Ascent to Heaven in Antiquity
Anchor Bible Dictionary (published 1992)
Ascent as a foretaste of the heavenly world
This type of ascent involves a journey or “visit” to heaven which functions as a foretaste or anticipation of a final or permanent ascent to heavenly life. Though related to the second category, ascent to receive revelation, it is fundamentally different. For example, when Isaiah is taken before God’s throne, though he receives a commission and experiences the glories of the heavenly world, there is no idea that he will return to that realm. He remains a mortal who dies and descends to Sheol with all the other dead.
The earliest example of this notion of ascent is in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), probably dating from the 1st century B.C.E. In chapter 39 Enoch relates how he was taken to heaven. The experience transforms him (39:14) and he is told that he will later ascend to heaven permanently and receive glory and immortal heavenly life (chaps. 70-71). Second (Slavonic) Enoch also reflects a similar pattern. Enoch’s journey through the seven heavens, which lasts 60 days (chaps. 1-20), is followed by a return to earth. The experience transforms him and functions in anticipation of his final translation to heaven.
Christians later took up and elaborated this understanding of ascent from such Jewish models, as seen in texts such as the Ascension of Isaiah. In the New Testament we have the striking firsthand account of Paul’s own experience of ascent to Paradise (2 Cor 12:2-4). This text provides evidence for the actual “practice” of ascent to heaven in Jewish-Christian circles during this period, in contrast to a purely literary motif adopted to lend heavenly authority to a text. Obviously, Paul’s experience functions as a highly privileged foretaste of the heavenly glorification which he expected at the return of Christ (Tabor 1986).
There are definite links between the language and ideas of these Jewish texts from Second Temples times, the testimony of Paul, and the Tannaitic and Amoraic Merkabah (and later Hekhalot) traditions (Scholem 1960; Gruenwald 1980; Halperin 1980).
It is noteworthy that Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 remains our only firsthand autobiographical account of such an experience from the Second Temple period.Emma Disley
Degrees of Glory: Protestant Doctrine and the Concept of Rewards Hereafter, Journal of Theological Studies 1991, 42 (1), p. 77)
Scriptural Basis of Degrees of Glory
The large degree of Protestant consensus was due mainly to the abundance of Scriptural references to rewards and punishments hereafter. Rewards and punishments received a prominent place in the Old Testament; the lists of blessings and cursings at the end of Leviticus and Deuteronomy had been interpreted by Philo, who in turn was read by the Fathers, as rewards and punishments. In the New Testament, the theme recurred, when various rewards were explicitly attached to specific works (cf.Matt. 5). The house of God has ‘many mansions’ (John 14: 2)—(which may or may not imply a heavenly hierarchy)—and Paul appears to indicate that the elect shall differ from one another—’as one star differeth from another’ (1 Cor. 15: 41)—in heavenly glory. Against this concept of degrees it was possible to set the lesson propounded by the parable of the Vineyard (Matt. 20: 1-14)—in which the workers were given equal wages, regardless of the amount of time they had spent labouring — but Christ’s retention of the Judaic language of rewards and punishments rendered it very difficult indeed to deny that judgement would be by works.
Author, Shepherd of Hermas
Similitude 8 in the Shepherd of Hermas
125 – 200 AD
Against Heresies 5:36
And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendor of the city; for everywhere the Savior shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy. [They say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His Word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. And this is the couch on which the guests shall recline, having been invited to the wedding. The presbyters, the disciples of the apostles, affirm that this is the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved, and that they advance through steps of this nature; also that they ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father, and that in due time the Son will yield up His work to the Father, even as it is said by the apostle, “For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”150 – 216 AD
Clement of Alexandria
The Miscellanies Chapters 13 & 14
Chapter 13: Degrees of Glory in Heaven corresponding with the dignities of the Church Below
He, then, who has first moderated his passions and trained himself for impassibility, and developed to the beneficence of gnostic perfection, is here equal to the angels. Luminous already, and like the sun shining in the exercise of beneficence, he speeds by righteous knowledge through the love of God to the sacred abode, like as the apostles. Not that they became apostles through being chosen for some distinguished peculiarity of nature, since also Judas was chosen along with them. But they were capable of becoming apostles on being chosen by Him who foresees even ultimate issues. Matthias, accordingly, who was not chosen along with them, on showing himself worthy of becoming an apostle, is substituted for Judas. Those, then, also now, who have exercised themselves in the Lord’s commandments, and lived perfectly and gnostically according to the gospel, may be enrolled in the chosen body of the apostles. Such an one is in reality a presbyter of the church, and a true minister (deacon) of the will of God, if he do and teach what is the Lord’s; not as being ordained by men, nor regarded righteous because a presbyter, but enrolled in the presbyterate because righteous.
And although here upon earth he be not honored with the chief seat, he will sit down on the four-and-twenty thrones, judging the people, as John says in the Apocalypse. For, in truth, the covenant of salvation, reaching down to us from the foundation of the world, through different generations and times, is one, though conceived as different in respect of gift. For it follows that there is one unchangeable gift of salvation given by one God, through one Lord, benefiting in many ways. For which cause the middle wall3 which separated the Greek from the Jew is taken away, in order that there might be a peculiar people. And so both meet in the one unity of faith; and the selection out of both is one. And the chosen of the chosen are those who by reason of perfect knowledge are culled [as the best] from the church itself, and honored with the most august glory— the judges and rulers four-and-twenty (the grace being doubled) equally from Jews and Greeks. Since, according / to my opinion, the grades4 here in the church, of bishops, presbyters, deacons, are imitations of the angelic glory, and of that economy which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who, following the footsteps of the apostles, have lived in perfection of righteousness according to the gospel. For these taken up in the clouds, the apostle6 writes, will first minister [as deacons], then be classed in the presbyterate, by promotion in glory (for glory differs6 from glory) till they grow into ” a perfect man.
Chapter 14: Degrees of Glory in Heaven
Such, according to David, ” rest in the holy hill of God,” in the church far on high, in which are gathered the philosophers of God, “who are Israelites indeed, who are pure in And other sheep there are also,” saith the Lord, ” which are not of this fold”—deemed worthy of another fold and mansion, in proportion to their faith. ” But my sheep hear my voice,” * understanding gnostically the commandments. And this is to be taken in a magnanimous and worthy acceptation, along with also the recompense and accompaniment of works. So that when we hear, ” Thy faith hath saved thee,” we do not understand Him to say absolutely that those who have believed in any way whatever shall be saved, unless also works follow. But it was to the Jews alone that He spoke this utterance, who kept the law and lived blamelessly, who wanted only faith in the Lord. No one, then, can be a believer and at the same time be licentious; but though he quit the flesh, he must put off the passions, so as to be capable of reaching his own mansion. Now to know is more than to believe, as to be dignified with the highest honor after being saved is a greater thing than being saved. Accordingly the believer, through great discipline, divesting himself of the passions, passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, viz. to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance from the sins he has committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more—not yet or not quite attaining what he sees others to have acquired. Besides, he is also ashamed of his transgressions. The greatest torments, indeed, are assigned to the believer. For God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness is righteous. And though the punishments cease in the course of the completion of the expiation and purification of each one, yet those have very great and per- inanent grief whol are found worthy of the other fold, on account of not being along with those that have been glorified through righteousness. For instance, Solomon, calling the Gnostic, wise, speaks thus of those who admire the dignity of his mansion: ” For they shall see the end of the wise, and to what a degree the Lord has established him.” And of his glory they will say, ” This was he whom we once held up to derision, and made a byword of reproach; fools that we were ! We thought his life madness, and his end dishonorable. How is he reckoned among the sons of God, and his inheritance among the saints?”
Not only then the believer, but even the heathen, is judged most righteously. For since God knew in virtue of His prescience that he would not believe, He nevertheless, in order that he might receive his own perfection, gave him philosophy, but gave it him previous to faith. And He gave the .sun, and the moon, and the stars to be worshipped; ” which God,” the Law says,4 made for the nations, that they might not become altogether atheistical, and so utterly perish. But they, also in the instance of this commandment, having become devoid of sense, and addicting themselves to graven images, are judged unless they repent; some of them because, though able, they would not believe God; and others because, though willing, they did not take the necessary pains to become believers. There were also, however, those who, from the worship of the heavenly bodies, did not return to the Maker of them. For this was the way given to the nations to rise up to God, by means of the worship of the heavenly bodies. But those who would not abide by those heavenly bodies assigned to them, but fell away from them to stocks and stones, ” were counted,” it is said, ” as chaff-dust and as a drop from a jar,” beyond salvation, cast away from the body. As, then, to be simply saved is the result of medium actions, but to be saved rightly and becomingly is right action, so also all action of the Gnostic may be called right action; that of the simple believer, intermediate action, not yet perfected according to reason, not yet made right according to knowledge; but that of every heathen again is sinful. For it is not simply doing well, but doing actions with a certain aim, and acting according to reason, that the Scriptures exhibit as requisite.
As, then, lyres ought not to be touched by those who are destitute of skill in playing the lyre, nor flutes by those who are unskilled in flute-playing, neither are those to put their hand to affairs who have not knowledge, and know not how to use them in the whole of life. The struggle for freedom, then, is waged not alone by the athletes of battles in wars, but also in banquets, and in bed, and in the tribunals, by those who are anointed by the word, who are ashamed to become the captives of pleasures.
“I would never part with virtue for unrighteous gain.” But plainly, unrighteous gain is pleasure and pain, toil and fear; and, to speak comprehensively, the passions of the soul, the present of which is delightful, the future vexatious. ” For what is the profit,” it is said, ” if you gain the world and lose the soul I” It is clear, then, that those who do not perform good actions, do not know what is for their own advantage. And if so, neither are they capable of praying aright, so as to receive from God good things; nor, should they receive them, will they be sensible of the boon; nor, should they enjoy them, will they enjoy worthily what they know not; both from their want of knowledge how to use the good things given them, and from their excessive stupidity, being ignorant of the way to avail themselves of the divine gifts.
Now stupidity is the cause of ignorance. And it appears to me that it is the vaunt of a boastful soul, though of one with a good conscience, to exclaim against what happens through circumstances: “Therefore let them do what they may; For it shall be well with me; and Right Shall be my ally, and I shall not be caught doing evil.”
But such a good conscience preserves sanctity towards God and justice towards men; keeping the soul pure with grave thoughts, and pure words, and just deeds. By thus receiving the Lord’s power, the soul studies to be God; regarding nothing bad but ignorance, and action contrary to right reason. And giving thanks always for all things to God, by righteous hearing and divine reading, by true investigation, by holy oblation, by blessed prayer; lauding, hymning, blessing, praising, such a soul is never at any time separated from God. Rightly then is it said, “And they who trust in Him shall understand the truth, and those faithful in love shall abide by Him.” You see what statements Wisdom makes about the Gnostics. Conformably, therefore, there are various abodes, according to the worth of those who have believed. To the point Solomon says, ” For there shall be given to him the choice grace of faith, and a more pleasant lot in the temple of the Lord.” For the comparative shows that there are lower parts in the temple of God, which is the whole church. And the superlative remains to be conceived, where the Lord is. These chosen abodes, which are three, are indicated by the numbers in the Gospel—the thirty, the sixty, the hundred.
And the perfect inheritance belongs to those who attain to “a perfect man,” according to the image of the Lord. And the likeness is not, as some imagine, that of the human form; for this consideration is impious. Nor is the likeness to the first cause that which consists in virtue. For this utterance is also impious, being that of those who have imagined that virtue in man and in the sovereign God is the same. “Thou hast supposed iniquity,” He says, ” [in imagining] that I will be like to thee.” But ” it is enough for the disciple to become as the Master,” saith the Master. To the likeness of God, then, he that is introduced into adoption and the friendship of God, to the just inheritance of the lords and gods is brought; if he be perfected, according to the Gospel, as the Lord Himself taught.150 – 216 AD
Clement of Alexandria
Stromata 6:14, in ANF 2:506.
Conformably, therefore, there are various abodes, according to the worth of those who have believed…. These chosen abodes, which are three, are indicated by the numbers in the Gospel–the thirty, the sixty, the hundred. And the perfect inheritance belongs to those who attain to “a perfect man,” according to the image of the Lord…. To the likeness of God, then, he that is introduced into adoption and the friendship of God, to the just inheritance of the lords and gods is brought; if he be perfected, according to the Gospel, as the Lord Himself taught.
[Clement of Alexandria] reckons three kinds of actions, the first of which is… right or perfect action, which is characteristic of the perfect man and Gnostic alone, and raises him to the height of glory. The second is the class of… medium, or intermediate actions, which are done by less perfect believers, and procure a lower grade of glory. In the third place he reckons sinful actions, which are done by those who fall away from salvation.185 – 254 AD
De Principiis 2:20:2 in relation to 1 Corinthians 15:40-42
Our understanding of the passage indeed is, that the Apostle, wishing to describe the great difference among those who rise again in glory, i.e., of the saints, borrowed a comparison from the heavenly bodies, saying, “One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars” 185 – 254 AD
Commentary on John 2:3, in ANF 10:324-325
And some men are connected with the Father, being part of Him, and next to these, those whom our argument now brings into clearer light, those who have come to the Savior and take their stand entirely in Him. And third are those of whom we spoke before, who reckon the sun and the moon and the stars to be gods, and take their stand by them. And in the fourth and last place those who submit to soulless and dead idols. 349 – 407 AD
St. John Chrysostom
Homilies on 1st Corinthians
15:40. “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.”
15:41. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differs from another star in glory.”
And what means he by these expressions? Wherefore from the resurrection of the body did he throw himself into the discourse of the stars and the sun? He did not throw himself out, neither did he break off from his purpose; far from it: but he still keeps to it. For whereas he had established the doctrine concerning the resurrection, he intimates in what follows that great will be then the difference of glory, though there be but one resurrection. And for the present he divides the whole into two: into “bodies celestial,” and “bodies terrestrial.” For that the bodies are raised again, he signified by the corn: but that they are not all in the same glory, he signifies by this. For as the disbelief of the resurrection makes men supine, so again it makes them indolent to think that all are vouchsafed the same reward. Wherefore he corrects both. And the one in the preceding verses he had completed; but this he begins now. And having made two ranks, of the righteous and of sinners, these same two he subdivides again into many parts, signifying that neither righteous nor sinners shall obtain the same; neither righteous men, all of them, alike with other righteous, nor sinners with other sinners.
Now he makes, you see, first, one separation between righteous and sinners, where he says, “bodies celestial, and bodies terrestrial:” by the “terrestrial” intimating the latter, and by the “celestial,” the former. Then farther he introduces a difference of sinners from sinners, saying, “All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of fishes, another of birds, and another of beasts.” And yet all are bodies; but some are in more, and some in lesser vileness; and that in their manner of living too, and in their very constitution.
And having said this, he ascends again to the heaven, saying, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon.” For as in the earthly bodies there is a difference, so also in the heavenly; and that difference no ordinary one, but reaching even to the uttermost: there being not only a difference between sun and moon, and stars, but also between stars and stars. For what though they be all in the heaven? yet some have a larger, others a less share of glory. What do we learn from hence? That although they be all in God’s kingdom, all shall not enjoy the same reward; and though all sinners be in hell, all shall not endure the same punishment. Wherefore he added,
15:42. “So also is the resurrection of the dead.”345-420 AD
III. (c. 18–34). (18) The fourth proposition of Jovinianus, that all who are saved will have equal reward, is refuted (19) by the various yields of thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold in the parable of the sower, by (20) the “stars differing in glory” of 1 Cor. xv. 41. It is strange (21) to find the advocate of self-indulgence now claiming equality to the saints. But (22) as there were differences in Ezekiel between cattle and cattle, so in St. Paul between those who built gold or stubble on the one foundation. The differences of gifts (23), of punishments (24), of guilt (25), as in Pilate and the Chief Priests, of the produce of the good seed (26), of the mansions promised in heaven (27–29), of the judgment upon sins both in the church and in Scripture (30–31), of those called at different times to the vineyard (32) are arguments for the diversity of rewards. The parable of the talents (33) holds out as rewards differences of station, and so does the church (34) in its different orders. 354-430 AD
St. Augustine of Hippo
City of God, Chapter 30 (420 AD)
But who can conceive, not to say describe, what degrees of honor and glory shall be awarded to the various degrees of merit? Yet it cannot be doubted that there shall be degrees. And in that blessed city there shall be this great blessing, that no inferior shall envy any superior, as now the archangels are not envied by the angels, because no one will wish to be what he has not received, though bound in strictest concord with him who has received; as in the body the finger does not seek to be the eye, though both members are harmoniously included in the complete structure of the body. And thus, along with his gift, greater or less, each shall receive this further gift of contentment to desire no more than he has. 354-430 AD
St. Augustine of Hippo
Homilies on the Gospel according to St. John
Homily 67 on John 14:1—8
Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you, that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
1. We must lift ourselves up, my brethren, to God with greater intentness, that as the words of the holy Gospel have now sounded in our ears, we may also in whatever sort be able to take them in with the mind. For the Lord Jesus saith, Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in Me. That they might not as men fear death, and therefore be troubled, He consoles them, assuring them that He is also God. Believe, saith He, in God, and believe in Me. For it follows, that if ye believe in God, ye ought also to believe in Me: which would not follow, if Christ were not God. Believe in God, and believe in Him to Whom it is nature, not robbery, to be equal with God: for He emptied Himself, yet not losing the form of God, but taking the form of a servant. Ye fear death for this form of a servant: let not your heart be troubled; the form of God shall raise that to life again.
2. But what is this that follows, In My Father’s home are many mansions, but, that they were also afraid for themselves? Wherefore it was meet to be said to them, Let not your heart be troubled. For which of them would not be In the Life Eternal which is common to all the saved, afraid, when to Peter, the more confident and forward, it was said, The cock shall not crow until thou have denied Me thrice? As if then they must perish from Him, with good reason were they troubled; but when they are told, In the house of My Father are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you, that I go to prepare a place for you; they are refreshed from their perturbation, assured and confident that even after perils of temptations they shall dwell where Christ is, with God. For albeit one be stronger than another, one wiser than another, one more righteous than another, one holier than another; in the Father’s house are many mansions; none of them shall be estranged from that house; where there shall be a mansion for each according to his deserving. True, they all equally receive that penny which the Householder, commands to be given to all them which have wrought in the vineyard; in that, making no distinction who have laboured less and who more: by which penny of course is signified eternal life, where none lives more than other, because living hath no diverse measure in eternity. But the many mansions signify the diverse dignities of merits in the one life eternal. For there is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory; so also is the resurrection of the dead. As the stars, the saints have allotted unto them diverse mansions of diverse glory: as those in the firmament, so they in the kingdom; but as touching the one penny, none is separated from the kingdom: and so shall God be all in all, that, since God is love, by love it shall come to pass, that what they severally have shall be common to all. For so is each one himself the lover, when he loves in the other what himself hath not. So shall there not be any invidiousness of unequal glory, since the unity of charity shall reign in all.
3. Therefore they are to be rejected from a Christian heart, who imagine that this saying of the many mansions means, that without the kingdom of heaven there will he some condition wherein may dwell the blessed innocents who have departed this life without baptism, seeing that without it they shall not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. This faith is not faith, because it is not the true and catholic faith. What? ye foolish people and blinded with carnal imaginations, whereas ye would deserve to be reprobated, if ye should separate from the kingdom of heaven the mansion, ~~ I do not say of Peter or of Paul or of any of the Apostles, but of any soever baptized little one, do ye not think ye deserve to be reprobated, that ye separate therefrom the House of God the Father? For the Lord saith not, In the whole world, or, In the whole creation, or, In the Life or Bliss everlasting, are many mansions, but, In My Father’s house are many mansions. Is not this the house where we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens? Is not this the house, of which we sing to the Lord, Blessed are they that dwell in Thine house; P9.84,4. for ever and ever they shall praise Thee? And will ye then dare to separate from the kingdom of heaven, not the house of any baptized brother, but the house of God the Father Himself, to Whom all we the brethren say, Our Father, Which art in heaven; or dare so to divide it, that some of its mansions shall be in the kingdom of heaven, others out of the kingdom of heaven? God forbid ! forbid it, that they who wish to dwell in the kingdom of heaven, should wish to dwell with you in this foolishness; forbid it, I say, that whereas every house of reigning sons cannot be elsewhere than in the kingdom, of the royal house itself there should be some part not in the kingdom.400 – 500 AD?
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
The Celestial Hierarchy
What is Hierarchy and what the use of Hierarchy
Hierarchy is, in my judgment, a sacred order and science and energy—assimilated, as far as permissible, to the likeness of God, and conducted to the illuminations granted to itself from God, in due order, with a view to the Divine imitation. Now the Divine attractiveness, as being uncompounded, as good, as source of initiation, is altogether free from any dissimilarity. But it imparts its own proper light to each according to their fitness, and perfects in most Divine initiation in proportion to the unvarying likeness of those who are being initiated into harmony with itself. The scope, then, of Hierarchy is the assimilation and oneness with God, holding Him as the Leader of all religious science and energy, looking unflinchingly to His most Divine comeliness, and moulding itself as far as possible, and perfecting its own followers as Divine images, as mirrors luminous and without flaw, receptive of the primal light and the Divine ray, and devoutly filled with the radiance committed to itself, but, on the other hand, spreading this radiance ungrudgingly to those after it, in accordance with the Divinely-fixed regulations. For it is not permitted to the initiators in Divine things, nor to those who are being religiously initiated, to practise anything whatever beyond the sacred regulations of their own function. Nor even must they attempt otherwise, if they desire to attain its deifying splendour, and if they regard it in a religious light, and mould themselves after the example of each of the holy minds. He. then, who mentions Hierarchy describes a certain, altogether Holy Order, an image of the Divine Beauty, which performs the mysteries of its own illumination in due order and with religious science, derived from the Hierarch and which is assimilated to its own proper author as far as permissible.
For each of those who have been called into the Hierarchy find their perfection in being carried to the Divine initiation in their own proper degree; and, what is more Divine than all, as the oracles say, in becoming a fellow-worker with God, and in shewing the Divine energy dwelling in itself, manifested as far as possible to others. For it is an Hierarchical regulation that some are purified and that others purify; that some are enlightened and others enlighten; that some are perfected and others perfect. So that each one will accomplish the Divine imitation in his own several manner. The Divine Blessedness, then, to speak after the manner of men, is unstained by any dissimilarity, but is filled with invisible light —perfect, and needing no perfection ; cleansing, illuminating and perfecting. Yea, rather it is a holy purification and illumination and perfection—above purification, above light, pre-eminently perfect, self-perfection, and cause of every Hierarchy, but elevated pre-eminently above every holy thing. It is necessary then—as I think that those who are being purified should be entirely perfected, so as to be without stain— that those who are being illuminated should be filled with the Divine Light, conducted to the habit and faculty of contemplation in all purity of mind; that those who are being initiated should be separated from the profane, and become recipients of that science which makes perfect the holy men who are initiated into the highest mysteries.
