ŇThese 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.Ó Hebrews 11:13.
Hitherto, the Holy Ghost hath particularly commended the faith of divers holy believers. Now from this verse to the seventeenth, he doth generally commend the faith of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob together; yet not so much their faith, as the endurance and constancy of their faith. Particularly the points are two:
I. Is laid down their constancy and continuance: All these died in faith.
II. That constancy is set forth by four effects:
1. They received not the promises, but saw them afar off.
2. They believed them.
3. They received them thankfully.
4. They professed themselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
I. The first point touching these believers is that as they begun, so they held on; as they lived, so they died in faith.
All these died in faith.
The truth of the matter in these words, may be referred to all aforegoing, saving Enoch who died not; yet he continued also constant in his faith, and in that faith was taken up; but as for Abel and Noah, they died in faith. Yet I take it, that principally and directly, the Holy Ghost intended no more than these four I named; and my reason is, because the particular effects in this verse, and the points where this their constancy is amplified in the three verses following, do all agree, especially with these four; and not so properly with Abel or Noah; so that I take that He meaneth by all these, all these men that lived in the second world since the flood. All these died in faith; that is, in assurance that the promises made unto them should be performed in GodŐs good time.
These promises were principally these two:
1. Salvation by the Messiah.
2. The possession of the land of Canaan.
In this faith they died; that is, they held it (through all assaults and temptations to the contrary) even to the last gasp, and died therein.
1. In this their practice is commended unto us a most worthy lesson of Christianity; namely, that we must so live that we may die in faith. Many say they live in faith; and it is well if they do so; but the main point is, to die in faith. There is none so ill, but however he lives, yet he would die well; if he would die well, he must die in faith. For miserable is the death that is without faith. And herein faith and hope differ from other graces of God; love, joy, zeal, holiness, and all other graces are imperfect here, and are perfected in heaven; but faith and hope are perfected at our deaths; they are not in the other world, for there is nothing then to be believed nor hoped for, seeing we do then enjoy all things; but as they are begun in our life, at our regeneration, so they be made perfect when we die; and they shine most gloriously in the last and greatest combat of all, which is at the hour of death. So that the death of a Christian, which is the gate to glory, is to die in faith.
Besides, as life leaves us, so death finds us; and as death leaves us, so the last judgment finds us; and as it leaves us, so we continue for ever and ever without recovery of alteration.
Now to die in faith is to die in an assured estate of glory and happiness, which is that that every man desireth; therefore as we all desire it, so let us die in faith, and we shall attain unto it.
St Paul tells us (1 Cor. 15:55), death is a terrible serpent, for he hath a poisoned sting. Now when we die, we are to encounter with this hideous and fearful serpent. He is fearful every way, but specially for his sting; that sting is our sin; and this sting is not taken away, nor the force of it quenched, but by true faith, which quencheth all the fiery darts of the devil (Eph. 6:16). If therefore we would be able to encounter with this great enemy (in the conquering of whom stands our happiness; and by whom to be conquered is our eternal misery), we must then so arm ourselves with faith, that we may die in faith; for he that dieth in faith, that faith of his kills his sins and conquers death; but he that dieth without faith, death and sin seize on him, and his sins live for ever, and his misery by them.
Now, if we would die in faith, we must live in faith; else it is not to be expected; for, so these holy patriarchs lived long in this faith wherein they died. For their holy lives shewed plainly that they lived in that faith which the apostle saith doth purify our hearts (Acts 15:9). Now if we would live in true faith, the means to attain it set down by GodŐs Word are these:
(1) First, we must labour to get knowledge of the fundamental points of religion; of God, of the creation, the fall, the immortality of the soul, the two covenants, of works by the law, of grace by the Mediator; and such other substantial points touching God, His word, sacraments, law, gospel, prayer, good works etc. as the Scriptures, and the creeds and catechisms out of the Scriptures, do yield unto us. Herein the case of the common people of all nations is miserable. In popery, their clergy is so fat and full, that they will not; in our churches the ministry (a great part of it) so poor and ill provided for, they cannot teach. Between both, the people of the world do perish for lack of knowledge; for how can they but perish that die not in faith? How can they die so, that live not in faith? And how can thy ever have faith that have no knowledge, seeing knowledge is the foundation of faith? Therefore it needs the help of those that may, and the prayers of all, that our church may have teachers, and our people catechisers; for without learning the catechism, it is impossible to learn religion.
