By Jonathan Edwards*
This sermon, now slightly abridged and edited, was preached on Sabbath, 25th December, 1737 – the first Sabbath after the ‘seating’ of the new Meeting House at Northampton. The new building was commodious, being 70 feet long by 48 feet wide and of two stories, and had a high tower. According to the custom of the times, the ‘seating of the meeting house’, or deciding where everyone was to sit, had to be done, says Iain Murray in his biography of Jonathan Edwards, “according to an order of precedence related to the age and station of every individual or head of household”, and was done by a committee appointed for the purpose. Edwards used the occasion to teach his people about a greater and glorious house. As would be expected, in the sermon there is no reference to Christmas. Indeed, in New England at that time the Romish festival of Christmas was not observed and was almost unknown.
Text:” In my Father’s house are many mansions.” John 14:2.
FROM these words may be observed two things: first, the thing described, namely, Christ’s Father’s house. Christ spoke to His disciples in the foregoing chapter as one that was about to leave them. He told them, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him,” and then counsels them to live in unity and to love each other. They seemed surprised at His going away from them, and hardly knew what to make of it. And one of them, Peter, asked Him, “Lord whither goest thou?” Christ did not directly tell him where He was going, but He signifies where in these words, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Afterwards, He tells them plainly that he was going to His Father.
Secondly, we may observe the description given of His Father’s house: that in it there “are many mansions”. The disciples were sorrowful at the news of Christ’s going away, but Christ comforts them with this: that in His Father’s house, where He was going, there was not only room for Himself, but for them too. There were many mansions. There was room enough in heaven for them all. When the disciples perceived that Christ was going away they had a great desire to go with Him. Peter, in the latter part of the foregoing chapter, asked Him whither He went, so that he might follow Him. Christ told him that where He went he could not follow Him now, but that he should follow Him afterwards. But Peter, not yet content, asked, “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now?” So the disciples had a great desire to be with Christ when He went. Christ indicated that He was going home to His Father’s house, and Heencourages them with the promise that they shall be with Him there in due time, for there were many mansions there. There was a mansion provided not only for Him, but for all of them (for Judas was not then present), and not only for them, but for all that should believe in Him to the end of the world. And though He went before, it was to prepare a place for them that should follow.
The text is a plain sentence; it is therefore needless to press any doctrine in other words from it: so I shall build my discourse on the words of the text. There are two propositions contained in the text: first, that heaven is God’s house, and secondly, that in this house of God there are many mansions.
The first proposition is that heaven is God’s house. A house of public worship is called God’s house. It is a house where God’s people meet from time to time to attend on God’s ordinances. Also, the temple of Solomon was called God’s house. God was represented as dwelling there. There He had His throne in the holy of holies, even the mercy seat over the ark and between the cherubims. Sometimes the whole universe is represented in Scripture as God’s house, built with various stories one above another: In Amos 9:6 it is written, “It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven;” and in Psalm 104:3, “Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters.”
But it is the highest heaven that is especially represented in Scripture as the house of God. God has appointed other parts of the creation to inferior uses, but the highest heaven He has reserved for His own abode. We are told that the heavens are the Lord’s, but the earth He hath given to the sons of men. God, though He is everywhere present, is represented in Scripture as being in heaven in a special and peculiar manner. Heaven is the temple of God. Thus we read of God’s temple in heaven, Revelation 15:5. Solomon’s temple was a type of heaven. The apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, does from time to time call heaven the holy of holies, as being the antitype not only of the temple of Solomon, but of the most holy place in that temple, which was the place of God’s most immediate residence: “He entered in once into the holy place,” Hebrews 9:12. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself,” Hebrews 9:24. Houses where assemblies of Christians worship God are in some respects figures of the house of God above. When God is worshipped in them in spirit and truth, they become, as it were, the gate of heaven. As in houses of public worship here there are assemblies of Christians meeting to worship God, so in heaven there is a glorious assembly or church, continually worshipping God: “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, that are written in heaven,” Hebrews 12:22, 23.
Heaven is represented in Scripture as God’s dwelling-house; Psalm 113:5, “Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high,” and Psalm 123:1, “Unto thee I lift up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.” Heaven is God’s palace. It is the house of the great King of the universe; there He has His throne, which is therefore represented as His house or temple. Psalm 1, verse 4 says, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven.”
Heaven is the house where God dwells with His family. God is represented in Scripture as having a family. “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,” Ephesians 3:15. Though some of His family are now on earth, they are just abroad and not at home; and they are going home. God has many children, and the place prepared for them is heaven; therefore the saints, being the children of God, are said to be of the household of God: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” Ephesians 2:19. God is represented as a householder or head of a family, and heaven is His house.
Heaven is the house where God, as it were, keeps table; that is, where His children sit down with Him at His table and where they are feasted in the royal manner becoming the children of so great a King. We read in Luke 22:30, “That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom;” and in Matthew 26:29, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
And as God is the King of kings, so heaven is the place where He keeps His court. There are His angels and archangels that, as the nobles of His court, do attend upon Him.
The second proposition: there are many mansions in the house of God.
By “many mansions” is meant many places of abode; or, as it were, many seats. Because it is the King’s palace, it has many mansions. Kings’ houses are built very large, with many stately apartments. So there are many mansions in God’s house. When this is spoken of heaven, it is chiefly to be understood in a figurative sense, and the following things seem to be taught us in it.
First, there is room in this house of God for great numbers. There is room in heaven for a vast multitude room enough for all mankind that are or ever shall be. “Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room,” Luke 14:22. It is not with the heavenly temple as it often is with houses of public worship in this world: that they become too small for those that would meet in them, so that there is not room for all. There is room enough in our heavenly Father’s house: this is partly what Christ intended in the words of the text, as is evident from the occasion of His speaking to them. The disciples had a great desire to be where Christ was. Christ therefore, to encourage them that it should be as they desired, tells them that in His Father’s house, where He was going, were many mansions, that is, room enough for them.
There is mercy enough in God to admit an innumerable multitude into heaven. There is merit enough in Christ to purchase heavenly happiness for millions of millions for all men that ever were, are or shall be. And there is a sufficiency in the fountain of heaven’s happiness to fill and satisfy all: and there is, in all respects, enough for the happiness of all.
We are taught, secondly, that there is sufficient and suitable Accommodation for all the different sorts of persons that are in the world: for great and small, for high and low, rich and poor, wise and unwise, bond and free, persons of all nations and all conditions and circumstances, for those that have been great sinners saved by grace as well as for less heinous sinners; for weak saints and those that are babes in Christ as well as for those that are stronger and more grown in grace. There is in heaven a sufficiency for the happiness of everyone; there is a convenient accommodation for everyone that will heed the call of the gospel. None who will come to Christ, let his condition be what it will, need to fear that Christ will not provide a place suitable for him in heaven.
The disciples were persons of a very different condition from that of Christ. He was their Master, and they were His disciples; He was their Lord, and they were the servants; He was their Guide, and they were the followers; He was their Captain, and they the soldiers; He was the Shepherd, and they the sheep; He was, as it were, the Father, and they the children; He was the glorious, holy Son of God, they were the poor, sinful, corrupt men. But yet, though they were in such a different condition from Him, Christ promises them that there shall be room in heaven not only for Himself, but for them too. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” There was not only a mansion to accommodate the Lord, but the disciples also; not only the Head, but also the members; not only the Son of God, but also those that are naturally poor, sinful, corrupt men. In a king’s palace there is not only a room of state for the king himself and for his eldest son and heir, but there are also many rooms or mansions for his large household; for his children, attendants and servants.
Thirdly, it is implied that heaven is a house that was actually built and Prepared for a great multitude. When God made heaven in the beginning of the world, He intended it for an everlasting dwelling-place for a vast and innumerable multitude. When heaven was made, it was intended and prepared for all those particular persons that God had from eternity purposed to save: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” Matthew 25:34. And that is a very great and innumerable multitude, as Revelation 7:9 shows: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Heaven was built accordingly. It was built so as most conveniently to accommodate all this multitude, just as a house that is built for a great family is made large and with many rooms in it, or a palace that is built for a great king that keeps a great court with many attendants is built with numerous apartments, or as a house of public worship that is built for a great congregation is made very large with many seats in it.
Fourthly, when it is said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions”, it is indicated that there are different degrees and circumstances of honour and happiness. There are many mansions in God’s house because heaven is intended for various degrees of honour and blessedness. Some are to sit in higher places than others; some are to be advanced to higher degrees of honour and glory than others; therefore there are some more honourable mansions and seats in heaven than others. Though they are all seats of exceeding honour and blessedness yet some are more so than others. Though every apartment of a king’s palace is magnificent, yet some are more stately than others, according to the degree of dignity. There is one apartment that is the king’s presence-chamber; there are other apartments for the heir to the crown; there are others for other children; and others for their attendants and the officers of the household: one for the high steward, and another for the chamberlain, and others for meaner officers and servants. So it was in Solomon’s temple also; there were many mansions of different degrees of honour and dignity. There was the holy of holies, where the ark was that was the place of God’s immediate residence, where the high priest alone might come. There was another apartment called the holy place, where the other priests might come. Next to that was the inner court of the temple, where the Levites were admitted, and where they had many chambers built for lodging the priests. Next to that was the court of Israel where the people of Israel might come. And next to that was the court of the Gentiles, where the Gentiles, those that were called the Proselytes of the Gate, might come. And we have another image of this in houses built for the worship of Christian assemblies. In such houses of God there are many seats of different honour and dignity, from the most honourable to the most inferior of the congregation.
We are not to understand the words of Christ in a literal sense – that every saint in heaven is to have a certain seat, or place of abode, where he was to be locally fixed. It is not the design of the Scriptures to inform us much about the external circumstances of heaven; we are to understand what Christ says chiefly in a spiritual sense. Persons shall be set in different degrees of glory in heaven. In Scripture this is fitly represented to our imaginations by different places of honour – as it was in the temple, and as it is in kings’ courts. Some seats shall be nearer the throne than others. Some shall sit next to Christ in glory: “To sit on my right hand and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father,” Matthew 20:23.
In the text, Christ doubtless refers to these different degrees of glory. When He was going to heaven, and the disciples were sorrowful at the thought of parting with their Lord, He lets them know that there are mansions or seats of various degrees of honour in His Father’s house that there was not only one for Him, who was the Head of the Church and the Elder Brother, but also for them who were His disciples and younger brethren.
Christ may probably have referred also to different circumstances in heaven. Though the employment of all the heavenly assembly shall in general be the same, yet it is not improbable that there may be circumstantial differences. We know what their employment is in general, but not in particular. We know not how one may be employed to subserve and promote the happiness of another, and all to help one another. Some may be set in one place for one office or employment, and others in another, as it is in the Church on earth. God hath set everyone in His body, the Church, as it has pleased Him; one is the eye, another the ear, another the head, and so on. Because God has not been pleased expressly to reveal how it shall be in this respect, I shall not insist upon it, but go on to make some application and improvement of what has been said.
Application and improvement.
First, here is encouragement for sinners that are concerned and exercised for the salvation of their souls; such as are afraid that they shall never go to heaven or be admitted to any place of abode there. They know that they are in a doleful condition in that they are out of Christ, and so have no right to any inheritance in heaven, but are in danger of going to hell and having their place of eternal abode fixed there. You may be encouraged by what has been said to earnestly seek heaven; for there are many mansions there. There is room enough there. Let your case be what it may, there is suitable provision there for you. If you come to Christ, you need not fear that He will not prepare a place for you. He will see to it that you shall be well accommodated in heaven.
Secondly, I would apply and improve this doctrine in a twofold exhortation. Let all be exhorted earnestly to seek that they may be admitted to a mansion in heaven. You have heard that this is God’s house. If David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah and in the land of Geshur and of the Philistines, longed to return to the land of Israel that he might have a place in the house of God here on earth, though it would be but that of a doorkeeper, how great a happiness it will be to have a place in this heavenly temple of God! If they who have a seat in a king’s court, or an apartment in a king’s palace, especially those that have an abode there as the king’s children, enjoy a high privilege, how great a privilege it will be to have a mansion assigned to us in God’s heavenly palace, and to have a place there as His children! How great is their glory and honour that are admitted to be of the household of God!
Seeing there are many mansions there, mansions enough for us all, our folly will be the greater if we neglect to seek a place there, having our minds foolishly taken up with the worthless, fading things of this world. Therefore, consider these three things: first, how little a while you can have any place of abode in this world. Now you have a dwelling amongst the living. You have a house or mansion of your own, or at least one that is at present for your use, and today you have a seat in this house of God; but for how little a time this will continue! In a very little while, the place that now knows you in this world will know you no more. The habitation you have here will be empty of you; you will be carried dead out of it, or shall die at a distance from it, and never enter into it again, or into any other abode in this world. Your place of abode in this world, however convenient or commodious it may be, is but as a tent that shall soon be taken down. Your stay is, as it were, but for a night. Your body itself is but a house of clay which will quickly tumble down and moulder, and you shall have no other habitation in this world but the grave.
God in His providence is putting you in mind of these matters by the deaths that have been in this town within the two weeks past, both of them in one house. In those deaths He has shown His dominion over old and young. The son was taken away before the father, being in his full strength and flower of his days. And the father, who was then well and had no appearance of approaching death, followed in a few days. Both their home and their seat in the house of God in this world will know them no more. Take heed, by these warnings of providence, to make good use of your time, so that you may have a mansion in heaven. We have this house of worship newly built among us in which you now have a seat, and probably you are pleased with the appearance of it. Though you have a place in so comely a house, yet you know not how little a while you shall have a place in it. Two of those who had met in it but a few times have been snatched away by death: they were snatched out of it before it was fully finished, and never more will have a seat in it. You know not how soon you may follow. Of how great importance it is that you have a seat in God’s house above. Both of the persons deceased, when they were on their deathbeds, were much warning others to improve their precious time. The first of them was much expressing his sense of the vast importance of an interest in Christ, as I witnessed, and was earnest in calling on others to be diligent to get an interest in Christ. As a dying man he was very desirous that young people here might receive counsel and warning from him, and do their utmost to make sure of conversion. A little before he died, he left a request to me that I, in his place, would warn the young people. God has been warning you in his death, and in the death of his father that so soon followed. The words of dying persons should be of special weight with us, for they are in circumstances in which they are most capable to look on things as they really are and judge them aright: to judge between both worlds, as it were.
Let our young people, therefore, take warning. Don’t be such fools as to neglect seeking a place and mansion in heaven. Young persons are especially apt to be taken up with the pleasing things of this world. You are now, it may be, much pleased with hopes of your future in this world. And you are now, it may be, much pleased with the appearance of this house of worship in which you have a place. But, alas, do you not consider too little and too seldom how soon you may be taken away from all these things, and no more have any part in any mansion or house or enjoyment or happiness under the sun? Therefore, let it be your main care to secure an everlasting habitation for hereafter.
Consider that when you die, if you have no mansion in the house of God in heaven, you must have your abode in the habitation of devils. There is no middle place between them, and when you go from this world, you must go to one or the other of these. Some will enter the mansion prepared for them in heaven from the foundation of the world; others will be sent away as cursed into everlasting burnings prepared for the devil and his angels. How miserable those must be who shall have their habitation eternally with devils. Devils are foul spirits; God’s great enemies. Their habitation is the blackness of darkness; it is a place of the utmost filthiness, abomination, disgrace and torment. O, if you shall have a place with devils at last, then ten thousand times you will rather have no place of abode at all: ten thousand times rather have no being!
If you die unconverted, you will have a worse place in hell for having had a place in God’s house in this world. As there are places of different degrees of honour in heaven, so there are various places or degrees of torment and misery in hell. Those will have the worst place who, dying unconverted, had a place in God’s house here. Solomon speaks of a peculiarly awful sight that he had seen: a wicked man buried that had gone from “the place of the holy”, Ecclesiastes 8:10. Such as have a seat in God’s house, are in a sense exalted to heaven; they are set near the gate of heaven. If they die unconverted, they shall be cast down to hell.
The second exhortation that I would offer from what has been said is to seek a high place in heaven. Seeing there are many mansions of different degrees of honour in heaven, let us seek to obtain a mansion of distinguished glory. It is revealed to us that there are different degrees of glory in order that we might seek after the higher degrees. God reveals high degrees of glory that we might seek them by eminent holiness and good works: “He that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” 2 Corinthians 9:6. It is not becoming to people to be over anxious about a high seat in God’s house in this world, for that is the honour that is of men, but we cannot too earnestly seek after a high seat in God’s house above, by seeking eminent holiness, for that is the honour that is of God.
It is very little worthwhile for us to pursue after honour in this world, where the greatest honour is but a bubble and will soon vanish away, and death will level all. Some have more stately houses than others, and some are in higher office than others, and some are richer than others and have higher seats in the Meeting House than others, but all graves are upon a level. One rotting, putrefying body is as ignoble as another; the worms are as bold with one corpse as another. But the mansions in God’s house in heaven are everlasting mansions. Those that have seats in these mansions above, whether of greater or lesser dignity, whether nearer or further from the throne, will have them to all eternity. This is His promise: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out,” Revelation 3:12. If it is thought by some to be worthwhile to have high seats in the Meeting House, where you are one day in a week, and to which you shall come but few days in all – if it is worthwhile to have one seat above another in the house of worship only because it is the pew or seat that is ranked first in number, how much more will it be worthwhile to seek a high mansion in God’s temple and in that glorious place that is the everlasting habitation of God and all His children! You that are pleased with your seats in this house because you are seated high or in a place that is looked upon as honourable by those that sit round about, and because many can behold you, consider how short a time you will enjoy this pleasure. And if there be any that are not pleased with their seats because they are too lowly for them, let them consider that it is but a very little while before it will be all one to you whether you have sat high or low here. But it will be of infinite and everlasting concern to you where your seat is in another world. Let your great concern be while in this world so to improve your opportunities in God’s house in this world, whether you sit high or low, as that you may have a distinguished and glorious mansion in God’s house in heaven, where you may be set in your place in that glorious assembly in an everlasting rest.
Let the main thing that we prize in this house of God be not the outward ornaments of it, or a high seat in it, but the word of God and His ordinances. Spend your time here in seeking Christ, that He may prepare a place for you in His Father’s house; that when He comes again to this world, He will take you to Himself, so that where He is, there you will be also.
* Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) became the pastor at Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1727. An awakening began in his congregation in 1735. Because he insisted that conversion was a necessary qualification for partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and after a two-year contest on that account with those who opposed him, he was dismissed from his pastorate in 1750. He became the pastor of a small congregation at Stockbridge, and a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. At Stockbridge he wrote his famous treatises on the Will, Original Sin, and others. He was installed as President of the College of New Jersey, at Princeton, in 1758, but died of smallpox some three months later.