« Prev Sermon LXVII. Good Men Strangers and Sojourners… Next »


[Preached at Whitehall, before the Royal Family, Nov. 1, 1666.]


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.

THE apostle having declared, at the latter end of the foregoing chapter, that faith is the great principle whereby good men are acted, and whereby they are supported under all the evils and sufferings of this life, (ver. 38.) “now the just shall live by faith;” in this chapter he makes it his main business, to set forth to us at large the force and power of faith; and, to this purpose, he first tells us what kind of faith he means, viz. a firm persuasion of things not present and visible to sense, but invisible and future: (ver. 1.) “Now faith (saith he) is the confident expectation of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” Faith represents to us the reality of things which are invisible to sense, as the existence of God and his providence; and of things which are at a great distance from us, as the future state of rewards and punishments in another world.


And then he proceeds to shew, by particular and famous instances, that the firm belief and persuasion of these things, was the great principle of the piety and virtue of the saints, and of good men in all ages of the world: by this, Abel and Enoch and Noah; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Joseph and Moses, and all the famous heroes of the Old Testament, “obtained a good report,” and pleased God; and did all those eminent acts of obedience and self-denial which are recorded of them. They “believed the being of God, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” They dreaded his threatenings, and relied upon his promises of future and invisible good things. They lived and died in a full persuasion and confidence of the truth of them, though they did not live to see them actually fulfilled and accomplished. “All these (saith he, speaking of those eminent saints which he had instanced in before,) died in faith, not having received the promises; but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them.” This is spoken with a more particular regard to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom the promises of the conquest and possession of a fruitful land were made, and of a numerous offspring, among whom should be the Messias, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed.

These promises they did not live to see accomplished and made good in their days; but they heartily believed them, and rejoiced in the hope and expectation of them, as if they had embraced them in their arms, and been put into the actual possession of them: “and they confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth.”

This saying and acknowledgment more particularly 256and immediately refers to those sayings of the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, which we find recorded Gen. xxiii. 4; where Abraham says to the sons of Heth, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you:” and Gen. xlvii. 9; where Jacob says 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.” These good men were “strangers and sojourners in a land which was promised to be theirs afterwards. They dwelt in it themselves as strangers, but were in expectation that it would one day become the inheritance of their posterity.

Now in this, as by a type and shadow, the apostle represents to us the condition of good men, while they are passing through this world. They are “pilgrims and strangers in the earth; they travel up and down the world for a time, as the patriarchs did in the land of Canaan; but are in expectation of a bet ter and more settled condition hereafter: “they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly,” says the apostle at the sixteenth verse of this chapter.

That which I design from these words, is, to represent to us our present condition in this world, and to awaken us to a due sense and serious consideration of it. It is the same condition that all the saints and holy men that are gone before us were in, in this world; and every one of us may say with David, (Psal. xxxix. 12.) “I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” It is a condition very troublesome and very unsettled, such as that of “pilgrims and strangers” used to be. This we must all acknowledge, if we judge rightly of our present state and condition. “They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth;” but 257yet it was not without the hope and expectation of a better and happier condition in reversion. So it follows just after; “they that say such things, (that is, that confess themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth) declare plainly, that they seek a country.”

This bore up the patriarchs under all the evils and troubles of their pilgrimage, that they expected an inheritance, and a quiet and settled possession of that good land which God had promised to them. Answerably to which, good men do expect, after the few and evil days of their pilgrimage in this world are over, a blessed inheritance in a “better country, that is, an heavenly;” and with blessed Abraham, the father of the faithful, they “look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God, as it is said of that good patriarch at the tenth verse of this chapter.

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 foreign country: for the mind, which is the man, and our immortal souls, which are by far the most noble and excellent part of ourselves, are the natives of heaven, and but “pilgrims and strangers” here on earth; and when the days of our pilgrimage shall be over, are designed to return to that “heavenly country,” from which they came, and to which they belong. And therefore the apostle tells us, (Phil. iii. 20.) that Christians have relation to heaven, as their native place and country, Ἡμῶν γὰρ τὸ πολίτευμα ἐν οὐρανοῖς ὑπάρχει, “our conversation is in heaven;” so we render the words: but they properly signify, that Christians are members of that city and society which is above; and, though they converse at present here below, while they are passing through this world, yet heaven 258is the country to which they do belong, and whither they are continually tending, sedes ubi fata quietas ostendunt, where a quiet habitation, and a perpetual rest is designed and prepared for them. This acknowledgment David makes concerning himself, and all the people of God: (1 Chron. xxix. 15.) “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers. Our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” So likewise St. Peter, (1 Pet. i. 17.) “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear; and, (chap. ii. ver. 11.) “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts.”