(2) Secondly, when we have got knowledge, and so laid the foundation; then must we learn the promises of God for salvation, and we must hide them in our hearts, as the jewels of life, of salvation. We must believe them to be true and effectual to all that will take hold of them; and we ourselves must therefore take hold of them, and apply them to our souls.
(3) Thirdly, after both these, we must conform ourselves throughout (heart and life) unto the holy laws of God; we must leave all bad ways and ungodly courses, though they be never so dear unto us, or so common in the world; and must make conscience of all sin, and endeavour to do all duties to God and man.
The first of these is the ground of faith; the second is faith itself; the last is the fruit and effect of it, and an assured testimony of it to God, to His church, and to a manŐs own conscience. And to do these three things is to walk in the old and holy way, consecrated by ChristŐs blood, and trodden in by all the holy fathers; and popery, nor any other religion, can appoint so safe, so sure, nor so direct a way. This lived Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, and after this course they died in faith, and now live in glory; and so shall we with them, if we will live in faith as they did; but else we may long look for heaven before we come there. Indeed God can make a man that lived not in faith, die in faith; but the matter is not what He can do, but what is His ordinary course, and that is this: They that live in faith, die in faith. Therefore let us take the ordinary course, and repent, and turn betimes, and live the life of faith; and leave the late repentance to them that think it but a sport to venture a soul; that course may speed, but this course is sure to speed; he that lives in sin, may hope to die in faith; but he that lives in faith, is sure to die in faith, and to live in glory for ever.
2. Secondly, observe how it is said, All these died in faith; not some, but all. Abraham the father, and the root, and with him the wife, the child and the grandchild; behold a true noble blood, a holy kindred, a blessed generation; worthy is Abraham of all the honour he hath, who was the root of such a noble and blessed brood. And worthy are Isaac and Jacob of so good a father, who stained not their blood by forsaking their faith; but held it as they received it, and lived and died in it. Let this teach us:
(1) First, if we be fathers, to shine before our children in a holy religion, true faith, and good life; and it is great hope that our wives and children will follow us in the same.
(2) Secondly, if we be sons, to look which of our forefathers and ancestors embraced the most holy religion; and to choose, and live, and die in their faith. Most of our young papists can say no more for their religion but this: My father and grandfather were of that religion. But they must look all to their forefathers; Isaac and Jacob would not be of their great grandfatherŐs (NahorŐs or TerahŐs) religion, but of their father Abraham; and Abraham himself would not be of his father TerahŐs, or his grandfather NahorŐs religion; but he went up a great deal higher, to his forefathers to the tenth generation Noah, and Shem, and embraced their religion. So that we see, it is nothing to say, I am of my fatherŐs, or grandfatherŐs religion; unless first I prove that theirs was of God; and then he is a noble Christian man, which knowing that, will not forsake it, but will live and die in it.
(3) Thirdly, see here true honour and gentry is to live and die in the true faith and holy religion of our ancestors; here is the fountain of honour, to do as these did. Abraham perceives he is wrong, and erred with his fathers; he therefore leaves his fatherŐs and grandfatherŐs religion, and goeth up higher, and takes a better. Isaac his son makes himself heir, not of his land alone, but of his fatherŐs religion also; Jacob the grandchild followeth both, and dieth in faith with them. Behold here Jacob, a true gentleman in blood, his holiness and religion is in the third descent. Let us all learn to adorn our gentility and nobility with these ensigns of true honour.
And let all them that shame to stain their blood by treasons, or misdemeanours; shame also, to let their forefatherŐs religion, holiness or virtues fail in them; but let them all so live in them, that with Jacob they may die in their fatherŐs faith.
3. Lastly, observe how it is said, they died in faith; they before lived in it; but now their principal commendation is that they died in it.
Let us learn here to hold on in a good course when we have entered into it; for constancy and continuance is the true commendation; he that dieth in faith, is he that receives the crown. To this end, let us stir up ourselves with the apostleŐs exhortation (Gal. 6:9), Let us not be weary of well-doing, for in due time we shall reap if we faint not.
And further, let this teach us all to choose that faith to live in (with these holy patriarchs) that we may boldly die in. It is a true observation that popery is a good religion to live in, but ours to die in. The papists usurp this saying, and turn in the contrary way; but they have as much right to it, as the thief to the true manŐs purse. The liberty, the pardons, dispensations, sanctuary, the pomp and outward glory of their church; and their fasting and outward austerities, being foul and feigned hypocrisies, and indeed open licentiousness; these and many things more, may allure any natural man in the world to live in their religion; but when they come to die, then they all know, and some confess, it is surest and safest to die in our religion. Let us therefore cheerfully and comfortably live in that religion and faith wherein we may so boldly die, that even our adversaries confess it to be safest.
