Western culture is bound by the horizons of this life. We have made for ourselves “a world without windows”. The eternal perspective has been lost. Our culture is passionately focused on the comforts of this life and the pleasures of the present time. A significant change came about in the 1960s. It was epitomized by the Beatle John Lennon in a song which imagined there to be “no heaven and no hell” and instead to “imagine all the people living for today.”
Since that time the pace has greatly accelerated and we are living in a materialistic world that seeks to squeeze us into its mould. It is pressing Christianity out of shape. We have lost the Biblical culture that views the life to come as more important than this one. We have a Christianity that has lost its bearings with respect to eternity. The reality of eternity rests all too lightly upon us.
The great need of the hour is that our lives and ministries be shaped by eternity. If this were so, certain things would be recovered.
1) Our lives here and now would be essentially preparation for that which is to come.
We must learn to view this world in its proper context. It is not all that there is, nor is it all that there will be. This life and this world will pass away. We are living in a world where everything is fading, decaying and dying. If we do not listen to what the Bible says we will duped by the voices that say that this world is so real and tangible. Our Puritan forefathers looked on the Christian life as a gymnasium and dressing room where we are prepared for heaven. The emphasis on the transitoriness of life has been lost in modern evangelicalism.
2) Our lives would recover their true purpose.
We were created in the image of God. Our lives ought to be lived out in the presence of our Creator. We are responsible and accountable creatures. That is our dignity. When we lose that sense we become lost. “We have set ourselves free from the looming reality of heaven and hell and found ourselves lost in moral disarray, mired in cultural and individual purposelessness.” (Don Carson)
3) Our lives would be more effective in this world.
It was C S Lewis who observed: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” This epitomized the whole Puritan approach to life. They regarded a readiness to die as the first step in learning to live. A true life for God is a life lived in the light of eternity. A vision of heaven is a powerful incentive to action in this present life.
4) Our lives would be characterised by more urgency.
We need to recover the urgency of making sure that we and those connected to us are on the right road for heaven. Thomas Manton said: “No destiny deserveth to be known so much as this. Shall I be saved or shall I be damned; live everlastingly in heaven or hell?” While the time of the last Judgement is not known by us this is, as Thomas Watson says, so that “God would have us live every day as if it were the last day.”
5) Our mission and ministry would be about preparing people for death and eternity.
The pulpit is erected on the threshold of eternity. Through the preachers of the Gospel the awesome realities of life and death, heaven and hell, salvation and judgement are brought into the present time. Through the preaching of the Gospel the one hope of life is revealed. On its acceptance or rejection eternal destinies are determined. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said: “Go on dear friends, but an inch of time remains, and then the eternal ages roll on forever, but an inch in which we may stand and proclaim the way of salvation to a perishing world.”