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THE CHRISTIAN A STRANGER AND PILGRIM ON THE EARTH.
Hebrews xi. 13.
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 and pilgrims on the earth.
The Patriarchs, of whom the Apostle speaks, were, many of them, for a considerable portion of their lives, literally wanderers on the face of the earth. Overwhelmed as the world had become with wickedness and unbelief, it was by such means that God weaned his chosen servants from the seductive influence of the vices which they saw around them; and, by forbidding them to fix any permanent resting-place amongst an ungodly people, secured them from the danger of a too continued contact and familiarity with
the gross idolatries which they practised. Thus the faith of Abraham was tried by the command of God, that he should get him away from his friends and relations, and depart into a land which he should shew him; and for a great part of his eventful life he was, in truth, a sojourner in a foreign country. Isaac also was frequently compelled to wander without a settled habitation. Jacob, in looking back on his own past history, was able feelingly to exclaim, “how few and evil had been the days of the years of his pilgrimage."*
And his posterity, for many generations, experienced the lot of exiles in a land of strangers.
But accurate as was this description, in its literal sense, of the condition of the early Patriarchs, there was yet a deeper and more significant meaning in the spiritual application of the words. When that distant prospect, which is spoken of in the text, of an everlasting inheritance was opened to their view, typified as it was in the figure of the promised land, it was under an impulse of a very peculiar and powerful kind, that they borrowed from the unsettled life they led a beautiful emblem of the transience of all sublunary things, and learned from the contrast which they drew between the changefulness of this life, and the promised permanence of heaven, to acknowledge that they were but as sojourners in this lower world. With a spirit like that so well expressed afterwards by the Psalmist, they could individually exclaim, “I am a stranger in the earth; O Lord, hide not thy commandments from me.”* They felt themselves, indeed, as strangers in the earth. Once awakened to that everlasting hope in which the best energies and aspirations of the human soul find their proper end and their lawful satisfaction, all their earthly prospects, attractive as they might have been, faded into comparative insignificance. The moral faculties, and the affections of the heart, destined for more enduring purposes than any which the narrow range of this life could afford them, when once a larger and a fitter field was opened for their exercise, directed thither the whole intensity of their power. In the full conviction of their faith, the value of the present became almost entirely lost in the superior promise of the future. They felt, as St. Paul describes, that this world was not their home, and therefore that the measure of their attachment to its pursuits was to be controuled and moderated accordingly; and so he describes those who had “seen the promises afar off, and were persuaded of them, and em
* Gen. xlvii. 3.
braced them,” as proceeding, by natural consequence, to “confess that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” “ For,” as the Apostle adds, “they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared them a city.
Nor shall we find, even in their two-fold acceptation, that these words are destitute of instruction to ourselves. To the Scriptures, indeed, we are indebted for those clearer views and representations which can alone awaken in us a saving consciousness of the truth. But even nature can give us many intimations to the same effect: and we shall find that there are abundant evidences written on the very constitution of man himself, and the architecture of the world around him, which remind us that we are but strangers and pilgrims on the earth. I need not quote the Scriptures to prove how brief is our interest in this lower world; how insignificant a part is that world itself of the mighty universe that surrounds it. I need not reiterate those trite and undisputed maxims, (from which, however, so many a mistaken moral has been deduced,) that the things of time are precarious and uncertain; that the brightness of our happiest hours is ever obscured with clouds; that the purest cup of earthly enjoyment is dashed with bitterness. Of truths such as these our very senses perpetually and plainly inform us. The transience of all material things is seen in the annual changes of the physical world ; heard in the voice of mourning which so discordantly tells us of dissevered friendship and bereaved affection; and felt in the bodily infirmities which individually remind us of the precarious tenure of our own existence. And, while we have so many proofs that we are not permanent citizens of the country which we now inhabit, nature has also other evidences to shew that we were designed for a better one hereafter. Philosophy has long since discovered how many are the desires and aspirations of the soul which cannot be satisfied here ; what a wonderful mechanism of secret endowments and capacities, suited for lofty contemplation, but utterly superfluous for the common practical purposes of life, lies yet dormant in the mind of man; how unaccountably profuse would seem the precious gift of our Creator, on the presumption that the narrow sphere of this world alone was designed for their use, and that there re