other kingdoms have vanity written upon them. They cease and are changed; though they may have a head of gold, yet feet of clay. I will cause the kingdom to cease' (Hosea 1:4). Kingdoms have their climacteric year. Where is the glory of Athens? the pomp of Troy? What is become of the Assyrian, Grecian, Persian monarchy? Those kingdoms are demolished and laid in the dust; but the kingdom of heaven has eternity written upon it. It is an everlasting kingdom' (2 Peter 1:11). Other kingdoms may be lasting but not everlasting. The apostle calls it a kingdom that cannot be shaken' (Hebrews 12:28). It is fastened upon a strong basis, the omnipotence of God. It runs parallel with eternity. They shall reign for ever and ever' (Revelation 22:5).
I shall next clear the truth of this proposition that the saints shall be possessed of this kingdom.
1 In regard of God's free grace, It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom' (Luke 12:32). It is not any desert in us but free grace in God. The papists say we merit the kingdom, but we disclaim the title of merit. Heaven is a donative.
2 There is a price paid. Jesus Christ has shed his blood for it. All saints come to the kingdom through blood. Christ's hanging upon the cross was to bring us to the crown. As the kingdom of heaven is a gift in regard of the Father, so it is a purchase in regard of the Son.
1 It shows us that religion is no unreasonable thing. God does not cut us out work and give no reward. Godliness enthrones us in a kingdom. When we hear of the doctrine of repentance, steeping our souls in brinish tears for sin; the doctrine of mortification, pulling out the right eye, beheading the king-sin; we are ready to think it is hard to take down this bitter pill, but here is that in the text may sweeten it. There is a kingdom behind, and that will make amends for all. This glorious recompense as far exceeds our thoughts as it surpasses our defects. No one can say without wrong to God that he is a hard master. God gives double pay. He bestows a kingdom upon those that fear him. Satan may disparage the ways of God, like those spies that raised an ill report of the good land (Numbers 13:32). But will Satan mend your wages if you serve him? He gives damnable pay; instead of a kingdom, chains of darkness' (Jude 6).
2 See here the mercy and bounty of God that has prepared a kingdom for his people. It is a favour that we poor worms and no men' (Psalm 22:6) should be suffered to live. But that worms should be made kings, this is divine bounty. It is mercy to pardon us, but it is rich mercy to crown us. Behold, what manner of love' is this! Earthly princes may bestow great gifts and donatives on their subjects, but they keep the kingdom to themselves. Though Pharaoh advanced Joseph to honour and gave him a ring from his finger, yet he kept the kingdom to himself. Only in the throne will I be greater than thou' (Genesis 41:40); but God gives a kingdom to his people, he sets them upon the throne. How David admires the goodness of God in bestowing upon him a temporal kingdom! Then went king David in, and sat before the Lord and said, Who am I, O Lord God! and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?' (2 Samuel 7:18). He wondered that God should take him from the sheepfold and set him on the throne! that God should turn his shepherd's staff into a sceptre! O then how may the saints admire the riches of grace, that God should give them a kingdom above all the princes of the earth, nay, far above all heavens! God thinks nothing too good for his children. We many times think much of a tear, a prayer, or to sacrifice a sin for him, but he does not think much to bestow a kingdom upon us. How will the saints read over the lectures of free grace in heaven and trumpet forth the praises of that God who has crowned them with loving-kindness!
3 It shows us that Christianity is no disgraceful thing. Wise men measure things by the end. What is the end of godliness? It brings a kingdom. A man's sin brings him to shame (Proverbs 13:5). What fruit had ye in those things whereof you are now ashamed? (Romans 6:21). But religion brings to honour (Proverbs 4:8). It brings a man to a throne, a crown, it ends in glory. It is the sinner's folly to reproach a saint. It is just as if Shimei had reproached David when he was going to be made king. It is a saint's wisdom to contemn a reproach. Say as David when he danced before the ark, I will yet be more vile' (2 Samuel 6:22). If to pray and hear and serve my God be to be vile, I will yet be more vile'. This is my excellency, my glory. I am doing now that which will bring me to a kingdom. O think it no disgrace to be a Christian! I speak it chiefly to you who are entering upon the ways of God. Perhaps you may meet with such as will reproach and censure you. Bind their reproaches as a crown about your head. Despise their censure as much as their praise. Remember there is a kingdom entailed upon godliness. Sin draws hell after it; grace draws a crown after it.
4 See here that which may make the people of God long for death. Then they shall enter upon their kingdom. Indeed the wicked may fear death. It will not lead them to a kingdom but a prison. Hell is the gaol where they must lie rotting for ever with the devil and his angels. To every Christless person death is the king of terror; but the godly may long for death. It will raise them to a kingdom. When Scipio's father had told him of that glory the soul should be invested with in a state of immortality, why then, says Scipio, do I tarry thus long upon the earth? Why do I not hasten to die? Believers are not perfectly happy till death. When Croesus asked Solon whom he thought happy, he told him one Tellus, a man that was dead. A Christian at death shall be completely installed into his honour. The anointing oil shall be poured on him, and the crown-royal set upon his head. The Thracians, in their funerals, used music. The heathens (as Theocritus' observes) had their funeral banquet, because of that felicity which they supposed the parties deceased were entered into. The saints are now heirs of the kingdom' (James 2:5). Does not the heir desire to be crowned?
Truly there is enough to wean us and make us willing to be gone from hence. The saints eat ashes like bread'. They are here in a suffering condition. Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth' (Psalm 141:7). When a man hews and cuts a tree the chips fly up and down; here and there a chip. So here a saint wounded, there a saint massacred; our bones fly like chips up and down. For thy sake we are killed all the day long' (Romans 8:36). But there is a kingdom a-coming; when the body is buried the soul is crowned. Who would not be willing to sail in a storm if he were sure to be crowned as soon as he came at the shore? How is it that the godly look so ghastly at thoughts of death, as if they were rather going to their execution than their coronation? Though we should be willing to stay here awhile to do service, yet we should with St Paul, desire to be dissolved and be with Christ'. The day of a believer's dissolution is the day of his inauguration.
But how shall we know that this glorious kingdom shall be settled upon us at death?
1 If God has set up his kingdom within us; The kingdom of God is within you' (Luke 17:21). By the kingdom of God there is meant the kingdom of grace in the heart. Grace may be compared to a kingdom. It sways the sceptre; it gives out laws. There is the law of love. Grace beats down the devil's garrisons. It brings the heart into a sweet subjection to Christ. Now is this kingdom of grace set up in your heart? Do you rule over your sins? Can you bind those kings in chains? (Psalms 149:8). Are you a king over your pride, passion and unbelief? Is the kingdom of God within you? While others aspire after earthly greatness and labour for a kingdom without them, do you labour for a kingdom within you? Certainly if the kingdom of grace be in your heart, you shall have the kingdom of glory. If God's kingdom enter into you, you shall enter into his kingdom. But let not that man ever think to reign in glory, who lives a slave to his lusts.
2 If you are a believer, you will go to this blessed kingdom: Rich in faith, heirs of the kingdom' (James 2:5). Faith is an heroic act of the soul. It makes an holy adventure on God, by a promise. This is the crowning grace. Faith puts us into Christ, and our title to the crown comes in by Christ. By faith we are born of God, and so we become children of the blood-royal. By faith our hearts are purified (Acts 15:9, 10), and we are made fit for a kingdom; rich in faith, heirs of the kingdom'. Faith paves a causeway to heaven. Believers die heirs to the crown.
3 He that has a noble, kingly spirit shall go to the heavenly kingdom. Set your affection on things above' (Colossians 3:2). Do you live in the world, above the world? The eagle does not catch flies, she soars aloft in the air. Do you pant after glory and immortality? Do you have a brave majestic spirit, an heavenly ambition? Do you mind the favour of God, the peace of Sion, the salvation of your soul? Do you abhor that which is sordid and below you? Alexander would not exercise at the Olympic games. Can you trample upon all sublunary things? Is heaven in your eye, and Christ in your heart and the world under your feet? He who has such a kingly spirit that looks no lower than a crown, he shall dwell on high', and have his throne mounted far above all heavens.
