The desires of the righteous are after that which yet they know cannot be enjoyed till after death. And those are comprehended under these two heads-1. They desire that presence of their Lord which is personal. 2. They desire to be in that country where their Lord personally is, that heavenly country.
1. They desire that presence of their Lord which is personal. For
the first of these, says Paul, ‘I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ.’ Thus you have it in Phil. 1.23, ‘I have a desire to be with Christ,’ that is, with His person, that I may enjoy His personal presence, such a presence of Him as we are not capable to enjoy while here. Hence he says, ‘I have a desire to depart, that I might be with him; knowing,’ as he says in another place, ‘that whilst we are at home in the body, we are,’ and cannot but be, ‘absent from the Lord.’ 2 Cor. 5.6. Now this desire is a desire that hath a long neck;
for it can look over the brazen wall of this, quite into another world;
and as it hath a long neck, so it is very forcible and mighty in its operation.
(1) This desire breeds a divorce, a complete divorce, betwixt the soul and all inordinate love and affections to relations and worldly enjoyments. This desire makes a married man live as if he had no wife; a rich man live as if he possessed not what he has, &c. 1 Cor. 7.29-30. This is a soul-sequestering desire. This desire makes a man willing rather to be absent from all enjoyments, that he may be present with the Lord. This is a famous desire; none hath this desire but a righteous man. There are that profess much love to Christ, that yet never had such a desire in them all their life long. No, the relation that they stand in to the world, together with those many flesh-pleasing accommodations with which they are surrounded, would never yet suffer such a desire to enter into their hearts.
(2) The strength of this desire is such, that it is ready, so far forth as it can, to dissolve that sweet knot of union that is betwixt body and soul, a knot more dear to a reasonable creature than that can be which is betwixt wife and husband, parent and child, or a man and his estate. For even ‘all that a man hath will he give for his life,’ and to keep body and soul firmly knit together. But now, when this desire comes, this ‘silver cord is loosed;’ is loosed by consent. This desire grants to Him that comes to dissolve this union leave to do it delightfully. ‘We are confident and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.’ 2 Cor. 5.8. Yea, this desire makes this flesh, this mortal life, a burden. The man that has this desire exercises self-denial, while he waits till his desired change comes. For were it not that the will of God is that he should live, and did he not hope that his life might be serviceable to the truth and church of God, he would not have wherewith to cool the heart of this desire, but would rather, in a holy passion with holy Job, cry out, ‘I loathe,’ or I abhor it, ‘I would not live alway: let me alone,’ that I may die, ‘for my days are vanity.’ Job 7.15-17.
(3) The strength of this desire shows itself in this also, namely, in that it is willing to grapple with the king of terrors, rather than to be detained from that sweet communion that the soul looks for when it
comes into the place where its Lord is. Death is not to be desired for itself; the apostle chose rather to be clothed upon with his house which is from heaven, ‘that mortality might be swallowed up of life.’ 2 Cor. 5.1-4. But yet, rather than he would be absent from the Lord, he was willing to be absent from the body. Death, in the very thoughts of it, is grievous to flesh and blood; and nothing can so master it in our apprehensions as that by which we attain to these desires. These desires do deal with death, as Jacob’s love to Rachel did deal with the seven long years which he was to serve for her. It made them seem few, or but a little time; now so, I say, doth these desires deal with death itself. They make it seem little, nay, a servant, nay, a privilege; so that a man may come to enjoy the presence of his beloved Lord. ‘I have a desire to depart,’ to go from the world and relations, to go from my body, that great piece of myself; I have a desire to venture the tugs and pains, and the harsh handling of the king of terrors, so I may be with Jesus Christ! These are desires of the righteous.
Are not these therefore strong desires? is there not life and mettle in them? have they not in them power to loose the bands of nature, and to harden the soul against sorrow? flow they not, think you, from faith of the finest sort, and are they not bred in the bosom of a truly mortified soul? are these the effects of a dim sighted spirit? are they not rather the fruits of an eagle-eyed confidence? O these desires! they are peculiar to the righteous; they are none others but the desires of the righteous.
Question: But why do the righteous desire to be with Christ?
Answer: And I ask, Why doth the wife-that is, as the loving hind-love to be in the presence of her husband?
