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THE CHRISTIAN PILGRIM,
THE CHRISTIANS LIFE A JOURNEY TOWARDS HEAVEN.
HEBREWS xi, 13, 14.
And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the
earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
The Apostle is here exhibiting the excellency of faith, by its glorious effects, and happy issue in the saints of the Old Testament. Having enumerated examples of Abel, Enoch and Noah, of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Jacob, he relates that all “ these died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were persuaded of them and cmbraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.” In these words the apostle seems more immediately to refer to Abraham and Sarah, and their kindred who came with them from Haran, and from Ur of the Chaldees, as appears by the 15th verse, where he says, “and truly if they had been mindful of that country whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.”
Two things may be here observed.
1. The confession which they made concerning themselves to it, that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth; of this we have a particular account concerning Abraham, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you."* And it seems to have been a general sense of the patriarchs, by what Jacob says to Pharaoh. “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, the days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years : few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage."“I am a stranger and a sojourner with thee, as all my fathers were."
* Gen. xxii, 4. † Gen. xlvii. 9, | Psal. xxxix. 12.
2. The inference that the apostle draws from hence, viz. that they sought another country as their home. “For they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country.” In confessing that they were strangers, they plainly declared that this is not their country, that this is not the place where they are at home. And in confessing themselves to be pilgrims, they declared plainly that this is not their settled abode; but that they have respect to some other country, which they seek and to which they are travelling.
That this life ought to be so spent by us, as to be only a journey,
or pilgrimage, towards heaven.
HERE I would observe,
1. That we ought not to rest in the world and its enjoyments, but should desire heaven. We should seek first the kingdom of God.*
We ought above all things to desire a heavenly happiness; to be with God; and dwell with Jesus Christ. Though surrounded with outward enjoyments, and settled in families with desirable friends and relations; though we have companions whose society is delightful, and children in whom we see many promising qualifications; though we live by good neighbours, and are generally beloved where known ; yet we ought not to take our rest in these things as our portion. We should be so far from resting in them, that we should desire to leave them all, in God's due time. We ought to possess, enjoy, and use them, with no other view but readily to quit them, whenever we are called to it, and to change them willingly and cheerfully for heaven.
A traveller is not wont to rest in what he meets with, however comfortable and pleasing on the road. If he passes through pleasant places, flowery meadows, or shady groves; he does not take up his content in these things, but only takes a transient view of them as he goes along. He is not enticed by fine appearances to put off the thought of proceeding. No, but his journey's end is in his mind. If he meets with comfortable accommodations at an inn ; he entertains no thoughts of settling there. He considers that these things are not his own, that he is but a stranger, and when he has refreshed himself, or tarried for a night, he is for going forward. And it is pleasant to him to think that so much of the way is gone.
So should we desire heaven more than the comforts and enjoyments of this life. The apostle mentions it as an encouraging, comfortable consideration to Christians, that they draw nearer their happiness. “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”—Our hearts ought to be loose to these things, as that of a man on a journey ; that we may as cheerfully part with them whenever God calls. “But this I say, brethren, the time is short : it remaineth, that both they that have wives, be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away."*_These things, as only lent to us for a little while, to serve a present turn; but we should set our hearts on heaven, as our inheritance for ever.
* Matt. vi. 33.
2. We ought to seek heaven, by travelling in the way that leads thither. This is a way of holiness. We should choose and desire to travel thither in this way and in no other; and part with all those carnal appetites, which as weights will tend to hinder us. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” However pleasant the gratification of any appetite may be, we must lay it aside, if it be any hindrance, or a stumbling-block in the way to heaven.
We should travel on in the way of obedience to all God's commands, even the difficult as well as the easy; denying all our sinful inclinations and interests. The way to heaven is ascending ; we must be content to travel up hill, though it be hard and tiresome, and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh. We should follow Christ ; the path he travelled was the right way to heaven.
We should take up our cross and follow him, in meekness and lowliness of heart, obedience and charity, diligence to do good, and patience under afflictions. The way to heaven is a heavenly life; an imitation of those who are in heaven, in their holy enjoyments, loving, adoring, serving, and praising God and the Lamb. Even if we could go to heaven with the gratification of our lusts, we should prefer a way of holiness and conformity to the spiritual self-denying rules of the gospel.