The exhortation has a double aspect.
I It looks towards the wicked. Is there a kingdom to be had, a kingdom so enamelled and bespangled with glory? Oh then, do not by your folly make yourselves incapable of this preferment. Do not for the satisfying of a base lust forfeit a kingdom. Do not drink away a kingdom. Do not for the lap of pleasure lose the crown of life. If men, before they committed a sin, would but sit down and rationally consider whether the present gain and sweetness in sin would countervail the loss of a kingdom, I believe it would put them into a cold sweat, and give some check to their unbridled affections. Jacob took Esau by the heel. Look not upon the smiling face of sin, but take it by the heel'. Look at the end of it. It will deprive you of a kingdom, and can anything make amends for that loss? O, is it not madness, for the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), to lose a kingdom? How will the devil at the last day reproach and laugh at men, that they should be so stupidly sottish as for a rattle to forgo a crown! Like those Indians who for pictures and glass beads will part with their gold. Surely it will much contribute to the vexation of the damned to think how foolishly they missed of a kingdom.
2 The exhortation looks toward the godly, and it exhorts to two things.
(i) Is there a kingdom in reversion? Then let this be a motive to duty. Do all the service you can for God while you live. Spend and be spent.' The reward is honourable. The thoughts of a kingdom should add wings to prayer, and fire to zeal. What honour and dignity has been done to Mordecai?' says King Ahasuerus (Esther 6:3). Inquire what has been done for God? What love have you shown to his name? What zeal for his glory? Where is the head of that Goliath lust you have slain for his sake? Methinks we should sometimes go aside into our closets and weep to consider how little work we have done for God. What a vast disproportion is there between our service and our reward! What is all our weeping and fasting compared to a kingdom! Oh improve all your interest for God. Make seasons of grace, opportunities for service.
And that you may act more vigorously for God, know and be assured, the more work you do, the more glory you shall have. Every saint shall have a kingdom, but the more service any man does for God, the greater will be his kingdom. There are degrees of glory which I will prove thus: First, because there are degrees of torment in hell. They shall receive greater damnation' (Luke 20:47). They who make religion a cloak for their sin, shall have an hotter place in hell. Now if there be degrees of torment in hell, then by the rule of contraries there are degrees of glory in the kingdom of heaven. Again, seeing God in his free grace rewards men according to their works, therefore, the more service they do the greater shall their reward be. Behold I come quickly and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be' (Revelation 22:12). He that has done more shall receive more. He whose pound gained ten, was made ruler over ten cities (Luke 19:16, 17). This may very much excite to eminency in religion. The more the lamp of your grace shines, the more you shall shine in the heavenly orb. Would you have your crown brighter, your kingdom larger, your palm-branches more flourishing? Be Christians of degrees. Do much work in a little time. While you are laying out, God is laying up. The more glory you bring to God, the more glory you shall have from God.
(ii) Walk worthy of this kingdom. That ye would walk worthy of God who hath called you to his kingdom' (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Live as kings. Let the majesty of holiness appear in your faces. Those who looked on Stephen, 'saw his face as it had been the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). A kind of angelic brightness was seen in his visage. When we shine in zeal, humility, gravity, this beautifies and honours us in the eyes of others, and makes us look as those who are heirs apparent to a crown.
Here is comfort to the people of God in case of poverty. God has provided them a kingdom: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. A child of God is often so low in the world that he has not a foot of land to inherit. He is poor in purse as well as in spirit. But here is a fountain of consolation opened. The poorest saint who has lost all his golden fleece is heir to a kingdom, a kingdom which excels all the kingdoms and principalities of the world, more than pearl or diamond excels brass. It is peerless and endless. The hope of a kingdom, says Basil, should carry a Christian with courage and cheerfulness through all his afflictions. And it is a saying of Luther, The sea of God's mercy, overflowing in spiritual blessings, should drown all the sufferings of this life'. What though you go now in rags? You shall have your white robes. What though you are fed as Daniel with pulse and have coarser fare? You shall feast it when you come into the kingdom. Here you drink the water of tears, but shortly you shall drink the wine of paradise. Be comforted with the thoughts of a kingdom.