1. Christ in glory is worth the being with. If the man out of whom the Lord Jesus did cast a legion, prayed that he might be with Him, notwithstanding all the trials that attended him in this life, how can it be but that a righteous man must desire to be with Him now He is in glory? What we have heard concerning the excellency of His person, the unspeakableness of His love, the greatness of His sufferings, and the things that He still is doing for us, must needs command our souls into a desire to be with Him. When we have heard of a man among us that has done for us some excellent thing, the next thing that our hearts doth pitch upon is, I would I could set mine eyes upon him. But was ever heard the like to what Jesus Christ has done for sinners? who then that hath the faith of him can do otherwise but desire to be with Him? It was that which some time comforted John, that the time was coming that he should see Him. 1 John 3.2. But that consideration made him pant like a hart, to hasten the time that he might set his eyes upon Him quickly. Rev. 22.20. To see Jesus Christ, then, to see Him as He is, to see Him as
He is in glory, is a sight that is worth going from relations, and out of the body, and through the jaws of death to see; for this is to see Him head over all, to see Him possessed of heaven for His church, to see Him preparing of mansion-houses for those His poor ones that are now by His enemies kicked to and fro, like footballs in the world;
and is not this a blessed sight?
2. I have a desire to be with Him, to see myself with Him; this is more blessed still; for, for a man to see himself in glory, this is a sight worth seeing. Sometimes I look upon myself, and say, Where am I now? and do quickly return answer to myself again. Why, I am in an evil world, a great way from heaven; in a sinful body, among devils and wicked men; sometimes benighted, sometimes beguiled, sometimes fearing, sometimes hoping, sometimes breathing, sometimes dying, and the like. But then I turn the tables, and say, But where shall I be shortly? where shall I see myself anon, after a few times more have passed over me? And when I can but answer this question thus-I shall see myself with Jesus Christ; this yields glory, even glory to one’s spirit now: no marvel, then, if the righteous desire to be with Christ.
3. I have a desire to be with Christ; there the spirits of the just are perfected; there the spirits of the righteous are as full as they can hold. Heb. 12.23. A sight of Jesus in the Word, some know how it will change them from glory to glory, 2 Cor. 3.18; but how then shall we be changed and filled, when we shall see Him as He is? ‘When he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ 1 John 3.2. Moses and Elias appeared to Peter, and James, and John, at the transfiguration of Christ, in glory. How so? Why, they had been in the heavens, and came thence with some of the glories of heaven upon them. Gild a bit of wood, yea, gild it seven times over, and it must not compare in difference to wood not gilt, to the soul that but a little while has been dipped in glory! Glory is a strange thing to men that are on this side of the heavens; it is that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor entered into the heart of man to conceive of; only the Christian has a Word and Spirit that at times doth give a little of the glimmering thereof unto him. But O! when he is in the Spirit, and sees in the Spirit, do you think his tongue can tell? But, I say, if the sight of heaven, at so vast a distance, is so excellent a prospect, what will it look like when one is in it? No marvel, then, if the desires of the righteous are to be with Christ.
Objection. But if this be the character of a righteous man, to desire to depart and to be with Christ, I am none of them, for I never had such a desire in my heart; no, my fears of perishing will not suffer me either to desire to die to be with Christ, nor that Christ should come to judge the world.
Answer. Though thine is a case that must be excepted, for that thy desires may not as yet be grown so high; yet if thou art a righteous man, thy heart has in it the very seeds therof. There are therefore desires, and desires to desire; as one child can reach so high, and the other can but desire to do so. Thou, if thou art a righteous man, hast desires, these desires ready to put forth into act, when they are known a little stronger, or when their impediment is removed. Many times it is with our desires as it is with saffron,* it will bloom and blossom, and be ripe, and all in a night. Tell me, dost thou not desire to desire? Yea, dost thou not vehemently desire to desire to depart and to be with Christ? I know, if thou art a righteous man, thou dost. There is a man sows his field with wheat, but as he sows, soon it is covered with great clods; now, that grows as well as the rest, though it runs not upright as yet; it grows, and yet is kept down, so do thy desires; and when one shall remove the clod, the blade will soon point upwards.
I know thy mind; that which keeps thee that thou canst not yet strive to this-to desire to depart and to be with Christ, is because some strong doubt or clod of unbelief, as to thy eternal welfare, lies hard upon thy desiring spirit. Now let but Jesus Christ remove this clod, and thy desires will quickly start up to be gone. I say, let but Jesus Christ give thee one kiss, and with his lips, as he kisses thee, whisper to thee the forgiveness of thy sins, and thou wilt quickly break out, and say, Nay then. Lord, let me die in peace, since my soul is persuaded of thy salvation!
There is a man upon the bed of languishing; but O! he dares not lie, for all is not as he would have it betwixt God and his poor soul;
and many a night he lies thus in great horror of mind; but do you think that he doth not desire to depart? Yes, yes, he also waits and cries to God to set his desires at liberty. At last the visitor comes and .sets his soul at ease, by persuading of him that he belongs to God:
and what then? ‘O! now let me die, welcome death!’ Now he is like the man in Essex, who, when his neighbour at his bedside prayed for him that God would restore him to health, started up in his bed, and pulled him by the arm, and cried out, No, no, pray that God will take me away, for to me it is best to go to Christ.
The desires of some good Christians are pinioned, and cannot stir, especially these sort of desires; but Christ can and will cut the cord some time or other: and then thou that wouldst shalt be able to say, ‘I have a desire to depart, and to be with Jesus Christ.’ Meantime, be thou earnest to desire to know thy interest in the grace of God; for there is nothing short of the knowledge of that can
make thee desire to depart, that thou mayest be with Christ. This is that that Paul laid as the ground of his desires to be gone: ‘We know,’ says he, ‘that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house, which is from heaven.’ 2 Cor. 5.1-2. And know, that if thy desires be right they will grow as other graces do, from strength to strength; only in this they can grow no faster than faith grows as to justification, and then hope grows as to glory. But we will leave this and come to the second thing.
2. They desire to be in that country where their Lord personally is. As the righteous men desire to be present with Jesus Christ, so they desire to be with Him in that country where He is: ‘But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city.’Heb. 11.14-16. ‘But now they desire a better country.’ Here is a comparison. There was another country, to wit, their native country, the country from whence they came out, that in which they left their friends and their pleasures for the sake of another world, which, indeed, is a better country, as is manifest from its character. ‘It is an heavenly.’ As high as heaven is above the earth, so much better is that country which is a heavenly, than is this in which now we are.
A heavenly country, where there is a heavenly Father, Mat. 1.14-16; 15.13; 18.35; a heavenly host, Lu. 2.13; heavenly things, Jn. 3.12; heavenly visions, Ac. 26.19; heavenly places, Ep. 1.3,20; a heavenly kingdom, 2 Tim. 4.18; and the heavenly Jerusalem, Heb. 12.22; for them that are partakers of the heavenly calling, Heb. 3.1;
and that are the heavenly things themselves, Heb. 9.23. This is a country to be desired, and therefore no marvel if any, except those that have lost their wits and senses, refuse to choose themselves an habitation here. Here is the ‘Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and an innumerable company of angels:
here is the general assembly and church of the first-born, and God the Judge of all, and Jesus, and the spirits of just men made perfect.’ Heb. 12. 22-24. Who would not be here? This is the country that the righteous desire for a habitation: ‘but now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city.’ Heb. 11.16.
Mark, they desire a country, and God prepareth for them a city;
He goes beyond their desires, beyond their apprehensions, beyond what their hearts could conceive to ask for. There is none that are weary of this world from a gracious disposition that they have to an heavenly, but God will take notice of them, will own them, and not be ashamed to own them; yea, such shall not lose their longing.
They desire a handful. God gives them a seaful; they desire a country, God prepares for them a city; a city that is an heavenly; a city that has foundation, a city whose builder and maker is God. Heb. 11.10, Rev. 3.12. And all this is, that the promise to them might be fulfilled, ‘The desire of the righteous shall be granted.’
* Saffron was formerly cultivated near Bunyan’s residence, but, although sold at a very high price, it scarcely paid for its expense. In the flowering season, it was needful to gather the flowers every morning as they came to perfection.