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GOOD MEN STRANGERS AND SOJOURNERS UPON EARTH.
And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.—Heb. xi. 13.
The verse runs thus:
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.
I HAVE lately in this place (upon a particular day and occasion) begun to handle these words; I shall briefly give you the heads of what hath been already delivered, and proceed to what remains. And that which I designed from this text was, to represent to us our present condition in this world, and to awaken our minds to a due sense and consideration of it. It is the same condition, that all the saints and holy men that have gone before us were in in this world; and we may all of us say with David, (Psal. xxxix. 12.) “I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.”
It is very frequent, not only in Scripture, but in other authors, to represent our condition, in this world, by that of pilgrims and sojourners in a far country. For the mind, which is the man, and our immortal souls, which are by far the more noble and excellent part of ourselves, are the natives of heaven, and but pilgrims and strangers here on the 272earth; and when the days of our pilgrimage shall be accomplished, are designed to return to that heavenly country from which they came, and to which they belong. And for the explication of this metaphor, I insisted only upon two things, which seem plainly to be designed and intended by it.
I. That our condition in this world is very troublesome and unsettled; “they confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth.”
II. It implies a tendency to a future settlement, and the hopes and expectation of a happier condition, into which we shall enter when we go out of this world.
And these I told you are two very weighty and useful considerations; that we should both understand our present condition in this world, and our future hopes and expectation after our departure out of it; that so we may demean ourselves suitably to both these conditions; both as is fit for those who look on themselves as pilgrims and sojourners in this world; and likewise as it becomes those who seek and expect a better country, and hope to be partakers of a blessed immortality in another world.
I. That our condition in this world is very troublesome and unsettled; and this is principally in tended by the metaphor of pilgrims and strangers. Such was the life of the patriarchs here spoken of in the text; they had no constant abode and fixed habitation, but were continually wandering from one kingdom and country to another; in which travels they were exposed to a great many dangers and sufferings, affronts and injuries; as we read at large in the history of their travels in the Old Testament. And such is our condition in this world: it is often troublesome, and always uncertain and unsettled; 273so that whatever degree of worldly felicity any man is possessed of, he hath no security that it shall continue for one moment.
II. Our condition in this world being a state of pilgrimage, it implies a tendency to a future settlement, and the hopes and expectation of a happier condition, into which we shall enter so soon as we leave this world. For so it follows immediately after the text: “They confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth; for they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country.” They that say such things; that is, they that acknowledge themselves to have lived in such a restless and uncertain condition in this world, travelling from one place to another, as the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did; and yet pretend to be persuaded of the goodness of God, and the faith fulness of his promise, in which he so solemnly declares himself to be their God; do hereby plainly shew, that they expect some happier condition here after, wherein that great promise of God will be made good to them to the full: so that he need not be ashamed to have been called their God.
Having handled at large these two particulars, I come now to shew, what influence the consideration of them ought to have upon our lives and practices. And if this be our condition in this world, and these our hopes and expectations as to another life; if we be pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and look for a better country, that is, an heavenly; this ought to have a great influence upon us in these following respects, which I did but briefly mention before, but shall now prosecute and press more largely.
I. Let us entangle and incumber ourselves as little as we can in this our pilgrimage: let us not 274engage our affections too far in the pleasures and advantages of this world, because we are not to stay in it, but to pass through it. Upon this consideration, the apostle St. Peter doth so earnestly exhort Christians to preserve themselves from fleshly lusts: (I Pet. ii. 11.) “Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts: which war against the soul/ The gratifying of our inordinate lusts, and our carnal and sensual inclinations, is directly opposite both to the nature of our immortal spirits, and to their great design and business in this world. Fleshly lusts do not only pollute and defile, but even quench and extinguish our diviner part, and do work the ruin and destruction of it: they sink our affections into the mud and filth of this world, and do entangle and detain them there: in a word, they do wholly indispose and unfit us for that pure, and spiritual, and Divine life, which alone can qualify us for our heavenly country and inheritance. And, therefore, while our souls are sojourning in this world, we should abstain from them, and preserve ourselves unspotted and untainted by them, as being altogether unuseful, and perfectly contrary to the laws and manners of our heavenly country. If we wallow in brutish and filthy lusts, as we pass through this world; our native country, when our souls think to return to it, will reject us and cast us out: when we come to heaven’s gate, and knock there, expecting to be admitted, and shall cry, “Lord, Lord, open unto us;” he will bid us to depart from him, because we have been workers of iniquity. Nothing that is unclean can enter into heaven. He who is to receive us into those blessed mansions, hath declared it to be his immutable resolution and decree, that “without 275holiness no man shall see the Lord. And therefore, as ever we hope to see God in that happy and blissful state, we must “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God;” that having rendered ourselves as like him as we can in this world, we may be capable of the blessed sight and enjoyment of him in the other.
