If you will ask a person what he will choose between Heaven and Hell, the most likely answer you will get is “Heaven.” Of course.
But isn’t it proper and healthy for our soul to ask ourselves what really our “chief happiness” is? Do we want Heaven as a way of escaping the sufferings of this world and eternal torment in Hell? Or do we want Heaven because we find our heart’s enjoyment in the presence of God?
The answer to these questions are crucial. It is really a matter of life and death, of Heaven and Hell. Listen to how the Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691) puts it in his classic The Saints’ Everlasting Rest:
Every soul that has a title to this [heavenly and everlasting] rest places his chief happiness in God. This rest consists in the full and glorious enjoyment of God. He that makes not God his chief good and ultimate end, is in heart a pagan and a vile idolater. Let me ask, then, do you truly account it your chief happiness to enjoy the Lord in glory, or do you not? Can you say, “The Lord is my portion? Whom have I in heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides you?” If you be an heir of rest, it is thus with you.
Though the flesh will be pleading for its own delights, and the world will be creeping into your affections, yet in your ordinary, settled, prevailing judgment and affections, you prefer God before all things in the world. You make him the very end of your desires and endeavors. The very reason why you hear, and pray, and desire to live on earth, is chiefly this, that you may seek the Lord, and make sure of your rest. Though you do not seek it so zealously as you should, yet it has the chief of your desires and endeavors, so that nothing else is desired or preferred before it.
You will think no labor or suffering too great to obtain it. And though the flesh may sometimes shrink, yet you are resolved and ready to go through all. Your esteem for it will also be so high, and your affection to it so great, that you would not exchange your title to it, and hopes of it, for any worldly good whatsoever.
If God should set before you an eternity of earthly pleasure on the one hand, and the saints’ rest on the other, and bid you to take your choice, you would refuse the world and choose this rest. But if you are yet unsanctified, then you do in your heart prefer your worldly happiness before God; and though your tongue may say that God is your chief good, yet your heart does not so esteem him. For the world is the chief end of your desires and endeavors. Your very heart is set upon it. Your greatest care and labor is to maintain your credit or fleshly delights. But the life to come has little of your care or labor. You never perceived so much excellency in the unseen glory of another world, as to draw your heart after it, and bring you to labor heartily for it. The little pains you bestow for it is but a secondary effort.
God has but the world’s leavings: only that time and labor which you can spare from the world, or those few cold and careless thoughts which follow your constant, earnest, and delightful thoughts of earthly things. Neither would you do any thing at all for heaven, if you knew how to keep the world. But lest you should be turned into hell when you can keep the world no longer, therefore you will do something.
For the same reason you think the way of God too strict, and will not be persuaded to the constant labor of walking according to the Gospel rule; and when it comes to the trial, that you must forsake Christ or your worldly happiness, then you will venture heaven rather than earth, and so willfully deny your obedience to God.
And certainly, if God would but give you leave to live in health and wealth for ever on earth, you would think it a better state than the rest of heaven—let them seek for heaven that would, you would think this your chief happiness. This is your case, if you are yet an unregenerate person, and has no title to the saints’ rest.