THE CHRISTIAN A HEAVENLY CITIZEN
“For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ!” [Philippians 3:20]
There can be no comparison between a soaring seraph and a crawling worm. Christians ought so to live that it were idle to speak of a comparison between them and the men of the world. It would not be a comparison but a contrast. No scale of degrees should be possible; the believer should be a direct and manifest contradiction to the unregenerate. The life of a saint should be altogether above and out of the same list as the life of a sinner. We should compel our critics not to confess that moralists are good, and Christians a little better; but while the world is darkness, we should manifestly be light; and while the world lies in the wicked one, we should most evidently be of God, and overcome the temptations of that wicked one. Wide as the poles asunder, are life and death, light and darkness, health and disease, purity and sin, spiritual and carnal, divine and sensual!
If we were what we profess to be, we should be as distinct a people in the midst of this world, as a white race in a community of Ethiopians; there should be no more difficulty in detecting the Christian from the worldling than in discovering a sheep from a goat, or a lamb from a wolf!
Alas, the Church is so much adulterated, that we have to abate our glorying, and cannot exalt her character as we would. “The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!” O for the time when “our citizenship shall be in heaven,” and the ignoble life of the man, whose god is his belly and whose end is destruction, shall be rebuked by our unworldly, unselfish character! There should be as much difference between the worldling and the Christian as between hell and heaven, between destruction and eternal life. As we hope at last that there shall be a great gulf separating us from the doom of the impenitent, there should be here a deep and wide gulf between us and the ungodly! The purity of our character should be such, that men must take knowledge of us that we are of another and superior race. God grant us more and more to be most clearly a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that we may show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light!
Brothers and sisters, tonight I exhort you to holiness, not by the precepts of the law; not by the thunders from Sinai; not by the perils or punishments which might fall upon you if you are unholy; but by the privileges to which you have been admitted! Gracious souls should only be urged by arguments from divine grace. Whips are for the backs of fools, and not for heirs of heaven! By the honorable citizenship which has been bestowed upon you, I shall beseech you to let your citizenship be in heaven, and I shall urge that most prevailing argument, that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming, and therefore we should be as men and women who watch for our Lord, diligently doing service unto Him, that when He comes He may say unto us, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” I know that the grace which is in you will freely answer to such a plea.
Our text, I think, might be best translated thus—“Our citizenship is in heaven.” The French translation renders it, “As for us, our burgessship is in the heavens.” Doddridge paraphrases it, “But we converse as citizens of heaven, considering ourselves as denizens of the New Jerusalem, and only strangers and pilgrims upon earth.”
THE FIRST IDEA which is suggested by the verse under consideration is this—if our citizenship is in heaven, then WE ARE ALIENS HERE; we are strangers and foreigners, pilgrims and sojourners in the earth, as all our fathers were. In the words of Sacred Writ, “Here we have no continuing city,” but, “we desire a better country, that is a heavenly.”
SECONDLY, although aliens on earth, WE ARE CITIZENS IN HEAVEN. What is meant by our being citizens in heaven? Why, first that we are under heaven’s government! Christ, the King of heaven, reigns in our hearts; the laws of glory are the laws of our consciences; our daily prayer is, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The proclamations issued from the throne of glory are freely received by us, the decrees of the great King we cheerfully obey. We are not without law to Christ. The Spirit of God rules in our mortal bodies, divine grace reigns through righteousness, and we wear the easy yoke of Jesus! O that He would sit as King in our hearts, like Solomon upon his throne of gold. We are Yours, Jesus, and all that we have; You rule without a rival.
As citizens of the New Jerusalem, we share heaven’s honors. The glory which belongs to beatified saints belongs to us, for we are already sons of God, already princes of the blood imperial! Already we wear the spotless robe of Jesus’ righteousness; already we have angels for our servitors, saints for our companions, Christ for our Brother, God for our Father, and a crown of immortality for our reward. We share the honors of citizenship, for we have come to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like He is; for we shall see Him as He is.”
We must now come to our THIRD POINT, which is OUR CONVERSATION IS IN HEAVEN. Our walk and acts are such as are consistent with our dignity as citizens of heaven. Among the old Romans, when a dastardly action was proposed, it was thought a sufficient refusal to answer, “Romanus sum—I am a Roman.” Surely it should be a strong incentive to every good thing if we can claim to be freemen of the Eternal City! Let our lives be conformed to the glory of our citizenship. In heaven they are holy, so must we be—so are we if our citizenship is not a mere pretense. They are happy, so must we be, always rejoicing in the Lord!
In heaven they are obedient—so must we be, following the faintest monitions of the divine will. In heaven they are active, so should we be, both day and night praising and serving God. In heaven they are peaceful, so should we find a rest in Christ, and be at peace even now. In heaven they rejoice to behold the face of Christ, so should we be, always meditating upon Him, studying His beauties, and desiring to look into the truths of God which He has taught.
In heaven they are full of love, so should we love one another as brethren. In heaven they have sweet communion, one with another, so should we, who though many, are one body, be every one members one of the other. Before the throne they are free from envy and strife, ill-will, jealousy, emulation, falsehood, anger, so should we be—we should, in fact, seek while we are here, to keep up the manners and customs of the good old fatherland, so that, as in Paris, the Parisian soon says, “There goes John Bull,” so they should be able to say in this land, “There goes a heavenly citizen, one who is with us and among us, but is not of us.” Our very speech should be such that our citizenship should be detected! We should not be able to live long in a house without men finding out what we are.
The text says, “Our conversation is in heaven,” and I think we may also read it, as though it said, “OUR COMMERCE IS IN HEAVEN.” We are trading on earth, but still the bulk of our trade is with heaven. We trade for trinkets in this land, but our gold and silver are in heaven. We commune with heaven, and how? Our trade is with heaven by meditation; we often think of God, our Father, and Christ, our Brother; and, by the Spirit, the Comforter, we are brought in contemplative delight to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.
Time has gone; those clocks will strike when you ought not. There is a great reason why we should live like aliens and foreigners here, and that is because CHRIST IS COMING SOON! The early Church never forgot this. Did they not pant and thirst after the return of their ascended Lord? Like the 12 tribes, day and night they instantly watched for Messiah. But the Church has grown weary of this hope. There have been so many false prophets who tell us that Christ is coming, that the Church thinks He never will come; and she begins to deny, or to keep in the background the blessed doctrine of the second advent of her Lord from heaven. I do not think the fact that there have been many false prophets, should make us doubt our Lord’s true Word. Perhaps the very frequency of these mistakes may show that there is truth at the bottom! You have a friend who is ill, and the doctor says he cannot last long. He must die; you have called a great many times expecting to hear of his departure, but he is still alive. Now the frequent errors of the physicians do not prove that your friend will not die one of these days, and that speedily, too! And so, though the false prophets have said, “Lo, here,” and “Lo, there,” and yet Christ has not come—that does not prove that His glorious appearing will never arrive.
He may appear tonight, while we stand here; just when we think that he will not come, the thief shall break into the house. We ought, therefore, to be always watching! Since the gold and silver that you have will be worthless at His advent; since your lands and estates will melt to smoke when He appears; since, then the righteous shall be rich, and the godly shall be great, lay not up your treasure here, for it may at any time vanish, at any time disappear, for Christ at any moment may come!
I think the Church would do well to be always living as if Christ might come today. I feel persuaded she is doing ill if she works as if He would not come till 1866, because He may come before, and He may come this moment! Let her always be living as if He would come NOW, still acting in her Master’s sight, and watching unto prayer.
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” [Revelation 22:20]