II. Now follow the four effects and fruits of their faith:
1. The first is this: that
They received not the promises, but saw them afar off.
By promises we understand, first, the promises of the land of Canaan. Secondly, the spiritual promises of the kingdom of Christ. These they did not receive; that is, fully; though in part they did; for true faith doth always receive, apprehend, and apply unto itself truly, though not fully, the thing promised. God said, He would give them the land of Canaan; but they did not fully enjoy and possess it. So likewise, the Messiah was promised unto them, but they never saw His coming in the flesh, and yet they believed GodŐs promise, and died in that faith.
Where we may see the invincible force of their faith that cleaved fast unto the promise of God, even unto death; though they never enjoyed the things promised in this life; which plainly condemns our age of unbelief, for we have more accomplished unto us than ever they had. Abraham never saw Christ, but afar off; yet we have Him exhibited in the flesh; we see and know He lived and died, rose again, and ascended, and now makes continual intercession for us; and we have the true sacraments, which shall last for ever pledges of Him, and of life everlasting by Him. And for temporal promises, we have far more accomplished unto us than ever we had. But though we go before Abraham in the fruition of GodŐs promises, yet we come far behind him in belief; for faith worketh by love, and love is seen in true obedience; but generally, this is too true, men make no conscience of obedience; which sheweth undoubtedly that there is little sound faith in us. And it may be feared that these notable men, Abraham. Isaac and Jacob, shall stand in judgment against us to our further condemnation; for they never received the accomplishment of GodŐs promises, and yet they believed; but we do see the same fulfilled and exhibited unto us, and yet we will not believe.
But saw them afar off.
Here is the property of their faith, and the power of it. The promises were afar off, and yet they saw them. The phrase here used is borrowed from mariners; who being far on the sea, cannot discern towns and coasts afar off, but only by help of some tower or high place, which their eye will sooner discern, although it be afar off. And so Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, being long before the day of ChristŐs incarnation, could not otherwise see Christ, but afar off, by the eye of faith in the promises of the Messiah; for this is the property of faith, to make a thing absent to be present, after a sort; Faith being the ground of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen (v.1).
Hence we may learn a difference between the church in the Old Testament and that in the New. We in the New Testament have greater measure of knowledge, more lively discerning of the Messiah, and a clearer light of understanding in the mystery of or salvation by Christ, than the church had under the Old Testament; howsoever they excelled in faith, yet in the knowledge and discerning of Christ they were inferior unto us. And therefore the Lord made this promise to the time of the gospel long before; that then the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters that cover the sea (Isa. 11:9). And St Paul proves this performed, when he affirmeth of the church of the New Testament (2 Cor. 3:18), But all we as in a mirror behold the glory of the Lord with open face. And Christ (John 6:45), They shall be all taught of God.
If this be true, that knowledge should so abound in the time of the gospel; then all ignorant persons of this latter age of the world must know that they have much to answer for at the last day of judgment; for God in the New Testament hath made His church to abound in knowledge, so that their ignorance (for which they think God will hold them excused) shall be a bill of indictment against them at the last day, to their further condemnation; because the light of the gospel is so clearly and plentifully revealed in these days, that whereas the most excellent patriarchs of all could then but see Christ afar off, the most simple may now see Him near unto them.
Again, where there is more knowledge, there should be more obedience; therefore it concerneth all those that profess themselves to be Christians, and submit themselves to hear and learn the word of God taught unto them, not to content themselves with bare knowledge, though it be never so much; but withal, to bring forth the fruits of obedience in their lives and conversations. For though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in regard of faith did go far before us; yet seeing we have more knowledge than they had in the Messiah, we must labour to become like unto them in the obedience of our lives; their faith was stronger than ours, but our obedience should be greater than theirs, because we have more cause to believe than they. St Paul saith, We all behold as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord with open face. And the end thereof is this, that we may be transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). So that the more knowledge we have, the more sanctification we ought to have, and the more hatred of sin, and more obedience to GodŐs commandments. But, the more is the pity, the case goeth far otherwise with the world; for even many among us that are no students by profession, have great and commendable knowledge in religion. But where is the fruit hereof in holy obedience to the laws of God? God by calling hath made us a pleasant vine, but the sour grapes of sin are our ordinary fruit, they be the grapes of gall (as Moses saith (Deut. 32;32)). For atheism, blasphemy, contempt of GodŐs Word and worship, with open profaning of GodŐs Sabbath, do everywhere abound; to omit the heinous crimes against the second table, as oppression, adultery and blood touching blood; for all which we may justly fear that the Lord will either remove His candlestick from us, and so of a church and people of God make us no church; or else sweep us away by some fearful judgment, as with the besom of destruction, because we hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). For better it were not to have known the way of righteousness, than to turn from the holy commandment given unto us. Let us therefore join with our knowledge, obedience, that so we may shew forth our faith in doing our duties of piety unto God, and of brotherly love and Christianity unto our brethren. Thus much of the first fruit of their faith.
