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THE TRUE CHRISTIAN'S 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 setting forth the excellencies of the grace of faith, by the glorious effects and happy issue of it in the saints of the Old Testament. He had spoken in the preceding part of the chapter particularly of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. Having enumerated those instances, he takes notice that “these all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers,” &c.
In these words the apostle seems to have a more particular respect to Abraham and Sarah, and their kindred that came with them from Haran, and from Ur of the Chaldees, by the 15th verse, where the apostle says, “and truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.” It was they that upon God's call left their own country.
Two things may be observed in the text.
1. What these saints confessed of themselves, viz.," that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Thus we have a particular account concerning Abraham: "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you,” Gen. xxiii. 4. And it seems to have been the 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 a hundred and thirty years : few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage,” Gen. xlvii. 9. “I am a stranger and a sojourner with thee, as all my fathers were," 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 country 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, that they seek and are travelling to as their home.
DOCTRINE. This life ought so to be spent by us, as to be only a journey towards heaven. Here I would observe,
I. That we ought not to rest in the world and its enjoyments, but should desire heaven.
This our hearts should be chiefly upon and engaged about. We should seek first the kingdom of God, Matt. vi. 33. He that is on a journey, seeks the place that he is journeying to. We ought above all things to desire a heavenly happiness : to go to heaven, and there be with God, and dwell with Jesus Christ. If we are surrounded with many outward enjoyments, and things that are very
comfortable to us ; if we are settled in families, and have those good friends and relations that are very desirable; if we have companions whose society is delightful to us; if we have children that are pleasant and hopeful, and in whom we see many promising qualifications; if we live by good neighbors ; have much of the respect of others; have a good name; are generally beloved where we are known; and have comfortable and pleasant accommodations; yet we ought not to take our rest in these things. We should not be willing to have these things for our portion, but should seek a higher happiness in another world. We should not merely seek something else in addition to these things, but should be so far from resting in them, that we should choose and desire to leave these things for heaven; to go to God and Christ there. We should not be willing to live here always, if we could, in the same strength and vigor of body and mind as when in youth, or in the midst of our days; and always enjoy the same pleasure, and dear friends, and other earthly comforts. We should choose and desire to leave them all in God's due time, that we might go to heaven, and there have the enjoyment of God.—We ought to possess them, enjoy and make use of them, with no other view or aim, but readily to quit them whenever we are called to it, and to change them for heaven. And when we are called away from them, we should go cheerfully and willingly.
He that is going a journey, is not wont to rest in what he meets with that is comfortable and pleasing on the road. If he passes along through pleasant places, flowery meadows, or shady groves; he does not take up his content in these things. He is content only to take a transient view of these pleasant objects as he goes along. He is not enticed by these fine appearances to put an end to his journey, and leave off the thought of proceeding : no; but his journey's end is in his mind; that is the great thing that be aims at. So if he meets with comfortable and pleasant accommodations on the road at an inn, yet he does not rest there ; he entertains no thoughts of settling there. He considers that these things are not his own, and that he is but a stranger; that that is not allotted for his home. And when he has refreshed himself, or tarried but for a night, he is for leaving these accommodations, and going forward, and getting onward towards his journey's end. And the thoughts of coming to his journey's end, are not at all grievous to him. He does not desire to be travelling always and never come to his journey's end ; the thoughts of that would be discouraging to him. But it is pleasant to him to think, that so much of the way is gone, that he is now nearer home; and that he shall presently be there ; and the toil and fatigue of his journey will be over.
So should we thus desire heaven so much more than the comforts and enjoyments of this life, that we should long to change these things for heaven. We should wait with earnest desire for the time when we shall arrive at our journey's end. The apostle mentions it as an encouraging, comfortable consideration to Christians, when they draw nigh their happiness.—“ Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.''
Our hearts ought to be loose to these things, as it is with a man that is on a journey. However comfortable enjoyments are, yet we ought to keep our hearts so loose from them, as cheerfully to 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," 1 Cor. 29, 30, 31.
We ought to look upon 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 forever.
II. We ought to seek heaven, by travelling in the way that leads thither.
The way that leads to heaven is the way of holiness. We should choose and desire to travel thither in this way and in no other. We should part with all those sins, those carnal appetites that are as weights, that will tend to hinder us in our travelling towards heaven. “ Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race set before us,” Heb. xii. l. However pleasant any practice, or the gratification of any appetite may be, we must lay it aside, cast it away; if it be any hinderance, and stumbling-block in the way to heaven.
We should travel on in a way of obedience to all God's commands, even the difficult as well as the easy commands. We should travel on in a way self-denial; 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, though it be contrary to the natural tendency and bias of our flesh that tends downward to the earth. We should follow Christ in the path that he has gone in. The way that he travelled in was the right way to heaven. We should take up our cross and follow him. We should travel along in the same way of meekness and lowliness of heart; in the same way of obedience and charity, and diligence to do good; and patience under afðictions. The way to heaven is a heavenly life; we must be travelling towards heaven in a way of imitation of those that are in heaven. In imitation of the saints and angels there, in their holy employment, in their way of spending their time, in loving, adoring, serving, and praising God and the Lamb. This is the path that we ought to prefer before all others, if we could have any other that we might choose. If we could go to heaven in a way of carnal living, in the way of the enjoyment and gratification of our lusts, we should rather prefer a way of holiness and conformity to the spiritual self-denying rules of the gospel.
III. We should travel on in this way in a laborious manner.
The going of long journeys is attended with toil and fatigue; especially if the journey be through a wilderness. Persons, in such a case, expect no other than to suffer hardships and weariness in travelling over mountains and through bad places.
So we should travel in this way of holiness, in a laborious manner, improving our time and strength to surmount the difficulties and obstacles that are in the way. The land that we have to travel through is a wilderness; there are many mountains, rocks, and rough places that we must go over in the way; and there is a necessity that we should lay out our strength.
IV. Our whole lives ought to be spent in travelling this road.
1. We ought to begin early. This should be the first concern and business that persons engage in when they come to be capable of acting in the world in doing any business. When they first set out in the world, they should set out on this journey. And,
2. We ought to travel on in this way with assiduity. It ought to be the work of every day to travel on towards heaven. We should often be thinking of our journey's end; and not only be thinking of it, but it should be our daily work to travel on in the way that leads to it.
As he that is on a journey is often thinking on the place that he is going to, and it is his care and business every day to get along; to improve his time, to get towards his journey's end. He spends the day in it; it is the work of the day, whilst the sun serves him. And when he has rested in the night, he gets
up in the morning, and sets out again on his journey; and so from day to day, till he has got to his journey's end. Thus should heaven be continually in our thought; and the immediate entrance or passage to it, viz., death, should be present with us. And it should be a thing that we familiarize to ourselves; and so it should be our work every day, to be preparing for death, and travelling heavenward.
3. We ought to persevere in this way as long as we live: we should hold out in it to the end.
“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” Heb. xi. 1. Though the road be difficult, and it be a toilsome thing to travel it, we must hold out with patience, and be content to endure the hardships of it. If the journey be long, yet we must not stop short; we should not give out in discouragement, but hold on till we are arrived at the place we seek. We ought not to 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 get along. Whe should be engaged and resolved to press forward till we arrive.
V. We ought to be continually growing in holiness ; and in that respect coming nearer and nearer to heaven.
He that is travelling towards a place comes nearer and nearer to it continually. So we should be endeavoring to come nearer to heaven, in being more heavenly; becoming more and more like the inhabitants of heaven, and more and more as we shall be when we have arived there, if ever that be.
We should endeavor continually to be more and more, as we hope to be in heaven, in respect of holiness and conformity to God. And with respect to light and knowledge, we should labor to be growing continually in the knowledge of God and Christ, and clear views of the glory of God, the beauty of Christ, and the excellency of divine things, as we come nearer and nearer to the beatific vision.
We should labor to be continually growing in divine love; that this may be an increasing flame in our hearts, till our hearts ascend wholly in this flame. We should be growing in obedience, and in heavenly conversation ; that we may do the will of God on earth as the angels do in heaven.
We ought to be continually growing 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,” Prov. iv. 18.
We ought to be hungering and thirsting after righteousness; after an increase in righteousness. “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby," 1 Pet. ii. 2. And we should make the perfection of heaven our mark. We should rest in nothing short of this, but be pressing towards this mark, and laboring continually to be coming nearer and nearer to it. “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” Phil
. iii. 13, 14. VI. All other concerns of life ought to be entirely subordinate to this.
As when a man is on a journey, all the steps that he takes are in order to further him on his journey; and subordinate to that aim of getting to his journey's end. And if he carries money or provision 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. Journeying towards heaven, ought to be our only work and business, so that all we have
When once any
and do, should be in order to that. When we have worldly enjoyments we should be ready to part with them, whenever they are in the way of our going toward heaven. We should sell all this world for heaven. thing we have becomes a clog and hinderance to us, in the way heavenward, we should quit it immediately. When we use our worldly enjoyments and possessions, it should be with such a view and in such a manner as to further us in our way heavenward. Thus we should eat, and drink, and clothe ourselves. And thus should we improve the conversation and enjoyment of friends.
And whatever business we are setting about; whatever design we are engaged 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.
We ought to make use of worldly enjoyments, and pursue worldly business in such a degree and manner as shall have the best tendency to forward our journey heavenward, and no otherwise.
I shall offer some reasons of the doctrine.
Our continuance in this world is but very short. Man's days on the earth are as a shadow. It was never designed by God this world should be our home. We were not born into this world for that end. Neither did God give us these temporal things that we are accommodated with for that end. "If God has given us good estates; if we are settled in families, and God has given us children, or other friends that are very pleasant to us; it is with no such view or design, that we should be furnished and provided for here, as for a settled abode; but with a design that we should use them for the present, and then leave them again in a very little time.
If we are called to any secular business; or if we are charged with the care of a family; with the instruction and education of children, we are called to these things with a design that we shall be called from them again, and not to be our everlasting employment. So that if we improve our lives to any other purpose, than as a journey towards heaven, all our labor will be lost. If we spend our lives in the pursuit of a temporal happiness : if we set our hearts on riches, and seek happiness in them; if we seek to be happy in sensual pleasures; if we spend our lives in seeking the credit and esteem of men; the goodwill and respect of others; if we set our hearts on our children, and look to be happy in the enjoyment of them, in 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 expectations, and will put an end to our enjoyment of these things. 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 forever from all these things; and it is uncertain when ; it may be soon after we have received them, and are put into the possession of them. It may be in the midst of our days and from the midst of our enjoyments. 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," Job xiv. 12. II. The
future world was designed to be our settled and everlasting abode. Here it was intended that we should be fixed; and here alone is a lasting habitation, and a lasting inheritance and enjoyment to be had. We are designed for this fuiure world. We are to be in two states; the one in this world, which is an imperfect state; the other, in the world to come. The present state is short and transitory ; but our state in the other world is everlasting. When we VOL IV.