Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

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One’s First Day in Heaven

Some while back while visiting an elder preacher’s library, I happened upon a wee tome of hope written back in 1917. The book, A Soul’s First Day in Heaven, was written by Jerry Miles Humphrey (b. 1872) and published by the Gospel Grain Publishers of Lima, Ohio.

Humphrey, late to the movement, was an author of over 14 books and a fiery speaker in the Holiness Movement of the early 20th century. While a minister, he divorced his wife. He married another woman seven years later. The day after the wedding, he began to harbor doubts about the propriety of this second marriage that ended after two years of soul-searching.

The holiness movement, originating in the U.S. in the 1840s and 50s, was an endeavor to preserve and propagate John Wesley’s teaching on entire sanctification and Christian perfection. Wesley held that the road from sin to salvation is one from willful rebellion against divine and human law to perfect love for God and humans. Following Wesley, Holiness preachers emphasized that the process of salvation involves two crises.

In the first, conversion or justification, one is freed from the sins one has committed. In the second, entire sanctification or full salvation, one is liberated from the flaw in one’s moral nature that causes one to sin. Humans are capable of this perfection even though we dwell in a corruptible body marked by a thousand defects arising from ignorance, infirmities, and other creaturely limitations. It is a process of loving the Lord God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. It results in the ability to live without conscious or deliberate sin. However, to achieve and then remain in this blessed state requires intense, sustained effort, and one’s life must be marked by constant self-renunciation, careful observance of the divine ordinances, a humble, steadfast reliance on God’s forgiving grace in the atonement, the intention to look for God’s glory in all things, and an increasing exercise of the love which itself fulfills the whole law and is the end of the commandments.”

Holiness evangelists–unsanctioned by their superiors, a flourishing independent press, and the growth of nondenominational associations all gradually weakened the position of mainline Methodism in the movement.

The first independent Holiness denominations had begun to appear by the 1880s. Tensions between Methodism and the Holiness associations escalated. The gap between the two widened. Small schismatic bodies gradually coalesced into formal denominations, the largest of which were the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana (1880), Church of the Nazarene (1908), and Pilgrim Holiness Church (1897, merged with the Wesleyan Methodists in 1968 to form the Wesleyan Church).”

Here’s a sample from Jerry Miles Humphrey’s First Day in Heaven:

The Land Where Beauty Never Dies.

Beyond these chilly winds and gloomy skies, beyond death’s cloudy portal, there is a land where beauty never dies. And love becomes immortal! A land whose light is never dimmed by shades. Whose fields are ever vernal. Where nothing beautiful can ever fade. But blooms for age eternal.

We may not know how sweet its balmy air. How bright and fair its flowers.

We may not hear the songs that echo there, thru those enchanted bowers.

The city’s shining towers we may not see with our dim, earthly vision.

For death, the silent warden, keeps the key that opens these gates Elysian.

O, land of love! O, land of light divine!

Father, all wise. Eternal! Guide me, O guide these wandering feet of mine into those gates Supernal!

It is to the substance, of which all earthly good is but a hint. It is to the glory, of which all beauties here are but a shadow. It is to a joy, of which all sordid joy is but a mockery, all human joy is but a dream.

It is to a rest, of which all rest below is but a glimmer.

It is to music, of which all melody within these hearts is but a fluttering cadence, a mournful stanza, dying on the wind—a faltering echo in the barren rocks.

It is to a home, of which all earthly homes are only canvas daubs and tantalizing touches.

It is to a day for which all other days were made.

It is to a Sabbath, of which the balmiest Sabbath is an emblem, a fragrance spent upon the air.

It is a city, to which the grandeur of all earthly cities is as the glow of cinders in an ashy heap.

It is to a liberty, a franchise, before which all citizenship on earth is bondage and a dungeon doom.

It is to worship, of which all other worship is but as the chattering of parrots chattering human speech.

It is to a life, for which all other life is but a bubble breath, a fleeting sigh.

It is God’s own house.

O, Summerland of the soul: land of beauty, land of flowers, land of love!”

Spread across the next few Reflections articles we will sample other projections about heaven. After our romantic and sentimental looks at heaven, we will later review what the Bible actually says.

Keep in mind the lyrics of an ancient gospel song: “Everybody talking about heaven ain’t a going there.”