Too heavenly minded to be of earthly use?

The other day I was reading the life of David Brainerd. He was an extraordinary man who lived for a very short period of time (1718-1747) but made a lasting impact not just on his own generation but on future Christians, especially missionaries, including the great William Carey.

His was a life of passionate desire for God and longings to share Christ with those who did not know him. And whilst some talk of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use he demonstrated that great things can be done by one who is in fact very heavenly minded. He talked of panting after “the complete restoration of the blessed image of my Saviour, that I may be fitted for the blessed enjoyments and employments of the heavenly world.”[1] In other words he longed for heaven ahead. Yet this was a man who preached with great impact among the indigenous peoples of North America. His heavenly mindedness was the powerhouse for his earthly usefulness.

Shortly afterwards, Brainerd said that he “longed to join the angelic hosts in praises, wholly free from imperfection.”[2] As I read those words Bach’s Mass in B Minor was playing in the background. Such music of praise! It is hard to surpass Bach at his best. And yet his music will sound grating in comparison to the sweetly perfect notes and harmonies with which we will sing “worthy is the Lamb.”[3] There will be no jarring notes anywhere. Which is good news for me with my very poor singing voice.

But the music of Bach to us is very, very beautiful. And I don't know about you, but when I hear something so lovely I find myself wishing I could always hear it. If the music of a mere man written in praise of the Lord can stir us to delight, and a longing to somehow capture it and hold onto it always, then how much more will the beauty of our Lord himself, who inspired it, delight and captivate, enthral and excite, engage and electrify, fascinate and thrill every sense and sensation with a rapture too astounding for words to fathom or describe? What a prospect glory really is.

Can we be too heavenly minded to be of earthly use? Richard Baxter[4] did not think so. He urged us always to be meditating on our eternal rest. And he did so in part because of its practical impact for our lives now. Keeping our “hearts in heaven,” he says, is what puts “life in all your duties.”[5] It is also the antidote to listlessness and half-heartedness in the Christian life; “If you lie complaining of deadness and dullness; that you cannot love Christ, nor rejoice in his hope; that you have no life in prayer, nor any other duty, and yet neglect this quickening employment; you are the cause of your own complaints. Is not thy life hid with Christ in God? Where must thou go but to Christ for it? And where is that, but to heaven, where Christ is?”[6]

And will not any passing difficulty seem all the less if we truly grasp hold of the delight that will be ours when we enter into our eternal rest? And when we understand that this eternal rest, according to the Bible, is an active, living, embodied rest, one that is lived in the very presence of God and is depicted as being like a generous feast, how can we not meditate upon it and long for it? And if we know this life is still held out to offer to others and we have understood how infinitely desirable it is, can we rest content till others have heard of it and have been urged to take the offer for themselves? And can thoughts of the delight of our reward be anything other than helpful to our current life with Christ in this world when the Scriptures are full of promises of reward for a life lived to Christ?

And as heaven is a place of love, we will not be fitted to live in it unless we are those who are already expressing and living that love. As Jonathan Edwards puts it, “If you would be in the way to the world of love, see that you live a life of love – of love to God and love to men.”[7] And love to men and women, Edwards has in an earlier sermon stated includes giving to the poor and so on.[8] And as the love of God for us includes his hatred of injustice, then the fact that our future rest is one in which love prevails motivates us now to love in such a way as to speak out against all forms of injustice no matter where they occur. Thus, again, heavenly mindedness actually underpins the practical life of Christians.

And the apostle Paul was a heavenly minded man. See for example 2 Corinthians 4:17, 5:2, 8; Philippians 1:23.

I think that what men like Brainerd and Baxter (and indeed Jonathan Edwards) show us is that it greatly assists our usefulness to others, and to God, if we are more rather than less heavenly minded.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd: His Life and Diary (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1949), 82.

[2] Edwards, David Brainerd, 82.

[3] Revelation 5:12. The “Lamb” is a reference to Jesus Christ. John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is a reference to the fact that Jesus was the supreme sacrifice for our sin.

[4] Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was a Puritan minister who enjoyed considerable blessing in his ministry at Kidderminster. He is best known for his book, “The Reformed Pastor.”

[5] Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1859), 206.

[6] Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest, 206-207.

[7] Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits (1852. repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), 367.

[8] Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 8-9.


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