Further, that those who purify should impart from their own abundance of purity their own proper holiness; that those who illuminate, as being luminous intelligences, whose function it is to receive and to impart light, and who are joyfully filled with holy gladness, that these should impart, in proportion to their own overflowing light, to those who are worthy of enlightenment. But that those who make perfect, as being skilled in the impartation of perfection, should perfect those who are being initiated, through the holy instruction, in the science of holy men who have been initiated in the higher mysteries. Thus each rank of the Hierarchical Order is led in its own degree to the Divine cooperation by performing, through grace and God-given power, those mysteries which are essentially and super-essentially in the Godhead, and are accomplished by It supernaturally, and are manifested to us through our Hierarchy for its imitation of the God-loving minds to the highest permissible extent.
Concerning the Seraphin and Cherubin and Thrones, and concerning their Hierarchy, which is first.
We, whilst admitting this as the arrangement of the Hierarchies, affirm that every appellation of the celestial minds denotes the Godlike characteristic of each; and those who know Hebrew affirm that the holy designation of the Seraphin denotes that they are fiery or burning; but that of Cherubin, a fulness of knowledge and stream of wisdom. Naturally, then, the first of the heavenly Hierarchies is ministered by the most exalted Beings, holding, as it does, a rank which is higher than all, by the fact that it is established immediately around God, and that the first-wrought Divine manifestations and perfections pass earlier to it, as being nearest. They are called, then, Burning and Thrones, and Stream of Wisdom—by a name which explains their Godlike dispositions.
The appellation of Seraphin plainly teaches their ever moving around things Divine, and constancy, and warmth, and keenness, and the seething of that persistent, indomitable, and inflexible perpetual motion, and that vigorous transformation of the subordinate, by precept and example, as giving new life and rekindling them to the same heat; and purifying through fire and burnt offering, and the light-like and light-shedding characteristic which can never be concealed or consumed, and remains always the same, which destroys and dispels every kind of obscure darkness.
But the appellation of the Cherubin denotes their knowledge and their vision of God, and their readiness to receive the highest gift of light, and their power of contemplating the Divine comeliness in its first revealed power, and their being filled with the impartation which maketh wise, and their ungrudging communication to those next to them by pouring forth the wisdom given to themselves.
The appellation of the most exalted and pre-eminent Thrones denotes their manifest exaltation above every grovelling inferiority, and their celestial tendency towards higher things; and their unswerving separation from all remoteness; and their invariable and firmly-fixed settlement around the veritable Highest, with the whole force of their powers ; and their capacity for receiving the approaches of the Godhead, through the absence of all passion and earthly tendency, and their bearing God; and the ardent expansion of themselves for the Divine receptions.
This, then, is the explanation of their names, so far as we can give it; but we ought to say what we think their Hierarchy is.
For I suppose we have sufficiently shown above that the purpose of every Hierarchy is an unswerving devotion to the imitation of the Divine Likeness, and that every Hierarchical function is set apart for the sacred reception and distribution of an undefiled purification, and Divine Light and perfecting science.
But now I pray that I may speak worthily of the most exalted minds—how their Hierarchy is exhibited through the oracles.
One must consider, then, that the Hierarchy belongs properly, and is in every respect like, to the first Beings, who are established after the Godhead, who gave them Being, and who are marshalled, as it were, in its very vestibule, who surpass every unseen and seen created power. Now, so far as they are pure, we must regard them, not as though they have been freed from unholy stains and blemishes, nor as though they were unreceptive of earthly fancies, but as far exalted above all stain of inferiority and every transient holiness in accordance with the highest degree of purity— established above the most Godlike powers, and clinging unflinchingly to their own self-moved and same-moved order in their invariable love of God, conscious in no respect whatever of any declivity to a worse condition, but having the invariable fixity of their own godlike identity— never liable to fall, and always unmoved.
Again, so far as they are contemplative, we must not regard them as contemplating sensible signs intellectually, nor as being led to the Divine by the varied texture of holy representations written for our meditation, but as being filled with all kinds of unearthly knowledge of higher light, and satiated, as permissible, with the beautifying and princely beauty superessential and thrice manifested. Thus, deemed worthy of Communion with Jesus, they do not stamp the deifying similitude in the bodily forms of divinely-pictured images, but as being in very truth near to Him in first enjoyment of the knowledge of His deifying illuminations.
Further, because the imitation of God is given to them in the highest possible degree, they participate, so far as possible, in His God-wrought and philanthropic virtues, in the power of a first manifestation. But, so far as they are perfected, we must not think of them as being illuminated with a sacred subtlety according to analytic science, but as being filled with a first and pre-eminent deification, as following from the most exalted science of the Divine operations which Angels can possibly possess. For, not through other holy Beings, but from the very Godhead, are they directed in spiritual things, by their elevation to Itself immediately, by their power, and order, and rank surpassing all.
They are both planted near the All-Holy without any shadow of turning, and are conducted for contemplation to the unearthly, immaterial, and spiritual comeliness as far as possible, and to the reasons which make known the Divine operations, and as being first around God they are instructed from the source of mystery itself, and supremely directed in Divine mysteries. This, then, the theologians distinctly shew that the subordinate Orders of the heavenly Beings are taught by the superior, in due order, the deifying sciences, and that those who are higher than all are illuminated from the Godhead itself, as far as permissible, in revelations of the Divine mysteries. For they introduce some of them as being religiously instructed by those of a higher rank, that He, Who was raised to Heaven as befits man, is the Lord of the heavenly Powers and King of Glory. Others, as putting the question to Jesus Himself, and as desiring to learn exactly the nature of His Divine work on our behalf, and Jesus, as instructing them directly, and shewing to them at first hand the work of His goodness out of love to man. “For I, He says, am pondering over righteousness and judgment of Salvation.” Now I am astonished that even the first of the Beings in Heaven, and so far above all others, should reverently strive after the Divine illuminations, as though they were intermediate Beings. For they do not ask directly, “Wherefore are Thy garments red ? ” but they first raise the difficulty among themselves, thus shewing that they desire to learn, and crave the deifying knowledge, but not impeding the Divine illumination given to them after a Divine procedure. The first Hierarchy, then, of the heavenly minds is purified, and enlightened, and perfected by being religiously directed by the Author of initiation Himself, by its elevation to Himself immediately, and by being filled, according to its degree, with the most holy purification of the unapproachable Light of the most perfect source of initiation, and being unstained by any inferiority and full of primal Light, and perfected by its participation in first-given knowledge and science. But to sum up, I may say this, not inappropriately, that the reception of Divine Science is both purification, and enlightenment, and perfecting—purifying, as it were, from ignorance, by the knowledge of the more perfect revelations imparted to it according to its fitness, but enlightening by the self-same Divine knowledge, through which it also purifies that order which did not before contemplate the things which are now made manifest through the higher illumination ; and perfecting further, by the self-same Light the abiding science of the mysteries made clearly manifest.
This, then, according to my most accurate knowledge, is the first rank of the heavenly Beings which encircle and stand immediately around God, and without symbol, and without interruption, dances around His eternal knowledge in the most exalted and ever-moving stability; viewing with pure eyes many and blessed contemplations, but illuminated with unique and immediate splendours; filled with a Divine nourishment—numerous indeed in its first-given profusion, but one in the unvariegated and unifying oneness of the Divine Food.
It is thus deemed worthy of much participation and co-operation with God, by the assimilation to Him, as far as possible, in excellent habits and energies. They thus know many Divine things pre-eminently, and participate in Divine science and knowledge to the utmost. Wherefore the Word of God has transmitted their hymns to those on earth, in which are Divinely shewn the excellency of its most exalted illumination. For some of them, to speak after the manner of men, proclaim as the “voice of many waters,” “Blessed is the glory of the Lord, from His place.” But others cry aloud that frequent and most august word of God, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth,” “The whole earth is full of His glory.” These most excellent hymnologies of the super-celestial minds, we have already unfolded to the best of our ability in the Treatise concerning the Divine hymns, and have spoken sufficiently concerning them in that Treatise, from which, by way of remembrance, it is enough to produce so much as is necessary to our present purpose, namely, “That the first Order, having been instructed in theological science from the Divine Goodness itself, as a Hierarchy reflecting that Goodness, transmitted it to the Order next after itself.” To speak briefly, it teaches this— “That the august Godhead—itself both above praise and all praiseworthy—is rightly eulogised by the minds who receive God, so far as He is permitted to be known and sung For they, according to the oracles, as images of God, are the Divine places of the Divine repose. Yea further, they affirm that He is alone, and One of three-fold subsistence, sending forth His most kindly forethought to all created things, from the supercelestial minds to the lowest of the earth; as Prince above principality and cause of all creation, and grasping all things supernaturally in His resistless embrace.
Concerning Lordships and Powers and Authorities, and concerning their middle Hierarchy.
Let us now pass to the middle order of the heavenly minds, gazing as far as we may, with celestial vision, upon those Lordships and the truly terrible visions of the Divine Authorities and Powers. For each appellation of the minds above us denotes those characteristics by which they Divinely imitate the Divine Likeness. I think, then, that the explanatory name of the Holy Lordships denotes a certain unslavish tendency to higher things, free from all grovelling subserviency, which does not submit in any way whatever to one single imperious force dissimilar to itself, as befits the freedom of unbending Lordship; superior to every kind of cringing slavery, indomitable to every lower tendency, and elevated above every dissimilarity, ever seeking the true Lordship, and source of Lordship ; and moulding as an image of goodness, itself and those after it, to His Lordly Likeness, turning itself wholly to none of the things that vainly seem, but to the Lordly Being, and ever sharing in the Lordly Likeness of God. The appellation of the Holy Powers denotes the possession to the highest possible extent of a certain masculine and unflinching manliness towards all those Godlike energies within themselves — not feebly weak, for the reception of any of the Divine illuminations vouchsafed to it— vigorously conducting itself to the Divine imitation; not forsaking the Godlike movement through its own cowardice, but unflinchingly looking to the superessential and powerful making Power; and becoming an image of this, as far as is permissible, in the likeness of His power, and powerfully turning itself to this as Source of Power, but issuing forth to those next in degree, in its gift of Power and in its likeness to God. But the appellation of the Holy Authorities denotes their being of the same rank as the Divine Lordships and Powers, their beautiful and unconfused good order with regard to the Divine receptions, and the marshalling of the celestial and spiritual Authority, not using their authoritative powers imperiously for base purposes, but conducting themselves in the highest possible degree towards Divine things in due order, and conducting those after them benignly; and being assimilated, as far as permissible to the Authority giving Source of Authority, and making this visible, as is possible to Angels, in the well-ordered regulations of the Authority giving power. The middle order of the heavenly minds, having these Godlike characteristics, is purified and illuminated in the manner described, through the Divine illuminations vouchsafed to it at second hand, which pass through the first Hierarchical Order, and through this middle as a secondary manifestation. Without dwelling upon that message, which is said to pass through one angel to another, let us take it as a symbol of a message delivered from afar, and obscured in its passage so as to become a secondary revelation. For, as men skilled in our initiation say, the knowledge of Divine things, manifested directly to ourselves, is more perfect than the Divine contemplations imparted through others. Thus, I think, with regard to the angelic ranks, the immediate participation in knowledge of those elevated to the nearest proximity to God, is more clear than that of those who are initiated through the instrumentality of others. Wherefore, by our sacerdotal tradition, the first minds are named, perfecting, illuminating, and purifying Powers, of the subordinate on the ground that these are conducted through them to the superessential Origin of all things; and are placed in possession, as far as is permissible to them, of the consecrating purifications, and illuminations, and perfections. For this is absolutely fixed by the Divinely-established law of consecration, that through the first, the second should partake of the Divine illuminations.
This you will find declared by the theologians in many ways. For when the Divine and Paternal Love towards man had chastened in a remarkable manner, His people Israel, with a view to their spiritual salvation, and had delivered them to terrible and savage nations for correction, by every kind of providential training to better things, He both liberated them from their misery, and led them back, through His compassion, to their former state of comfort. Then, one of the theologians, Zechariah, saw in a vision one of the first Angels, as I think, around God (for the name of Angels is common, as I said, to them all), who learned from God Himself the comforting words, as we say, concerning this matter. But he saw another Angel, of inferior rank, advancing to meet the first Angel, for the purpose of receiving and explaining an illumination. Then, from him, instructed as from a Hierarch, and charged to reveal to the theologian, that Jerusalem should be abundantly occupied by a multitude of people. But another theologian, Ezekiel, says that this was righteously ordained by the glorious Godhead itself, exalted above the Cherubin. For the Paternal Love towards man, whilst conducting Israel through an education to better things, by a righteousness worthy of God, decided to separate the guilty from the guiltless. This is revealed to one first after the Cherubin — He who was bound about the loins with a sapphire, and wore displayed the hierarchical robe coming down to the feet as a symbol of Hierarchical Office. But the other Angels, who bore the battle-axe, the Divine Government compels to be instructed from the former, as to the Divine judgment in this matter. For, to one, He said that he should go through the midst of Jerusalem, and place the sign upon the forehead of the just men. But to the others, “Go into the city after him and strike, and spare not your eyes, but to every one upon whom is the sign draw not near.”
What would any one say concerning the Angel who said to Daniel, “The word has gone forth?” or concerning him of the first Order, who took the fire from the midst of the Cherubin; or what is more remarkable than this, foreshowing the good order that reigns amongst the Angels, the Cherubin casts the fire into the hands of him wearing the sacred stole; or concerning him who called the most Divine Gabriel, and said to him, ” Make this man understand the vision,” or whatever else is recorded by the holy theologians concerning the Godlike Order of the celestial Hierarchies, to which the good order of our Hierarchy, after being assimilated to the greatest possible extent, will bear the likeness of the angelic comeliness, as it were, in reflection, taking its whole form from this, and conducted to the superessential source of order in every Hierarchy.
Concerning the Principalities, Archangels and Angels, and concerning their Hierarchy which is last.
There remains for our religious contemplation an Order which completes the Angelic Hierarchies, which is composed of the Godlike Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. I think it necessary, first to declare the meaning of their sacred appellations. For the appellation of the heavenly Principalities denotes their ruling and guiding after the Divine example with religious order most befitting the Princely Powers, and their being wholly turned to the Principality above Principality, and their directing others in a princely fashion, and their being moulded to the distinguished Principality itself, the Maker of Princedom, and that they make manifest their superessential Source of order by the regularity of their princely powers.
The Order of the Holy Archangels is of the same rank with the heavenly. Principalities. For there is one Hierarchy and rank, as I said, of themselves and the Angels. But since there is not a Hierarchy which does not possess first and middle and last powers, the holy order of Archangels occupies the middle position in the Hierarchy between the extremes. For it belongs alike to the most holy Principalities and to the holy Angels. To the Principalities because it is turned in a princely fashion to the super-essential Prince, and is moulded to It as far as possible, and unites the Angels after the fashion of its own well-regulated and marshalled and invisible Leadership. But it belongs to the Angels because it is of the prophetic Order, receiving in a sacerdotal fashion the Divine illumination from the first powers, and conveys the same to the Angels after the example of God, and through Angels manifests them to us in proportion to the sacred aptitude of each one of the godly persons illuminated. For the Angels, as we have already previously said, complete the whole series of celestial minds as being the last Order of the heavenly Beings, who possess the Angelic characteristic. Yea, rather, they are more properly named Angels by us than those of higher degree. Especially because their Order is occupied in making known, and is more
particularly concerned with the things of the world.
For the very highest Order, as being placed in the first rank near the Hidden One, we must consider as directing in spiritual things in a more hidden fashion than the Order next to itself. But the second Order, which is composed of the holy Lordships and Powers and Authorities, directs the Hierarchy of the Principalities and Archangels and Angels more clearly indeed than the first Hierarchy, but more hiddenly than the Order after it. We must bear in mind that the more revealing Order of the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels presides through each other over the Hierarchies amongst men, in order that the instruction, and conversion, and communion, and union with God may be in due order, and, in short, that the procession from God vouchsafed in a manner becoming His goodness to all the Hierarchies, and passing to all in common, may be in a most sacred regularity. Hence, the Word of God has assigned our Hierarchy to Angels, naming the distinguished Michael as Ruler of the Jewish people, andothers over other nations. For the Most High established borders of nations according to number of Angels of God. But if anyone should say, “How then were the people of the Hebrews alone conducted to the Divine illuminations ?” we must answer that we ought not to throw the blame of the other nations wandering after those which are no gods, upon the faithful superintendence of the Angels. But they themselves, by their own declension, fell away from the faithful conduct towards the Divine, through self-conceit and self-will, and through their irrational reverence for things which appeared to themselves worthy of God.
Even the Hebrew people are testified to have suffered the same thing; for He says, ” Thou hast cast away knowledge of God, and hast gone after thine own heart.” For neither have we a life governed by necessity, nor, on account of the free will of those who are objects of providential care, are the Divine rays of the providential illumination blunted. But the inaptitude of the mental visions makes the overflowing gift of Light, which comes from paternal goodness, either altogether unparticipated or impenetrable to their resistance, or makes the participations of the one fontal ray, diverse, small or great, obscure or brilliant, although that ray is one and simplex, and always the same, and ever overflowing. For even over the other nations, from whom even we have emerged to that boundless and bounteous sea of Divine Light, which is expanded for the ready reception of all, there were not placed certain alien gods. But there is one Prince of all, and to Him the Angels who religiously direct each nation conduct those who follow them. Let us consider Melchizedek4 as being a Hierarch, most dear to God ; not of gods which are not, but of Him Who is truly most high God. For the godly wise not only speak of him as being dear to God, but also as Priest in order that they may clearly shew to the wise that not only was he himself turned to the true God, but further, that he became as Hierarch, a guide to others, in that wisdom which leads to the true and only Godhead.
Let me also recall this to your Hierarchical judgment—that both to Pharaoh,5 from the Angel who presided over the Egyptians, and to the Babylonian Prince, from his own Angel, the watchful and ruling care of the Providence and Lordship over all was made known in visions. And leaders who were worshippers of the true God were appointed over those nations. For the interpretation of things shaped by angelic visions was made known from God through Angels to holy men akin to the Angels—Daniel and Joseph. For there is one Prince and Providence over all.
And never must we think that the Godhead guides Jews by lot,but that Angels, independently, or as of equal rank, or as in opposition, or that certain other gods preside over the other nations. But that particular phrase of the Divine Word, must be accepted according to its very religious intention ; not as though God had divided government amongst men with other gods or Angels, and had been elected by lot to the government and leadership of Israel, but in this sense—that, whereas there is one and the same forethought of the Supreme over all, which has assigned all men for their salvation to the elevating guidance of their own Angels, yet Israel, almost alone in comparison with the rest, turned itself to the Light-gift, and recognition of the true Lord. Hence the Word of God, in order to shew that Israel himself elected for the worship of the true God, says this, “He became1 the Lord’s portion.” But as shewing that he was distributed equally with the other nations, to one of the holy Angels, for the recognition through him of the one Prince over all, he said, ” That Michael2 was the Leader of the Jewish people.” From this it is evident that there is one Providence for the whole, pre-eminently established above all powers, unseen and seen, and that all the Angels who preside over each nation elevate as far as possible those who follow them with a willing mind, to Itself as their proper Head.
A Repetition and Summary concerning the Angelic Order.
We have concluded, then, that the most exalted order of the minds around God, whilst being sanctified by the perfecting illumination, is purified, and illuminated, and perfected by a gift of light, at once more hidden and more manifest—more hidden, indeed, as being more intellectual, and more simplifying, and more unifying — more manifest, as being a first gift and a first manifestation, and more complete, and more shed forth to it as being more transparent. But from this order again, in due degree, the second, and from the second, the third, and from the third our Hierarchy is religiously conducted to the Beginning above beginning, and End of all good order, according to the self-same law of well-ordered regularity, in Divine harmony and proportion. But all Angels are interpreters of those above them.
The very highest, indeed, of God, Who moves them, but the rest in due order of those who have been moved by God. For, to such an extent has the super-essential harmony of all things provided for the religious order, and the regulated conduct of each of the rational and intellectual beings, that each rank of the Hierarchies has been placed in sacred order, and we observe every Hierarchy distributed into first and middle and last Powers.
But to speak accurately, He divided each order itself, by the same Divine harmonies, on which account the theologians say that the most Divine Seraphin cry one to another, indicating distinctly, as I think, by this, that the first impart their theological knowledge to the second. I might add this not inappropriately, that each celestial and human mind has within itself its own special first and middle and last rank and power, corresponding to the foresaid peculiar instructions of the several Hierarchical illuminations made known in due order, in accordance with which each one participates, so far as is lawful and permissible to himself, in the most spotless purification, the most copious light, the pre-eminent perfection. For there is nothing that is self-perfect, or absolutely without need of perfecting, except the self-perfect and pre-eminently perfect One.
To MY FELLOW PRESBYTER TIMOTHY. DlONYSIUS THE PRESBYTER.
What is the traditional view of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and what is its scope ?
We must, then, demonstrate, most pious of pious sons, that ours is a Hierarchy of the inspired and Divine and Deifying science, and energy and perfection. This we will do, from the celestial and most sacred oracles— for those who have been initiated with the initiation of the sacred revelation derived from the hierarchical mysteries and traditions. But see that you do not put to scorn the things the most holy. Take good heed, and you will then guard the honour of the hidden things of God by intellectual and obscure definitions, carefully guarding them from the participation and defilement of the profane, and communicating them reverently only to persons the most holy. For thus, as the Word of God has taught us who feast at His Banquet, even Jesus Himself—the supremely Divine and superessential Mind, the Head and Being, and most supremely Divine Power of every Hierarchy and Sanctification and Divine operation— illuminates the blessed Beings who are superior to us, in a manner more clear, and at the same time more fresh, and assimilates them to His own Light in proportion to their ability to receive.
As for ourselves, by the love of things beautiful, elevated to Himself, and elevating us, He folds together our many diversities, and by making them into an unified and Divine life, suitable to a sacred vocation both as to habit and action, He Himself bequeaths the power of the Divine Priesthood, from which, by approaching to the holy exercise of the priestly office, we become nearer to the Beings above us, by assimilation, according to our power, to the stability and unchangeableness of their steadfastness in holy things. Hence, by looking upwards to the blessed and supremely Divine Glory of Jesus, and reverently gazing upon whatever we are permitted to see, and being illuminated with the knowledge of the visions, we shall be able to become, as regards the science of Divine mysteries, both purified and purifying—images of Light, and workers with God, perfected and perfecting.