And not only the inspired writers of Holy Scripture, but heathen authors, do frequently make use of this allusion. Plato tells us, it was a common saying, and almost in every man’s mouth, παρεπιδημία τις ἐστὶν ὁ βιος, “the life of man is a kind of pilgrimage.” And Tully, in his excellent discourse De Senectute, (concerning old age) brings in Cato describing our passage out of this world, not as a departure from our home, but like a man leaving his inn, in which he hath lodged for a night or two, ex vita ista discedo tanquam ex hospitio, non tanquam ex domo; commorandi enim natura diversorium nobis, non habitandi dedit: “when I leave this world (says he) I look upon myself as departing out of an inn, and not as quitting mine own home and habitation; nature having assigned this world to us as a place to sojourn, but not to dwell in.” Which is the same with what the apostle says in the text, concerning the patriarchs; “they confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth;” and concerning all Christians: (chap. xiii. 14.) “Here we have no continuing city; but we seek one to come.”


But I do not intend to follow the metaphor too close, and to vex and torture it by pursuing all those little parallels and similitudes, which a lively fancy might make or find, betwixt the condition of strangers and pilgrims, and the life of man during his abode and passage through this world. I will insist only upon two things, which seem plainly to be designed and intended by this metaphor, and they are these:—

I. That our condition in this world is very troublesome and unsettled: “they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

II. It implies a tendency to a future settling, and the hopes and expectation of a happier condition, into which we shall enter when we go out of this world. For so it follows in the very next words after the text; “they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims 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 rest less 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 faithfulness of his promise, in which he solemnly declared himself to be their God, do hereby plainly shew, that they expect some happier condition hereafter wherein that great promise of God will be made good to them to the full.

And these are two very weighty and useful considerations, that we should both understand our present condition in this world, and our future hope and expectation after our departure out of it, that so we may demean ourselves suitably to both these 260conditions; both as it is fit for those who look upon 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 made partakers of a blessed immortality in another world. I shall briefly speak to both these; and then shew, what effect and influence the serious, meditation of these two points ought to have upon everyone of us.

I. That our condition in this world is very troublesome and unsettled. This I take to be principally intended in the metaphor of “strangers and pilgrims.” Such was the life of the patriarchs, which is 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 hazards and dangers, afflictions and mi series, 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.

It is often very troublesome: not to insist upon the weak condition of infancy and childhood, the helplessness of that state, and insufficiency of it for its own preservation, and the supply of it’s natural wants and necessities: not to mention the dangerous vanity and desperate folly of youth, nor the infirmities and contempts, the many tedious and wearisome days and nights that old age is commonly grieved and afflicted withal, to that degree, as to make life not only unpleasant, but almost an intolerable burden to us. Not to dwell upon these, which yet take up and possess a great share and portion of our lives: if we look upon man in his best state, we shall find him as David hath long since pronounced on him, 261to be “altogether vanity.” We need not go a pilgrimage, and travel into remote countries, to make life more troublesome and uneasy. In what part of the world soever we are, even that which we improperly call our own home and native country, we shall meet with trouble and inconvenience enough to convince us, that we are but strangers in it. More especially good men are peculiarly liable to a great many evils and sufferings, upon account of their piety and virtue. “They are not of the world (as our blessed Saviour tells his disciples, John xv. 19.); and because they are not of the world, therefore the world hateth them,” and taketh all opportunities and occasions to vex and persecute them in one kind or other, either by doing all manner of evil to them, or by speaking all manner of evil of them.

But suppose we escape trouble upon this account, there are abundance of common and natural inconveniences, which render human life very uneasy. For either we must live alone, or in the company and society of others: one of these two is necessary and unavoidable. Suppose we would live alone; how few are there that can enjoy themselves tolerably alone for any considerable time? For though there be a great deal too much of self-love in mankind, and men are generally extremely fond of themselves; yet I know not how it happens (though so it is) that very few men in the world care for their own company, or can endure, for any considerable time, to converse only with themselves; nay, for the most part, they are sooner glutted with themselves, and surfeited of their own conversation, than with the worst company they can meet with; a shrewd sign, as one would think, that they knew something worse of themselves than of any body else, or at 262least they know it more certainly. It is a wise and deep saying of Aristotle: “Whoever affects to be alone must be (ἢ Θεὸς, ἢ θηρίον,} either a god or a wild beast;” either he must be sufficient for himself, and want nothing; or of so wild and savage a disposition, as to destroy every thing that is weaker, and to run away from every thing that is stronger than himself. Now man is neither good enough to be contented and satisfied with himself, nor bad enough to hate and avoid every body else; and, therefore, he must enter into society, and keep company with other men.

