Saturday, August 8, 2009

Too Heavenly-Minded?

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (Phil. 3.20)

Oliver Wendell Holmes was known to say "Some people are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good." Johnny Cash picked up on that refrain in his song "No Earthly Good." It is a common complaint against not only mystics and ascetics, but Puritans in general and the Puritan-minded that they were or are pie-in-sky people, so consumed with thoughts of heaven that they were or are useless dead weights, people who waste time in prayers closets when they could be out doing good for society.

The Protestant work ethic, however, tells a different story. Calvinists, far from living with their heads in the clouds and their feet floating in the air, worked hard, played hard, and emphasized the necessity of glorifying God in the little mundane things as well as in church each Sabbath morning. Puritans were not Gnostic who thought that their was virtue in keeping oneself from the things of this world, such as food and drink, sex, "secular" work and the like. Far from it, God gave these things to us for use as his stewards. Puritans saw themselves as pilgrims passing through a world that was fading away but nevertheless belong to God who required that they give a good account for their stewardship.

Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, p. xii:

There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God. So, in their heavenly minded ardor the Puritans became men and women of order, matter-of-fact and down-to-earth, prayerful, purposeful, practical.

The same Word of God which teaches us, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6.33) and "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6.21; Luke 12.34), also teaches us, for example, "that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess. 3.10) and "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10.31). The same Lord who bids us "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3.2) also holds to account as stewards of all his good gifts, graces and talents (Matt. 25.14-30) and teaches that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12.48).

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom. 8.6)

If anything, Puritans viewed themselves, like all men, as naturally prone to be too earthly-minded. Their directions for avoiding "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2.16) did not call for them to "go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5.10), but rather to use the things of the world, as not abusing them, for this world will pass away (1 Cor. 7.31).

Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness, pp. 115-116:

Seventhly, Then our Conversation is in Heaven, When in Earthly employments, yet we are Heavenly: when we use earthly things after a Heavenly manner; it is not the place that God looks at so much, where his Saints are, But what they do: Though while we live on the earth we use earthly things, yet when we can use them in an heavenly manner, then our Conversation may be in heaven though we be upon hearth.

As thus first, when in the use of earthly things, we do quickly pass through earthly things to God, we make use of them, but we do not stick to them; we make them the means to pass through to God, and get quickly through: a carnal heart stick in the things of the earth, mingles with the earth; but a spiritual, and heavenly heart makes earthly things but as Conduits for conveyance of him to Heaven, we here carry about with us the flesh, and because we have so much earth, we have need of these earthly things, I but they are means of conveyance to spiritual and Heavenly things.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil. 1.21)

C.S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian, p. 139:

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 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. 11.13-16)

Brooke Fraser wrote the C.S. Lewis Song which contains the refrain:

If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
then of course I'll feel nude when to where I'm destined I'm compared

based on Lewis' words as found in Mere Christianity, pp. 136-137:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.

Being a citizen of heaven on a pilgrimage through earth is a humbling experience. Christians are taught not to be naive or foolish concerning the ways of the world. Christ in fact taught that "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16.8) and that we ought rather to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10.16). We may take a lesson from those who are so diligent as to work for their treasure on earth despite the corruptions of moth and rust and the danger of thieves, although ours is in heaven (Matt. 6.19-21). There are no laurels to rest on as Christian, wherein we may leisurely whittle the time away while waiting on the Lord to take us home. On the contrary, those foolish virgins who wasted time while their Lord was away were condemned (Matt. 25.1-13), for Christ bids us "[o]ccupy till I come" (Luke 19.13), that is, be diligent in the business that God has set before you, which is to redeem the time (Eph. 5.16).

It was the prayer of Christ for his disciples that they should not be taken out of the world, but rather kept from evil, for they were in the world, but not of the world (John 17.15-16). Oh to be more heavenly-minded that we might serve Christ faithfully in this earthly tabernacle (2 Cor. 5.1) in the little things and, when he calls us, then to enter into that great reward prepared for his saints where there is peace and joy and love eternally in his presence with the multitude of heavenly hosts!

Richard Baxter, The Saints' Everlasting Rest, p. 230:

Happy the people that have a heavenly minister! Happy the children and servants that have a heavenly-minded father or master! Happy the man that hath a heavenly companion, who will watch over thy ways, strengthen thee when thou are weak, cheer thee when thou art weak, cheer thee when thou art drooping, and comfort thee, with the comfort wherewith he himself hath been so often comforted of God!

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