What, then, is the Hierarchy of the Angels and Archangels, and supermundane Principalities and Authorities, Powers and Lordships, Divine Thrones, or Beings of the same ranks as the Thrones—which the Word of God describes as being near, and always about God, and with God, naming them in the Hebrew tongue Cherubin and Seraphin—what pertains to the sacred Orders and divisions of their ranks and Hierarchies you will find in the books we have written—not as befits their dignity, but to the best of our abilityin which we have followed the Word of God as it describes their Hierarchy in the Holy Scriptures.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to say this, that both that and every Hierarchy which we are now celebrating has one and the same power throughout the whole of its hierarchical functions, and that the Hierarch himself, according to his nature, and aptitude, and rank, is initiated in Divine things, and deified and imparts to his subordinates according to the meetness of each, the sacred deification which comes to himself from God. Likewise, that the subordinates follow the superior, but elevate the inferior towards things in advance ; and that some go before, and, as far as possible, give the lead to others; and that each, as far as may be, participates in Him Who is the truly Beautiful, and Wise, and Good, through -this Divine and sacerdotal harmony.
But the Beings and ranks above us, of whom we have already made a reverent mention, are both incorporeal and their Hierarchy is intellectual and supermundane. But we observe that our hierarchy, conformably to our nature, abounds in a manifold variety of material symbols, from which, in proportion to our capacity, we are conducted by sacerdotal functions to the onelike deification— God and Divine Virtue. They indeed, as being minds, perceive, according to laws laid down for themselves. But we are led by sensible figures to Divine contemplations as is possible to us. And to speak truly, there is One to Whom all the Godlike aspire. But they do not partake of this One and the Same in one manner, but as the Divine ordinance distributes to each a meet inheritance. Now these things have been treated more systematically in the Treatise concerning “Intellectual and Sensible.”
But now I will attempt to describe our Hierarchy, and its head and substance as best I can; invoking Jesus the Head and Perfection of all Hierarchies. Every Hierarchy, then, is, according to our august tradition, the whole description of the sacred things falling under it— a most complete summary of the sacred rites of this or that Hierarchy, as the case may be. Our Hierarchy, then, is called and is the systematic account of the whole sacred rites included within it; according to which the divine Hierarch, being initiated, will have within himself the participation of the most sacred things, as chief1 of Hierarchy.
For as he who speaks of Hierarchy speaks of the order of the whole sacred rites collectively, so he who mentions Hierarch denotes the inspired and godly man—one who understands accurately all sacred knowledge, in whom is completed and recognized, in its purity, the whole Hierarchy.
Of this Hierarchy, as supreme Head, is the Triad—the Fountain of Life—the Essence of Goodness—the One Cause of things that be— from Whom both being and well-being come to things that are— through goodness. Of this supremely Divine blessedness— exalted above all— the threefold One— the really existing—the will—inscrutable to us, but known to itself—is the rational salvation of Beings amongst us and above us. But that salvation cannot otherwise take place, than upon the condition that those who are being saved become deified. But the deification is the assimilation and oneness towards God, as far as permissible. Now this is the common end of every Hierarchy— the clinging love towards God and Divine things; a love divinely sanctified into oneness with Him; and for the sake of this, the complete and unswerving removal of things contrary—the knowledge of things as they are in themselves—the vision and clear knowledge of sacred truth—the Divine participation of the uniform perfection, the One itself, as far as permissible; the banquet of contemplation, nourishing intellectually and deifying every man who elevates himself towards it.
Let us affirm, then, that the Divine Blessedness,, the self-existent Godhead, Source of deification, from Whom comes the deification of those deified, bequeathed by Divine Goodness the Hierarchy, for the salvation and deification of all rational and intellectual Beings.
To the supermundane and blessed inheritors it is bequeathed in a manner more immaterial and intellectual (for God does not move them to Divine things from without, but intellectually, and they are illuminated as to the Divine will from within, with a pure and unearthly brilliancy), but to us—that which is given to them simply, and uniformly, and enveloped—is given from the Divinely transmitted oracles, in a variety and multitude of divisible symbols, as we are able to receive it. For the Divinely transmitted oracles are the very Being of our Hierarchy. But we affirm that these oracles are most august—all such as were given from our inspired initiators in Divinely written letters of the Word of God. And further, whatever our leaders have revealed to us from the same holy men, by a less earthly instruction, very similar to the Heavenly Hierarchy, from mind to mind; through the medium of speech, and so corporeal, but nevertheless more immaterial—without writing. Nor did the inspired Hierarchs transmit these things in conceptions clear to the commonalty of the Divine Service, but in sacred symbols. For it is not every one that is holy, nor as the oracles affirm does knowledge belong to all.
Of necessity, then, the first leaders of our Hierarchy, after they had themselves been filled with the sacred gift from the super- essential Godhead, and sent by the Divine Goodness to extend same gift to those without ; and they themselves as godly, desiring the instruction and deification of those after them, without grudging imparted to us—by written and unwritten revelations— in accordance with sacred injunctions, things supercelestial in sensible images—the simple and enfolded, in the variegated and multiform ; the things Divine, in things human, things immaterial in things material; the superessential in things earthly. Nor did they do this on account merely of the unholy, to whom it is not permitted even to touch the symbols, but because our Hierarchy is, as I said, a kind of symbol adapted to our condition, which needs things material for our more Divine elevation from these to things spiritual. The reasons, however, of the symbols have been revealed to the Divine initiators, which it is not permitted to explain to those who are yet being initiated; as knowing that the Lawgivers for rites Divinely taught deliberately arranged the Hierarchy in well-established and unconfused ranks, and in proportionate and sacred distributions of that which was convenient to each according to capacity. Wherefore, trusting in those Thy sacred promises, for it is well to recall them to your recollection, that, since every Hierarchical doctrine is of supreme importance, you will not commit them to any other but those Godlike initiators of the same rank with yourself, and will persuade them to promise, according to the regulation of our Hierarchy, to touch pure things purely, and to communicate the things of God to the godly alone, and things perfect to those who are perfecting, and the most holy things to the holy ; I have entrusted this Divine gift to thee, in addition to many other Hierarchical gifts.
1100 – 1160
The writings of the Fathers were weightily disposed towards the concept of degrees of reward and punishment, and the tradition thus established was continued through the Middle Ages, largely through the agency of Peter Lombard’s Sentences, which transmitted the ideas of Augustine on the matter, and was accepted by a Church which tended to think in hierarchic terms. (note: Peter Lombard, Sentences, iv. dist. 49, c. 1; cf. Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, dist. 49, q.5, art. 1) (Emma Disley, Degrees of Glory)lll
The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas
Question 93. The happiness of the saints and their mansions
Article 2. Whether the degrees of beatitude should be called mansions?
Objection 1. It would seem that the degrees of beatitude should not be called mansions. For beatitude implies the notion of a reward: whereas mansion denotes nothing pertaining to a reward. Therefore the various degrees of beatitude should not be called mansions.
Objection 2. Further, mansion seemingly denotes a place. Now the place where the saint will be beatified is not corporeal but spiritual, namely God Who is one. Therefore there is but one mansion: and consequently the various degrees of beatitude should not be called mansions.
Objection 3. Further, as in heaven there will be men of various merits, so are there now in purgatory, and were in the limbo of the fathers. But various mansions are not distinguished in purgatory and limbo. Therefore in like manner neither should they be distinguished in heaven.
On the contrary, It is written (John 14:2): “In My Father’s house there are many mansions”: and Augustine expounds this in reference to the different degrees of rewards (Tract. lxvii in Joan.).
Further, in every well-ordered city there is a distinction of mansions. Now the heavenly kingdom is compared to a city (Apocalypse 21:2). Therefore we should distinguish various mansions there according to the various degrees of beatitude.
I answer that, since local movement precedes all other movements, terms of movement, distance and the like are derived from local movement to all other movements according to the Philosopher (Phys., liber viii, 7). Now the end of local movement is a place, and when a thing has arrived at that place it remains there at rest and is maintained therein. Hence in every movement this very rest at the end of the movement is called an establishment [collocatio] or mansion. Wherefore since the term movement is transferred to the actions of the appetite and will, the attainment of the end of an appetitive movement is called a mansion or establishment: so that the unity of a house corresponds to the unity of beatitude which unity is on the part of the object, and the plurality of mansions corresponds to the differences of beatitude on the part of the blessed: even so we observe in natural things that there is one same place above to which all light objects tend, whereas each one reaches it more closely, according as it is lighter, so that they have various mansions corresponding to their various lightness.
Reply to Objection 1. Mansion implies the notion of end and consequently of reward which is the end of merit.
Reply to Objection 2. Though there is one spiritual place, there are different degrees of approaching thereto: and the various mansions correspond to these.
Reply to Objection 3. Those who were in limbo or are now in purgatory have not yet attained to their end. Wherefore various mansions are not distinguished in purgatory or limbo, but only in heaven and hell, wherein is the end of the good and of the wicked.
Article 3. Whether the various mansions are distinguished according to the various degrees of charity?
Objection 1. It would seem that the various mansions are not distinguished according to the various degrees of charity. For it is written (Matthew 25:15): “He gave to every one according to his proper virtue [Douay: ‘ability’].” Now the proper ability of a thing is its natural power. Therefore the gifts also of grace and glory are distributed according to the different degrees of natural power.
Objection 2. Further, it is written (Psalm 61:12): “Thou wilt render to every man according to his works.” Now that which is rendered is the measure of beatitude. Therefore the degrees of beatitude are distinguished according to the diversity of works and not according to the diversity of charity.
Objection 3. Further, reward is due to act and not to habit: hence “it is not the strongest who are crowned but those who engage in the conflict” (Ethic. i, 8) and “he . . . shall not be [Vulg.: ‘is not’] crowned except he strive lawfully.” Now beatitude is a reward. Therefore the various degrees of beatitude will be according to the various degrees of works and not according to the various degrees of charity.
On the contrary, The more one will be united to God the happier will one be. Now the measure of charity is the measure of one’s union with God. Therefore the diversity of beatitude will be according to the difference of charity.
Further, “if one thing simply follows from another thing simply, the increase of the former follows from the increase of the latter.” Now to have beatitude follows from having charity. Therefore to have greater beatitude follows from having greater charity.
I answer that, The distinctive principle of the mansions or degrees of beatitude is twofold, namely proximate and remote. The proximate principle is the difference of disposition which will be in the blessed, whence will result the difference of perfection in them in respect to the beatific operation: while the remote principle is the merit by which they have obtained that beatitude. In the first way the mansions are distinguished according to the charity of heaven, which the more perfect it will be in any one, the more will it render him capable of the Divine clarity, on the increase of which will depend the increase in perfection of the Divine vision. In the second way the mansions are distinguished according to the charity of the way. For our actions are meritorious, not by the very substance of the action, but only by the habit of virtue with which they are informed. Now every virtue obtains its meritorious efficacy from charity [Cf. I-II, 114, 4], which has the end itself for its object [Cf. II-II, 24, 3, ad 1. Hence the diversity of merit is all traced to the diversity of charity, and thus the charity of the way will distinguish the mansions by way of merit.
Reply to Objection 1. In this passage “virtue” denotes not the natural ability alone, but the natural ability together with the endeavor to obtain grace [Cf. II-II, 23, 8]. Consequently virtue in this sense will be a kind of material disposition to the measure of grace and glory that one will receive. But charity is the formal complement of merit in relation to glory, and therefore the distinction of degrees in glory depends on the degrees of charity rather than on the degrees of the aforesaid virtue.
Reply to Objection 2. Works in themselves do not demand the payment of a reward, except as informed by charity: and therefore the various degrees of glory will be according to the various degrees of charity.
Reply to Objection 3. Although the habit of charity or of any virtue whatever is not a merit to which a reward is due, it is none the less the principle and reason of merit in the act: and consequently according to its diversity is the diversity of rewards. This does not prevent our observing a certain degree of merit in the act considered generically, not indeed in relation to the essential reward which is joy in God, but in relation to some accidental reward, which is joy in some created good.
1265 – 1321
Divine Comedy: Paradise
After an initial ascension (Canto I), Beatrice guides Dante through the nine spheres of Heaven. These are concentric and spherical, similar to Aristotelian and Ptolemaic cosmology. The addition of a moral dimension means that a soul that has reached Paradise stops at the level applicable to it. Souls are allotted to the point of heaven that fits with their human ability to love God. Thus, there is a heavenly hierarchy. All parts of heaven are accessible to the heavenly soul. That is to say all experience God but there is a hierarchy in the sense that some souls are more spiritually developed than others. This is not determined by time or learning as such but by their proximity to God (how much they allow themselves to experience Him above other things). It must be remembered in Dante’s schema that all souls in Heaven are on some level always in contact with God.
While there are different degrees of reward in heaven (the light shining more in some places, in other places less) the light of God still shines abundantly for all. This emphasis on light probably reflects the influence of the writings which go under the name of St. Dionysios the Areopagite, who was a Christian theologian of late antiquity quite influenced by Neo-Platonism.
Dante sees divisions of heaven; just as there are three parts to Hell and Purgatory, so there are three parts of Heaven. Dante also sees the nine orders of angels who are grouped in three groups of threes — Seraphim, Cherubim Thrones — Dominions, Virtues and Powers — Principalities, Archangels and Angels. This classification of angels again owes much to Christian neo-Platonism and St. Dionysios the Areopagite.1529-1623
John Cameron (Scottish Calvinist Theologian)
Preelectiones (summarized in Disler, Degrees of Glory)
The most detailed refutation of the concept of degrees of heavenly reward came from the pen of John Cameron, the influential Glaswegian Professor of Divinity at the University of Saumur. In his Praelectiones, of 1632, he sets out, at some length, fifteen arguments in favour of heavenly degrees of glory, each of which he carefully refutes, and twelve arguments against, which he defends, concluding that the elect in heaven are equal in glory. These are worth summarizing for the purposes of this article:
He dismisses as specious a number of scripturally based arguments which he sees as attributing to heaven a fallacious diversity of rewards among the saints, whereas the scriptural references, he argues, maintain rather the division between the saved and the damned: Thus, the contrast implied in the statement, ‘God returns to each according to their works’, based on Rom. 2: 6 (cf. 2 Cor. 5: 10), does not exist within the assembly of the pious themselves, but distinguishes the pious in heaven from the impious without.
Likewise, he dismisses the notion that the 144,000 virgin followers of the Lamb of Rev. 14: 1-4 imply that there are others who are not of this number and must therefore have less glory: the 144,000 comprise all the elect of God, and the rest are damned; the idea that 2 Cor. 9: 6—’He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully*— implies varying rewards is dismissed in favour of an interpretation which differentiates not between greater and lesser heavenly rewards, but between a reward in heaven and an empty reward in hell; and the idea that punishment is imposed according to merit in hell does not affect the fact that reward for the pious is free (gratuita), for nothing stops punishments being unequal, since not all are equally impious, whereas the same rules of merit do not apply to heaven, since the pious do not earn their reward.
Such an idea will not have the unfortunate practical effect of diminishing enthusiasm for good works, since, Cameron believes, those who are not deterred from evil by the love of God or the horrors of hell will not be allured by the hope of differing rewards within heaven. Cameron rejects a number of scripturally based arguments which appear to indicate varying degrees of reward in heaven by arguing that such passages pertain to this life, rather than to the next. Into this category falls the parable of the Word of God as the seed which produces in some thirtyfold, in some sixtyfold, and in some a hundredfold. Cameron insists that this parable refers to the efficacy of the Word in this life; similarly, the idea contained in Luke 9: 47, that he who makes himself most like a child will be ‘maximus in regno coelorum’, is refuted, since Cameron argues that the Apostles understood hereby not heaven ‘quale est in coelis’, but ‘regnum coelorum, quale est in terris’; likewise, the Lord’s promise that the Apostles would sit in judgement over the twelve tribes of Israel, is referred by Cameron to the Apostles’ position within the constitution of the Church, rather than to heavenly status.
With Calvin, Veron, Cartwright, and his colleague Amyraut, Cameron refers 1 Cor. 15:41 to the difference between our earthly bodies and those with which we shall be furnished at the general resurrection, rather than to differences between those resurrected bodies. He refuses to admit any qualitative distinction between the brightness of the stars and the brightness of the firmament of Dan. 12: 3; that there are ‘many mansions’ in God’s house does not prove a distinction of inheritance, but indicates rather the wealth and size of eternal life; he reminds his readers that Matthew’s version of the parable of the Talents (Matt. 25: 14—30) tells of an equal reward given to each servant; he counters several arguments which are based upon the necessity of order and hierarchy; we will be similar to the angels, but we, as the limbs of Christ, shall not resemble them in their different ranks; the distinctions which exist among the pious in this life result either from their sins (which will not exist in heaven) or from their varying styles of daily living, which will not pertain to their heavenly existence; those who are equal in love will be endowed with the same dignity in body. (John Cameron, Praelectiones, ii, 325-34) (Disler, Degrees of Glory, 11-13)1596 – 1664
Discours de I’estat des Fideles apres la mort, pp. 233—4
Ce n’est pourtant pas mon intention d’en rien decider icy, & il est beaucoup plus a propos de s’exercer a embrasser la Croix de Christ, par laquelle seule nous auons le droit de partager l’heritage des cieux auec luy, que de nous amuser a supputer le nombre de nos belles actions, ou a mesurer les degres de nos vertus, pour voir quelque iour la haut aux cieux si nos recompenses y seront proportionnees.
It is still not my intention to decide anything about it here, and it is much more appropriate to embrace the cross of Christ, by whom alone we have the right to share the heritage in heaven with him, than to amuse ourselves by keeping track of the number of our beautiful actions, or measure the degrees of our virtues, to see if someday up there in heaven our rewards will be proportional.1628 – 1688
The Ressurection of the Dead, and Eternal Judgment (Written in 1665)
or, the truth of the resurrection of the bodies, both of good and bad at the last day asserted, and proved by God’s word
Fourth, Shew you something also of that with which the just shall be rewarded.
First then, those that shall be found in the day of their resurrection, when they shall have all their good things brought upon the stage; they I say, that then shall be found the people most laborious for God while here; they shall at that day enjoy the greatest portion of God, or shall be possessed with most of the glory of the Godhead then. For that is the portion of saints in general (Romans 8:17; Lamentations 3:24). And why shall he that doth most for God in this world, enjoy most of him in that which is to come? But because by doing and acting, the heart, and every faculty of the soul is enlarged, and more capacitated, whereby more room is made for glory. Every vessel of glory shall at that day be full of it; but every one will not be capable to contain a like measure; and so if they should have it communicated to them, would not be able to stand under it; for there is
“an eternal weight in the glory that saints shall then enjoy” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
and every vessel must be at that day filled – that is, have its heavenly load of it.
All Christians have not the same enjoyment of God in this life, neither indeed were they able to bear it if they had it (1 Corinthians 3:2). But those Christians that are most laborious for God in this world, they have already most of him in their souls, and that not only because diligence in God’s ways, is the means whereby God communicates himself; but also because thereby the senses are made more strong, and able, by reason of use, to understand God, and to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:13, 14). To him that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance (Matthew 13:11, 12). He that laid out his pound for his master, and gained ten therewith, he was made ruler over ten cities; but he that by his pound gained but five, he was made ruler over but five (Luke 19:16-19). Often, he that is best bred in his youth, he is best able to manage most, when he is a man, touching things of this life (Daniel 1:3, 4); but always he that is best bred, and that is most in the bosom of God, and that so acts for him here; he is the man that will be best able to enjoy most of God in the kingdom of heaven. It is observable that Paul saith,
“Our – affliction – worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Our afflictions do it, not only because there is laid up a reward for the afflicted, according to the measure of affliction; but because afflictions, and so every service of God, doth make the heart more deep, more experimental, more knowing and profound; and so more able to hold, contain, and bear more (Psalm 119:71)
“Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8)
And this is the reason of such sayings as these – Lay up for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that you may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:19), which eternal life, is not the matter of our justification from sin in the sight of God; for that is done freely by grace, through faith in Christ’s blood; (but here the apostle speaks of giving of alms) but it is the same that in the other place he calls “the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” And hence it is that he in his stirring them up to be diligent in good works, doth tell them, that he doth not exhort them to it because he wanted, but because he would have
“fruit that might abound to their account” (Philippians 4:17)
as he saith also in another place,
“Beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Therefore I say, the reward that the saints shall have at this day for all the good they have done, it is the enjoyment of God, according to their works: though they shall be freely justified and glorified without works.
Second, As the enjoyment of God at that day, will be to the saints, according to their works and doings – I speak not now of justification from sin – so will their praise and commendations at that day, be according to the same, and both of them their degrees of glory; for I say, as God by communicating of himself unto us at that day, will thereby glorify us, so also he will for the adding all things that may furnish with glory every way, cause to be proclaimed in the face of heaven, and in the presence of all the holy angels; everything that hath for God, his ways, and people, been done by us while here we have been.
“Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:2, 3)
Again, He that
“shall confess me,” saith Christ, “before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
Now as he of whom Christ is ashamed when he comes in his glory, and in the glory of the holy angels, will then lie under inconceivable disgrace, shame, dishonor, and contempt: so he whom Christ shall confess, own, commend, and praise at that day, must needs have very great dignity, honor, and renown, “for then shall every man have praise of God” – to wit, according to his works (1 Corinthians 4:5). Now will Christ proclaim before thee and all others what thou hast done, and what thou hast suffered, what thou hast owned, and what thou hast withstood for his name (Mark 8:38). This is he that forsook his goods, his relations, his country, and life for me: this is the man that overcame the flatteries and threats, allurements and enticings, of a whole world for me; behold him, he is an Israelite indeed (John 1:47), the top man in his generation, “none like him in all the earth” (Job 1:8). It is said, that when king Ahasuerus had understanding of how good service Mordecai the Jew had done to and for him, he commanded that the royal apparel and the crown, with the horse that the king did ride on, should be given to him, and that he should with that crown, apparel, and horse, be had through the city, in the presence of all his nobles, and that proclamation should be made before him,
“Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor” (Esther 6:9-11).
Ahasuerus in this was a type to hold forth to the children of God, how kindly he will take all their labor and service of love, and how he will honor and dignify the same; as Christ saith, “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them (Luke 12:35-57). The meaning is, that those souls that shall make it their business to honor the Lord Jesus Christ, in the day of their temptation; he will make it his business to honor and glorify them in the day of his glorification (John 12:26). “Verily, I say unto you, that he will make them sit down to meat, and shall come forth and serve them. If any man will serve me,” saith he, “him will my Father honor.” It hath been God’s way in this world to proclaim the acts and doings of his saints in his word before all in this world, and he will do it in that which is to come (Mark 14:9; Revelation 3:4; Revelation 14:1-6).
Third, Another thing that shall be yet added to the glory of the saints, in the kingdom of their Savior, at his coming is, they shall every one of them then have his throne and place of degree on Christ’s right hand, and on his left, in his glorious kingdom, according to the relation they stand in to Christ, as the members of his body; for as Christ will have a special eye on us, and a tender and affectionate heart, to recompense to the full every good thing that any man doth for his name in this world: so also he will have as great regard, that there be to every member of his body, the place, and state that is comely for every such member. When the mother of Zebedee’s children petitioned our Savior that he would grant to her, that her two sons might sit, the one on his right hand, and the other on his left, in his kingdom: though he did not grant to her the request for her children, yet he affirmed that there would be places of degrees and honor in heaven, saying,
“To sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father” (Matthew 20:20-23).
In the temple, there were chambers bigger and lesser, higher and lower, more inward and more outward: which chambers were types of the mansions that our Lord when he went away, told us he went to prepare for us.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2,3).
The foot here, shall not have the place prepared for the eye, nor yet the hand, that which is prepared for the ear, but every one shall have his own place in the body of Christ, and the glory also prepared for such a relation. Order, as it is comely in earth, so much more in the kingdom of the God of order, in heaven; where all things shall be done in their utmost perfections. Here shall Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, with the prophets, have every one his place, according to the degree of Old Testament saints. As God said to Daniel,
“Go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days” (Daniel 12:13).
And here also shall Peter, Paul, Timothy, and all other the church officers have their place, and heavenly state, according as God hath set them in the church in the New Testament. As Paul saith of the deacons, “They that have used the office of a deacon well, purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13). And so of all other saints, be they here of what rank, quality, or place in the church soever, they shall have every one his state, his heavenly state, according as he standeth in the body. As he saith, seeing those members that are most feeble are necessary, to them shall be given “more abundant honor” (1 Corinthians 12:22,23). Of this heavenly order in the kingdom of Christ, when his saints are risen from the dead, was Solomon a notable type in his family, and among his servants and officers, who kept such exactness in the famous order in which he had placed all about him, that it did amaze and confound beholders. For “when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built, and the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel; his cup-bearers also, and their apparel; and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her” (2 Chronicles 9:3,4). “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (Psalm 87:3).1627 – 1691
John Flavel (English Presbyterian clergyman and scholar)
The Whole Works of the Reverend Mr. John Flavel (published 1770)
The question about degrees of glory in heaven is not necessary, but problematical. We reject with abhorrence the popish doctrine of diversity of glories, as founded in the diversity of merits: Nor is it questioned, among the orthodox, whether there be an equality of glory, as to the essentials. But only in respect to the accidentals, and concomitants; amongst which, they place the additional glory and joy of such ministers, whose faithful and prudent labours God hath blessed, and crowned with the conversion and edification of many fouls.
And of this the apostle speaks, i Thess. ii. 19,20. “For what “is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing ? Are not even ye, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming ? For ye are our glory and joy,” Where we find a very remarkable gradation. He calls his Thessalonian converts his “hope, his joy, nay, his crown of rejoicing.” His hope, that is, the matter of his hope, that they should be saved. His joy, as they had already given him abundant cause of joy, in their conversion to Christ by his ministry. And the “crown of his rejoicing in the presence of Christ, at his coming.” This is an high praise, indeed! The meaning, I suppose, is, that the fruit and success of his ministry among them, would add to his crown, and redound to his glory in the day of Christ.
O brethren! who would not study and pray, spend and be spent, in the service of such a bountiful Master! Is it not worth all our labours and sufferings, to come with all those fouls we instrumentally begat to Christ; and all that we edified, reduced, confirmed, and comforted in the way to heaven; and say, Lord, here am I, and the children thou hast given me. To have one spiritual child say, Lord, this is the minister, by whom I believed : Another, this is he, by whom I was edified, established, and comforted. This is the man that resolved my doubts, quickened my dying affections, reduced my soul, when wandering from the truth. O blessed be thy name, that I ever saw his face, and heard his voice.
What think we of this, brethren? But far beyond this; what will it be to hear Christ, the prince of pastors, say in that day, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou haft been faithful over a few things, I will make thee master over many things: Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” Mat. xxv. 21.
O sirs! We serve a good Master, who is not unrighteous to forget our work, and; labour of love for his name-sake. He keeps an exact account of all your fervent prayers, of all your instructive and persuasive sermons; and all your sighs, groans, and pantings, with every tear and drop of sweat, are placed like marginal notes against your labours in his book, in order to give a full reward.1634 – 1710
The Works of George Bull, D.D. Lord Bishop of St. David’s
Collected and Revised by the Rev. Edward Burton, M.A., Late Student of Christ Church
to which is prefixed the life of Bishop Bull
Reprinted in 1827 by Robert Nelson, Esquire, Oxford (Great Britain), At the Clarendon Press, MDOCCXXVII – 1827
The Different Degrees of Bliss and Glory in Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom answer to the Different Degrees of Grace Here Below; Several Objections Against this Doctrine are Answered
PETER i. 11: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is the great concern of every man, in the first place, to get the saving grace of God, and having gotten it, to proceed and increase in it; earnestly to reach after a principle of the divine life within himself, and having attained it, to cherish and improve it; to endeavour of evil (as we are all naturally and antecedently to the divine grace) to become truly good, and then every day to grow better; first to be sincere disciples of the holy Jesus, and then to aspire, study, and labour hard, to become great proficients in his divine school.
This latter duty, St. Peter earnestly and vehemently presseth on the converted Jews of the dispersion, to whom he writes, and in them upon all of us, in the verses preceding my text; where he exhorts them in the most emphatical expressions to an holy covetousness after spiritual riches, and to accumulate and heap up heavenly treasures with as much greediness, as the men of this world do their gold and silver: to add one grace to another, and one degree of each grace upon another, and to abound in virtue and good works. For after he had, ver. 4. minded them of the great design of Christianity, which is to make men partakers of the divine nature, by rescuing them from the corruption that is in the world through lust, i. e. to convert men from their evil and wicked courses, and to bring them to a state of grace and regeneration; and charitably supposing this to be already done in them, he proceeds to shew them their farther duty, ver. 5, 6, 7, 8. And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity. For if all these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
As if he had said, You have now, God be thanked, escaped the pollutions of the world, and are truly, I hope, converted to Christianity, and in baptism have been regenerated by the Holy Ghost; (that he means by their being made partakers of the divine nature.) This indeed is a very great achievement, and an invaluable mercy of God, vouchsafed to you; yet I beseech you, rest not here; but besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, &c. So that the sum of his discourse is to press them first to truth in grace, and then to growth in grace; to acquire the divine virtues reckoned up by him, and then to abound in them. And to persuade them to this abounding in grace and virtue, he useth a very powerful motive and argument in the words of my text: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
As if he had said, If you thus abound in grace, you shall abound in glory; you shall not only come to heaven, or get just within the gate of that glorious region, (and yet happy is he that can arrive to be but a doorkeeper in the house of his heavenly Father,) but you shall have an abundant entrance into it; you shall go very far, and attain an higher pitch and degree of glory there. This is the plain and obvious sense of the words.
Not to spend time needlessly, or to trouble you with any farther preface, the text thus briefly explained and considered, with relation to the context, readily and of itself offers to us this proposition. There shall be degrees of bliss and glory in Christ’s heavenly kingdom; and the more we abound in grace and good works here, the more abundant shall our reward be hereafter. This proposition I intend, with the divine assistance, for the theme and subject of my following discourse.
That this is no nice or fruitless speculation, fitted only to exercise the wits of men, or to entertain their curiosity, but a branch of that truth which is according to godliness a, as the apostle Paul expresseth it, Tit. i. 1. that is, a doctrine tending to the advancement and furtherance of piety and virtue amongst men, will be soon evident to any man that with any degree of serious attention shall consider it.
If this be a truth, it must needs be a useful one, pointed it, referring the words in the regeneration to that which went before, thus; Ye which have followed me in the regeneration: whereas they should be joined to the following words, thus: Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, &c. In the regeneration; what is that? Not in baptism, nor in the regeneration or renewing of the Spirit, as some have fancied; for neither of these significations will make good sense in this place; but in the resurrection, which will be indeed a regeneration, or second generation of men to life, after that life which they had in their first generation was extinguished.
Which second generation, or production of men to life, is more properly the work of God, as being effected solely by his divine power, without the concurrence of any second causes; whereas in our first generation into the world our parents were instruments. Hence those words of the Psalmist concerning Christ, Psalm ii. 7. Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee, are said by St. Paul to be then fulfilled in him, when God raised him from the dead, Acts xiii. 32, 33. The promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
And hence also, all the godly are said at the resurrection to become the children of God, upon the very account of their being then raised by God to a blessed immortal life, Luke xx. 36. They are called the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
Well then! In or at the regeneration, or resurrection, when Christ shall sit in the throne of his glory, as the Judge of men and angels, it is promised to the twelve apostles, that they also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Concerning the full sense of which words, though there is some dispute, yet this is generally agreed among interpreters, and it is most evident from the context, that they express some singular and eminent glory, which the apostles should receive in the world to come, as the reward of their singular and eminent self-denial, in devoting themselves to Christ’s Gospel. And though every saint shall in his degree be enthroned in the heavenly glory; yet here are twelve thrones of judicature and preeminence, answering to the twelve apostles then in being. Indeed Judas, one of the twelve, afterward fell from his office, and so lost his throne too. But this was through his own default, and our blessed Lord failed not in his promise. But the cursed traitor, by his horrid violation of the condition of it, forfeited his right therein. There being twelve apostles at that time to whom our Saviour spake these words, he saith they should sit upon twelve thrones; as if Judas also should have his throne to sit on; not that he thought the wretch should ever attain that throne, (for he knew him from the beginning to be a devil,) but because, if Judas had continued in the faithful discharge of his office, as the other apostles did, he should have had his throne, as the other apostles had theirs, as St. Chrysostom well observes; “for Christ speaks of his apostles, according to their ” present righteousness,” and not so much of their persons, as of their state and office. As if he should have said, The office of apostles, as it is an office of the highest service, labour, and difficulty, so it hath the highest reward propounded to it; insomuch that they who well perform it, shall be advanced to the most eminent thrones of glory in the life to come, and be nearest to myself the King of glory. For, to sit upon thrones, judging (or governing, or being over) the twelve tribes of Israel, is a metaphorical expression, taken (as Grotius well observes upon the place) from the ancient state of the kingdom of Israel, in which the princes, or heads of the tribes, came nearest in dignity to the king’s majesty, and in the public assemblies sat next to the royal throne in chairs of state made of ivory. So that it is manifest, Christ here promiseth his apostles an eminent degree of glory and dignity in his heavenly kingdom. And hence the language is different, which our Saviour useth, concerning the reward of those who should afterwards imitate the apostles, and follow them in their active and passive virtue, though hand ” at a very humble distance.” For of those in the next verse he saith, that they should receive an hundredfold, (a very ample and liberal reward of their self-denial, in whatsoever instance expressed,) and inherit everlasting life; but he doth not say, as of the apostles, that they shall sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
The next place we shall cite will give b’ght to the former, and speaks more clearly to our present purpose. It is to be found in the very next chapter, the twentieth chapter of the same Gospel of St. Matthew, where we read, ver. 20, 21. that the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, came with her two sons to Christ with this petition, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. She had heard from her sons, that the apostles in general had a promise of a more eminent dignity in Christ’s kingdom, like that of the princes or heads of the tribes in the kingdom of Israel, as hath been already noted. But she knew that even among the apostles themselves there would be degrees of dignity; as in the ancient kingdom of Israel, the two first places belonged to the princes of the tribes of Judah and Joseph; these two first places therefore she asks for her two sons in the kingdom of Christ. To-sit at the right hand of a king, according to the eastern custom, is the very next place of dignity to the king himself. Hence Solomon sitting on his royal throne commanded his mother to be set on his right hand, 1 Kings ii. 19.
Consequently the third place of dignity in the kingdom is described by sitting at the king’s left hand; for accordingly as any man was greater in the kingdom, so in the public assemblies he sat nearer to the king. To this petition of Salome, our blessed Lord having first by the way given a check to her vanity, and her erroneous opinion about his kingdom, at length, ver. 23. he thus more directly answers, To sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. Christ speaks as man in the state of humiliation, referring all things of his kingdom (according to his manner) to his Father, from whom he received it. But as to our present purpose: our Saviour denies not that there shall be a right-hand and a left-hand place, as a first and second place of dignity, and consequently a third place, and so downwards, in his heavenly kingdom, yea, he plainly asserts, that there shall be such degrees of honour therein; but he only teacheth, that those places and degrees shall be distributed according to the pleasure of his Father, who best knows who are fittest for them; and that this pleasure of God was not yet to be made known, either to Salome and her sons, or to any of the sons of men; but the discovery of it to be reserved to the revelation of the righteous judgment of God at the last day. , So that this text very manifestly confirms the proposition; especially if we add the words of our Saviour presently afterwards in the same chapter, spoken upon the same occasion, ver. 26, 27. Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister: and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. For hence St. Jerom thus argues against Jovinian, ” If we ‘shall be equal in ” heaven, we in vain humble ourselves here, that we ” may be greater there.” Indeed our Saviour in these words most plainly acknowledgeth, that there shall be some greater, some lesser, some first or chief, some inferior in his heavenly kingdom; and he shews that the only way to attain a preeminence hereafter, is by the lowest humility here, and by condescending to the meanest for their spiritual good and advantage.
The same doctrine is plainly taught us (whatever some learned men have fancied to the contrary) from the very scope of the parable of our Saviour, Luke xix. of the ten servants, who received of their lord, being to go into a far country, each of them a pound, to trade with till his return. At which time he that had increased his pound to ten pounds was made ruler over ten cities, ver. 16, 17. and he that gained but five pounds was made ruler over five cities, ver. 18, 19- the lord’s reward bearing proportion to the several improvements made by his servants.
To the same sense and purpose very many of the ancient Fathers, and the most learned modern interpreters, generally expound those words of our Saviour, John xiv. 2. In my Father’s house are many mansions. The multitude of mansions in heaven seems hardly intelligible, without admitting a difference of degrees in the heavenly glory. For if all the saints should be placed in one and the same degree or station of bliss, they would have all one and the same mansion in heaven; but in our heavenly Father’s house there are many mansions, some higher, some lower, according to the measure of proficiency in virtue, which men have attained to in this life. So Clemens Alexandrinus, ” There are ” with the Lord many rewards and mansions, according to the proportion of men’s lives c.” So also Tertullian, ” How are there many mansions ” with the Father, but according to the variety of ” merits” that is, (in the language of those writers,) the good works of men. So the Fathers of the church afterward alleged this text against Jovinian, who held a parity of rewards in the life to come.
Another common proof of this doctrine is taken out of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, chap. xv. 41, 42. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is true, in the context of this place, the manifest scope and intent of the apostle is to shew the vast difference between those bodies of ours that die and turn to corruption, and the glorious bodies we shall receive at the resurrection. But yet, in these words it seems plain, that the apostle riseth higher, and by the way sets forth the disparity that there will be at the resurrection, even among the glorified bodies of the saints; some shining with brighter, some with lesser rays of glory: as among the heavenly lights, some are more glorious than others. As if he should have said, .There is a difference, not only between the terrestrial and celestial bodies, but even the celestial bodies differ among themselves; the sun being the brightest of the heavenly lights, the moon in its appearance to us the next to it; and among the stars, some being more bright and conspicuous than others. So in the resurrection, not only the glorified bodies of the saints shall differ from their corruptible bodies they had here, but also among those glorified bodies themselves there shall be degrees of glory.
Unless we thus expound the apostle, it will be hard to give a tolerable account of his discourse in this place. For we must otherwise suppose, that he compares those bodies that are sown in corruption, the rotten stinking carcasses of men, to some of the glorious heavenly lights, though of a lesser magnitude; than which comparison, what can be more incongruous or absurd! Hence Tertullian in the place, in part already cited, thus understands the text, ” How are there many mansions with the Father, unless it be according to the variety of men’s ” good works? How also shall one star differ from ” another star in glory, but according to the diversity of rays or beams of lighte?” And as the greatest, so the best part of modern interpreters, acknowledge this exposition of the apostle’s words to be true and genuine, yea and absolutely necessary.
But our last text of Scripture will put the matter out of all doubt, which we read 2 Cor. ix. 6. But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shallreap also bountifully. It is certain, and confessed by all, that the design of the apostle in this place is to excite and stir up the Corinthians to a liberal charity towards their distressed brethren, and that his chief argument is contained in these words. It is confessed also, that in these words, to sow, signifies to do good works, particularly works of charity; to reap, to receive the reward, the future eternal reward of such works. Indeed the apostle otherwhere plainly interprets himself to this sense; viz Gal. vi. 8. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. Where also the latter words manifestly respect in the first place works of charity and beneficence, particularly such as are exercised towards our spiritual teachers, as appears from ver. 6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate to him that teacheth in all good things.
Now our apostle, in the place alleged out of his Epistle to the Corinthians, expressly asserts, that as our sowing is more sparing or more liberal, so shall our reaping be also; the greater charity exercised by us in this world, the greater felicity and happiness attends us in the world to come: and so on the contrary, the thinner our seeds of charity are sown here, the lesser will be our harvest of glory hereafter. Nothing can be more express to our purpose than this testimony, and therefore I shall seek after no other or farther proofs from Scripture of the proposition I have undertaken to demonstrate.
But to these direct testimonies of Scripture, I shall only add, by way of overplus, one or two reasons, or arguments grounded on Scripture.
1. It is certain, that amongst the damned there will be an inequality of punishments, some suffering lesser, others greater degrees of torment; therefore it is highly reasonable to think, that in the opposite state of the blessed there will be also a disparity of rewards. The antecedent is determined, and beyond all contradiction asserted, by our Saviour himself. For speaking of the town or city that shall reject the Gospel preached to them by the apostles, he tells us, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city, Matt. x. 15. And in the next chapter he assures us, that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for Chorazin and Bethsaida, who had heard his doctrine and seen his miracles, and would be converted by neither of them; and that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, than for Capernaum, upon the same account, Matt. xi. 20—24. And most express are his words, Luke xii. 47. &c. And that servant, which knew his master’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
2. There are degrees of honour and glory among the angels in heaven, and though they are all of them glorious creatures, yet among them some are higher, some inferior in dignity, some are greater, others lesser; therefore we have reason to conclude, that there will be an order and gradation among the blessed saints of heaven likewise. For we are sure, that in the future state we shall be like unto the angels; and why not in this? Seeing in the angelical polity there are divers orders, ranks, and degrees, can we imagine that the communion of the saints in heaven shall be a levelled society? This is utterly incredible. Now the antecedent here again is most evident from Scripture; and though we dare not intrude ourselves into the things we have not seen, or imitate the temerity of that learned and sublime conjecturer Dionysius, who undertakes to reckon up exactly the several orders of the angelical hierarchy, as if he had seen a muster of the heavenly host before his eyes; yet that there are orders and degrees among the blessed angels, we may with all assurance affirm, having the plainest warrant of the holy text for the assertion. For we often read in Scripture, not only of angels, but also of archangels, i.e. chief angels, that have a pre-eminence above the rest. This is so known and confessed by every man, that we need not cite the texts wherein mention is made of them.
To these reasons we may add the consent of the catholic church in this question. It is certain, that it was ever held in the primitive church as an undoubted truth, that there shall be a disparity of rewards in the life to come; and that this was never called into question, until the conceited opinionist Jovinian, among his other paradoxes, ventured to broach the contrary doctrine. But how he was entertained for this by the most eminent doctors of the church of his age, St. Jerom, St. Austin, and others, we very well know. His obstinacy in this and other erroneous tenets, against the plainest evidence of Scripture and reason, hath placed him in the black catalogue of heretics.
And it is pity that amongst the reformed foreign divines there should be any found that should dare to patronise so exploded an error; especially if we consider the very weak arguments by which they endeavour to justify their dissent from the catholic church. To the brief examination of which arguments we are in the next place to proceed.
1. They say they cannot conceive how this doctrine can be maintained, without admitting with the papists the merit of good works. For if, as our labour is greater or lesser in God’s service here, our reward shall be greater or lesser in the life to come; then there is a proportion observed between our labour or work, and the reward. And this necessarily infers the merit of our work or labour. I answer, that this objection is founded on a plain mistake of the doctrine of Scripture, which we defend. For when we say with the holy Scriptures, that every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour, we do not mean that there will be an exact proportion between a man’s labour and his reward; for it is certain that the highest degree of grace can never equal the lowest degree of glory, nor can the best of saints by all that he can do deserve so much as to be a doorkeeper in the house of his heavenly Father: but the proportion here is between the work and reward of one good man, compared with the work and reward of another; and in this comparison the proportion is exact. A very learned Father of our church explains this by an apposite similitude, which I shall give you as near as may be in his own words translated. “Suppose,” saith he, ” three husbandmen to be employed in cultivating or dressing the field of some prince, one for one day only, another for three days, the third for six days. Now if the prince, out of his royal bounty, shall give to the first a thousand talents, to the second three thousand talents, to the third six thousand; it is evident that the reward is measured out to each of these according to the different measure of their labour: but yet it were ridiculous for a man hence to conelude, that the labour of him that wrought six days deserved six thousand talents, yea or so much as six talents, yea or so much as one talent, and so in the rest. After the same manner are we to conceive of the divine remuneration. For although we affirm, that God measures out to every man a different degree of glory, according to the different measure of his labour; yet it doth not follow from hence, that between the work and reward of one and the same man there is an equality of proportion; but only that between the different works and rewards of different men there is an equality of proportionality. If therefore the work of any man be compared with the reward of the same man, viz. eternal life, we may presently discern an infinite inequality between them; but if the works of different men and the rewards of different men be compared, according to the degrees of eminence in the same life eternal, there will appear an accurate proportionality. And this is to reward every man according to his own labour.
I need not say any more in answer to this argument, and shall therefore pass to the next.
2. They thus argue. The future glory of the saints is the purchase of Christ’s righteousness, which is alike imputed to all true believers, and they have an equal share therein, and consequently they shall share equally in the future glory! I answer, The doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ, as it hath been too commonly taught and understood, hath been a fruitful mother of many pernicious and dangerous errors in divinity. In this objection, it is supposed, that the righteousness of Christ is so imputed to every believer, that it becomes formally his righteousness, and that upon the sole account thereof he hath a right to the future glory. And if this were true, if Christ’s righteousness were thus ours, that righteousness being the most perfect righteousness, nothing less could answer it than the highest reward in heaven; and so indeed it would necessarily follow, that the future glory of all the saints should be alike and equal. But this supposition hath no foundation in Scripture, yea it is plainly false. And that it is so, if we had no other argument, the very doctrine we are now upon were sufficient to evince.
We have proved by very plain texts of Scripture, that there will be a disparity of rewards in the life to come, according to the disparity of men’s graces and good works in this life; and from hence we may safely conclude, that the doctrine of those who teach that the perfect righteousness of Christ is formally the righteousness of every believer, and that thereupon he hath a right to the highest reward in heaven, is certainly false. Nay indeed, if that doctrine of their’s were true, a consequence would follow, which cannot be uttered without trembling, that every saint shall be equal to Christ in glory; Christ’s righteousness being his, and so he having a right to whatsoever that righteousness deserved. But to answer more directly to the objection, there is nothing more certain, than that the future glory of the saints is the purchase of Christ’s righteousness.