3. We should travel on in this way in a laborious manner. Long journeys are attended with toil and fatigue ; especially if through a wilderness. Persons, in such a case, expect no other than to suffer hardships and weariness. So we should travel in this way of holiness, improving our time and strength, to surmount the difficulties and obstacles that are in the way. The land we have to travel through, is a wilderness; there are many mountains, rocks, and rough places that we must go over, and, therefore, there is a necessity that we should lay out our strength.
4. Our whole lives ought to be spent in travelling this road. We ought to begin early. This should be the first concern, when persons become capable of acting. When they first set out in the world, they should set out on this journey. And we ought to travel on with assiduity. It ought to be the work of every day. We should often think of our journey's end; and make it our daily work to travel on in the way that leads to it. Ile who is on a journey, is often thinking of the destined place; and it is his daily care and business to get along;
and to improve his time to get towards his journey's end. Thus should heaven be continually in our thoughts, and the immediate entrance or passage to it, viz. death, should be present with us. We ought to persevere in this way as long as we live.
“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us."* Though the road be difficult, and toilsome, we must hold out with patience, and be content to endure hardships. Though the journey be long, yet we must not stop short ; but hold on till we arrive at the place we seek. Nor should we be discouraged with the length and difficulties of the way, as the children of Israel were, and be for turning back again. All our thought, and design, should be to press forward till we arrive.
5. We ought to be continually growing in holiness; and, in that respect, coming nearer and nearer to heaven. We should be endeavouring to come nearer to heaven, in being more heavenly ; becoming more and more like the inhabitants of heaven, in respect of holiness, and conformity to God; the knowledge of God and Christ; in clear views of the glory of God, the beauty of Christ, and the excellency of divine things, as we come nearer to the beatific vision, We should labour to be continually growing in divine love—that this may be an increasing flame in our hearts, till they ascend wholly in this flame--in obedience and an heavenly conversation; that we may do the will of God on earth, as the angels do in heaven: in comfort and spiritual joy; in sensible communion with God and Jesus Christ. Our path should be as
" the shining light, that shines more and more to the perfect day.” We ought to be hungering and thirsting after righteousness ; after an increase in righteousness. "As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”! The perfection of heaven should be our mark. “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press to. ward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Heb, sii. 1.
1 Prov. iv. 18.
# 1 Pet. ii, 2.
0 Phil. iii. 13. 14.
6. All other concerns of life, ought to be entirely subordinate to this. When a man is on a journey, all the steps he takes are subordinated to the aim of getting to his journey's end. And, if he carries money or provisions with him, it is to supply him in his journey. So we ought wholly to subordinate all our other business, and all our temporal enjoyments, to this affair of travelling to heaven. When any thing we have, becomes a clog and hindrance to us, we should quit it immediately. The use of our worldly enjoyments and possessions, should be with such a view, and in such a manner, as to further us in our way heaven-ward. Thus we should eat, and drink, and clothe ourselves, and improve the conversation and enjoyment of friends. And, whatever business we are setting about, whatever design we are engaging in, we should inquire with ourselves, whether this business, or undertaking, will forward us in our way to heaven? And, if not, we should quit our design.
Why the Christian’s life is a journey or pilgrimage 1. This world is not our abiding place. Our continuance here is but very short. Man's days on the earth, are as a shadow. It was never designed by God that this world should be our home. Neither did God give us these temporal accommodations for that end. If God has given us ample estates, and children, or other pleasant friends, it is with no such design, that we should be furnished here, as for a settled abode; but with a design that we should use them for the present, and then leave them in a very little time. When we are called to any secular business, or charged with the care of a family, is we improve our lives to any other purpose, than as a journey toward heaven, all our labour will be lost. If we spend our lives in the pursuit of a temporal happiness; as riches, or sensual pleasures; credit and esteem from men; delight in our children, and the prospect of seeing them well brought up, and well settled, &c.-All these things will be of little significancy to us. Death will blow up all our hopes, and will put an end to these enjoyments. "The places that have known us, will know us no more :” and “the eye that has seen us, shall see us no more.” We must be taken away for ever from all these things; and it is uncertain when : it may be soon after we are put into the possession of them. And then, where will be all our worldly employments and enjoyments, when we are laid in the silent grave! “So.man lieth down. and riseth not again, till the heavens be no more.9**
* Joh xiv. 12.