And as for the advantages in this world, let us not pursue them too eagerly; we may take the conveniences which fairly offer themselves to us, and be content to want what we cannot honestly have, and without going out of the way of our duty, considering that we are travellers, and that a little will serve for our passage and accommodation in our pilgrimage. And beyond that why should we so earnestly covet more, and trouble ourselves for that which is not necessary to our journey? why should we at any time deal unjustly to attain any of this world’s goods? They will stand us in stead for so little a while, that we can have no temptation to injure or oppress any man, to break the peace of our consciences, and to wound our souls for the attaining of them. If the providence of God offer them to us, and bring them to our hands, in the use of honest diligence and lawful means; as we are not to refuse them, so neither are we to set our hearts upon them, nor to suffer our affections to be entangled in them.
The wisest use we can make of them, will be, to do like those who traffic in foreign parts, to consign our estates into our own native country, to send our treasures before us into the other world, that we may have the benefit of them when we come there. And this we may do by alms and charity, Whatever 276we spend upon the flesh, we leave behind us y and it will turn to no account to us in our own country; but whatever we lay out for the relief of the poor, is so much treasure laid out and secured to ourselves against another day. So our blessed Saviour assures us, (Luke xii. 33.) that giving of alms is providing for ourselves “bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.”
II. If we be “pilgrims and strangers,” then it concerns us to behave ourselves with great caution, and to live blamelessly and inoffensively; remembering that the eyes of people are upon us, and that those, among whom we sojourn, will be very prying and curious, and narrow observers of our manners and carriage. They that are in a strange country, are not wont to take that liberty and freedom which the natives of the place may do, but to keep a perpetual guard upon themselves, knowing how strictly they are observed, and that they live among those who bear no good-will to them, and that every bad thing we do reflects upon our nation, and is a reproach to the country to which we belong. “Ye are not of the world (says our Lord); if ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but ye are not of the world; therefore the world hateth you.” Upon this account the apostle chargeth Christians to be harmless and blameless, and as it becomes the sons of God to be, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom we should shine as lights. The same argument St. Peter useth: (1 Pet. ii. 11, 12.) “I beseech you, as pilgrims and strangers, to abstain from fleshly lusts, having your conversation honest among the gentiles;” that is, considering that you are among strangers and enemies, and therefore ought to be very careful to bring no scandal 277upon your holy profession, among those who will be ready to take all advantages against you. Particularly, we who pretend to the same heavenly country, must be kind to one another, and whilst we live among strangers, have no quarrels amongst ourselves. In a strange country, it useth to be a mighty endearment of men to one another, that they are of the same country and fellow-citizens, and this alone is commonly sufficient to unite their affections, and link their interests together. But how little of this is to be seen among Christians! How shame fully do they quarrel among themselves, in the midst of enemies and strangers! as if they had no relation to one another, and never expected to meet at last in the same country, and there to live together for ever.
III. Let us be as patient and cheerful as we can, under all the troubles and afflictions which we meet with in this life. They who are in strange countries must expect to encounter many injuries and affronts, and to be put to great difficulties and hard ships. Those which are lighter and more tolerable, we must bear with cheerfulness. Upon a journey men use to put on all the pleasantness they can, and to make sport of all the inconveniences of the ways and weather, and little cross accidents that befal them: and thus, if we had but the art and wisdom to do it, many of the lesser inconveniences of human life might well enough be played off, and made matter rather of mirth and diversion, than of melancholy and serious trouble.
But there are some evils and calamities of human life, that are too heavy and serious to be jested withal, and require the greatest consideration, and a very great degree of patience to support us under 278them, and enable us to bear them decently; as the loss of friends and dearest relations; as the loss of an only son, grown up to be well fixed and settled in a virtuous course, and promising all the comfort to his parents that they themselves can wish: these certainly are some of the greatest evils of this world, and hardest to be borne. For men may pretend what they will to philosophy, and contempt of the world, and of the perishing comforts and enjoyments of it; to the extirpation of their passions, and an insensibility of these things, which the weaker and undisciplined part of mankind keep such a wailing and lamentation about: but when all is done, nature hath framed us as we are, and hath planted in our nature strong inclinations and affections to our friends and relations; and these affections are as naturally moved upon such occasions, and pluck every string of our hearts as violently, as extreme hunger and thirst do gnaw upon our stomachs.
And therefore it is foolish for any man to pretend to love things mightily, and to rejoice greatly in the enjoyment of them; and yet to be so easily contented to lose them, and to be parted from them. This is to separate things which nature hath strongly linked together. Whatever we mightily love, does thereby, in some sort, become part of ourselves, and it cannot hang loose to us, to be separated and divorced from us without trouble; no more than a limb, that is vitally and by strong ligaments united to the body, can be dropped off when we please, or rent from the body without pain. And whoever pretends to have a mighty affection for any thing, and yet at the same time does pretend that he can contentedly, and without any great sense or signification of pain, bear the loss of it, does not talk like 279a philosopher, but like a hypocrite; and, under a grave pretence of being wise, is in truth an ill-natured man. For most certainly, in proportion to our love of any thing, will be our trouble and grief for the loss of it.
So that under these great and heavier strokes, we had need both of faith and patience. And, in deed, nothing but the firm belief of “a better country, that is an heavenly,” of another life after this, and a blessed immortality in another world, is sufficient to support a man in the “few and evil” days of his pilgrimage, and to sustain his spirit under the great evils and calamities of this life. But this fully answers all—that “the afflictions and sufferings of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Nay, that if we bear these afflictions patiently, and with a due submission to the will of God (especially our sufferings for his truth and cause), it will certainly increase our happiness in the other world, and “work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
IV. The consideration of our present condition, and of our future hopes, should set us above the fondness of life, and the slavish fears of death. For our minds will never be raised to their true pitch and height, till we have, in some good mea sure, conquered these two passions, and made them subject to our reason.
As for this present life, and the enjoyment of it, what is it that we see in them that should make us so strangely to dote upon them? Quae lucis miseris tam dira cupido! This world, at the best, is but a very indifferent place, and he is the wisest man, that bears himself towards it with the most indifferent 280mind and affection, that is always willing to leave it, and yet patient to stay in it as long as God pleaseth. And, as for death, though the dread of it be natural, yet why should the terrors of it be so very surprising and amazing to us, after we have considered, that to a good and pious soul, it is no other but the gate of heaven, and an entrance into eternal life? We are apt to wonder to see a man undaunted at the approach of death, and to be not only contented, but cheerful at the thoughts of his departure out of this world, this sink of sin, and vale of misery and sorrow. Whereas, if all things be duly considered, it is a greater wonder that men are so patient to live, and that they are not glad of any fair excuse and opportunity of getting out of this strange country, and retiring home, and of ridding themselves of the troubles and inconveniences of life. For, considering the numerous troubles and calamities we are liable to in a long pilgrimage, there are really but three considerations that I can readily think of, that can make this world, and our present condition in it, in any good measure tolerable to a wise man; viz. that God governs the world; that we are not always to stay in it; that there is a happiness designed and reserved for us in another place, which will abundantly recompense and make amends to us for all the troubles and sufferings of this life.
And yet it is strange to see how fast men cling to life; and that even in old age, how they catch at every twig that may but hold them up a little while, and how fondly they hanker after a miserable life, when there is nothing more of pleasure to be enjoyed, nothing more of satisfaction to be expected and hoped for in it. When they are just putting 281into the port, and one would think, should rejoice at their very hearts that they see land; yet how glad would they be then of any cross wind that would carry them back into the sea again, as if they loved to be tossed, and were fond of storms and tempests.
Nay, the very best of us, even after we have made that acknowledgment of David “I am a stranger and a sojourner with thee, as all my fathers were,” are apt, with him, to be still importuning God for a little longer life: “O spare me a little, that I may recover strength before I go hence, and be no more.” And when God hath granted us this request, then we would be spared yet “a little longer.”
But let us remember, that God did not design us to continue always in this world; and that he hath on purpose made it so uneasy to us, to make us willing to leave it; and that so long as we linger here below, we are detained from our happiness; “while we are present in the body we are absent from the Lord.” This consideration made St. Paul so desirous to be dissolved, because he knew, that when his “earthly house of this tabernacle” was dissolved, he should have a much better habitation, “a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” This was that which made him so full of joy and triumph at the thoughts of his leaving the world: (2 Tim. iv. 6.) “I am now ready (says he) to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand; I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which God the righteous Judge shall give me in that day.”282
Nay, the consideration of this (though but obscurely apprehended by them) did raise the spirits of the wiser and better heathen, and till them with great joy and comfort at the thoughts of their dissolution. With what constancy and evenness of mind did Socrates receive the sentence of death! and with what excellent discourse did he entertain his friends just before he drank off the fatal cup; and, after he had taken it down, whilst death was gradually seizing upon him! One can hardly, with out a very sensible transport, read Cato’s discourse concerning his death, as it is represented by Tully in his book of Old Age. “I am (says he) trans ported with a desire of seeing my forefathers, those excellent persons, of whom I have heard, and read, and written; and now I am going to them, I would not willingly be drawn back into this world again. Quod si quis Deus mihi largiatur, ut ex hac aetate repuerescam, et in cunis vagiam, valde recusem. “If some god would offer me, at this age, to be a child again, and to cry in the cradle, I would earnestly refuse it, and upon no terms accept it. And now that my race is almost run, and my course just finished, how loth should I be to be brought back, and made to begin again! For what advantage is there in life? Nay, rather, what labour and trouble is there not in it? But let the benefit of it be what it will, there is certainly some measure of life, as well as of other things, and men ought to know when they have enough of it.”—O praeclarum diem, cum in illud animorum concilium caetumque proficiscar, et cum ex hac turba et colluvione discedam. “O blessed and glorious day, when I shall go to that great council and assembly of spirits, and have got out of this crowd and rabble!” And if a heathen, who had 283but some obscure glimmerings of another life, and of the blessed state of departed souls, could speak thus cheerfully of death, how much more may we, who have a clear and undoubted revelation of these things, and to whom “life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel.”
