If our Saviour had been going to some unknown place, where we must not follow him, we might well be unhappy; but “whither I go ye know.” It is true we know nothing of an hereafter beyond what God in his word hath told us; but those lively oracles are a light in a dark place, whose cheering beams pierce the otherwise impervious gloom of futurity. When a dying heathen was asked whither he was going, he replied, O my friends, we know nothing of an hereafter! Such also must have been our answer, but for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. As it is, we know whither our Redeemer is gone. He is gone to his Father, and to our Father; to his God, and to our God. He is gone to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, to the innumerable company of angels, to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to God the Judge of all. Whither he is gone we know, for we have had a foretaste of the bliss. As believers we also are already come to Mount Zion. The church below and the church above are only different branches of the same family, so that he who is come to one is come to the other.
But how are we to follow him, unless we “know the way?” If he “come and receive us,” he will be our guide. And this is not all: “the way we know.” Thomas thought he knew not whither his Lord was going, nor the way that led to him; yet he knew his Lord, and believed in him as the Son of God and the Saviour of sinners. Jesus therefore answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life;” knowing me, you know the way to the heavenly world. Yes, we not only know whither our Saviour is gone, but the way that leads to him. The doctrine of the cross, as dear Pearce observed, is the only religion for a dying sinner.
If an affectionate father had resolved to remove to a distant country, he might not take his family with him in the first instance, but might choose to go by himself, to encounter and remove the chief difficulties in the way, and make ready a habitation to receive them. Such in effect was the conduct of our Saviour. “I go to prepare a place for you; 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.” His passage through the territories of death was attended with the most dreadful of all conflicts; but, having overcome, it renders ours an easy one. Death to us is Jesus “coming to receive us to himself.”
1. The presence of a beloved object is the grand preparative of any place, and that which gives it its principal charm. Such is the preparation of a place in the future world for us. Jesus is there, and that is quite enough. If any thing will operate as a magnet to attract us from earth to heaven, it is the consideration of being “where Jesus sitteth at the right hand of God.” Think what an accession of joy his triumphant entrance must have occasioned through all the heavenly regions, and what a source of uninterrupted bliss his presence affords. What would some societies be without certain interesting characters, which are in effect the life of them? And what would heaven be without Christ? The zest of all its bliss consists in his being there, and this is urged as the grand motive to “setting our affections on things above,” Col. 3:1, 2.
2. There also he will gather together the whole family of heaven and earth. His redemption brings multitudes to glory, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and every one that enters adds to the enjoyment. In order to connect us together in the closest bonds of affection, God has so ordained, that both in this world and that which is to come our blessedness should be bound up with that of each other; in seeing the good of his chosen, rejoicing in the gladness of his nation, and glorying with his inheritance. Hence it follows that every accession to the heavenly world affords an influx to the enjoyment of its inhabitants. Every one that goes before may be said to contribute to the preparing of the place for them which follow after. The pure river of the water of life has its origin in the throne of God and of the Lamb; but in its progress it passes through various mediums, which swell its streams, and render it more and more delectable. From the entrance of righteous Abel into the new Jerusalem, to this day, it has been rising higher and higher, and will continue to do so till all the nations of the saved are gathered together.
3. Christ prepares a place for us, in superintending the concerns of the universe, and causing all events to work together and produce the highest ultimate good. Glory awaits the righteous immediately upon their departure from the body, but a much greater glory is in reserve. Innumerable events in the system of providence must remain inexplicable, till the mystery of God be finished. It is impossible for spectators to comprehend the use of all the parts of a complicate machine, till it is constructed and put into motion. And as our Forerunner is now preparing the scenery of this grand exhibition, and hastening it to its desired issue, it is thus that he is preparing a place for us.
Hence we are encouraged to be looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of God, and directed to consider it as the period when we shall be fully “satisfied.” How solemn, and yet how sweet, is the description of it! “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” A “shout” perhaps denotes the universal joy of heaven, for the arrival of the day when the war is terminated in victory, and the last enemy is destroyed. The blowing of a “trumpet” may probably allude to that of the jubilee, on which the prison doors were thrown open, and the captives set at liberty. Such were the consolations presented to the Thessalonians, on the death of their Christian friends.
Our Lord did not absolutely forbid his apostles to weep at his departure; he himself wept at the grave of Lazarus; but he dissuaded them from excessive grief. “Let not your heart be troubled.” I think I never felt what may be called heart trouble, or deep distress, for the loss of any person, however near to me, whose death I considered merely as a removal to the church above. The words of our Saviour are here applicable: “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I go to the Father; for my Father is greater than I.” That is, the glory I go to possess with my Father is greater than any thing I could inherit upon earth; and therefore, if ye loved me, and your love operated in a proper way, you would rather be glad for my sake than sorry for your own.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “Consolation to the Afflicted,” SermonXLIX. Sermons and Sketches. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 446–447). Sprinkle Publications.