But how? By the meritorious obedience of Christ, in his life and death, a covenant of grace, mercy, and life eternal was procured, ratified, and established between God and the sinful sons of men; the condition of this covenant is faith working by love, or a faith fruitful of good works; and there is also sufficient grace promised to all that shall heartily seek it for the performance of that condition. It is from this covenant of infinite mercy in Christ Jesus alone that our imperfect good works have any ordination to so excellent a reward as the future glory; and it is the mercy, the rich mercy, the royal bounty and liberality of God, expressed in the same covenant, that assigns to greater degrees of grace here, greater degrees of glory hereafter. This is the plain truth.
But to be short, and to shew the perfect sophistry of this objection, I ask the objectors, whether they do not acknowledge that the present grace of the saints in this life is as well the purchase of Christ’s righteousness, as their future glory? They must, they will, they do confess it. Now then, according to their argument it will follow, that all the saints have equal degrees of grace in this life, because they have an equal share in the righteousness of Christ, by which that grace was purchased; than which assertion nothing can be more notoriously false. This their argument therefore is a manifest fallacy.
3. Their last objection is taken from the parable of our Saviour, Matt. xx. 1. &c. where the kingdom of heaven, that is, the church of God, is compared to a vineyard, the master whereof went out in the morning to hire labourers, and agreed with them for a penny a day. Three hours after, or at the third hour, he went out and hired more; and so again at the sixth and ninth hours; yea at the eleventh hour he did likewise. And when they came all to receive their wages, he gave the last he had hired as much as he had agreed for with the first, viz. every one a penny, neither more nor less. Whence they infer that the future reward, signified by this penny, shall not be proportioned according to the difference of men’s works, but be one and the same to all.
I answer, this parable belongs not at all to the matter in question, seeing the scope of it is to justify God’s proceedings in the dispensation of his grace towards the church of the Jews, and that of the Gentiles; the latter of which was not called till a long time after the former; and though being so much junior to it, yet was made its equal in the benefits and blessings of God’s gracious covenant. The Jews were first hired into the vineyard betimes in the morning, in the more early ages of the world, in the days of Abraham, with whom and his posterity God made a special covenant of grace and mercy; and in the after-ages, (which seem to be signified in the parable by the third, and sixth, and ninth hours,) at such times as the true religion was in danger to fail among them, he by extraordinary means and instruments raised and restored it again; as in the days of Moses and Elias, and after the captivity of Babylon. But the Gentiles were not called into the vineyard till the day was far spent, in the last time and dispensation; (undoubtedly signified in the parable by the eleventh hour;) and yet these, by the goodness of their heavenly Master, are admitted to the same privileges with the Israelites, and they receive the same reward which was promised to the Jews, with whom I the right hand of God, there will be many vessels (if I may use the common similitude) of different sizes and capacities, some greater, some lesser, but all of them shall be filled. This different, but in every one satisfactory perception of the future heavenly bliss, seems to have been typified and represented by the Israelites gathering of manna (that food of heaven) in the wilderness; of which we read, Exod. xvi. 18. that he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack: they gathered every man according to his own eating. To explain this as far as we are able, it is to be observed, that although whilst we are in this state of proficiency and running our race, it be not only lawful, but a laudable ambition and emulation in us, to strive to outstrip and excel each other in virtue, and so to gain the richer prize; yet when our race is finished, and the great Bpa/3«/Tij? or Judge of it hath given his award, and passed the decisive sentence, we must not, we shall not contend, but fully acquiesce and rest therein. And then the servant, who having increased his pound but to five more, shall hear his lord thus pronouncing, Well done thou good servant, be thou ruler over five cities: he, I say, shall be as well pleased and satisfied as the other servant, who, having made a double improvement, shall receive a proportionable reward, and have authority over ten cities.
Among the blessed in heaven there shall be no discontent or repining, no pride or disdain, no grudging or envy; but there shall be all contentment, all joy, all thankfulness, all love. They that are seated in the higher mansions of glory, shall not look down with contempt on those that are beneath them; nor shall these lift up an envious eye towards the other; but they shall perfectly love and delight in each other: and by an inexpressible union of sublimated charity, each shall make what the other enjoys his own, and all together shall make up in different notes one sweet harmonious concert in the praises of God, the fountain of their bliss. To this purpose is the saying of St. Austin on John xiv. 2. speaking of the different rewards of the blessed in heaven: It comes to pass through charity, that what each hath is common to all; for thus every man hath it also in himself, when he loves and rejoiceth in, and so enjoys in another, what himself hath not.
It is hard indeed for us mortals, whilst we dwell in these houses of clay, and are encumbered with the sinful inclinations and passions of this flesh, to conceive of this, and to comprehend the divine power of exalted love. But let us consider, why may not that be among the saints hereafter, which we are sure is among the holy angels now? In that celestial hierarchy, archangels and angels, cherubims and seraphims, and thrones, and the lower orders of those blessed spirits, disagree not among themselves, though they differ from one another in honour and dignity; but on the contrary, they perfectly love and delight in each other, and all in their God. And in their several stations, they readily and cheerfully execute the will and pleasure of their great Lord and Master, whose ministers they are; and all together make one family of love and peace, of joy and order, and one harmonious choir, in perfect concert, and with ravishing melody, sounding forth the praises of their heavenly King. And thus it shall be with the saints after the resurrection, when they shall be made like unto the angels, i. e. when they shall enjoy the same life immortal which the angels do, and be joined to them, and incorporated into their blessed society.
And now, lastly, to apply this whole discourse: Let us, by what hath been said, be excited and stirred up to a diligent, earnest, and zealous pursuit after an increase of virtue, and a greater proficiency in the ways of righteousness and holiness. Let us shun no labour that comes in our way, and is within our reach and compass, whereby we may glorify God, and do good to others; for we see, the more grace the more glory; and the greater and more industrious our labour in God’s service hath been in this life, the greater and more copious and abundant shall our reward be in the life to come. We cannot be truly righteous overmuch, as the slothful world would persuade us, nor can there be any excess or superfluity in virtue, or in the habits and exercises of real piety and charity. How great soever our labour be in the business of religion, none of it shall be lost labour, or in vain in the Lord. Every degree of grace which we advance to here, shall raise us a degree higher in the future glory. And all the good works that ever we do, shall be recorded in the faithful register of the divine Omniscience, and not one of them shall be forgotten, or miss of its reward.
Oh ! that this consideration might often and very deeply enter our thoughts! How would a vigorous sense of this truth awaken and rouse us out of our remissness and negligence in religion, that too often seizeth on us! How would this inspirit and animate us to generous attempts even of heroic virtue,which in this degenerate age are derided, as vain romantic enterprises!
How often at least would this thought call us from our idle solitude or unprofitable society, to our prayers and devotions ! How many precious hours of our time would it rescue and redeem, from being misspent and lost in vanity and folly ! How readily should we embrace, yea, how studiously should we seek after the opportunities of doing good! for indeed every such opportunity is an advantage offered us by the good providence of God, farther to enrich our souls, and to add to our heavenly store and treasure, the only true treasure, that shall never fail or be taken from us.
In a word, therefore, let us in the first place (as I said in the beginning of this discourse) take care to secure our being in a state of grace; for “it is a folly for him, that is not yet sure of life, to ” contend for honour V And having done this, let us not rest here, but advance more and more in that blessed state, and go on to perfection.
I conclude with the words of St. Peter in the close of this Epistle, Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory now and for ever. Amen.1650 – 1703
(First Thessalonians 2:19-20)
Published 1700, republished 1832
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.
Here, in the close of the chapter, St. Paul acquaints the Thessalonians with the true reason why he had such an endearing affection for them, and such a fervent desire to be present with them: they were his hope, his joy, his crown of rejoicing; that a, they were then the cause of his hope, not the ground and foundation of his hope: that Christ alone was; but their conversion by his ministry was, in concurrence with other things, a good ground of hope concerning his own salvation; ye are now my hope, my joy, and crown of rejoicing.
Where note, A very remarkable gradation in the words; he calls them his hope. his joy, and his crown of rejoicing. His hope, that is, the matter of his hope, that they should be saved; his joy, that is, the occasion of his joy, in their conversion by his ministry; and his crown of rejoicing in Christ’s presence at his coming, that is, the fruit and success of his ministry amongst them would add to his crown, and redound to his glory, in the day of Christ.
Learn hence, that there are degrees of glory in heaven, probably according to the measures and degrees of service we have done for God on earth; there is, no doubt, an equality of glory there, as to the essentials, but not with respect to the accidentals; besides the joy and satisfaction which the ministers of Christ are partakers of, in heaven, in common with other glorified saints, they have an additional joy and glory from the success of their pious and painful labours, which God has crowned with (he conversion and edification of many souls. Lord ! who could not study, spend, and be spent, in the service of such a master? Is it not worth all our labour and sufferings, to appear in the presence of Christ, accompanied with all those souls whom we have instrumentally either brought home or built up in the most holy faith, either converted, comforted, or confirmed in the way to heaven? To hear one spiritual child say, ” Lord, this is the instrument by whom I believed;” another, ” This is the minister by whom I was established;” a third, ” This is he that quickened me by his example, and provoked me to love, and lo good works. О blessed be God that I ever saw his face, and heard his voice !” But, Lord ! what will it be to hear thy blessed voice saying to us, ” Well done, good and faithful servants, enter into the joy of me your Lord ! I have kept an exact account of all your fervent prayers for your people, of all your instructive and persuasive sermons, of all your sighs and groans poured forth before me on behalf of those whom you would have persuaded to be happy, but could not. Every tear from your eye, and drop of sweat from your face, shall now meet with eternal recompense; you shall now find me, according to my promise, not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.” О what a master do the ministers of Christ serve ! Who would not sacrifice all that is dear for him, who has the assurance of such an exceeding and eternal weight of glory from him?1702 -1751
The Works of the Rev. Philip Doddridge
Improvement (on First Corinthians 15)
Published in 1805 in Leeds, Great Britain
(Joseph Smith gave a copy of Philip Doddridge’s “Sermons” to the Nauvoo Library in 1844)
41 There is an immense variety in the works of God, even in those which fall under the inspection of our senses, feeble and limited as they are, while we dwell in flesh and blood. you know, is not the same kind of flesh, but the flesh of man, and of cattle, and of fish, and of fowls, is different each from the other, in its form, qualities, and manner of being subsisted. [There are] also celestial bodies, and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial, and the terrestial, are apparently differeth, and the brightest lustre the latter can have, is but a faint reflection of what is received from the former. And even in the glory of the celestial bodies there is also a wonderful variety: There is one superior and incomparable glory of the sun, which often shines with a lustre scarce to be endured; and another reflected and milder glory of the moon; and another glory of the stars, which as they appear to us, are far interior to either of the two great luminaries. And again, [one] star differeth from [another] star in glory, according to their respective magnitudes, in reference to which they are ranged by astronomers under different classes.
42 So [shall be] also the resurrection of the pious dead: another kind of glory shall appear, than human nature has known in its purest state, in any beauty of form or ornaments of dress. There shall indeed, as I intimated but now, be some difference in the degree of that glory, correspondent to the different excellencies in the characters of good men, on whom it is to pass: happy change; so that it may be said concerning the body of them all in general, it is sown, or committed, like seed to the ground, in corruption, just ready to putrify, and through various forms of putrefaction to be reduced to the dust: but it is raised in incorruption, so that no accident or disorder whatsoever shall be able to dissolve it again, or to threaten it in the least degree.
43 It is sown in dishonour, in a poor contemptible state, and under a kind of infamy, put upon it by the execution of God’s first sentence against sin; but it is raised in glory, every part and trace of the curse being abolished, and itself being formed in such a manner as to make it appear that the King of heaven delights to honour the happy spirit on which he bestows such a dress. It is sown in weakness, absolutely incapable of any, even the lowest degree of action, or sensation, and deprived of those limited abilities which it possessed in this its mortal life: but it is raised in power, endowed with almost angelic degrees of strength, vigour and activity.
44 is sown an animal body, formed to the purposes of animal life in this present world: but it is raised a spiritual body, formed to a noble superiority to the mean gratifications of this imperfect state, and fitted to be the instrument of the soul, in the most exalted services of the spiritual and Divine life. For it is certain, that as there is an animal body, with which we are now by daily, and frequently, by unhappy experience, acquainted; so there is also a spiritual body: God can exalt and refine matter to a degree of purity and excellence to us unknown; and there are many bodies now existing so pure and active, as that in comparison they may be called spirits.1703 – 1758
The Character of Paul an Example to Christians
In those earnest labors which he performed, he had respect to the recompense of the reward. He did it for an incorruptible crown. 1 Cor 9:25. He sought a high degree of glory, for he knew the more he labored the more he should be rewarded, as appears from what he tells the Corinthians. “He that soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully.” And 1 Cor. 3:8, “Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour.” That he had respect to that crown of glory, which is Master had promised, in those great labors and sufferings, is evident from what he says to Timothy, a little before his death. 2 Tim. 4:7, 8, “ I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” All Christians should follow his example in this also. They should not content themselves with the thought that they have goodness enough to carry them to heaven, but should earnestly seek high degrees of glory. For the higher degrees of glory are promised to extraordinary labors for God, for no other reason, but that we should seek them.1703 – 1758
New England Stone Carving And Its Symbols
The different glory of the sun, the moon and the stars represents the different glory of Christ and the glorified saints.1703 – 1758
Many Mansions (published 1737)
2. The second exhortation that I would offer from what has been said is to seek a high place in heaven. Seeing there are many mansions of different degrees of honor and dignity in heaven, let us seek to obtain a mansion of distinguished glory. ‘Tis revealed to us that there are different degrees of glory to that end that we might seek after the higher degrees. God offered high degrees of glory to that end, that we might seek them by eminent holiness and good works: 2 Corinthians 9:6, “He that sows sparingly [shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully].” It is not becoming persons to be over anxious about an high seat in God’s house in this world, for that is the honor that is of men; but we can’t too earnestly seek after an high seat in God’s house above, by seeking eminent holiness, for that is the honor that is of God.
But the mansions in God’s house above are everlasting mansions. Those that have seats allotted ’em there, whether of greater or lesser dignity, whether nearer or further from the throne, will hold ’em to all eternity. This is promised, Revelation 3:12: “Him that overcometh I will make him a pillar in the temple [of my God, and he shall go no more out].” If it be worth the while to desire and seek high seats in the meeting-house, where you are one day in a week, and where you shall never come but few days in all; if it be worth the while much to prize one seat above another in the house of worship only because it is the pew or seat that is ranked first in number, and to be seen here for a few days, how will it be worth the while to seek an high mansion in God’s temple and in that glorious place that is the everlasting habitation of God and all his children! You that are pleased with your seats in this house because you are seated high or in a place that is looked upon honorable by those that sit round about, and because many can behold you, consider how short a time you will enjoy this pleasure. And if there be any that are not suited in their seats because they are too low for them, let them consider that it is but a very little while before it will [be] all one to you whether you have sat high or low here. But it will be of infinite and everlasting concern to you where your seat is in another world. Let your great concern be while in this world so to improve your opportunities in God’s house in this world, whether you sit high or low, as that you may have a distinguished and glorious mansion in God’s house in heaven, where you may be fixed in your place in that glorious assembly in an everlasting rest.1703 – 1791
From hence we may see how to account for the different degrees of glory in the heavenly world. For although all the children of God shall have glorious bodies, yet the glory of them all shall not be equal. “As one star differeth from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead.” They shall all shine as stars; but those who, by a constant diligence in well-doing, have attained to a higher measure of purity than others, shall shine more bright than others. They shall appear as more glorious stars. It is certain that the most heavenly bodies will be given to the most heavenly souls; so that this is no little encouragement to us to make the greatest progress we possibly can in the knowledge and love of God, since the more we are weaned from the things of the earth now, the more glorious will our bodies be at the resurrection.1703 – 1791
Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament
A great multitude—Of those who had happily finished their course. Such multitudes are afterward described, and still higher degrees of glory which they attain, after a sharp fight and magnificent victory, chap, xiv, 1; xv, 2; six, 1; xx, 4. There is an inconceivable variety in the degrees of reward in the other world. Let not any slothful one say, If I get to heaven at all, I will be content such a one may let heaven go altogether. In worldly things men are ambitious to get as high as they can. Christians have a far more noble ambition. The difference between the very highest and the lowest state in the world, is nothing to the smallest difference between the degrees of glory.
James Hervey’s Meditations and Contemplations
On the Starry Heavens
(Joseph Smith gave a copy of this book to the Nauvoo library shortly before his death, perhaps from the 1797 edition. The text below is from an edition published in 1855)
I perceive a great variety in the size and splendour of those gems of heaven. Some are of the first magnitude, others of an inferior order. Some glow with intense flames, others glimmer with fainter beams. Yet all are beautiful; all have their peculiar lustre, and distinct use; all tend, in their different degrees, to enamel the cope of heaven, and embroider the robe of night.
Henry Kollock (Pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church)
Sermons on Various Subjects
Sermon 82: Degrees of Glory in Heaven
1 COR. xv. 41, 42: One star differeth from another star in glory. So also, is the resurrection of the dead.
How pleasant and animating is it to the Christian, to turn his thoughts occasionally from the sins and follies, the misery and anguish, which are found in this world, and fix them upon that blessed state reserved for the pious, into which guilt or wo shall never enter! How cheering, to meditate on the high occupations and sublime joys of those who, ” having washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” now shout hallelujahs to his praise! And are all these redeemed sinners perfectly equal in splendour and felicity? Are there no different degrees of glory in heaven? This is the single question which we propose to examine in the ensuing discourse, and to which we are naturally led by the words of the text. ” One star differeth from another star in glory; so also is the resurrection of the dead.”
That there will be different degrees of glory among the redeemed, is a truth which is established alike by scripture and reason, and which, far from being a merely speculative point, must, when firmly believed, have a strong influence on our practice. Let us,
1. Explain and prove it.
2. Answer the objections which have been made against it, and,
3. Apply it for the regulation of our affections, and the conduct of our lives.
ONE: When we maintain that our future glory will differ in degree, according to our holiness in this world, we are far from embracing the proud opinion of the papists, that this felicity, and these degrees of glory, are at all merited by our works. Even an innocent creature, much less a sinner, can merit nothing from the holy God. Our salvation must be, entirely of grace. But we say, that as the Lord has Displayed his abounding mercy and his love to holiness, by rewarding a short and imperfect obedience by an eternal and inconceivable glory, so it is accordant with these perfections, to confer higher degrees of this glory on those whose obedience has been more constant, and whose piety more ardent. We say, that while every temporal as well as celestial blessing flows from sovereign grace, through the blood of the cross, God has been pleased in his wisdom, to establish a certain chain and order in the distribution and the degree of his gifts; so that those who arc most zealously engaged in his cause, and who do most for the Redeemer, shall wear a brighter crown, and be elevated to a higher glory than those who, though sincere, are more cold in their love, less engaged in his service.
While we maintain that there will be different degrees of glory, we also maintain that in many things their felicity will be common. It will be common in its object, the blessed God and adorable Redeemer; in its subject, all the powers of the glorified body and soul; in its duration, which will be eternal; in its security, since all the blest are sustained by the divine promise and faithfulness; in the full satisfaction of soul which all will possess.
After this explanation of the doctrine, let us confirm it. It is proved:
1. By all those passages of scripture which lay down, in general terms, the great rule of God’s proceedings with the children of men. Thus says the apostle Paul, (2 Cor. v. 10.) “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (Rom. ii. 6.) God ” will render to every one according to his works.” In 2 Cor. ix. 6. in speaking of benevolence to poor Christians, he lays down a general maxim: ” He that sowcth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he that soweth liberally, shall reap also liberally.” That he here refers to the rewards of the future world, is evident from the manner in which he uses the same figure in Gal. vi. 7—9. ” Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that seweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Indeed, in most instances where this figure is used, our good or our bad actions are represented as the seed whence our future felicity or misery must spring. But if such be the general rule of God’s conduct, if there will be a proportion between the future world and the present, there must be degrees of glory; there must be a higher station for the fervent and seraphic Christian, than for ‘those who drag heavily along in the path to heaven, and are by their walk scarcely distinguishable from the men of the world..
2. We argue from the account which this same apostle gives of the different rewards which will be given to the ministers of the gospel. This remarkable and figurative description is found, I Cor. iii. 12 —15. He speaks of those preachers who preserve the only foundation which is laid, Christ Jesus; and he compares them to architects, who build upon this good foundation materials very different. The exhortations of some are like ” gold, silver, or precious stones,” and are calculated to animate, encourage, and cheer, those who hear them. Those of the others resemble ” wood, hay, and stubble,” and injure more than advance edification. In the awful day of scrutiny, when ” every man’s work shall be tried as with fire,” the first of these classes, adds the apostle, ” shall receive a reward,” evidently implying, one proportioned to his faithfulness, zeal, and usefulness in the gospel. The others, ” having their work burnt, shall suffer loss;” but having been founded on Jesus, the rock of ages; having preserved the essential truths of religion, notwithstanding the errors they may have taught through ignorance or mistake, they shall be saved, yet so as by fire; with a difficulty and danger resembling that of a person who escapes from his dwelling in flames, and only preserves his life, while his house is consumed, and his goods destroyed. In this representation of the apostle, do we not perceive that there are persons who obtain salvation, and yet have not the recompense winch the wiser administrators of the word receive? And are we not authorized to conclude, that there will be the same difference between those who are hearers, according to the manner they have profited by the instructions given to them?
3. Is not this truth taught in Dan. xii. 3.? The prophet, having spoken of the two great classes into which men shall be divided at the general resurrection, when ” some shall wake to everlasting life, and some to everlasting contempt,” then declares the difference that shall appear even among the pious; ” They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars, for ever and ever.” As there is a difference between the general brilliancy of the firmament, and the lustre of the stars, so there shall be a difference between those ordinary Christians who obtain felicity, and those zealous persons who have been the instruments of the conversion of many sinners.
4. Read the parable of the pounds in Luke xix. Our Saviour appears there fully to have decided this point. Under the emblem of a nobleman going into a far country to receive a kingdom, and giving to his ten servants ten pounds, to trade therewith till his return; he represents himself ascending into heaven to assume his kingdom, and committing to his servants many gifts with which to profit for their own salvation, and that of their neighbour, till he should return to judgment. Though nine of them had been diligent, they had been so in different degrees: they were all magnificently rewarded; and ” because they had been faithful over few things, were made rulers over many things;” yet their reward was different. While he whose pound had gained ten was appointed over ten cities; he who had gained five was placed over five only. What could more fully show that while all believers shall ” enter into the joy of their Lord,” shall be surrounded by happiness and glory, there shall yet be various degrees of this glory?
5. The apostle Paul treating of the resurrection says, 1 Cor. xv. 41, 42, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” Though he here speaks only of die difference in the glorified body, yet the same causes which render it fit for God to cause the glorified bodies of the saints to differ in brilliancy and lustre, make it proper for him to give different degrees of glory to their whole persons.
6. In perusing the scriptures, we find the patriarchs, the prophets, and the apostles, uniformly represented as occupying a more conspicuous situation in glory than ordinary believers. Are the felicities of heaven represented as a feast? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there hold the most honourable station. Is it exhibited as a kingdom? The apostles are there to sit conspicuously upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt. viii. .’ I—19. 28. Luke xxii. 30. Numerous similar expressions are used concerning them; and if these are to differ from other believers, because of their zeal and fidelity, must not believers, differ from each other? If a Paul shall shine more resplendent than a Watts, shall a Watts only occupy the station of one in whom the pulse of spiritual life scarcely beats”?
7. It is doubted by none that there will be degrees of punishment in hell; that some will there suffer more excruciating torments than others. But if the wicked are more punished in proportion to their crimes, must we not suppose that the saints are more rewarded in proportion to their virtues?
8. Let us carry still further this reasoning from analogy. Look at nature; and in what an infinite variety of methods do you see the Creator displaying his perfections? Look at the operations of grace; you see that ” there are diversities of gifts, though but one Spirit.” Look at Christians; how various in their attainments, their knowledge, their holiness, and joy, though all beloved by God! Look at the heavenly host; though all holy and happy, there are various orders among them -archangels, and angels, thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers. Should we not then suppose, that in analogy to the other works of God, there would be degrees of glory among the West?
9. Finally, the transactions of the judgment-day, and the nature of the future felicity confirm this truth. We learn from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, that in the decisive day the Lord will with approbation publish the works of believers to the universe. Must not this approbation be various? Does not the sense and remembrance of it constitute one of the joys of heaven? Can the soul that has heard it from the Saviour whom he loves, ever forget it? One of the chief sources of heavenly felicity is the glorifying of God. But if his glory be dear to us, must we not be happier in proportion as we have glorified him here below? Can a Christian, that is “saved as by fire,” have the same raptures of soul that are felt by Paul and his associates, to whom, as the instruments in the hand, is owing the introduction of Christianity in Europe; the ten thousand times ten thousand believers, who have in successive ages there flourished through the instrumentality of those taught by him and their descendants; and the disciples of Jesus in this new world, which received the light of the gospel from that quarter of the globe which was taught by the apostle?
Perhaps the most plausible has been drawn from the parable of the labourers in Matt. xx. 1—15. You recollect that in that parable the householder sent labourers into his vineyard at different hours, all of whom, however, received at last the same recompense. But surely those who make this objection have never attended to the circumstances of the parable. How can the reward signify eternal life, since it is given to the murmurers and envious; to those who, in verse 14, are ordered to depart from their Lord; to those who were not satisfied with the portion given to them? The great scope and design of the parable are to repress the pride of the Jews, and show the propriety of the vocation of the Gentiles. It has no reference whatever to the future rewards of the pious.
“But,” it has been said, “we are saved by grace, and not by works; our only title to glory is the purchase made by the atonement of the Redeemer. How, then, can our glory be proportioned to our works? Are not all believers, through the merits of Christ, alike justified and adopted, and must they not therefore be alike glorified?” My brethren, the Scripture is perfectly consistent with itself. It asserts the doctrines of grace, the only refuge of the perishing sinner. It asserts, also, the inequality of future glory. And do the blessings of God spring less from grace, because he has established a wise order in the distribution of them?
We are called, justified, adopted, only through the merits of Christ; yet notwithstanding this, there are different degrees of holiness and comfort enjoyed by Christians upon earth; notwithstanding this, then, there may be different degrees of glory in the world which is to come. The objection is precisely as strong against a difference in sanctification, a fact which comes daily under our eyes, as against a difference in glorification.
“But,” say the opposers of this doctrine, ” as all the blessed are perfectly holy, they must all be perfectly and alike happy.” The conclusion by no means follows. Are the angels alike elevated, because they are all perfectly holy? We know that there are distinctions among them. Would it not be almost blasphemy to say, that any creature was as happy as the blessed God, provided like him it could be perfectly holy? If two diamonds are of the same water and perfection, does it follow, that there may not be a difference in their weight and value?
“But they all derive their felicity from the same source,’ the beatific vision of God, and therefore their felicity must be equal.” Though one of the chief constituents of hell is the deprival of the vision of God, are therefore the punishments of the accursed equal? May we not view the same sun, and receive its rays differently? When vessels of different capacity cast into the same ocean, are filled by the same mass of waters, must the quantity they receive be alike?
“But the titles given to the redeemed are the same; they are all called kings, the sons of God, the spouse, the members of Christ.” And are not these names given to believers, even while they are on earth? and, notwithstanding, do we not see a great diversity among them? Are all kings equalin power? Have all sons the same inheritance? Is not the robe of the spouse more richly embroidered in some parts than in others? Have all members of the body equal honour?
These, my brethren, are the principal objections against this doctrine. Let us now proceed, in the Third and last place, to a practical improvement of it.
1. It addresses the young. There is not one of you, my young friends, who does not intend to turn unto the Lord before you leave this world? There is not one of you that has formed the mad and guilty resolution to renounce the joys of heaven, and embrace the agonies of hell. But you resolve at present to devote yourselves to the world, and hereafter to think of religion. Let as suppose (and how many improbabilities are included in the supposition!) that these intentions are realized; that, after living many years in sin, you are not like so many others, given up to judicial hardness; that, after long contemning. the offers of grace, and grieving the Holy Spirit, you are not abandoned by him; that, in a dying world, you are preserved in life by that God against whom you are in rebellion; that you are not surprised, as so many thousands now in hell have been surprised, before their promised and purposed return to God was accomplished: suppose all this, though I repeat, how many improbabilities are included in the supposition — yet still what irreparable losses will you have sustained, what sacrifices will you have made during your years of folly and vice! Instead of preparing for a higher glory, for a nearer approach and assimilation to God, you will have employed yourselves in plucking the jewels from that crown which might have sparkled on your brow, in diminishing the elevation to which you might have attained. Trifle no longer with things of eternal consequence; but in youth begin to aspire after high degrees of glory, honour, and immortality.
2. Let this subject solemnly address all who delay their repentance. You cry, To-morrow, and tomorrow; and thus many of you will continue to cry, till your last sickness seizes you, till you are laid on the bed of death. Even if you then preserve your reason and are sensible of your danger, what answer will you be able to give to conscience, when it shall ask you, what .preparations you have made for eternity, what graces you have acquired, what holy duties you have performed? Is it not to mock God, to sin now with boldness, from the hope of conversion in our last hours? Is it not to trifle and sport with his grace, to expect from it a harvest, when we have never sown? I mistake; you have sown, and you shall reap; you have sown to the flesh, and of the flesh shall reap corruption; you have sown iniquity, you shall reap torment; you have sown sin, you shall reap death. Insult not the sanctity of God’s attributes, by supposing that, after a criminal life, you will enjoy the rewards promised to holiness. Even if, by a miracle of grace, you should then be converted, (and such miracles are indeed rare, inconceivably more rare, than is ordinarily supposed,) yet still, how much glory and felicity will you have lost, by neglecting, during so many years, to lay up treasures in heaven! Delay not then, I beseech you by your everlasting interests, defer not for a moment longer your return to your God and your Redeemer.
3. This subject teaches us the unspeakable value of time, and the necessity of employing it in good works. Look at life in itself; it is but a shadow. Look at it as connected with a future world; it becomes of unutterable importance. Every thing we do gives a complexion to our eternal state. Here we receive the stamp and impression that shall endure for ever. Shall we then spend our days in idleness, in folly, in sin? Shall we not diligently improve every passing moment? Shall we not continually be scattering that seed, from which so glorious a harvest will spring? Yes; whilst we are cultivating our graces, mortifying our corruptions, instructing the ignorant, comforting the afflicted, protecting the oppressed, relieving the poor, and performing other acts of piety or benevolence, from Christian principles, we are doing that of which we shall hereafter reap the fruit; we are, in a sense, giving stability to our flying, vanishing hours, by employing them for the augmentation of our eternal happiness. But forget not, that, to produce this effect, these actions must proceed from proper and Christian principles. If our labours are attended with pharisaical pride; if we expect to merit heaven by our good deeds; if we are animated by a self-righteous spirit; we shall at the final day reap no harvest except that of shame and disappointment. But if, unfeignedly believing in Jesus, and renouncing our own righteousness, we perform these works from love to God, and gratitude to the Redeemer, we shall obtain so rich a recompense, as to display the immensity of divine grace, and the riches of divine goodness.
Let this subject, then, inspire us with a high and holy ambition. ” Covet earnestly the best gifts,” said the apostle; and in the spirit of his exhortation, we say to you, covet the highest places in heaven; aim to sit next to cherubim and seraphim; nay, if it were possible, strive to get in heaven the same place which John, the beloved disciple, held here on earth, to lean on the very bosom of Christ himself. By that increase of grace, which will proportionably increase glory; by continually exercising holiness, strive continually to adorn your crown, to irradiate your diadem of stars with a lustre that shall outshine the sun in its brightness; and to acquire much of that glory, the least measure of which is precious and inestimable.
And, with these high aims, mingle the deepest humility. Aspire to the greatest of God’s blessings; but at the same time confess that you are unworthy of the least of them. Seek to shine like the seraphim in splendour and glory, and emulate them in deep prostration of soul, under a sense of your unworthiness before the holy God. Acknowledge, in the midst of your high anticipations, that it is only through the abounding grace of God, and the infinite merits of Jesus, that heaven has been opened for you, or for any of the children of men.
John Angell James
Different Degrees of Glory
My dear friends, I now propose to discuss the question of different degrees of glory. The FELICITY OF HEAVEN, set forth in general terms, will consist of the absence of all evil, both natural and moral, such as sin, and all its bitter fruits—death, disease, labor, care, sorrow, and pain; and the presence of all good suited to man as a rational, moral, social, and immortal creature, such as the perfect holiness of his nature, the presence of God in Christ, the society and converse of blessed spirits, and that service and honor which God may appoint to the holy inhabitants of the place. A question arises, Will these inhabitants be equal in all respects in honor and felicity? I do not think.
All real Christians will be in heaven, and possess in substance its chief felicity—as well they who are converted on a death-bed; as they who yield themselves to God in their youth; as well the believer who lives and dies in unmolested ease, as the martyr—all will be equal as to their deliverance from every kind of evil; all will be with Christ, see God face to face, and be perfectly happy—but still there will be circumstances connected with their heavenly state, that will raise some higher in the scale of splendor and blessedness than others.
We now see an obvious difference among God’s people. There are some who are called in the morning of their existence, and who spend a long life in the service of God—while others called by grace at the last hour of life. There are some whose circumstances of ease and comfort call for little sacrifice or self-denial—while others follow Christ to beatings, imprisonment, and death. There are some, who though really regenerated, make little progress in sanctification, and evince so many imperfections, and so much worldly-mindedness, as to render their profession doubtful and suspicious—while others, who have overcome the world by faith in a most conspicuous manner, and by their eminently holy and consistent conduct, bring much glory to God. There are some who are grudging, indolent, or money-loving—while others are liberal, self-denying, and laborious. Now I contend that according to these differences on earth—there will be corresponding differences in heaven.
The PROOF of differing degrees of glory, will be found in the following arguments.
1. It is set forth in the following scriptures. Even the Old Testament asserts the fact. “Those who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the skies, and those who turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever,” Dan. 12:3.
2. Our Lord, in his sermon on the Mount, encourages his persecuted followers to endure, by this consideration, “Great is your reward in heaven,” Matt. 5:12. See also Matt. 10:41-42, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall never lose his reward.”
3. The parable of the pounds, Luke 19:12, teaches the same fact—the good trader with ten pounds, gained rule over ten cities; and the diligent possessor of five pounds, gained five cities.
4. In speaking of the righteous at the last day, the apostle says, as “one star differs from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead,” 1 Cor. 15:41. The applicability of this passage, I know, has been disputed; and it has been considered as intended only to set forth the contrast between the earthly body, and the resurrection one; but this can I think hardly be sustained; there may be differences of magnitude between the stars—but no contrasts. Nor can the apostle mean to limit the difference to the degrees of bodily glory—but to set forth the varied distinctions of splendor of every kind, with which the righteous will appear at the last day.
To the same effect, are all those passages which speak of the rewards of the final judgment, when “every man shall receive the things done in the body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad,” 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12. How decisive is the language of the apostle, Gal. 6:7-9, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked—for whatever a man sows, that also shall he reap. For he who sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” “This I say, He which sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” 2 Cor. 9:6. How clear and how impressive are such statements, that our life is a seed-time for eternity; that all our conduct is the seed sown, and that the harvest will be according to the seed we sow—in kind, quality, and quantity.
I now subjoin other considerations to prove the fact of different degrees of glory:
2. There will be certainly different degrees of misery and disgrace in hell, as is evident from Luke 12:47, Rom. 2:6-16. And why not, then, different degrees of felicity and honor in heaven? Observe the manner in which the apostle speaks of the different rewards of the ministers of the gospel in 1 Cor. 3, “Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. If any man’s work shall abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss—but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” If this be true of ministers, it is no less so of all professors.
3. But this appears equally clear, if we consider the nature of those things of which our heavenly felicity will consist. Part of our happiness will arise from the recollection of what we have done for Christ. Memory will supply much of both the torment of hell, and the felicity of heaven—and they who have most to remember will be most happy. Our future happiness or misery will thus, in a great measure, arise out of our conduct here. Every holy action will be the seed of felicity. Did not Paul, when drawing near his end, look back with delight and gratitude, yet with humility, upon his apostolic life, when he exultingly exclaimed, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” 2 Tim. 4:7. And if such joy was lawful and proper then, what will be the delight of looking back from heaven upon a life of service upon earth; of retracing all the way in which Divine grace has led, sustained, and sanctified us; of reviewing our temptations, conflicts, and triumphs! And this joy will be in proportion to the cause which produces it.
Another part of our felicity will arise from the approbation of God and Christ. This is evident from his representation of the solemnities of judgment, Matt. 25. How blissful to see HIM smile upon us! To hear HIM say, “You have done it unto ME. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done. I saw every action of piety, every struggle with temptation, every tear of penitence, every gift of property, every expression of sympathy with a suffering brother, every labor, and every sacrifice. I know your works, and now I reward them by this public testimony.” How rich a reward! And of course it must be in proportion to the conduct which will secure it.
Another source of our celestial bliss will be the proofs and the fruits of our usefulness in the cause of God, and of immortal souls. The misery of the wicked in hell will arise, in no small degree, from seeing around them, in that world of despair, those whom they had led there by their evil principles, active effort, and seductive example. By a similar law, the felicity of the saints in heaven will receive everlasting accessions from hearing the songs, and witnessing the raptures of those whom they were the honored instruments in saving from death and conducting to glory. What must be the heaven of such men as Whitefield and Wesley, and of other less distinguished servants of Christ, in beholding before the throne so many whom it was their unutterable privilege to lead there!
Not dissimilar in kind, though of course less in degree, will be the joy of all who lay out their property, spend their time, or sacrifice their ease, endeavoring to increase the number of the saints, and thus people the realms of glory with redeemed spirits. Surely, surely, there must be an honor and a bliss in reserve for the eminently zealous, devoted, and self-denying—which will not be experienced in the same degree by those who do little for Christ.
Do not all these considerations, then, sustain the fact that there are different degrees of glory in heaven? Can we conceive of heaven without it? Does it not prove itself to every man’s judgment? In every community on earth, from a family to a state—there are different services, and different posts, which must be sustained by various people, according to their various degrees and kinds of fitness—and why should it be otherwise in heaven? They, surely, form an inaccurate, low, and unworthy idea of that blessed world, who consider it only as a place where all are in every respect alike—all are equal, and all pursue an unvarying sameness of occupation.
I come now to answer the OBJECTIONS which some who have not well considered the subject sometimes bring against it.
Is it not opposed to the parable of the laborers hired to go into the vineyard, all of whom received the same wages, whether hired at the third or the eleventh hour? Matt. 20.
If there are different degrees of glory, will not this be a source of envy and jealousy?
If all are perfect, it may be said, how can there be different degrees?
A question has sometimes been asked, “Whether it is proper to hold up this subject as a motive to Christian diligence?” Why should it be a question? How can it be doubted? Is it not so held up by our Lord and his apostles? We need not pretend nor attempt to be wiser than they. Had not Moses “respect to the recompense of the reward?” In the full conviction that I act scripturally, I propose it to you, my dear friends, as an inducement to zeal, diligence, and self-denial, in the service of the Lord. I do not abuse the doctrine, as some have done, in enumerating the peculiar virtues to which high rewards are assigned in the heavenly world, among which they reckon the monkish practices of celibacy and austerity. Nor do I enjoin a selfish, mercenary notion of merit; for I know salvation to be all of grace from first to last—nor would I check those sentiments of profound humility which lead you to feel, as well as say, that the lowest seat in heaven is infinitely more than you deserve. But I would remind you, because the Scripture does, that the greater proficiency we make in divine experimental knowledge, and in real holiness, according to the means and helps we enjoy; the greater fidelity and diligence we show in discharging the duties of our particular station as members of society, and of the church; the more laborious we are in the improvement of the talents, whether ten, five, or one, entrusted to our care; the more we abound in fruits of righteousness, and the more zealous we are in those good works for which we have opportunity and capacity; the more self-denying we are for Christ’s and conscience’ sake; the more steadfast we are in resisting temptations; the more we glorify God by the exercise of faith and patience in the sharpest trials; the more active, liberal, and ready we are to make sacrifices for the cause of God and the salvation of souls; the more we cultivate love to our brethren and charity to all; the more we excel in spirituality and heavenly-mindedness; and the more we clothe and adorn all our other graces with humility and meekness of mind—the greater will be our future reward, the higher we shall rise in glory, the more fitted shall we be to serve God in some exalted station in the heavenly world.
And I wish to impress the sentiment very deeply upon your minds, that this will not only be the result of gracious and equitable appointment—but that it is the tendency of superior piety itself, to prepare us for such distinctions. I believe that there is a far more close and intimate connection between a state of grace and a state of glory, than many imagine. We all need a fitness for, as well as title to, heaven—and although everyone is fit who is truly regenerated, and no others—yet the more we are sanctified, the more we are fit for some of the higher services in our Father’s house; where, as well as in the church on earth, there will be use and employment for vessels of gold, as well as of silver. There are many professors whose attainments in piety are so slender; whose graces are so languid; whose religion is blended with so much worldly-mindedness; who are at so little pains to grow in grace, that if they are true Christians at heart, and should gain admission to glory—they seem to be qualified for only some low place in the kingdom of heaven.
How mighty should be the INFLUENCE upon our mind and conduct of such a subject as this! How should it check our sloth, and rouse and quicken us to all diligence and perseverance! What an impression should it give us of the importance of our present situation and our present conduct! We are fearfully made, and still more fearfully placed. Everything we do, is a seed of futurity, and must bear eternal fruit. All our actions, words, and thoughts—are ripening into heaven—or hell. Can we be insensible to the solemnity of our situation? Shall we be anxious only to grow rich for time—and neglect to grow rich for eternity? Shall we be intent only upon amassing wealth upon earth—and forget to “lay up treasure in heaven?” Shall we be eager to enlarge and improve the inheritance which is seen and temporal—and be careless about enlarging that which is incorruptible, undefiled, and which does not fade away?
Men are ambitious enough, and we perhaps are like them, to rise in the world, and to attain to secular pre-eminence—let us copy this propensity; but by faith transfer the solicitude to eternal objects, and strive to be great in the kingdom of heaven. If there be prizes of various degrees of value, why should you not contend for one of the nobler ones? Why should you not covet earnestly the best gifts? While you acknowledge, with the truest lowliness of mind, that you are unworthy to sit down on the threshold of heaven—still press forward to a seat far nearer to the Savior’s throne and feet. Seek to glow and shine like the seraphim in glory, and at the same time emulate them in deep prostration of soul, under a sense of your utter unworthiness before God.
It is a ruinous and fatal experiment to try, with how little religion we can reach heaven. If it be the language of humility as it oftentimes is, with some that use it, to say, “They shall be content with the lowest seat in glory,” it is, at other times, the utterance of indolence and indifference. The question, however, is not what we deserve—but what we are invited to possess. We deserve nothing but hell! But we may have not only heaven—but an abundant entrance into it. God is inviting us to seek “more grace” here, that he may lavish upon us more glory hereafter—and all he gives, will, in one sense, flow back to himself again. Those who receive most from him, will render most to him. Higher degrees of glory, while, as regards ourselves, they will enlarge our capacity for happiness, will, as regards him, prepare us in a more eminent manner to enjoy, serve, and honor him. For his sake then, as well as your own, grow in grace, that you may rise in glory!
John Angell James
As another inducement to earnestness, may be mentioned the certain connection between a high state of religion in this world, and an exalted state of honor and happiness in the world to come; or, in other words, the different degrees of glory in the celestial kingdom. We are too much accustomed to conceive of heaven and hell as places where the happy inhabitants of the one, and the miserable criminals of the other, will be, respectively, all upon a level; the one all equally happy, and the other all equally wretched. This is neither the doctrine of Scripture, nor the deduction of reason.
If we consult the Word of God, we find it declared, in reference to the wicked, that ” The servant which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Luke xii. 47. So again it is said by the apostle, ” Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Gal. vi. 7. “He which soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully.” 2 Cor. ix. 6. Now the By all the worth of the immortal soul, then — by all the blessings of eternal salvation — by all the glories of the upper world — by all the horrors of the bottomless pit — by all the ages of eternity, and by all the personal interest you have in these infinite realities,
I conjure you to be in earnest in personal religion. Solemn truth conveyed in this language, is this — that man’s life is the seed-time for eternity — and that as here he is always sowing, so he will hereafter be always reaping; and that the harvest, both as to the kind and the quantity, will be according to the seed. They that sow good seed will have, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold, according to the quantity sown; while they who sow the seed of bad things will also have a harvest regulated by their seed, both in its quality and amount. God’s rule of reward and punishment is a law of proportion. True it is, that in the case of the righteous and the wicked, there is on the part of God a different ground of procedure in reference to each, inasmuch as the punishment of the wicked is on the ground of their own desert, while the reward of the righteous is on that of Christ’s merits — but this affects not the rule of distribution, since he who gives to a believer any measure of heavenly glory for the sake of Christ, may, on the same ground, give to another a far greater measure; he might do this in a way of pure sovereignty, but he has determined to do so according to the measure of holiness to which believers attain on earth.
This principle of different degrees of glory does not at all interfere with, or in the least oppose, the doctrine of justification by faith; nor does it affect the perfect happiness of the blessed in heaven. It will excite neither envy, jealousy, nor ill-will of any kind, since these .passions will be all rooted out from the spirits of just men made perfect; and no other disposition, but that of perfect love to God and our fellows, will have any place in us. A being possessed of this perfect love, though the least and lowest in the scale of blessedness, would look up to all above him without the smallest taint of malevolent feeling. All will be perfectly contented, and, therefore, perfectly happy; and he who is perfectly contented knows nothing of enyy; these states of mind are incompatible with each other. There may be vessels of an indefinite number of capacities, yet all may be full. Thus we can conceive of different degrees of glory, and yet no disturbance of the felicity of those who are subjects of them.
Now the law by which these varieties will be regulated will be, as we have already supposed, the attainments in personal religion, and the degrees of usefulness of Christians upon earth; and this law will help us better to conceive of the whole subject. We may imagine that every effort of vital godliness — every successful resistance of temptation — every reach after holiness — every mortification of sin — every aspiration after conformity to God — may have some effect upon the moral constitution of our nature, analogous to the exercise of our understanding or of our body, in strengthening our intellectual and corporeal frame. There may be an expansion, so to speak, of the spiritual nature, an increasing receptivity of glory and honor, ever going on, by our growth in grace on earth; the child of God may here, by his good habits in the school of Christ, and by his holy exercises, be preparing for a larger stature of the perfect man in heaven. There can be little doubt that the society of Paradise will be well compacted and orderly. There may be varieties of rank, station and employment; for aught we can tell, there may be rule, subjection and government; and therefore the different degrees of grace may be the discipline, the education, the meetness, for the different situations to be filled up, the posts to be occupied, in the celestial kingdom. There are not wanting intimations of this in the Word of God.
Besides, let it be remembered that we shall carry with us our memory to heaven, and will it be no bliss to remember what we did for God on earth, and how we attempted to serve Christ? Why, the apostle Paul felt this even on earth; and if the retrospect then afforded him such delight, how much more when he saw the results of all he did spread out before him in the celestial world! With what rapture would he there say, ” I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course !” How precious would be the recollection of all his sufferings, and all his labors! How it would delight him to look back, and recall to recollection his sacrifices and his services, not in a spirit of pharisaic pride, but of deep humility, and adoring gratitude and love. There he would realize the truth of his own words, ” For what is our hope or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Am not even ye in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy.” 1 Thess. ii. 19. Every soul he had been the instrument of saving would be a separate jewel to enrich and adorn his diadem of glory.
Just thus will it be with all others. Memory will add to their felicities also. The whole multitude of the redeemed will remember all they did for Christ, and think of it with delight; and they who have most to think of will have most bliss in the remembrance of it. The souls which they have been the instruments of saving will all be present to swell their rapture and augment their bliss. Nor will the enjoyment stop here. The blissful reminiscence will be enhanced by a divine eulogy, for Christ will add his testimony of approbation to all they did. Even a cup of cold water shall not lose its reward, if given to a disciple in his name. He will pass over nothing. He keeps a book of remembrance of those who even flunk upon his name; and he will mark with his special and personal commendation all we have done for him; and then they who have served him best will, of course, receive most of his gracious notice and commendation.
Professors, I appeal to you, then, on this deeply interesting and important view of our subject. True it is, that to be just within the threshold of your Father’s house — to occupy the lowest room, and to perform the humblest service, will be amazing and unutterable grace — but this ought not to be an excuse for indolence, an apology for lukewarmness. If it be lawful for you to long for heaven, because there you shall enjoy the presence of your Lord, it is surely lawful for you to desire to press as near to your Lord as possible; the outer circle, the distant glimpse, the remote dwelling, ought not to be enough to satisfy your desire, or fill your heart. If it be lawful for you to covet heaven at all, because you shall there serve God, surely it is lawful for you also to aspire to the honor of doing more for him than you could do in one of the lowest posts. Call not this a spiritual selfishness, or an unauthorized ambition; it is no such thing; it is a legitimate yearning of the soul after the glory to be revealed. This, this, is your business on earth, you are training for heaven; this is your work in the church militant, to be preparing for some post and place in the church triumphant. Is not this enough to make you in earnest? Can you believe this, and not be in earnest? Awake — arouse — put aside your earthly- mindedness — mortify your corruptions ! ” Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Pet. i. 13.
John Angell James
The Christian Father’s Present to His Children
Republished in 1827 in Boston; perhaps available to Joseph Smith
Surely, surely my children, an old age thus placid and venerable, is an object worthy of your desires; surely these peaceful recollections, these sublime prospects, amidst the dreariness of age, are deserving your exertions. Early piety will have a considerable influence on your eternal felicity.
Life is the seedtime for eternity; what a man soweth, that shall he also reap, not only in kind, but degree. Late sowings, as well as scanty ones, are generally followed with short crops. The reward of the righteous is all of grace, but then that grace which rewards the righteous rather than the wicked, may, with equal consistency, reward righteousness according to its degrees, We cannot think that the reward of the dying thief, who was converted in the dark Valley of the shadow of death, will be equal to that of Timothy or of Paul, who spent a long and laborious life in the service of Christ. Nor is it to be imagined, that the crown of the aged convert will be as bright or as heavy, as that of the Christian who is converted in youth, and continues, into good old age, in a course of consistent piety.
1805 – 1844
The Three Degrees of Glory (Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 – 1832)
A vision given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, at Hiram, Ohio, February 16, 1832. HC 1: 245–252. Prefacing his record of this vision the Prophet wrote: “Upon my return from Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. It appeared self-evident from what truths were left, that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints’ eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one. Accordingly, while translating St. John’s Gospel, myself and Elder Rigdon saw the following vision.” It was after the Prophet had translated John 5: 29 that this vision was given.
1 Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior.
2 Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out.
3 His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand.
4 From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail.
5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
8 Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
9 And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
10 For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.
11 We, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, being in the Spirit on the sixteenth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two—
12 By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God—
13 Even those things which were from the beginning before the world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning;
14 Of whom we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision.
15 For while we were doing the work of translation, which the Lord had appointed unto us, we came to the twenty-ninth verse of the fifth chapter of John, which was given unto us as follows—
16 Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, concerning those who shall hear the voice of the Son of Man:
17 And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.
18 Now this caused us to marvel, for it was given unto us of the Spirit.
19 And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.
20 And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;
21 And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.
22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
25 And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son,
26 And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning.
27 And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning!
28 And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision; for we beheld Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ—
29 Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about.
30 And we saw a vision of the sufferings of those with whom he made war and overcame, for thus came the voice of the Lord unto us:
31 Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power—
32 They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born;
33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;
34 Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come—
35 Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.
36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—
37 And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;
38 Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.
39 For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made.
40 And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
41 That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
42 That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;
43 Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.
44 Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment—
45 And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows;
46 Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof;
47 Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again;
48 Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation.
49 And we heard the voice, saying: Write the vision, for lo, this is the end of the vision of the sufferings of the ungodly.
50 And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—
51 They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—
52 That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
53 And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
54 They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.
55 They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—
56 They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;
57 And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.
58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of cGod—
59 Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
60 And they shall overcome all things.
61 Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.
62 These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
63 These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.
64 These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection.
65 These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.
66 These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.
67 These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.
68 These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.
69 These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
70 These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
71 And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.
72 Behold, these are they who died without law;
73 And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh;
74 Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.
75 These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.
76 These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness.
77 These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.
78 Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun.
79 These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.
80 And now this is the end of the vision which we saw of the terrestrial, that the Lord commanded us to write while we were yet in the Spirit.
81 And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.
82 These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.
83 These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.
84 These are they who are thrust down to hell.
85 These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the blast resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work.
86 These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;
87 And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial.
88 And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation.
89 And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;
90 And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it.
91 And thus we saw the glory of the terrestrial which excels in all things the glory of the telestial, even in glory, and in power, and in might, and in dominion.
92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;
93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.
94 They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;
95 And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion.
96 And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one.
97 And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one.
98 And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;
99 For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas.
100 These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch;
101 But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.
102 Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud.
103 These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.
104 These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth.
105 These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
106 These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work;
107 When he shall deliver up the kingdom, and present it unto the Father, spotless, saying: I have overcome and have trodden the wine-press alone, even the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God.
108 Then shall he be crowned with the crown of his glory, to sit on the throne of his power to reign forever and ever.
109 But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore;
110 And heard the voice of the Lord saying: These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever;
111 For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared;
112 And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.
113 This is the end of the vision which we saw, which we were commanded to write while we were yet in the Spirit.
114 But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion;
115 Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter;
116 Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him;
117 To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves;
118 That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory.
119 And to God and the Lamb be glory, and honor, and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Explained and Defended
(Published in Philadelphia in 1815)
There is one thing more, which, though it be not particularly mentioned in this answer, I would not entirely pass over, that is, what may be said to a question proposed by some, viz. Whether there are degrees of glory in heaven? The Papists not only maintain that there are, but pretend that greater degrees thereof shall be conferred on persons, in proportion to the merit of their good works here on earth; and therefore have assigned to them the highest places there, who have performed works of supererogation, by doing more than was strictly enjoined them by the law of God. But all Protestant divines, who allow that there are degrees of glory in heaven, strenuously maintain that these are rewards of grace as every ingredient in the heavenly blessedness is supposed to be. And when this doctrine is made the subject of controversy among them; neither side ought to contend for their particular opinion, as though it was one of the most important articles of faith, or charge them who defend the other side of the question, as though they were maintaining something that was directly contrary to scripture, or of a pernicious consequence.
They, on, the other hand, who suppose that there are no degrees of glory in heaven, are afraid, that if they should assert the contrary, it would, in some measure, eclipse the glory of the grace of God, and givr; too much umbrago to the Popish doctrine of the merit of good works. But this all Protestant divines, as was but now observed, sufficiently fence against. And, inasmuch as it is farther argued against degrees of glory, that those external and relative privileges, which they enjoy, such as election, justification, and adoption, belong equally and alike to all saints; and the same price of redemption was paid for all, therefore their glory shall be equal: this method of reasoning will not appear very conclusive, if we consider that sanctification is as much the result of their being elected, justified, redeemed, and adopted, as their being glorified; but that appears not to be equal in all, therefore it does not follow from hence, that their glory, in a future state, shall be so. And though their objective blessedness, which consists in that infinite fulness of grace that there is in God, is inconsistent with any idea of degrees; yet it does not follow, that the communications resulting from hence, which are finite, shall be in a like degree; nor can it be inferred from hence, that if there are degrees of glory, the state of those who have the least degree, shall be imperfect in its kind, or have any thing in it which shall afford the least abatement of their happiness, or be the occasion of envy or uneasiness, as the superior excellencies of some, in this imperfect state, often, appear to be, since that is inconsistent with perfect holiness: nor is it to be supposed that there are any degrees, with respect to the deliverance of the saints from the sins, guilt, and miseries of this present life, which is equal in all; nor do they, who think that there are degrees of glory in heaven, in the least insinuate that every one shall not be perfectly filled and satisfied, in proportion to his receptive disposition; as a small vessel, put into the ocean, is equally full, in proportion to its capacity, with the largest; and therefore none of the saints will desire, nor, indeed, can contain more than God designs to communicate to them
As for that scripture which is sometimes brought in defence of this opinion, viz. the parable of the persons that were hired to work in the vineyard, in Matt. xx. 9. in which it is said, that they that rvere hired about the eleventh hour, received every man a fenny, which is as much as others received who were hired early in the morning, and had born the heat and burden of the day; that does not sufficiently prove it, since some of these labourers are represented as murmuring, and insinuating that they had wrong done them, to whom Christ replies, It thine eye evil, because 1 am good? and they are described as called, but not chosen, ver. 15, 16. Therefore it is not designed to set forth the glory of heaven, but the temper and disposition of the Jewish church, who were partakers of the external blessings of the covenant of grace, and the gospel-church, as having equal privileges; so that the arguments generally insisted on.
Another scripture which is also brought to prove this doctrine, is in 1 Cor. xv. 41, 42. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory; so also is the resurrection of the dead; where the apostle is speaking concerning the happiness of the saints after the resurrection, whom he compares not with what they were when they left the world; for then had no glory, being sown in corruption and dishonour; but he seems to compare the glory of one saint, after the resurrection, with that of another; and accordingly he illustrates it by the brightness of the heavenly luminaries; every one of which has a glory superior to terrestial bodies: nevertheless he seems to intimate, that if we compare them together, the glory of the one exceeds that of the other. Thus the glory of the least saint in heaven, is inconceivably greater than that of the greatest here on earth: it is, indeed, full and complete in its kind; yet when compared with the glory of others, it may in some circumstances fall short of it.
To prove that there are no degrees of glory in heaven, can hardly be reckoned sufficient to overthrow the contrary doctrine; especially if those other scriptures, that are often brought to rove that there are, be understood in the most obvious sense icreof; and they are such as these, viz, Daniel xii. 3. They hat be -wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever; where the prophet speaks of those who excel in grace ad usefulness in this world; and then considers them not only > wise, but as turning many to righteousness; whose glory, after the resurrection, of which he speaks in the foregoing verse, has something illustrious and distinguishing in it, which compared to the brightness of the firmament and stars. To this it is objected, that our Saviour, in Matt. xiii. 43. illustrates the happiness of all the glorified saints, whom he calls the righteous, by their shining as the sun; therefore the prophet Daniel means no other glory but what is common to all saints; and consequently there are no degrees of glory. But to this it may be replied, that our Saviour does not compare the glory of one of the saints in heaven, with that of another; but intimates, that the happiness of every one of them shall be inconceivably great, and very fitly illustrates it by the brightness of the sun; whereas the prophet is speaking of some that were honoured above others in their usefulness here; and then considers them as having peculiar degrees of glory conferred upon them hereafter, which is something more than what he had said in the foregoing verse, which is common to all the saints, when he speaks of them as awaking out of the dust to everlasting life.
There is another argument brought by some, to prove this doctrine, taken from the parable ot the talents, in Matt. xxv. 14, &f seq. in which the reward is proportioned to the respective improvement thereof; which seems to respect some blessings which they were to receive in another world; inasmuch as our Saviour compares himself to one that is travelling into a far country, and after a long time, returning and reckoning with his servants: by the former of which is meant, his ascension into heaven; and by the latter, his return to judgment; and consequently those regards which differ in degree, must respect some peculiar glory, which he will confer on his people in another world; and, indeed, the whole chapter seems to refer to the same thing. The former parable of the wise and foolish virgins denotes the behaviour of persons here, and the consequence thereof hereafter: and the latter part of the chapter expressly speaks of Christ’s coming to judgment, and dealing with every one according to his works. If therefore the improvement of these talents respects some advantages that one is to expect above the other, it seems to intimate that there are degrees of glory.
Moreover, this is farther argued from those various degrees of grace that some have in this world above others, which is a peculiar honour bestowed on them, and is sometimes considered as the fruit and consequence of their right improvement of those graces which they had before received. And this may be considered as laying a foundation for greater praise; which argues that the soul shall be enlarged in proportion thereunto, so that it may give unto God the glory due to his name, as the result thereof. Therefore if we take an estimate of God’s future, from his present dispensations, it not only removes some objections that are sometimes brought against this doctrine; but adds farther strength to those arguments taken from the scriptures before-mentioned, to prove it. But notwithstanding all that has been said, on this subject, it is the safest way for us to confess, that we know but little of the affairs of another world, and much less of the circumstances of glorified saints, considered as compared with one another. Nor are we to conclude, if there are degrees of glory, that the highest degree thereof is founded on the merit of what any have done or suffered for Christ; or, on the other hand, that the lowest is inconsistent with complete blessedness; which, shall be proportioned to their most enlarged desires, and as much as they are capable of containing. Thus concerning the question proposed by some, viz. Whether there are degrees of glory?
There is another which has some affinity with it, that I would not wholly pass over; namely, whether the saints in heaven shall not have some additional improvements, or make progressive advances in some things, which may be reckoned a farther ingredient in their future happiness? This is to be insisted on •with the utmost caution, lest any thing should be advanced which is inconsistent with the complete blessedness, which they are immediately possessed of: however, I do not think that it will detract from it, if we should venture to assert, that the understanding of glorified saints shall receive very considerable improvements, from those objects which shall be presented to them, and the perpetual discoveries that will be made of the glorious mysteries of divine grace, whereby the whole scene of providence, and its subserviency to their eternal happiness, shall be opened, to raise their wonder, and enhance their praise. Since it is not inconsistent with the perfect blessedness of the angels, to desire to know more of this mystery, which they are said to look into, 1 Pet. i. 12. and inasmuch as their joy is increased by those few occasions, which daily present themselves; why may not the same be said with respect to the saints in heaven; especially if we consider that this will redound so much to the glory of God, as well as give us more raised ideas of that happiness which they shall be possessed of.1796 – 1850
Henry Bidleman Bascom (Methodist Episcopal Bishop)
Sermons from the Pulpit (1850)
The different degrees of glory affirmed with regard to the inhabitants of Heaven, not inconsistent with the preceding views
Perfect beatitude will be the portion of all, but it will be with that variety which lends charm and interest to the ever-varied creations of the universal God. Heaven will present an endless gradation in dignity and happiness, characterizing all the ranges of intellectual life and Divine enjoyment, from the least of all saints, up to the highest princedoms and dominions of the sky. That variety distinguishing the splendor of the stellar hosts, is the inspired similitude of the different degrees of glory in Heaven. The proper individuality and difference of character, obtaining among the good and devout of earth, will be perpetuated in Heaven. It would imply an utter reversal of all the laws of character, and a subversion of the mental and moral habitudes governing conduct and action, to suppose that Paul and John, Luther and Wesley, will present no diversity of reward and excellence in Heaven. As there are upon earth different kinds and degrees of moral worth and goodness, so in Heaven there will be similar difference in the kind and measure of reward and distinction meted to them.
Humble and illustrious worth, will be their immortal recompense and fullness of joy; but, in the case of each, it will be the expansion of the principles and elements giving birth to the distinctive classes upon earth. In Heaven, the millions of the unfallen and the redeemed, will take rank and class respectively about the throne of God, in conformity with the grade and extent of excellence, by which they are distinguished. Not unlike concentric circles around a common center, we may suppose ranks and grades to fall in and receive place and position at the hand of God, in strict adherence to the law of actual affinity with him. Moral resemblance to God and the extent of cooperation with him in the accomplishment of the Divine purposes, will be the rule of rank, and the law of relative position.
There will be many, innumerably multitudinous mansions, adjusted to the diversity of character and claim, as well as the multitude of the saved; but fullness of content and sufficiency, happiness intense and transcendent, will reign in all. We may imagine circles near, and orbits distant— greater and less nearness of access to the throne and altar — while even the very verge of the sphere is occupied by rejoicing millions. And yet all repose in the consummation of their hopes and wishes, and find the grand totality and laws of happiness the same to all and the same forever!1808 – 1878
Octavius Winslow (eminent Baptist Preacher and author (Calvinist)
Help Heavenward (1860)
Chapter “The Clouds of the Christian, the Chariot of God”
(speaking of heaven; note reference to 1 Corinthians 15)
That there will be gradations of knowledge and degrees of glory, I think is probable. There are so in the Church of God on earth; I see nothing to exclude the same from the Church of God in heaven. But this will not in the slightest degree affect the happiness or glory of the saints. Is there less beauty in a tulip-bed, or in a conservatory of flowers, because there is so rich an assemblage of varied colors? Or, is there less splendor in the heavenly bodies because there is so great a variety of magnitude, effulgence, and orbit? And will there be less enjoyment, or less beauty, or less song amidst the countless numbers who throng the temple above, because ‘One star differeth from another star in glory’ (1 Cor. 15:41)? Oh, no, the glory and the happiness of each will be full and perfect! Every spirit will possess a happiness and reflect a glory equal to its capacity. As two luminous bodies in the celestial system may shine in perfection, though in widely different orbits and with different degrees of splendor, and as two streams, the rivulet and the river, may course their way through landscape, the one gliding in simple, pensive beauty, the other rolling in majestic waves, and yet each filling its channel, both equally charming the eye and declaring the glory of God; so the ‘spirits of just men made perfect’ (Heb. 12:23) shall each be a differing, yet full, vessel of happiness. The image of God will shine with full-orbed splendor in both, though with different intensity, and by each one shall Christ perfect to himself endless praise.
Oh, beloved, if we but reach that world of purity and of bliss, we shall be so satisfied with the orbit we roll in, the glory we emit, and the happiness we feel, as never to question the goodness or the righteousness of God in the sphere assigned us! Christ will then be all in all to us, and we shall be satisfied with all that Christ has done. I think that our bliss will be so complete, our joy so full, and our glory so resplendent, we shall scarcely be conscious that there is another saint fuller, happier, or more glorious than ourselves. Blessed world of glory, we long to be within thy walls! Open, ye everlasting doors, and admit us, that we may eat of the tree of life and recline upon the sunlight banks of the crystal river that makes glad the city of our God.1816-1890
The third thought that I bring to your attention is this: Our future state in the unseen world of eternity depends entirely on what we are in the present.
The life that we live on the earth is short and soon gone. “We finish our years with a moan.”—”What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (Psalm 90:9; James 4:14) The life that is before us when we leave this world is an endless eternity, a sea without a bottom, and an ocean without a shore. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8) In that world there will be no more time. But short as our life is here, and endless as it will be in eternity, the life we now live will have a tremendous impact on eternity. Our lot after death depends, humanly speaking, on what we are while we are alive. It is written, God “will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:6-8)
We must never forget, that every one of us, while we live, are in a state of probation. We are constantly sowing seeds that will spring up and bear fruit, every day and every hour in our lives. There are eternal consequences resulting from all our thoughts and words and actions, of which we pay too little attention to. “Men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36) Our thoughts are all numbered; our actions are weighed. No wonder that Paul says, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8) In a word, what we sow in life we will reap after death, and reap throughout all eternity.
There is no greater delusion than the common idea that it is possible to live wickedly, and yet rise again gloriously—to be without Christ in this world, and yet to be a saint in the next. When that great preacher George Whitefield revived the doctrine of conversion, in the last century, it is reported that one of his listeners came to him after a sermon and said, “It is all quite true, sir. I hope I will be converted and born again one day, but not till after I am dead.” I fear there are many like him. I fear the false doctrine of the Roman Catholic purgatory has many secret friends even within the confines of the true Church today! However carelessly men may go on while they live, they secretly cling to the hope that they will be found among the saints when they die. They seem to embrace the idea that there is some cleansing, purifying effect produced by death, and that, whatever they may be in this life, they will be found “suitable for the inheritance of the saints” in the life to come. But it is all a delusion.
“The Scripture never represents the state of future misery, as a state of cleansing and purification, or anything analogous to a state of trial, where men may conform and qualify themselves for some better state of existence: but always as a state of retribution, punishment, and righteous vengeance, in which God’s justice (a perfection of which some men seem to render no account) vindicates the power of His majesty, His government, and His love, by punishing those who have despised them.” (Horbery, volume II, p. 183)
“Life is the time to serve the Lord,
The time to insure the great reward.”
The Bible clearly teaches that what we are when we die, whether converted or unconverted, whether believers or unbelievers, whether godly or ungodly, so we will be when we rise again at the sound of the last trumpet. There is no repentance in the grave: there is no conversion after the last breath is drawn. Now is the time to believe in Christ, and to lay hold of eternal life. Now is the time to turn from darkness to light, and to make our calling and election sure. The night comes when no man can work. As the tree falls, there it will lie. If we leave this world refusing to repent and believe, we will rise in the same condition on resurrection morning, and find it would have been “better for us if we had never been born.”
“This life is the time of our preparation for our future state. Our souls will continue forever what we make them in this world. Such a taste and disposition of mind as a man carries with him out of this life, he will retain in the next. It is absolutely true that heaven perfects those holy and virtuous dispositions, which are begun here; but the other world alters no man as to his main state. He that is filthy will be filthy still; and he that is unrighteous will be unrighteous still.” (Tillotson’s Sermon on Philippians 3:20. (See Horbery, volume II, p. 133))
I strongly advise readers of this paper to remember this, and to make a good use of their time. Regard it as the stuff of which life is made, and never waste it or throw it away. Your hours and days and weeks and months and years all have something to say to your eternal condition beyond the grave. What you sow in this life on earth you are sure to reap in a life to come. As that holy preacher Richard Baxter says, it is “now or never.” Whatever we do in religion must be done now.
Remember this in your use of all the means of grace, from the least to the greatest. Never be careless about them. They are given to be your helps toward an eternal world, and not one of them ought to be thoughtlessly treated or lightly and irreverently handled. Your daily prayers and Bible-reading, your weekly behavior on the Lord’s day, your manner of going through public worship—everyone of these things are important. Use them all as one who remembers eternity.
Keep it foremost in your mind, whenever you are tempted to do evil. When sinners entice you, and say, “It is only a little sin.” When Satan whispers in your heart, “Never mind: what is the great harm in it? Everybody does it,”—then look beyond time to a world unseen, and place in the face of the temptation the thought of eternity. There is a great saying by the martyred Reformer, Bishop Hooper, when someone urged him to recant before he was burned, saying, “Life is sweet and death is bitter.” “True,” said the good Bishop, “quite true! But eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death is more bitter.”1816 – 1900
J.C. Ryle (Evangelical Anglican Bishop of Liverpool)
Expository Thoughts on JOHN 23 (1860)
2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
Heaven is a place of “mansions,”–of lasting, permanent, and eternal dwellings. Here in the body we are in lodgings, tents, and tabernacles, and must submit to many changes. In heaven we shall be settled at last, and go out no more. “Here we have no continuing city.” (Heb. xiii. 14.) Our house not made with hands shall never be taken down.
Heaven is a place of “many mansions.” There will be room for all believers and room for all sorts, for little saints as well as great ones, for the weakest believer as well as for the strongest. The feeblest child of God need not fear there will be no place for him. None will be shut out but impenitent sinners and obstinate unbelievers.
2.–[In my Father’s house.] This phrase can bear only one meaning. It is my Father’s house in heaven: an expression accommodated to our weakness. God needs no literal house, with walls and roof, as we do. But where He dwells is called His house. (See Deut. xxvi. 15; Psalm xxxiii. 14; 2 Chron. xxxviii. 27; 2 Cor. v. 1.) There is something very touching and comforting in the thought that the heaven we go to is “our Father’s house.” It is home.
[There are many mansions.] The word rendered “mansions” means literally “abiding-places.” It is only used here, and in the twenty-third verse of this chapter, “abode.” We need not doubt that there is an intentional contrast between the unchanging, unvarying house in heaven, and the changing, uncertain, dwellings of this world, Here we are ever moving: there we shall no more go out. (See also Heb. xiii. 14.)
Chrysostom, Augustine, and several other ancient writers think the “many mansions” mean the degrees of glory. But the argument in favour of the idea does not appear to me satisfactory. Bishop Bull, Wordsworth, and some few modern writers take the same view. That there are degrees of glory in heaven is undoubtedly true, but I do not think it is the truth of this text.1918
The Future Life: According to the Authority of Divine Revelation, the Dictates of Sound Reason
Joseph Casimir Sasia, S.J. (“Society of Jesus” – Jesuit Catholic)
Chapter 18 The Various Degrees of Merit
368. Divine grace, by making us adoptive children of God, confers on our actions a value, which, considered in themselves, they do not possess, and renders them meritorious of eternal glory. Merit always involves some kind of claim to a recompense. When a recompense is due through strict justice, whence arises an equitable right on the part of the claimant, we have what is termed condign merit — meritum de condigno. When retribution may be claimed simply as something befitting, or as a kind of grateful return, there is then the merit of congruity — meritum de congruo. For an act to be meritorious of heavenly glory it is required that it should be morally good, free, and supernatural; that is, elicited through motives inspired by divine faith. On the part of God the promise of a reward is always supposed. Eternal life is indeed the inheritance of adopted sons, but it is also the reward of the good deeds, which the just performed under the influence of and by the aid of divine grace.
369. As we proved above, though man cannot be said to possess a strict claim or right to divine recompense, for whatever he has is God’s gift; yet, on account of God’s explicit promises, he is entitled to a reward for his good deeds. In the present order of providence he is destined for heavenly beatitude, and it shall be bestowed on him as a recompense for his merits, if he fulfils the imposed condition, i. e., compliance with God’s holy will. In human things a kind of just proportion or equity must be observed between the merit, or the work done, and its reward. Can we say the same of the supernatural bliss bestowed by Almighty God on His loyal, faithful servants? No, by no means. There is no proportion, no comparison whatever between even the most heroic actions of men, and the heavenly reward, a happiness perfect in its object, boundless in its extent and eternal in its duration. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” says Christ in His Gospel, “because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” This most cheering truth is thus proclaimed by St. Paul: “I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.” A similar sentiment is expressed by the same Apostle in his second Epistle to the Corinthians (iv. 18), which we had occasion to quote when speaking of heavenly happiness.
370. In this connection I will here reproduce a thoughtful remark of Father Tapparelli, S.J., the distinguished author of the classical “Essay on Natural Right.” In his first dissertation (n. 133), he writes: “Here some one might ask me, ‘How can man acquire any merit before God, whom he cannot at all benefit, and from whom he receives all that he possesses?’ This is my answer: It is plain that man cannot acquire, in regard to God, any merit of strict justice, as between himself and God there exists no equality whatsoever, but only some respects or relations of proportion, as St. Thomas states. But, if we take into account God’s decree creating man for natural happiness, on condition that he should tread on the appointed path, he acquires, by so doing, a kind of right to the attainment of the end proposed to him. For what kind of path would that be which did not lead to the proposed goal? On the other hand, though the good intentions and actions of man can afford no intrinsic advantage to God, yet they contribute to the increase of His extrinsic glory, to promote which man was created; and in this way he lends his share to the moral order of the universe, of which God is the Supreme Ruler; and in this sense man may be said to be in some manner advantageous to God and thereby merit a recompense for his virtuous deeds.” In the present order of providence, owing to man’s elevation to the supernatural state, we find that there exists a just proportion between human virtuous actions and the divine reward. For as adopted children of God we merit the beatific vision and the degree of beatitude corresponding to our co-operation with divine grace. It is the dignity of adoption acquired through the merits of Christ that imparts to our acts a supernatural value and makes them proportioned to the supernatural recompense. Hence the bestowal of heavenly beatitude is designated in Holy Scripture as a reward, as the inheritance of worthy sons, as a crown for lawful combats, and as the recompense or hire due to diligent laborers. We should, however, never forget the wise reflection of St. Augustine, who says that Almighty God by bestowing on the just the eternal reward only crowns His own gifts.
The following not only heretical but also supremely absurd proposition of Baius was deservedly condemned by Pius V in his Bull Ex Omnibus Afflictionibus issued October 1, A. D. 1567: N. 14. “The good works of the just will not receive in the last Judgment Day a reward greater than they deserved to receive according to the just judgment of God.”
371. It is certain that what constitutes the essential happiness of heaven; namely, the beatific vision, the ” happy-making” sight, is substantially the same for all the blessed; but at the same time, we must remember that the enjoyment of such happiness contains different degrees of intensity proportionate to the merits acquired by each individual during his lifetime upon earth. Hence the holier in heaven will receive more delight through the faculties of the soul and the glorified senses, after the resurrection, than those that have practised virtue in an inferior decree. Therefore each of the blessed shall possess that degree of happiness, which is proportionate to the supernatural perfection attained by the virtue and holiness of his life. All the just are to rise in glory, but each one according to the degree of his perfection and supernatural merit. St. Paul illustrates this truth by a fitting comparison: “Star differeth from star in glory; so also is the resurrection of the dead.” There will then be a kind of gradation in the personal beauty, grace, and splendor allotted to the saints.
372. Here we may ask: “Shall those different degrees of glory cause envy in those that possess an inferior degree of heavenly happiness?” We answer that this cannot be. There is no envy in heaven, the abode of perfect bliss, tranquility, and peace. Everyone there is completely satisfied with his own degree of glory, which he knows to be proportionate to his merits. Nay, he even rejoices at the higher degree of glory granted to others who merited it by the higher degree of holiness which they attained in their probation on earth.1992
John MacArthur Jr.
Differrent Degrees of Reward in Heaven and Punishment in Hell
Tape, GC 70-13, titled “Bible Questions and Answers”
The Bible teaches that as a Christian, when we die we receive different degrees of rewards in heaven. And, I’d like to know if you could expound on those different degrees, but also, if there are different degrees of suffering in Hell?
I think “yes” to both of those questions. There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: there are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth. To get a good glimpse of what heaven might be like, look at the church. From the moment of your redemption, the Lord put His Holy Spirit within you, and according to I Corinthians 12, He gave you certain spiritual gifts, right? He gave gifts to all of His church. They differ. What are gifts? They are varying capacities for ministry, varying capacities for service to God in His church. And I think the same thing will be true eternally; I think in eternity, we will all be given according to our abilities and according to our faithfulness–varying capacities for glorifying, serving, and worshipping God.
So, I think that it’s going to be based upon two things. One would be the sovereignty of God, who will choose to give as He wills, as in I Corinthians 12, as He gives spiritual gifts in this life to the church, in whatever way He chooses to do that–that’s a sovereign thing. And secondly, I think there is another component, and that has to do with faithfulness here. I believe our eternal reward will be in some way determined by the level of faithfulness we have had here.
Now, there are a number of reasons why we assume this. One of them was this conversation that Jesus had with the mother of James and John, who said, “My boys want to sit on your right and left hand when you come into the kingdom,” and He said, “It’s not for Me to give that; it’s for my Father to give that.” And there He said, there are going to be some people elevated. Somebody’s going to be on my right, somebody’s going to be on my left, and some others are going to be down the line here–It’s not for Me to decide that; It’s the Father. But, then He went on to say the criteria by which that is going to be decided is faithfulness unto death. So, I think the greatest reward in the future is awarded for the most faithful people, and that probably plays itself out in those who were faithful unto death: the martyrs, those who gave their life. You could give your life in living, as well as give your life in dying, couldn’t you? And you know what I mean by that. You could make the self-sacrifice to the maximum extent even while you’re alive, where you sacrifice everything else and be what Paul called a “living sacrifice.”
So, I think there is definitely going to be, in heaven, varying levels of service, just as there are with the angels: there are archangels, and there are cherubim and seraphim, and principalities and powers and rulers, and all of those varying levels of angelic hierarchy. I think in eternity, we are all going to be sorted out within that eternal worshipping community and given varying capacities and varying responsibilities, which are determined by the sovereignty of God and our faithfulness here. That’s why John says, “Look to yourselves that you lose not the things you have wrought, but that you receive a full reward.” It is possible that you could be faithful, and the Lord be ready and prepared to give you a full reward, but by some sin in your life towards the end of your life, you could begin to forfeit and those things would be taken back off the list, added to the “wood, hay, and stubble” kind of thing, and your reward would be less.
What is it? Is it going to be some people with bigger crowns? No. We’re not going to be going around saying, “Hah! I got a big one; you got a little one!” It’s not going to be that. Whatever we get, I believe in the picture of the 24 elders, we take our crowns and cast them at the feet of the Lord. But, I don’t believe they’re going to be anything that’s visible. I think it’s going to be a capacity for serving God fully and completely. I don’t think you’ll have any sense of loss or any sense of missing anything, because each individual’s capacity will be reached to its maximum. But, I think what we want to do is have the greatest capacity for worshipping God, as His sovereignty would give us and as our faithfulness would warrant.
Now, in terms of the other, there will be degrees of suffering. Hebrews 10 says, “How much greater suffering will come to the one, who has trodden underfoot, the blood of the covenant, and counted it an unholy thing, done despite to the Spirit of grace.” To put it simply, it means this: the more people know about the gospel and reject, the greater degree of suffering they will experience–when they trample underfoot the blood of the covenant. That is to say, the pagan who never heard anything about the gospel of Jesus Christ will not suffer the degree that the apostate would, who heard it all, understood it all, and blatantly rejected it all.1992
Degrees Of Reward In The Kingdom Of Heaven?
It is precisely in circles supporting the Lordship-Salvation question — largely but by no means exclusively dispensationalist in heritage—that rightly seek to preserve the strong Reformation tradition of God’s freely granted justification apart from any human merit that often a contrary doctrine is also vigorously promoted: the doctrine of degrees of reward in heaven. Believers may enter into God’s family entirely apart from their own good works, but the degree to which they will enjoy heaven is said exclusively to depend on how they live out their Christian life—to what extent they obey God’s commandments and mature in the faith. In short, though few would put it so baldly one is left with justification by faith and sanctification by works.
In the twenty years of my adult Christian life I have grown progressively more uncomfortable with any formulation that differentiates among believers as regards our eternal rewards. Several recent, lengthy conversations with students and pastors who have been equally troubled about this issue and about some of its very practical consequences in ministry have heightened my concern. Joe Wall’s new book, Going for the Gold: Reward and Loss at the Judgment of Believers,troubles me greatly. On virtually every major passage he treats concerning the topic of rewards I find his exegesis unconvincing. I will state my thesis at once and then briefly defend it. I do not believe there is a single NT text that, when correctly interpreted, supports the notion that believers will be distinguished one from another for all eternity on the basis of their works as Christians. What is more, I am convinced that when this unfounded doctrine of degrees of reward in heaven is acted upon consistently—though, fortunately, it often is not—it can have highly damaging consequences for the motivation and psychology of living the Christian life.
Mortality; Judgement; Heaven: hell from “Concise Theology”
There will be different degrees of blessedness and reward in heaven. All will be blessed up to the limit of what they can receive, but capacities will vary just as they do in this world. As for rewards (an area in which present irresponsibility can bring permanent future loss: 1 Cor. 3:10-15), two points must be grasped. The first is that when God rewards our works he is crowning his own gifts, for it was only by grace that those works were done. The second is that essence of the reward in each case will be more of what the Christian desires most, namely, a deepening of his or her love-relationship with the Savior, which is the reality to which all the biblical imagery of honorific crowns and robes and feasts is pointing. The reward is parallel to the reward of courtship, which is the enriching of the love-relationship itself through marriage.1993
Christian Theology: An Introduction
Other debates include the question of whether there are relative grades or ranks among those in heaven. The fifth century writer Theodore of Cyrrhus argued that, since there are many rooms in the Father’s house (John 14:2) it followed that the relative fortunes and privileges of those in heaven are determined by their achievements during their lives. This doctrine of “status by merit” was continued in the writings of Ambrose, and echoed in medieval theology.
At the time of the reformation, this doctrine came into disrepute, partly due to the Protestant dislike of the idea “merit” in general. However, the notion of various degrees of blessedness seems to have linkered on in the the Puritan devotional writings of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Thus in 1589 William Fulke recognized a variation of degrees in glory in heaven, but put this down to God’s gracious ordering, rather than any merit on the parts of those specially favored: “As the stars differ in their glory not according to their merits, but according to God’s gifts in their creation, so the bodies of the saints shall differ in glory, not according to their merits, but according to God’s free gifts in the resurrection.”1996
Bob Wilkin, Executive Director, Grace Evangelical Society
The Biblical Distinction Between Eternal Salvation And Eternal Rewards: A Key to Proper Exegesis
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1996 — Volume 9:16 (excerpts)
A number of books have been written recently which attempt to harmonize two NT themes: judgment according to one’s works and justification by faith.
Sometimes the explanation given is hard to follow. Some authors seem to feel that justification is by faith apart from works and yet final salvation is by faith plus works.
For example, Judith Gundry Volf writes, “Paul’s certainty that God will faithfully accomplish God’s purpose to save Christians completely and finally does not mean, however, that he views this process as “automatic.” The present is characterized by the eschatological tension. Both the reality of salvation and the power of evil await the completion of their salvation while enduring testing and afflictions in the present. Subjection to antagonistic forces at work in such tribulation can even threaten their salvation. Moreover, they have yet to appear before the judgment seat at which occasion their final destiny will be made manifest. Will they be accused and condemned after all?”
It is in the very context of these dangers that Paul affirms the certainty of Christians’ final salvation… Christians are more than conquerors in tribulations and will come through the final judgment unscathed (Rom 8:28-39).
This is confusing. How is it possible that Paul “affirms the certainty of Christians’ final salvation” and yet as the same time asserts that Christians await a final judgment in which they may be “condemned after all”?
The problem here is a failure to recognize a distinction between eternal salvation and eternal rewards. This is a widespread today. Blomberg, who feels that there is no distinction between eternal rewards and eternal salvation, writes concerning five texts which deal with the possibility of receiving crowns (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Tim 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4): “A majority of commentators agree in each of these five instances that our texts are not at all talking about degrees of rewards in heaven but simply about eternal life. “
It is my contention that we will often miss the meaning of the text if we fail to recognize the distinction between eternal salvation and eternal rewards.
V. Theological Principles Which Grow Out of This Distinction
The following are a number of points which naturally follow if there is indeed a distinction between eternal salvation and eternal rewards:
Believers can and sometimes do fall away.
All will not have an equal experience in the kingdom. Some will have more abundant lives than others.
Salvation is a gift, but rewards are earned.
Salvation can’t be lost, but rewards can be.
Assurance of salvation is absolute, but assurance of rewards is not absolute.
There is no future judgment of believers to determine their eternal destiny. There is a future judgment of believers to determine the quality of their eternal experience.
Two NT themes, justification by faith and judgment according to one’s works, can best be understood and harmonized by realizing that there is an author-intended distinction in the NT between eternal salvation and eternal rewards. The former is a free gift, is apart from works, and is received by faith alone. The latter is earned, is conditioned upon ongoing good works, and is received by faith plus works.
If we fail to recognize the distinction between passages which deal with eternal salvation versus those which deal with eternal rewards, we will misunderstand quite a large number of NT texts. In addition, a number of practical difficulties will result. The Gospel becomes garbled. Assurance of salvation is eliminated. And motivations for obedience are muddled.
First Corinthians 9:24-27 and Phil 3:11-14 show the importance of this study and strongly support the thesis of this article. The biblical distinction between eternal salvation and eternal rewards is a key to proper exegesis.
R. C. Sproul
There will be degrees of blessedness in Heaven. Paul uses a metaphor of the stars of differing brilliance shining in the same heaven to illustrate this. There are, however, several clarifying points that need to be made. First, all the stars will shine. That is to say, there is no unhappiness in heaven. All are blessed beyond our most insightful imaginations. Second, the atoning work of Christ has the same saving efficacy for all saints. Finally, the works “of the believer” which “merit” greater or lesser blessedness are not good in themselves. Rather, it is the sovereign pleasure of God to regard these works as meritorious. He does so for Christ’s sake only. While the great horror of Hell is its eternality, one of the greatest joys of Heaven is the assurance that it will never end. The last enemy, death, will be no more. Luke 20:34-38 assures the believer that this reward of Heaven is everlasting.
(The provided “Biblical passage for Reflection” are 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Peter 1:3-9, and Revelations 21 and 22)
Degrees of Heaven / Hell
Q. In our Bible study today we discussed if there are degrees or levels in heaven and hell. It was also suggested that hell is not eternal. Are there scriptural references to support these points?
A. In its report on The “End Times,” the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations says regarding hell: “In both “body and soul” unbelievers will suffer eternal separation and condemnation in hell (Matt 18:8; 25:46; Mark 9:43; John 3:36; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 13; Rev. 14:11). Indescribable torment will be experienced consciously, the degree determined by the nature of the sins to be punished (Matt. 11:20-24; 23:15; Luke 12:47-48).”
Regarding heaven and “degrees of glory” the Commission says: “Eternal life is pictured in the Scriptures as a state of never-ending “blessedness.” This means, on the one hand, that Christians will live forever in perfect freedom from sin, death, and every evil (Is. 25:8; 49:10; 1 Cor. 15:26, 55-57; Rev. 2:7, 11; 20:14; 21:4). At the same time, they will experience the unending joy of being with God in the new heavens and new earth (e.g., Revelation 21-22; Ps. 16:11). Forever eliminated is the possibility of falling away from God. This blessedness will bring with it the joy of being in eternal communion with fellow believers, whom we have reason to believe we shall recognize (cf. Matt. 17:3). And, there will be no limitations or degrees attached to the enjoyment of the happiness to be experienced, though there will be degrees of glory corresponding to differences of work and fidelity here on earth, producing praise to God but no envy (see 2 Cor. 9:6; Matt. 20:23).”2005
Russian Orthodox Catechism
382. Will all be equally happy in Heaven?
No. There will be different degrees of happiness, in proportion as every one shall have here endured the fight of faith, love, and good works. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. 1 Cor. xv. 41, 42.
A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints
This idea is not totally foreign to other Christians. In the words of popular writer Bruce Wilkinson, “Although your eternal destination is based on your belief [in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior], how you spend eternity is based on your behavior while on earth.” Thus “The Unbreakable Link” is stated as follows: “Your choices on earth have direct consequences on your life in eternity.” Discipleship flows from true conversion. That is, “Doing is a servant’s language of devotion.” In short, “there will be degrees of reward in heaven.”‘” Jonathan Edwards stated that “There are many mansions in God’s house because heaven is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness. Some are designed to sic in higher places there than others; some are designed to be advanced to higher degrees of honor and glory than others are.”4s Similarly, John Wesley spoke of some persons enjoying “higher degrees of glory” hereafter. “There is an inconceivable variety in the degrees of reward in the other world…. In worldly things men are ambitious to get as high as they can. Christians have a far more noble ambition. The difference between the very highest and the lowest state in the world is nothing to the smallest difference between the degrees of glory.”