For our conversation is in heaven; from where also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ:…
(Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity.)
"Our conversation is in Heaven."
People often fail to get at the meaning of this glorious text because they mistake that word conversation. Really the text means -- our citizenship is in Heaven, we belong to the Eternal City. Once S. Paul declared with pride that he was a Roman citizen; and when the Chief Captain in surprise declared that he himself had purchased that privilege at a great price, the Apostle answered, "but I was free born." Every Christian has the right to call himself a citizen of Heaven, and to declare that he is free born. When in Holy Baptism we were born again of water, and of the Holy Ghost, the freedom of the City was given to us, and we were made a peculiar people, citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem, with all the privileges, and all the responsibilities, belonging to such a position. Get this glorious fact into your minds, brethren, not that you are going to belong to Heaven, but that you do belong to it now. Here in earth you are foreigners, strangers and pilgrims. Here God's Israel is in exile by the waters of Babylon, Jerusalem on high, the Heavenly Sion, is yonder, and that is home. Heaven is yours now, if you forfeit it, if you lose your inheritance, it will be from your own fault, your own sin.
First, I think that the fact of Heaven being our home should make us love it. Sometimes we find people who have willingly settled in a foreign country, and done their best to forget the manners and language of their native land. But such cases are very rare. If you meet with an Englishman out in the Colonies, he always speaks of the old country as home. Even colonists who have been born in our foreign settlements, and have never seen England, speak of going home when they visit it. In many an Australian hut, or New Zealand farm, there is a swelling of the heart, or a glistening in the eyes, as the faded flowers drop from the home letter. The flowers are poor enough, and dead enough, but they once grew in a home garden, or blossomed in an English meadow. One of our great novelists tells us how two men in Australia walked many weary miles only to listen to the song of the skylark. That homely bird was precious in their eyes because it reminded them of home. I have read that when Swiss soldiers are abroad, they are not allowed to play, or listen to, their national airs. The music reminds them of their cow-bells ringing among the fair valleys and mountains of their native land, and under its influence some have deserted the army, and some even died of grief. The German loves to talk of the Fatherland, and has a word in his language which very strongly expresses home-sickness. Talk to a Scotsman about the beauties of Venice, or Rome, and he will tell you that you should see Edinburgh, or Aberdeen. Speak to an Irishman of the wonders of the tropics, and he will at once begin the praises of the Green Isle. The love of home is the very root and core of our nature. Well, if we love our earthly home, where we stay for so short a time, where, after all, we are but strangers and pilgrims, we ought still more to love Heaven, whose citizens we are. A child was once asked where his home was, and answered with eyes full of love -- "Where mother is." Brothers, our home is where Jesus is.
Next, I think we ought to be proud of being citizens of so fair a city as Heaven. A Greek of old was proud to belong to a country which could boast of the learning of Athens, the wisdom of Plato, the courage of Leonidas. If a Roman in former days was asked to do a mean, or dishonourable action, it was enough for him to answer, "I am a Roman citizen!" A burgess of London City to-day is proud of the position which he holds, and of the rights and privileges gained by many an ancient charter of freedom. But what ought we to think of the privileges and glory of belonging to that City which is God's Home; of being fellow citizens with the saints in light; of claiming as our brethren that great multitude which no man can number? Each town and city of earth is proud of its most famous citizens, but what city can show such names as our City, Jerusalem on high? What streets are crowded with such a goodly company as the streets of Heaven? All that is great and good, glorious, pure, gentle, self-sacrificing, finds a place in Heaven. Mighty Preachers and Apostles, like S. Paul or S. Chrysostom; simple girls, like Naaman's maid, or Veronica, the farm-servant; brave women who died martyrs for Jesus in the Arena, and those who lived as witnesses for Jesus, like Grace Darling, and Florence Nightingale, and Sister Dora; these, and such as these, of whom the time would fail me to tell, form the company of Heaven. "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, think on these things." And think, too, "'Tis mine, 'tis mine, that country, if I but persevere."
We must remember, however, that a citizen has certain duties, as well as rights and privileges, and if he neglects the former he forfeits the latter. We, as citizens of Heaven, though exiles here in earth, have certain duties and responsibilities laid upon us; if we fail to perform them, we lose our position as God's people. When an Englishman goes abroad to a foreign country he is at once recognised. When the foreigner sees the reckless courage, the cool daring, the love of adventure, displayed by his visitor, he says at once, "that is an Englishman." We are here in a strange land, does the world take notice of us as those who belong to Jesus? Does the world recognise us, by our manners, and way of life, as citizens of Heaven?
