Heaven, a Miserable Place to an Unholy Man

Heaven, a Miserable Place to an Unholy Man

I know of no other book that has challenged and encouraged me more than Holiness, by J.C. Ryle. It is the one volume that I have returned to again and again, and I can’t help but think that I will continue to do so until Jesus calls me home. In a chapter titled “Holiness,” he sets out to answer the question, “Why is practical holiness so important?” He gives eight reasons, and in the last he says this:

We must be holy, because without holiness on earth — we will never be prepared to enjoy Heaven.

Heaven is a holy place. The Lord of Heaven is a holy Being. The angels are holy creatures. Holiness is written on everything in Heaven. The book of Revelation says expressly, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful — but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27).

How will we ever be at home and happy in Heaven — if we die unholy? Death works no change in our essential character. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be in eternity — if we are strangers to holiness now?

Suppose for a moment, that you were allowed to enter Heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit down? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth? 

Now perhaps, you love the company of . . .the light and the careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveler and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in Heaven. 

Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in Heaven. 

Now perhaps you think that praying and Scripture reading and hymn singing — are dull and melancholy and foolish work, a thing to be tolerated now and then — but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshiping God. But remember, Heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day or night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this? 

Do you think that such a one would delight to meet David and Paul and John — after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them and find that he and they had much in common? Do you think, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the crucified One, face to face — after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence, and join in the cry, “This is our God . . . we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9)? Do you not think rather, that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out? He would feel a stranger in a land he did not know, a black sheep amid Christ’s holy flock. The voice of cherubim and seraphim, the song of angels and archangels, and all the company of Heaven — would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe! 

I do not know what others may think — but to me it does seem clear that Heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot be otherwise. People may say in a vague way, that they “hope to go to Heaven,” but they do not consider what they say. There must be a certain “fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light.” Our hearts must be somewhat in tune. To reach the holiday of glory — we must pass through the training school of grace. We must be heavenly-minded and have heavenly tastes in the present life — or else we will never find ourselves in Heaven in the life to come!

For a book on the life of Ryle and a copy of the first edition of Holiness, click here.
You can also read an online text of the book here.