2. The second fruit of their faith is noted in these words:
And believed them.
Where by believing, we must understand not so much the act of faith, for that was noted before, as the growth and increase of their faith; for the word imports a confirmation of their hearts, and a resolution in assurance of the promises made unto them; which is not unusual in scripture, for Paul prayeth for the churches who had true knowledge, faith and love, that they might increase and abound therein more and more (Eph. 3:16,17; Phil. 1:9,11; Col. 1:9,11).
Here then we may observe in the example of these patriarchs, that it is the duty and property of every true believer to go forward and increase in faith, till he come to a full persuasion and assurance in GodŐs promises. All the gifts of God (and therefore faith) are the LordŐs talents, and every true believer is the LordŐs servant, called to occupy therewith. Now God, having put His talent into any manŐs hand, doth require the increase thereof, as the parable shews (Luke 19:13). And this Paul teacheth; for praying for the Ephesians that they may go on, and be strengthened by his Spirit in the inner man (Eph. 3:16), he signifieth that he that doth truly believe in Christ must go on from grace to grace, till he be a tall man in Christ; as a child groweth from year to year till he come to be a strong man. The nature of faith is like unto fire, which will not go out so long as wood or other fuel is put unto it, but will take hold thereof, and grow unto a greater flame; and so will faith grow up to a full persuasion in all those that conscionably apply themselves to the Word and prayer.
But goes the case thus with us in the matter of faith? Nay verily, generally it is far otherwise; for many among us have no regard of faith at all, but think they may live as they lust, their good meaning will serve the turn; others and those not a few, are so far from going forward in faith, that they are every day worse and worse, and still go backward more and more. A third sort we have that will hear the word and receive the sacraments; but yet their growing in grace is very slender, they stand at a stay, and profit little.
Now howsoever it may be thought but a small fault, not to profit in religion; yet undoubtedly it is a fearful judgment of God, when the hearers of the word in any congregation are daily taught, and do not profit thereby; and therefore the Holy Ghost noteth those women to be laden with sin, which are ever learning, and yet never are able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). If a child lately born, like not well nor grow, when it hath good keeping; the common saying is that it is a changeling. So if a man hear the word of God, and does not increase in knowledge, faith and obedience, we may most truly say of him, that he is a spiritual changeling, and therefore that we may avoid the fearful judgment of God, we must labour for faith; and having gotten faith, increase therein, and in other graces of God, till we come to be strong men in Christ.
It is here said that those patriarchs increased in faith; but it may be demanded: How and by what means did they attain hereto? Answer: In the book of Genesis, we may find three ways whereby they were confirmed in the faith, and did grow up in grace.
(1) The first means was from God Himself; for, when He had made His covenant with Abraham, mercifully renewing the same during his life, as occasion served sundry times, He stayed not there, suffering it to die with Abraham; but when Abraham was dead, God renewed His covenant with Isaac and Rebecca, and with Jacob also after them. Now the tongue of man cannot utter what a wonderful furtherance it was unto their faith, to have the Lord Himself to renew His gracious promises unto them.
(2) The second means of increasing their faith, was their holy conversing one with another; for the manner of the patriarchs was to teach and instruct their children, and to nurture them up in the true worship and fear of God, by which means they did not only implant GodŐs promises in the hearts of their children, but were themselves confirmed in the same; for he that teacheth another from a feeling heart, greatly strengtheneth his own soul. Now God Himself doth testify this thing of Abraham, saying, I know him that he will command his sons, and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and judgment (Gen. 18:19). Now look what Abraham herein did to Isaac, that no doubt did Isaac unto Jacob.
(3) The third means to increase their faith was, from each one to himself; for they gave themselves oftentimes in their own persons to muse and meditate upon the promises of God; so it is said of Isaac, that he went out to pray or meditate in the field towards evening (Gen. 24:63); and we may persuade ourselves it was concerning this and other promises of God, and the accomplishment thereof. And we need not doubt but that Abraham and Jacob did the like.
