“Someday soon, my little man, our Lord Jesus is coming again. I hope you never forget it as long as you live.”
So spoke my friend’s grandpa as, years ago, the two walked together on the grandpa’s farm. Otherwise a man of few words, the elderly gentleman wanted to make sure that his grandson heard his heart’s deep conviction and hope from his own lips before he died.
One of my own wise teachers expressed the same truth in different words: “We Christians ought not to fit too well in this world. Our identity is different; our human destiny is beyond this life.”
According to John Calvin, training our eyes on heaven day by day is crucial to keeping our bearings and direction. Thus he made “meditation upon the future life” (Institutes III.ix) one of the three central features of the Christian life. Together with self-denial and cross-bearing, such meditation gives us energy for the task of trying to imitate Christ and live as he intends.
Our lives here on earth, like Jesus’ life when he was among us, are difficult and crammed with cross-shaped distresses. But amid these distresses, by faith we can see our already-ascended Lord holding before our eyes the treasure that lies beyond our own eventual death—life forever with him. How important, therefore, “to raise our eyes to heaven” (III.ix.1).
Calvin insisted that we hold the hope of life hereafter continually before us because he knew all too well that Satan is out to lure believers toward “a brutish love of this world.” Satan wants to beguile us into thinking that this life is all there is.
Sad to say, the evil one succeeds all too often. Too easily we fall head-over-heels in love with this world. Too gladly we’re ready to cash in what we’ve been promised in return for what we can get now. As a result, the prospect of life forever with our Savior no longer magnetically draws us. How important, therefore, to engage in the spiritual practice of remembering where our home is—“lest we cling too tenaciously to [our love of present things]” (III.ix.1).
When we cherish continually in our minds and hearts the sure hope that soon “the Lord will receive his faithful people into the peace of his Kingdom, will wipe away every tear from their eyes, will clothe them with a robe of glory . . . and rejoicing, will feed them with the unspeakable sweetness of his delights, will elevate them to his sublime fellowship . . . ”
(III.ix.6)—then we can walk the Christian way discerningly and keep our direction with better intention.
But Christian hope isn’t something passive and static, some “dead thing.”
It is active. It calls for regular practice, careful vigilance, daily stretching toward the final goal. We are ever to “march onward, and aspire to this heritage that is prepared for us, never doubting but that we shall attain it, because our Lord Jesus Christ will then appear, and the life that is now hidden from us will be revealed to us” (from Calvin’s sermon on Titus 3:4-7).
“And so we shall be with the Lord forever,” says 1 Thessalonians 4:18. My Calvinist ancestors assured me that this rock-solid affirmation was always enough to steady them and keep them going along their own life’s journey, no matter their present circumstances. They encouraged me, too, to try to keep it before my eyes. Their advice has served me well during my 67 years.
Now, as my own death draws closer, I want this to be my final word—my passionate encouragement—to young people: “Stand on tiptoe, for Jesus is coming soon. I hope you never forget it as long as you live.”FOR DISCUSSION:
- What’s so important about “meditat[ing] upon the future life”? Can we overdo that?
- Can we love this world too much? Can we love it too little?
- Exactly what do we anticipate in the life to come: heaven? a restored earth? What do you think our lives will be like?
- How can our hope for the restored life be “active,” as Cooper urges?
- Rev. Cooper states that he wants his final word to young people to be “Stand on tiptoe, for Jesus is coming soon. I hope you will never forget it as long as you live.” What final word would you want to leave for them or future generations?