V. We should always prefer our duty, and the keeping of a good conscience, before all the world; because it is, in truth, infinitely more valuable, if so be our souls be immortal, and do survive in another world, and we must there give a strict account of all the actions done by us in this life, and receive the sentence of eternal happiness or misery, “according to the things done in the body, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.” For as our Saviour argues concerning the case of denying him and his truth, to avoid temporal suffering and death; “what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” When we are tempted by temporal interest and advantage, or by the fear of present loss and suffering, to deny or dissemble our religion, to do any thing that is sinful in any kind, and contrary to our duty and conscience, let us ask ourselves what will be the profit and advantage of it? what, if for fear of men, and what they can do to me, I incur the wrath and displeasure of Almighty God? This is infinitely more to be dreaded, and his frowns are a thousand times more terrible, than the bitterest wrath and cruellest malice of men. What if, to preserve this frail and mortal body, I shall evidently hazard the loss of my immortal soul, and, to escape a temporal inconvenience, I forfeit everlasting happiness, and plunge myself into eternal misery and ruin? would not this be a wild bargain, 284and a mad exchange, for any temporal gain and advantage to lose the things that are eternal? and for the pleasing of ourselves for a little while, to make ourselves miserable for ever?
If we confess ourselves to be “pilgrims and strangers on the earth,” and are persuaded of the promises of God concerning a “heavenly country,” where we hope to arrive after the few and evil days of our pilgrimage are over; let us not, by complying with the humours of strangers, and the vicious customs and practices of an evil world, bar ourselves of our hopes, and banish ourselves from that happy place, to which we all profess we are going.
We pretend to be travelling towards heaven: but if we “make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience,” we destroy our own hopes of ever arriving at that happy port. We do not live up to our expectation of a future happiness, if the unseen glories of another world do not raise us above all the temptations and terrors of sense. Our faith and hope have not their due and proper influence upon us, if they do not govern our lives and actions, and make us steadfast in the profession of our holy religion, and in the conscientious practice of it. St. Paul reasoned himself into this holy resolution, from the hopes of a blessed resurrection: (Acts xxiv. 15, 16.) “I have hope (says he) towards God, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust; ἐν τούτῳ δὲ, for this cause therefore, I exercise myself always to have a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards men.”
VI. And lastly, If we be sojourners and travellers in this world, we should often think of our end, and carefully mind the way to it. Our end is everlasting happiness, and the direct way to it is by 285a constant and sincere and universal obedience to the laws and commandments of God. And this itself is so plain a way, that a sincere and honest man can hardly err in it. And, therefore, we must not suffer ourselves to be led and trained out of it, upon any pretence whatsoever; not by the wildfire of pretended illuminations and enthusiasms, nor by the confident pretence of an infallible guide, that will needs shew us another way, and persuade us to follow him blindfold in it. Let us not quit the infallible rule of God’s word, to follow any guide whatsoever. “If an apostle, or an angel from heaven, preach any other doctrine” and way to heaven, “let him be accursed.” He who is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” when he was consulted with about the way to eternal happiness, knew no other but this. For when the young man asked him—“Good Master, what good things shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?” his answer was, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” It is true, indeed, that by reason of our corrupt inclinations within, and powerful temptations without, this way (especially at our first setting out) is rugged and difficult. So our Lord hath forewarned us, telling us, that “strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth to life,” and that there be few that find it; therefore, we should “strive to enter in,” take great care and pains to discern the right way, and to overcome the difficulties of our first entrance into it; and should often pray to God as David did: (Psal. cxix. 19.) “I am a stranger in the earth; hide not thy commandments from me. (Psal. cxxxix. 23, 24.) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, 286and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Thus, if we would always have our end in our eye, it would both be a direction to us in our way, and an encouragement to quicken our pace in it; there being no more powerful motive to a good life, than to be assured that, “if we have our fruit unto holiness, our end shall be everlasting life.”287
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