These are the means by which these godly patriarchs were strengthened in their faith. All which must be marked of us diligently, and put in practice; for the reason why we hear the Word often and yet profit little by it, is chiefly this: because the means by which men should grow up in faith are so slenderly used amongst us. For the first means, which is on GodŐs behalf to man; is through His great and unspeakable mercy, plentifully afforded in many parts of the land in the holy ministry of the gospel; wherein GodŐs gracious promises of mercy are opened and applied to menŐs hearts, and His judgment against sin sharply denounced, to drive men to lay hold on GodŐs mercy in Christ. But if we regard the second means; which is mutual instruction from father to child, of master to servant, and of one neighbour to another; together with mutual conference about that we are taught; or else if we regard the third means, which is private meditation upon GodŐs Word and promises taught unto us (which meditation is to a Christian soul like the chewing of the cud unto a beast, for as the chewing of the cud turns that which is eaten into true feeding, so doth holy meditation make GodŐs words and promises spiritual refreshing, by digesting them in the heart); If, I say, we take a view of these two latter, we shall find them seldom used of very many or not at all. Blessed be God, we need not to doubt, but there be some who use these means with care and reverence; but alas, these some are very few. And because this duty is so slackly performed, hence it is, that though the covenant of mercy in Christ be oft repeated, yet men reap little profit by it. So that we must learn to follow this notable practice of these godly patriarchs, and look what means they used for the increase of their faith, the same also must we use, and that diligently; so shall we grow and increase and wax strong in faith, as they did.
3. The third fruit of their faith is this:
And received them thankfully.
The original Greek word doth signify to salute; and that not only by speech, but any way else, as by embracing &c., and therefore in this place it is not unfitly translated, And received them thankfully; that is, they took them kindly at GodŐs hands.
This is a notable fruit of faith, whereby they are commended; that seeing the promises of God afar off, did take them most kindly at GodŐs hands. But here we must consider how they took them kindly; namely, by doing two things:
(1) First, by an action of their heart. Secondly, by an action of their life. The action of their heart was this: that howsoever the promise was not accomplished in their days, yet they were wonderfully glad thereof; for our Saviour Christ said to the Jews, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad (John 8:56). It did AbrahamŐs heart good to see Christ afar off; and so we may safely think of Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, and their hearts were also ravished with joy, to hear the wonderful promise of God concerning the Messiah; and to think of the most joyful performance which they knew should follow in due time.
(2) Secondly, they took this promise kindly by the practice of their life; for when they came to any strange place (as we often read in the story), there they built up altars, and offered sacrifice unto God, and called on His name. All which they did to testify of their inward joy and thankful acceptance of GodŐs promises in Christ, and of the promised land, though neither were accomplished in their days.
Now as touching ourselves, the same main promises of God that were made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, hath the Lord made and continued unto us; nay, we have the same already accomplished; and we see the same verified more evidently and plainly than any of the patriarchs did. Which being true, our duty is to take the same much more thankfully and kindly at GodŐs hands, than they did or could do; because we have more light and knowledge in the promises of God than ever the patriarchs had.
But we have just cause to bewail the days and times wherein we now live; for whereas we should take the promises of God most joyfully and kindly; the case is far otherwise. For generally, it may be said of our nation and people, that in regard of the mercies and promises of God we are an unkind people. And that this is true (for the most part) in all of us, if we will but a little examine the matter, we shall find it too apparent by many evidences; for:
(1) First, let any of us be brought to a place where we may behold some vain interlude, or a show; a man would not think how wonderfully we are ravished there withal, so as we could find in our hearts to spend whole days in beholding them. But let us be brought to hear the gospel of Christ, His holy Word preached and taught; as it was unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (wherein they much rejoiced), and there we sit heavy and drowsy, so as the Word seems loathsome unto us, and one hour is so tedious as we hardly hold it out without sleeping; and if it pass the hour a little, O how impatiently our natures take it! All which shew plainly, that we have no such joy to hear of Christ and His merciful promises as these godly patriarchs had; so that we are both hardhearted and unkind, and altogether insensible of so great favours and mercies of our God towards us.