Think of some of the duties laid upon us as those who have received the freedom of the City. We are bound, first of all, to keep ourselves, as far as possible, unspotted from the world. We must live in the world for a time, but we must not be of it. If an Englishman were compelled to live for a season among savages, whose habits were horrible and disgusting, he would take care not to become like them. He would think of himself as being a civilized man, to whom the manners of the people were revolting, and he would endeavour, whilst avoiding their example, to set them a better. So should a Christian man be in the world. He cannot avoid seeing and hearing much that is evil. But let him take care lest, like Israel of old, he mingles with the unbeliever, and learns their ways. Let him remember that he is a citizen of Heaven, and that he has no more right to take part in the frauds, and lies, and impurity of the world, than Lot had to join in the abominations of Sodom. A Christian man should stand above the waves of this troublesome world, as a lighthouse stands above the tumbling billows of the sea. And, like that beacon, he should give forth a warning light, clear, bright, and steady.
Next, as citizens of Heaven, we are bound to work for our Heavenly Master. No matter that we are in a foreign workshop here in this world, no matter that we are employed by earthly masters, one Master is ours, and He is in Heaven. We must be busy about our Father's business, we must do all, looking unto Jesus. Suppose that the Queen were passing through this parish, and were to stop at one of your homes, say that of a cabinetmaker. And suppose that she were to order him to make her a cabinet after a particular pattern. Well, the man would be very much flattered at the order, and you may be sure he would take the greatest pains to put good work into the cabinet. "You see it is for the Queen," he would say to his neighbour, in explanation of his extra care. Now, my brothers, whatever kind of work we have to do, we ought to do it as well as we can, saying to ourselves, "it is for the King of kings, you see." Oh! if men would only remember that, then there would be no more cheating, and swindling, and lying in trade; no more labourers and artizans scamping their work, putting in bad material, working short time, and committing the endless dishonest acts which disgrace a Christian land. Try to remember that whatever you have to do, you are working for God, you are a citizen of Heaven, and to your Heavenly Master must the account be rendered. There shall enter into Heaven nothing that maketh a lie. If our lives are not quite genuine and honest here, we are locking ourselves out of Heaven. Let us, as citizens of no mean city, keep aloof from the hypocrite, the teller or maker of a lie, and speak every man truth with his neighbour. Again, I think that as citizens of Heaven, we ought to take very good heed to our words. You know how our streets and lanes in this world are defiled and made hideous by vile language. Can you fancy that sort of talk in the streets of the Heavenly City? No, there shall not enter there anything that defileth, peace is upon her palaces. The swearing tongue, the impure tongue, the angry tongue, can find no place there. The cruel, slandering tongue talks many a soul into ruin, for they have no room for the scandal-monger in Heaven. Let us guard our speech, brethren, let us remember that, as Heavenly citizens, our lips should be sanctified by the fire of God's Altar. "Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles."
Once more, as citizens of Heaven, we must keep our home ever fresh in our minds. Here we are strangers in a strange land. You know how we English abroad always cling to anything which reminds us of home. The settler in the Australian Bush keeps Christmas Day beneath the burning summer sky exactly as he always kept it amid the snow and ice of an English winter. When letters come, how eagerly are they read if they come from home! Many a rough miner on the other side of the world grows gentler as he looks at the faded photograph, or the yellow note paper; they remind him of home. Well, here in earth, far from our Heavenly home, we have certain means of keeping its memory fresh. We can go to God's Holy Church, and there join with Angels and Archangels and all the company of Heaven in praise and adoration of our King. We can read our Bible, and then we gaze, as it were, upon the picture of Saviour Jesus, and upon the faces of our brother citizens who have entered by the gates of pearl. We can pray, and so send a message to our City, and get an answer back again, a blessing coming like a sweet flower sent from the fields of Paradise. When our soldiers do noble deeds abroad, their thought is -- what will they say in England? Let us do our duty here in a strange land, thinking -- what will they say in Heaven? My brother, my sister, let this thought help you to struggle against temptation -- I must walk worthy of my vocation, I am a citizen of Heaven.
Parallel VersesKJV: For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: