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But why do the children of God count themselves to be strangers here?
1. They are born elsewhere. Everything tends to the place of its original, as men love their native soil; things bred in the water, return thither; inanimate things tend to their centre; a stone will fall to the ground, though it be broken in pieces with the fall; wind, that is imprisoned in the bowels of the earth, raiseth terrible convulsions and earthquakes, until it get up to its own place. All things seek to turn thither from whence they came. And so grace which came from Heaven, it carrieth the soul thither again. “Jerusalem from above is the mother of us all.” Heaven is our native country, and therefore thither is the tendency and aim of the gracious soul that is born from above. It is very notable, the contempt of the world is usually made the fruit of our regeneration: “Whosoever is born of God, overcometh the world" (1 John v. 4); and, “Made partakers of the divine nature, that we might escape the corruptions of the world through lust” (2 Peter i. 4). There is somewhat of God in it then; and that which comes from God, carries the soul thither where God is. In the new nature there is a strong incli. nation, which disposeth us to look after another world; therefore it is said, “Begotten to a lively hope” (1 Peter i. 3). As soon as we are made children, we begin to look after a child's portion. There is another aim when we are born again, then the heart is carried out to God.
2. There lies their inheritance. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Eph. i. 3). Why, he hath blessed us with spiritual bless. ings in earthly places, why then is it said only in heavenly places? There was their beginning, and there is their accomplishment. The main thing Christ aimed at, was that we might be translated to heavenly places. Christ will set us high enough, and therefore he will not give us our portion in the world, that is an unquiet place. Here we are not out of gunshot and harm's-way; he would not give it us in an earthly paradise, there Adam enjoyed God among beasts; he would give it us in the most glorious manner, that we might enjoy God among the angels. The world is not a fit place. Here God will show his bounty to all his children; it is a common inn, where sons and bastards are entertained ; a place of trial, not of recompense, God's foot-stool, and not his throne (Isa. Ixvi. 1). The world is Satan's walk-the Devil's circuit : “ Whence comest thou? From compassing the earth” (Job i.); a place defiled with sin (Isa. xxiv. 5); given to the children of men (Psalm cxv. 16). Here God will show his bounty to all his creatures, to beasts, and all kinds of men ; it is sometimes the slaughter-house and shambles of the saints, they are slain upon earth, (Rev. xviii 24); a receptacle for elect and reprobate ; therefore here they have not their blessing; our inheritance lies else. where.
3. There are all our kindred : Ubi pater, ibi patria, where our father is, there our country is. Now when we pray, we say to him, “Our Father which art in Heaven.” There are we strangers, where we are absent from God, Christ, and glorified saints; and while we are here upon earth, we have not such enjoyment of God. There is our Father, it is his house, Heaven is called our Father's house; and there is our elder brother. “Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” (Col. ii. 1). And there is the best of our kindred and family: “ They shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob”
(Matt. viii. 11). Well then, the children of God, they count themselves to be strangers here, because their kindred are elsewhere.
4. There they abide longest. That we account our home where we abide. An inn cannot be called our home, where we come but for a night and away ; but now there we are “for ever with the Lord.” Here we are in motion, there in rest. The world must be surely left. If we had a certain term of years fixed, yet it would be very short in comparison of eternity. All the time we spend here, it is but a night, but a moment in comparison of eternity. We live longest in the other world, and therefore there is our home. “Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest” (Mic. ii. 10). God speaks it of the land of Canaan, when they had polluted it with sin. It is true of all the world. Sin hath brought in death, and there must be a riddance, it is but a passage from danger. Israel dwelt first in a wandering camp, before they came to dwell in cities and walled towns; and the Apostle alludes to that, “ Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." As the Israelites did look for walled towns and cities of the Amorites to be possessed by them; so here, we have but a wandering camp, we look for a city. And mark, as it was with them in their outward estate, so in the mysteries of their religion ; they were first seated in a tabernacle, and then in a temple; in a tabernacle, which was a figure of the church ; then in a temple, which was a figure of Heaven; for you know, as in the temple there were three partitions, the outward court, the holy place, and the holy of holies : so there are three heavens; the third heaven Paul speaks of, the Heaven of heavens; and there is the starry heaven; and the airy heaven, the outward court. This life being so frail, so fickle, we cannot call our abode here our home. " What is your life ?” saith the Apostle, “it is even a vapour” (James iv. 14); a little warm breath turned in and out by the nostrils. “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth ? are not his days also like the days of an hireling ?” (Job vii. 1.) A hired servant you do not intend should live with you for ever; you hire him for a day or two, and when he hath ended his work, he receiveth his wages and is gone: so all our days are but a little while, we do our service, and then we must be gone. Actors, when they have finished their parts, are seen no more: they go within the curtain ; so when we have fulfilled our course, God furnisheth the world with a new scene of acts and actors.
5. The necessary exercise of their graces doth make them count their lives here but a pilgrimage, and themselves but strangers upon earth, viz., faith, love, hope.
(1.) Faith shows the truth and the worth of things to come. Faith will make them strangers : “Having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. xi. 13). Oh! were we persuaded of things to come, we would be hastening towards them. We cry home, home, we talk of Heaven and eternity, but we do not believe them. Sense and reason cannot out-see time, nor look above the clouds and mists of the lower world ; “afar off," in the Apostle's phrase (2 Peter i. 9); but faith shows the truth of things to come. We that are here upon earth, when we look to heaven, the stars seem to us but so many spangles : Oh! but when we get into Heaven, and look downward, the world then will seem but as a molehill; that which now, to sense, seems such a glorious thing, will be as nothing.
(2.) The love of Christ which is in the saints, makes them to account themselves as strangers. A child of God cannot be satisfied with things here below, because his love is set upon God. Two things the heart looks after as soon as it is awakened by grace, and love puts us upon them both, viz., a perfect enjoyment of God, and a perfect obedience to God. (1.) That they may be with God and Christ. The saints have heard much of Christ, read much of him, tasted and felt much of him; they would fain see him, and be with him (Phil. i. 23). If they had the choicest contentment the world could afford, this will not satisfy them so much as to be there where Christ is, and to behold his glory. The Apostle thinks this to be motive enough to a gracious heart to seek things above, for there “Christ is at the right hand of God” (Col. iii. 1). Love will catch hold of that. The place is lovely for Christ's sake. Love will not suffer them to count this to be their home. Though Christ is present with them now, spiritually, while they are here; yet the presence and nearness is but distance, but a kind of absence being compared with what is to come; and therefore this very presence doth not quench their desires, but kindle them, and sets them a longing for more. All the presence, the communion, the sight of Christ they get now, it is but mediate through the glass of the ordinance (1 Cor. xiii. 12); and it is frequently interrupted, his face is many times hidden (Psalm xxx. 7); and it is not full as it shall be there (Psalm xvi. 11). But now in Heaven, there it will be immediate, God will be“ all in all;" and there it will be constant, they shall be “ever with the Lord;" and there they shall be satisfied with his likeness (Psalm xvii. 15); then they enjoy his presence indeed. So that love, upon these considerations, sets them a-longing and a-groaning. (2.) As love makes them desire the company of Christ, so entire subjection to God; they would have perfect grace and freedom from sin, therefore are ever groaning, O when shall we be rid of this body of death! (Rom. vii, 24.) There is a final perfect estate for which the new creature was made, and they are ever tending towards that happy state wherein they shall grieve God no more.
(3.) Hope was made for things to come, especially for our full and final happiness. God fits us with graces as well as happiness; not only grants us a glorious estate, but gives us grace to expect it. Hope would be of no use, if it did not lift up the head, and look out for a better estate than the world yieldeth. Hope fastens upon God's title in the covenant, “I am thy God.” Now God could not with honour take this title, and give us no better than present things : “Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. xi. 16). Mark the Apostle's reason. Many expound these words so, as if the meaning were but this, That they did only express God's condescension, that he would take his title not from the potentates of the world, but from a few wandering patriarchs ; that God was not ashamed to be called their God. Alas, the words have quite another sense ; rather it expresseth an answerable bounty, unless the Lord would give them something answerable to their hopes, more than was visible in the lives of the patriarchs, God would be ashamed to be called their God. Do but look upon the slenderness of their condition; if that he gave them in the world were all their reward, what is this to own that magnificent title, “I am the God of Abraham, &c.” (Matt. xxii. 32). No, now he hath something better than all the honours and riches of the world, now he may fitly be called their God. Christ builds the doctrine of the resurrection upon the
same argument, “God is the God of Abraham,” &c., therefore they shall have a blessed estate in soul and body. To be a God to any, is to be a benefactor, and that according to the extent and largeness of an infinite and an eternal power.
Use I.- Are you strangers and pilgrims ? David, and such as he was, that were of his stamp, counted themselves strangers upon earth. If you be so,
1. You will always be drawing home, and would not desire to stay long from Christ. A traveller would pass over his journey as soon as he can, and be hastening homeward : “ I desire to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. i. 23). Is there any looking, longing, waiting for your blessed estate? It is no hard matter to get a Christian out of the world, his better part is gone already, his heart is there. