Whatever Happened to Heaven? -- By: John Blanchard
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Whatever Happened to Heaven?
There is a sense in which virtually the entire Bible focuses on man’s eternal destiny, and in particular the destiny of God’s chosen people. In both Old Testament and New, the subject is expressed in prophecy and poetry, exhortations and principles, promises and warnings. Almost every writer contributes something to the massive mosaic. Without the eternal bliss of God’s elect, the Bible is not only a mystery but a mockery.
That being so, it is surprising to find how little most of the best-known secondary standards and major Christian doctrinal statements have to say on the subject. It would scarcely be an exaggeration to call heaven the Cinderella of Christian doctrine. The Apostles’ Creed limits itself to two words—”life everlasting.” The Athanasian Creed does the same. The Nicene Creed speaks merely of “the life of the world to come.” John Calvin’s monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion (1266 pages in the Beveridge edition) has less than two pages directly devoted to the subject. The magisterial Westminster Confession of Faith does not even use the word “heaven” with regard to the final state of God’s people, but merely states that “the righteous will go into eternal life and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord.” The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, largely based on the Westminster Confession, adds very little, indicating that “the righteous shall go into eternal life and receive that fullness of joy and glory with everlasting rewards, in the presence of the Lord.”
John Owen has been called the greatest theologian in English history, and the sixteen volumes of his Works line the studies of thousands of preachers hundreds of years after their publication. Yet in over 9,000 pages I have found only 20 or so which focus directly on the subject of heaven as the eternal dwelling place of God’s elect. Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology contains more than 800 pages, yet his
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presentation of the subject is contained within just one of them. This all seems passing strange, especially when the contemporary preacher Al Martin can say, “If I took a pair of scissors and clipped out every explicit or implicit reference to heaven from Genesis to Revelation I would be left with a very thin Bible.”
This is the strangely anomalous background against which this article is written. After all, surely the subject of heaven should be one of consuming importance to all who give it any serious thought. As John Owen himself once put it, “Although no man living can see or find out the infinite ...
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