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“Strangely Dim” and “Sweeter Green”


In what may be some of his last recorded words, the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé in the ministry, Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon” (2 Tim. 4:9). It must have been a lonely life in the Roman prison from which he wrote, but his tie of love for Timothy was strong. He had a vivid memory of Timothy’s tears at their last departure, and he longed for the joy of being together with him again (2 Tim. 1:4). Yet one verse earlier, in 4:8, Paul could confess a love and longing for the “appearing” of Jesus—which, he had said earlier in the letter, “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).

Paul’s heart was in heaven, but his feet were firmly on the ground.

Paul was a man consumed by the truth of the Gospel, even to the degree that he had learned the secret to being content “in any and every circumstance” (Phil. 4:12). But that love for the Gospel had not removed from him the longing for Timothy’s presence. If you like, Paul’s heart was in heaven, but his feet were firmly on the ground. 

Every so often, we may meet people who suggest that if our attention truly is turned to Jesus, all of our other concerns will cease to matter. The Bible says not at all! Our love for the appearing of Jesus will not move us into a realm where we disregard friendship, fellowship, and all the graces that God gives us in the context of our earthly existence. Paul could express confidence in the hope of heaven: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8). But that didn’t stop him from saying to his dear friend, “Do your best to come to me soon. I long to see you.”

When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, “the things of earth” do, in one sense, “grow strangely dim.”1 All of the “cares and riches and pleasures” that choke out spiritual life (Luke 8:14) take their rightful place. Yet there are also “things of earth” that take on a new dimension. The scientist who loves the appearing of Jesus will have an appreciation of the created order that is unknown to the humanist or the atheist. Gardeners who love the appearing of Jesus ought to have a triple joy in their garden’s beauty. Christian friendships will find a richer joy in the light of our Lord’s love.

We can find this reality expressed in a good hymnbook:

Heav’n above is softer blue;

Earth around is sweeter green;

Something lives in every hue

Christless eyes have never seen.

Birds with gladder songs o’er­flow,

Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,

Since I know, as now I know,

I am His, and He is mine.2

The Christian lifts up his or her eyes not only to heaven, where Christ is, but also “to the hills” (Ps. 121:1), finding there another occasion to worship the Lord. The worldly person may look up to the hills and say, “I wonder where these came from. I wonder how long it takes to get up there.”

You might also say, “I wonder how long it takes to get up there,” or “I don’t think I could ever get up there.” But if you are in Christ, you know from whom the hills came, and you know that the one who made them holds us in His hands:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

 From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

 who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1–2)

This article was adapted from the sermons “Paul’s Final Words” by Alistair Begg.


  1. Helen Howarth Lemmel, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” (1922). ↩︎

  2. George Wade Robinson, “I Am His, and He Is Mine” (1876). ↩︎

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