(2) Secondly, consider menŐs behaviour in GodŐs worship. It is evident that the greatest part of people worship God but in formal shew, for fashionŐs sake. These godly patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built altars in every place where they came, and offered sacrifices unto God to signify their kindness and willing heart towards God for His promises. But now men worship God formally, not in way of thankfulness; but either because the law compels them to it, or else because it is a custom and order which must be kept. For proof thereof, take some one of the common sort, and ask why he cometh into the congregation; he will say he cometh to do as other men do; but what they do he knoweth not; nor what he himself should do he cannot tell, nor careth much to know. Others also come to worship God, but ask them how they do it, they will say, By saying over the ten commandments, the LordŐs Prayer and the Creed. But, if the Word be either preached, or read, they regard it not; thinking all GodŐs worship stands in the repeating of those three things. Which sheweth that they worship God but for fashionŐs sake, and with little more than a plain lip-labour. Another sort there are, which come near to God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him; for though their bodies be present in the congregation, yet their hearts are wandering about their worldly business, or the works of sin; so that we may truly say, God is not worshipped with faith in the heart. And therefore we are unkind people, and quite degenerate from the faith of our forefathers, the holy patriarchs, who received GodŐs promises so kindly and thankfully.
(3) Thirdly, we have the Word of God daily preached and taught unto us; but how many be there that make conscience of obeying the same in their lives and callings? Men do come and hear, and should learn; but when they come home, they do flat contrary to that which is taught. Now there can be no greater unthankfulness nor unkindness towards God than this: that men should hear and not obey, for disobedience is as the sin of witchcraft (1 Sam. 15:23); nay, the Lord Himself saith that he that maketh no conscience of obedience in his life, is in his actions of GodŐs worship no more acceptable unto God than a murderer is when he kills a man.
Wherefore seeing obedience is so rare to be found among us, and disobedience aboundeth everywhere, it is a plain argument that we take not the promises of God kindly, nor thankfully at His hands; for if we did, we would at least endeavour ourselves to do what God commands in His law, and desireth in His gospel, and so be thankful unto God for His mercies, shewing forth our thankfulness by our obedience. So that it standeth us in hand, every man to look unto himself for his own part, seeing God hath given us His gospel, the means of our salvation, that therefore we receive and embrace the same, lest God do either take the same from us, or us from it; for we may be sure that the one of these two will follow, if we do daily hear and make no conscience to obey. And thus much of the third fruit of the patriarchsŐ faith.
4. The fourth fruit of their faith followeth:
And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Herein we are to consider divers points:
(1) First, the text saith, They confessed; that is, they professed openly what they were, and what their religion was; and that not only amongst themselves, but before the face of GodŐs enemies, and heathen men (Gen. 23:4). Abraham told the people of the land of Canaan that he was a stranger and a foreigner among them. And when Jacob came before Pharoah, he confessed that both his days and the days of his fathers, were days of pilgrimage (Gen. 47:9). Now affirming so openly that they were strangers in those countries, they intimated a plain denial and dislike of the religion and idolatry of those heathen countries, and proclaimed themselves to be of another religion; so that this is true which is here said of them, that they made confession and profession of their estate and their faith, and that to the enemies of God.
Hence we learn that we are not to be ashamed of that holy profession of Christian religion to which we are called. Our calling is to profess the gospel and religion of Christ. Now to many it is a reproach and ignominy; but we must learn this special lesson by the example of these men, that howsoever the world judge of Christ and His religion, yet we have entered into this holy profession, and being called hereunto, must never be ashamed of it; much less deny or forsake the same. In the primitive church it was a contemptible thing, both among the Jews and Grecians to be a Christian; to the one, the gospel was a stumbling block, to the other a laughing stock (1 Cor. 1:23). And yet Paul professed openly, that he was not ashamed of the holy gospel (Rom. 1:16). And so it ought to be with us. We profess ChristŐs religion, and therefore we must not be ashamed of it. Some there be that know but little, and yet have a good mind to religion; but when they do see some do nothing else but make a mock and a jest of religion, they are thereby daunted and held back from the open profession and embracing of it.
But if we look to be saved by faith, as these men were, we must learn by their example, not to be ashamed of the profession of Christianity, whereto we are called; but must follow this notable example of Abraham and the patriarchs, who were not ashamed, nor afraid to testify their profession among the heathen, whensover any occasion was offered; for whosoever is ashamed of Christ in this world, Christ will be ashamed of him at the last judgment, before His Father in the world to come (Luke 9:26).
(2) To go further; these patriarchs profess two things: 1. That they were strangers. 2. That they were pilgrims. A stranger is one that hath his abode not in his own, but in a strange country, though he travel not. And a pilgrim is one that is going through a foreign country to his own home, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were strangers, because they dwelt as strangers in tents, not in their own countries where they were born; but in that strange country whither God had called them; and they were pilgrims, because they were always ready to go whithersoever God would call them; and in all places wheresoever they were, still they waited on God, and sought to Him for the kingdom of heaven.
