Heaven Upon Earth

Deut. 11:21.---' As the days of heaven upon the earth.'

This has been the dream of man in all ages, the hope of the faithful, the vision of the seer, in some form or other the aim of every sincere lover of his kind, the great consummation which inspires the work of reformer and philanthropist and missionary. It expresses the ideal for the world, the happy future towards which the whole creation groans and travails, the golden age ever in front of us, of which we dream and for which we pray---'the days of heaven upon the earth.'

The words aptly describe that reaching forward which we trace in every page of the Bible, through the history of the chosen people, through the typology of the priestly narratives, through the vision of the prophets, through the hope and despair and sorrow and joy of the psalmist, as they cry, 'O Lord, how long?' or as their song is hushed into peace when they see the vision. Nothing else will satisfy them: nothing less will they strive for---'the days of heaven upon the earth.' There is no single phrase which can so sum up the one underlying aim of the Bible amid its manifold variety.

Think how it expresses the expected result of the Books of the Law, that human life may be so governed by Divine law, so restrained and impelled by the fear of the Lord, that it may indeed become as the very days of heaven upon the earth. Think how it gives the moral of all the historical books, even when they record failure, and the very opposite of this dream---when they tell of days that are as hell upon earth, when they have to paint desolation and destruction through evil living and false religion and foolish government and the weakening of morale. It is all the obverse of the other possibility, all a sad pointing of the moral that it ought to be different, that it might have been different, been even as the days of heaven upon the earth. Think how it expresses the prophetic books, so varied in tone and temper, in language and in situation, and yet one in the same passion for righteousness, and one in the same prophetic hope---all inspired by the same faith and all sustained by the same sweet vision, of the days that may be to faithful Israel, days that shall be, the days of heaven upon the earth.

Think how it colors and explains the New Testament, from the message of John the Baptist, with his announcement that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, to the last vision of St. John, the Evangelist: 'I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.'

Think how it expresses much of our Lord's teaching---His teaching about the gentle life, about forgiving one another, about love and good-will, peace and service, humble piety and sweet faith in the Heavenly Father; His teaching about the Kingdom of God, which indeed He came to found, gathering men into its glorious dominion, transforming the world by its holy laws---even His prayer which He taught His disciples, that God's will may be done on earth as it is done in heaven, and that His Kingdom may come among men. Is not the promise of the Christian faith only a richer and grander variant of the words, 'as the days of heaven upon the earth,' pointing to true blessedness and peace for the individual believer, and for the world, when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of God and His Christ?

The words are as a master-key to unlock the many doors of the Bible, because they are as a master-key to unlock the human heart. Deep among the secret things of the human heart lies this faith for the future, this hope of a golden age. No cynic's sneer or satirist's scorn can destroy the hope which comes back after every disaster and every disillusionment. In every sphere it is so. The reformer thinks that if only he can get this abuse remedied or that reform introduced it will be the beginning of a new regime, the beginning of the days of heaven upon the earth. It gives him courage to labor and patience to wait. Even when sometimes the expected reform comes, and disappoints with its small results, the true reformer is not dismayed. He strikes into the battle for the next point of vantage, the next gain which he believes will at last bring nearer the good time of the days of heaven upon the earth. In Church and State, in business and politics, true hearts ever look forward to a better future, and long for a nobler condition of things, for a finer type of life, and a juster state. In all things we are saved by hope, and hope rarely fails the world for long.

Even in our personal life we live much in the future, and if our thoughts of the future are right and our prospects are based on right foundations, that future of which we dream may be a source of strength and inspiration to us. If our hopes are grounded, as the Bible always grounds its hope, on moral foundations, if it is not a mere sluggard's paradise we are dreaming of, a selfish Eldorado where we imagine ourselves heaped with good fortune, every desire appeased and every whim satisfied; if we, on the contrary, see that peace can come only from righteousness and that lasting blessedness can come only from being worthy of blessedness, our dream may inspire us to follow the gleam, to strive after the highest.

Our very wishes for each other at this time, when we have entered into another year, wishes of happiness and peace and prosperity, are of a piece with this vision of a time which can be truly called days of heaven upon the earth. When we have love in our hearts and think kindly of others and are full of generous desires for their good, when we wish men well, as we do from custom at this season, are we not just asking that this dream which we have traced through the whole Bible to some extent realized, and that earth might feel itself as a little bit of heaven? As men we dare not let go wishing and hoping and working for this, or we slide back to lower levels of thought and life. When our hearts are warm and we are moved to generous thought, we could almost use the very words as a prayer that those we love should find life for them during this New Year as the days of heaven upon the earth.

But, that life may be as the days of heaven upon the earth, it must aim at things which are beyond the bite of the moth and the stain of the rust. It must have treasures which the thief cannot break through and steal. It must know love and joy and peace, the strength of forgiveness, and the sweet content of service. It must covet the best gifts, and follow hard after them. Before the Kingdom of Heaven can come among us, we must come into the Kingdom. We must come humbly as a little child if we would even see the Kingdom. It is religion that man needs above all his other many needs, the vision of God, the faith and hope which stretch out after the unattained. When life loses religion it loses buoyancy and the impelling power, till it dwindles into frivolity or is swamped in grossness. These days of heaven upon the earth can never be reached by material progress, or by wealth even beyond the dreams of avarice. They are of the heart, conditioned by qualities of the heart. These days can come only when men surrender themselves to the will of God and live in His love.

Even now these days may be to us a present reality, if we but see what is the eternal fact---that 'to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.' To live in the love of God, to walk in the light of His presence, is already to have attained the promise; for whenever a human soul takes God for his portion, heaven stoops down and touches earth and consecrates it, turning Luz, hard and stony and barren, into Bethel, the house of God, the gate of heaven. These commonplace days that will be told out day by day in the tale of this year can be glorified by a light that never was on sea or land if we are not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Make them as the days of the Son of Man, full of love and service and faith, and they will be days of heaven upon the earth.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha