“The souls of true saints, when absent from the body, go to be with Jesus Christ, as they are brought into a most perfect conformity to, and union with Him. Their spiritual conformity is begun while they are in the body; here beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image: but when they come to see Him as he is, in heaven, then they become like Him, in another manner.
That perfect right will abolish all remains of deformity, disagreement and sinful unlikeness as all darkness is abolished before the full blaze of the sun’s meridian light. It is impossible that the least degree of obscurity should remain before such light. So it is impossible the least degree of sin and spiritual deformity should remain, in such a view of the spiritual beauty and glory of Christ, as the saints enjoy in heaven when they see that Sun of righteousness without a cloud. They themselves shine forth as the sun, and shall be as little suns, without a spot.
For then is come the time when Christ presents His saints to Himself, in glorious beauty, ‘not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; and having holiness without a blemish’ [Ephesians 5:27]. And then the saints’ union with Christ is perfected. This also is begun in this world. The relative union is both begun and perfected at once, when the soul first closes with Christ by faith: the real union, consisting in the union of hearts and affections, and in the vital union, is begun in this world, and perfected in the next.
The union of the heart of a believer to Christ is begun when his heart is drawn to Christ, by the first discovery of divine excellency, at conversion; and consequent on this drawing and closing of his heart with Christ, is established a vital union with Christ; whereby the believer becomes a living branch of the true vine, living by a communication of the sap and vital juice of the stock and root; and a member of Christ’s mystical body, living by a communication of spiritual and vital influences from the head, and by a kind of participation of Christ’s own life.
But while the saints are in the body, there is much remaining distance between Christ and them: there are remainders of alienation, and the vital union is very imperfect; and so consequently, are the communication of spiritual life and vital influences: there is much between Christ and believers to keep them asunder, much indwelling sin, much temptation, an heavy-molded frail body, and a world of carnal objects, to keep off the soul from Christ, and hinder a perfect coalescence.
But when the soul leaves the body, all these clogs and hindrances shall be removed, every separating wall shall be broken down, and every impediment taken out of the way, and all distance shall cease; the heart shall be wholly and perfectly drawn, and most firmly and forever attached and bound to Him, by a perfect view of His glory.
And the vital union shall then be brought to perfection: the soul shall live perfectly in and upon Christ, being perfectly filled with His Spirit, and animated by His vital influences; living as it were only by Christ’s life, without any remainder of spiritual death, or carnal life. Departed souls of saints are with Christ, as they enjoy a glorious and immediate intercourse and converse with Him.
While we are present with our friends, we have opportunity for that free and immediate conversation with them, which we cannot have in absence from them. And therefore, by reason of the vastly more free, perfect and immediate intercourse with Christ, which the saints enjoy when absent from the body, they are fitly represented as present with Him.
The most intimate intercourse becomes that relation that the saints stand in to Jesus Christ: and especially becomes that most perfect and glorious union they shall be brought into with Him in heaven. They are not merely Christ’s servants, but His friends (John 15:15), His brethren and companions (Psalms 122:8); yea, they are the spouse of Christ.
They are espoused or betrothed to Christ while in the body; but when they go to heaven, they enter into the King’s palace, their marriage with Him is come, and the King brings them into His chambers indeed. They then go to dwell with Christ, constantly to enjoy the most perfect converse with Him. Christ conversed in the most friendly manner with His disciples on earth; He admitted one of them to lean on His bosom: but they are admitted much more fully and freely to converse with Him in heaven.
Though Christ be there in a state of glorious exaltation, reigning in the majesty and glory of the sovereign Lord and God of heaven and earth, angels and men. Yet this will not hinder intimacy and freedom of intercourse, but rather promote it. For He is thus exalted, not only for Himself, but for them; He is instated in this glory of head over all things for their sakes, that they might be exalted and glorified, and when they go to heaven where He is, they are exalted and glorified with Him; and shall not be kept at a more awful distance from Christ, but shall be admitted nearer, and to a greater intimacy.
For they shall be unspeakably more fit for it, and Christ in more fit circumstances to bestow on them this blessedness. Their seeing the great glory of their friend and Redeemer, will not awe them to a distance, and make them afraid of a near approach; but on the contrary, will most powerfully draw them near; and encourage and engage them to holy freedom. For they will know that it is He that is their own Redeemer, and beloved friend and bridegroom; the very same that loved them with a dying love, and redeemed them to God by His blood; Matthew 14:27, ‘It is I; be not afraid.’ Revelation 1:17–18, ‘Fear not, I am He that liveth, and was dead.’
And the nature of this glory of Christ that they shall see, will be such as will draw and encourage them, for they will not only see infinite majesty and greatness but infinite grace, condescension and mildness, and gentleness and sweetness, equal to His majesty. For he appears in heaven, not only as ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah,’ but as ‘the Lamb,’ and ‘the Lamb in the midst of the throne’ (Revelation 5:5–6); and this Lamb in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, to ‘feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters’ (Revelation 7:17) so that the sight of Christ’s great kingly majesty will be no terror to them; but will only serve the more to heighten their pleasure and surprise.
When Mary was about to embrace Christ, being full of joy at the sight of Him again alive after His crucifixion, Christ forbids her to do it, for the present because He was not yet ascended; John 20:16–17, ‘Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ As if he had said, ‘This is not the time and place for that freedom, your love to me desires: that is appointed in heaven, after my ascension. I am going thither: and you that are my true disciples, shall, as my brethren and companions, soon be there with me in my glory. And then there shall be no restraint. That is the place appointed for the most perfect expressions of complacence and endearment, and full enjoyment of mutual love.’
And accordingly the souls of departed saints with Christ in heaven, shall have Christ as it were unbosomed unto them, manifesting those infinite riches of love towards them, that have been there from eternity. And they shall be enabled to express their love to Him, in an infinitely better manner than ever they could while in the body.
Thus they shall eat and drink abundantly, and swim in the ocean of love, and be eternally swallowed up in the infinitely bright, and infinitely mild and sweet beams of divine love, eternally receiving that light, eternally full of it, and eternally compassed round with it, and everlastingly reflecting it back again to the fountain of it.”
–Jonathan Edwards, “True Saints, When Absent From The Body, Are Present With The Lord,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 25, Sermons and Discourses 1743-1758. Ed. Wilson H. Kimnach (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 231-233.