Now this was not proper to these patriarchs, but is also common to all Christians that look to be saved by the same faith; for David, long after them, confesseth unto God (Psa. 39:12), that he was a stranger and a pilgrim, or sojourner with Him, as all his fathers were. And even we also must follow their faith in the practice of this profession; dwelling here on the earth, we must testify and profess ourselves to be both strangers and pilgrims.
But how (will some say) shall we be answerable to this profession? Answer: For the practice hereof, we must do these three things:
(i) We must use this world and the things thereof, as though we used them not (1 Cor. 7:31). The temporal blessings we here enjoy, we must so use, as though they were not ours; but as strangers do, only for the present occasion; but we must not set our hearts thereon. And the rather to persuade us hereunto, let us consider the practice of these godly patriarchs. They had the promise of the land of Canaan distinctly and absolutely; so as no man in the world hath more right to anything that he possesseth than they had to this land; yet when they came into it, they enjoyed it, and all things therein as strangers; and possessed nothing, but did even buy ground to bury their dead in. And so must we use the things that we have in this world; for our houses, we must so use them as strangers do an inn; and for our goods, we must use them as pilgrims do other menŐs goods, where they stay for a night; we must so use them always, as being ready and willing to leave them the next morning, or at any time when God shall call us away.
(ii) Secondly, we must cast off all things in this world that may any whit hinder us in our journey to the kingdom of heaven; like unto good travellers, who will carry nothing with them in the way, but that which may further them to their journeyŐs end; and if anything hinder them in the way, they will cast it from them, and rather lose it than be hindered from their home. But what is that which is burdensome to us in this our journey to heaven? This St Paul sheweth, when he saith (2 Tim. 3:6), that certain simple women are laden with sin. Behold, sin is that that ladeth us; and the author to the Hebrews calleth sin (Heb. 12:1), the thing that hangeth on so fast, and presseth us down. Therefore if we will be good travellers and pilgrims toward the kingdom of heaven, we must take heed of sin; for that will hold us down that we cannot get one step forward, but will draw us backward unto hell; for the way is strait that leadeth unto life, and the gate narrow, and few there be that can enter in to it (Matt. 7:13). He that would come hither, must come with an humble and pure heart; for the gate will not suffer any that is laden with sin to enter therein. The proud man, whose heart is puffed up with pride; and the covetous man, whose heart is enlarged with a desire of gain; the ambitious man, who is with child with worldly pomp and state; and the luxurious and voluptuous man, who feedeth and fatteth himself with earthly and carnal pleasures; all these are grown too big to enter into this strait gate. But the meek in spirit, who lead an humble and innocent life, these shall treads in this path, although it be narrow, and enter in at this door, though it be strait. And therefore we must cast off every sin, by the practice of true repentance; and so make ourselves fit pilgrims for the way to heaven.
(iii) Thirdly, we must learn contentment of heart in every estate of life which God shall send upon us. We must be contented as well in sickness, as in health; in poverty, as in plenty; in trouble, as in peace; and in good report, and ill report; and in all estates of life and death. A pilgrim in his way taketh all things patiently that befall him; and if he be injured any way, he puts up with it quietly, without seeking revenge or making complaint, till he come home; where he knows he shall have audience and redress. Even so must we behave ourselves in this our pilgrimage to heaven; in hope of that redress and rest we shall have, we must bear all things patiently that befall us in this life, which is the way; and doing these three things, we shall so become good pilgrims and strangers in this world.
Here, two questions offer themselves to be considered:
(i) First, if every man both in profession and practice, must shew himself to be a pilgrim and stranger in this world; whether then is it not a good state of life for a man to contemn the world and all things in it, and to betake himself to perpetual beggary and voluntary poverty? Answer: The world in Scripture is taken divers ways;
(a) First, for the corruption and sins in the world; and these must be contemned by all means possible; yea, that is the best religion which teacheth best how to contemn these; and he the best man who most forsakes them in what calling soever he lives. (b) Secondly, for temporal blessings, as money, lands, wealth, sustenance, and such like outward things as concern the necessary or convenient maintenance of this natural life. And in this sense the world is not to be contemned, for in themselves these earthly things are the good gifts of God, which no man can simply contemn, without injury to GodŐs disposing hand and providence, who hath ordained them for natural life.
The papists esteem it an angelic state of perfection, approaching near to the state of glory, when a man forsaketh all, and betakes himself to voluntary poverty, as begging friars do. But indeed it is a mere device of manŐs brain, and hath no warrant in GodŐs Word, which decreeth thus: that he that will not labour (in some lawful calling) shall not eat (2 Thess. 3:10).
Objection: But here they will say that our Saviour Christ speaking to the rich young man, bade him, go and sell all that he had, and give to the poor, and he should have treasure in heaven (Mark 10:21). Answer: That commandment was not ordinary but special, belonging to that young man. It was a commandment of trial given to him only, as this was to Abraham, when God said, Abraham, kill thy son (Gen. 22:2). And the reason of that commandment was peculiar to him; namely, to shew him his corruption, and to discover his hypocrisy. Again, howsoever the young man was commanded to sell all, yet he is not commanded to give all; but only thus: Sell all, and give to the poor.
2nd Objection: Again, they object that Christ Himself was a beggar, and His disciples also, and had nothing of their own, but went up and down in the world as beggars; and lived of that which others ministered unto them. Answer: This is a mere forgery and cannot be proved out of the Word of God. The bag which Judas carried doth prove the contrary; for he was (as it were) the steward in ChristŐs family, who looked to their provision, and to their contribution to the poor; as may be seen (John 13:27-29). Yea, ChristŐs disciples, though they left the present use of their houses and places; yet they gave not over their title and possession in them; for Christ went to PeterŐs house, where He healed his wifeŐs mother (Matt. 8:14). And after the time of ChristŐs passion, Peter and the other disciples returned to their ships again, and became fishers for a time, for Christ (John 21) after His resurrection, appeared to them while they were fishing.
(ii) Second question: Whether a man may lawfully seek to be rich, seeing we must profess ourselves to be pilgrims and strangers in this life? Answer: Riches are taken two ways: 1. For things sufficient. 2. For abundance. For the first, by things sufficient, I mean things necessary and meet for a manŐs estate to maintain him and his family; and thus a man may seek to be rich; for we are taught to pray in the fourth petition, Give us this day our daily bread, that is, things meet and needful for the day. From whence I reason thus: That which we may lawfully ask at GodŐs hand, we may lawfully seek for; but we may lawfully ask of God all things necessary to this life; therefore we may lawfully use the means to attain unto them. And this AgurŐs prayer sheweth also (Prov. 30:8), Give me not poverty nor riches, feed me with food convenient for me; where we see it is requisite a man should labour for things necessary to this life. Now, because manŐs corrupt nature is to gripple, that he would not be contented with the whole world though it were all his; therefore we must learn this rule of contentment for worldly things; namely, to follow the counsel of wise and godly men, who are neither covetous nor riotous, but rest contented with that which is sufficient. As for the wearing of apparel, we have no special rule nor precept in GodŐs word; and therefore our direction must be the example and fashion of the most grave and godly in that calling of which we are; whose precedent must be our direction in all cases, whereof we have no precept nor rule in GodŐs Word.
But if riches be taken in the second sense, for abundance, above that which is competent and sufficient; then it is not lawful for a man to seek to be rich. For proof hereof, we have the plain testimony of the Word of God. Paul saith (1 Tim. 6:8,9), When we have food and raiment, we must therewith be contented; for they that will be rich fall into temptation and snares, and into many foolish and noisome lusts which drown men in perdition and destruction; where the apostle doth not simply condemn a rich estate, but rather the desire to be rich, that is, a desire to have more than is necessary for the maintaining of a manŐs estate. Yet this is the common sin of the world, men are so covetous that they will not be contented with that which is enough, but shall toil and moil for more, till they have gotten so much under their hands as would honestly and sufficiently maintain ten men of their estate and calling. But all such are condemned by the testimony of the Holy Ghost, in the place aforenamed.
Question: What if God give abundance to a man by lawful means; what must such a man do? Answer: When God sendeth riches in abundance to any man, he must think himself to be appointed of God as a steward over them, for the good disposing of them to the glory of God and the good of His church; always remembering this rule of the prophet David (Psa. 62:10), If riches increase, set not thy heart upon them. He saith not, If riches increase, refuse them; but set not thy heart on them. And thus much of these questions.
Now this practice of the patriarchs is as necessary for us in these days as ever it was; for the cause why we profit little after much hearing of GodŐs Word is this; we have not behaved ourselves like pilgrims and strangers in this world, but the cares of the things of this life have choked it up (Matt. 13:22), that it could take no ground nor root in our hearts. When we have heard the Word we remember it not, because our hearts and the affections thereof are set on the pleasures and commodities of the world. We therefore must shake off this filthy sin, and learn to behave ourselves like pilgrims and strangers, not entangling ourselves with the things of this life, but using them as though we used them not, so as they be no hindrance to the growth of GodŐs grace in us.