And if we go abroad into the world, and try the conversation of men, it cannot but grieve us to see a great many things which yet we must see every day; the censoriousness, and uncharitableness, and insincerity of men one towards another, to see with what kindness they will treat one another to the face, and how hardly they will use them behind their backs. If there were nothing else, this one naughty quality, so common and reigning among mankind, were enough to make an honest and truehearted man, one that loves plainness and sincerity, to be heartily sick of the world, and glad to steal off the stage, where there is nothing native and sincere, but all personated and acted; where the conversation of a great part of men is all designing and insidious, full of flattery and falsehood, of good words and ill offices: “One speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth; but in his heart he lieth in wait,” as it is in the prophet, Jer. ix. 8. And when a man hath done all the good turns he can, and endeavoured to oblige every man, and not only to live inoffensively, but exemplarily; he is fairly dealt withal, and comes off upon good terms, if he 263can but escape the ill words of men for doing well, and obtain a pardon for those things which truly deserve praise.

But, setting aside these, and the like melancholy considerations, when we are in the health and vigour of our age, when our blood is warm, and our spirits quick, and the humours of our body not yet turned and soured by great disappointments, and grievous losses of our estates, or nearest friends and relations, by a long course of afflictions, by many cross events and calamitous accidents; yet we are continually liable to all these, and the perpetual fear and danger of them is no small trouble and uneasiness to our minds, and does, in a great measure, rob us of the comfort, and eat out the pleasure and sweetness of all our enjoyments; and, by degrees, the evils we fear overtake us; and as one affliction and trouble goes off, another succeeds in the place of it, like Job’s messengers, whose bad tidings and reports of calamitous accidents carne so thick upon him, that they overtook one another.

If we have a plentiful fortune, we are apt to abuse it to intemperance and luxury, and this naturally breeds bodily pains and diseases, which take away all the comfort and enjoyment of a great estate. If we have health, it may be we are afflicted with losses or deprived of friends, or crossed in our interests and designs, and one thing or other happens to impede or interrupt the contentment and happiness of our lives. Sometimes an unexpected storm, or some other sudden calamity, sweepeth away, in an instant, all that which with so much industry and care we have been gathering many years. Or if an estate stand firm, our children are taken away, to whose comfort and advantage all the pains and 264endeavours of our lives were devoted. Or if none of these happen (as it is very rare to escape most, or some of them), yet for a demonstration to us that God intended this world to be uneasy, to convince us that a perfect state of happiness is not to be had here below, we often see in experience that those who seem to be in a condition as happy as this world can put them into, by the greatest accommodations towards it, are yet as far or farther from happiness as those who are destitute of most of those things wherein the greatest felicity of this world is thought to consist. Many times it so happens, that they who have all the furniture and requisites, all the materials and ingredients of a worldly felicity at their command, and in their power, yet have not the skill and ability out of all these to frame a happy condition of life to themselves. They have health, and friends, and reputation, and estate in abundance, and all outward accommodations that heart can wish; and yet, in the midst of all these circumstances of outward felicity, they are uneasy in their minds, and, as the wise man expresseth it, in their sufficiency they are in straits, and are, as it were, surfeited even with happiness itself, and do so fantastically and unaccountably nauseate the good condition they are in, that though they want nothing to make them happy, yet they cannot think themselves so; though they have nothing in the world to molest and disgust them, yet they can make a shift to create as much trouble to themselves out of nothing, as they who have the real and substantial causes of discontent.

Which plainly shews, that we are not to look for happiness here; it is not to be found in this land of the living; and, after our inquiries after it, we shall 265see sufficient reason to take up Solomon’s conclusion, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit; which is much the same with that aphorism of David his father, which I mentioned before, that man in his best estate is altogether vanity.

But what happiness soever our condition in this world is capable of, it is most assuredly full of uncertainty and unsettlement; we cannot enjoy it long, and every moment we are in danger of being deprived of it. Whatever degree of earthly felicity we are possessed of, we have no security that it shall continue. There is nothing in this world but, when we are as sure of it as this world can make us, may be taken away from us by a thousand accidents. But suppose it to abide and continue; we ourselves shall be taken away from it: we must die, and in that very day all our enjoyments and hopes, as to this world, will perish with us; for here is no abiding place, we have no continuing city: so that it is in vain to design a happiness to ourselves in this world when we are not to stay in it, but only travel and pass through it.

And this is the first, our condition in this world is very troublesome and unsettled.

II. Our condition in this world being a state of pilgrimage, doth imply a tendency to future settlement and the hopes and expectation of a happier condition hereafter. And so the apostle reasons 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;” that is, they who acknowledge themselves to be pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and yet withal profess to be persuaded of the goodness of God, and the fidelity of his promise, do 266plainly declare that they seek another country. This is spoken of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who acknowledged themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth; and thereby declared that they sought another country. Now, says the apostle, this cannot be the country from whence they first came, Ur of the Chaldees. (Ver. 15.) “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country, from whence they came out, they might have had an opportunity of returning thither.” And, therefore, he concludes, that the country which they sought was a better country than any in this world. (Ver. 16.) “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 for them a city.” This plainly refers to that famous declaration or promise of God to the patriarchs of being their God: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Now certainly this promise of God did signify some very great blessing and advantage to those faithful servants of God above others. This was not made good to them in this world; for they confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth. Where, then, is the blessing spoken of and signified by the great words of that promise, that God was their God? They met with no such condition in this world, as was answerable to the greatness of that promise. From hence the apostle argues, that they had a firm persuasion of a future happiness: “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a better country; that is, an heavenly. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he hath prepared for them a city.” And though the promise of God to Abraham did immediately design 267the land of Canaan, and the earthly Jerusalem; yet the apostle extends it to that which was typified by it, viz. an heavenly country, the Jerusalem which is above, which, at the tenth verse of this chapter, is called “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And now, seeing God hath designed and prepared so great a happiness for them in another world, well might he be called their God, notwithstanding that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth; that is, though the full meaning and importance of this promise was not made good to them in this world, yet it was accomplished to the full in the happiness which was designed for them in another life. And God need not be ashamed to be called their God; implying, that if nothing had been meant by it beyond this world, this promise, of God’s being their God, would have fallen shamefully short of what it seemed to import. And this I conceive to be the true reason why our Saviour lays so much weight upon this promise, as to pitch upon it for the proof of the resurrection; that is, of a future state of happiness in another world.

There are many considerations apt to persuade good men of another life after this; as that mankind is generally possessed with this hope and persuasion; and that the more wise and virtuous men have been, the more plainly have they apprehended the hopes of immortality, and the better have they been contented to leave this world; as if, seeing farther than other men, they had a clearer prospect of the happiness they were entering upon; but, above all, that God hath made our condition in this world so troublesome and unsettled, as if he had designed on purpose to make us seek for happiness 268elsewhere, and to elevate and raise our minds to the hopes and expectation of a condition better and more durable, than any that is to be met with in this world; which, considering the goodness of God, and his gracious providence and care of good men, is a thing of itself extremely credible.

Having thus, as briefly as I could, dispatched the two particulars which I propounded to speak to for the explication of the text, 1 should now shew what influence these considerations ought to have upon our lives and practice.

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 shall at present but very briefly mention.

1. Let us entangle and incumber ourselves as little as we can in this our pilgrimage; let us not engage our affections too far in the pleasures and advantages of this world; for we are not to continue and settle in it, but to pass through it. A little will serve for our passage and accommodation in this journey; and, beyond that, why should we so earnestly covet and seek more?

2. If we be “pilgrims and strangers;” then it concerns us to behave ourselves blamelessly and inoffensively, remembering, that the eyes of people are upon us, and that those among whom we live will be very curious and observant of our manners and carriage.

3. Let us be cheerful and patient under the troubles and afflictions of this present life. They who are in a strange country, must expect to encounter 269many injuries and affronts, and to be put to great difficulties and hazards, which we should endeavour to bear with that cheerfulness, as men that are upon a journey use to bear foul ways and bad weather, and inconvenient lodging and accommodations.

4. The consideration of our present condition and future hopes should set us above the fondness of life, and the slavish fear of death. For our minds will never be raised to their true pitch and height, till we have in some good measure conquered these two passions, and made them subject to our reason. As for this present life, and the enjoyments of it, what do we see in them, that should make us so strangely to dote upon them? Qua 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 affection; that is always willing to leave it, and yet patient to stay in it as long as God pleases.

5. We should always prefer our duty and a good conscience before all the world; because it is in truth more valuable, if our souls be immortal, and do survive in another world. For (as our Saviour argues) “What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” And thus St. Paul reasoned with himself from the belief of a resurrection of the just and unjust. “For this cause (saith he) I exercise myself alway to have a conscience void of offence both toward God and to ward man.”

Lastly, If we be sojourners and travellers, we should often think of our end, and carefully mind the way to it. Our end is everlasting happiness; 270and the way to it is a constant and sincere and universal obedience to the commandments of God. When the young man in the gospel inquired of our Saviour the way to eternal happiness, saying, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?” His answer to him was, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” We may easily mistake our way; “for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” Therefore we should often pray to God, as David does: (Psalm cxix. 19.) “I am a stranger in the earth, hide not thy commandments from me.” And Psalm cxxxix. 23, 24. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

« Prev Sermon LXVII. Good Men Strangers and Sojourners… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection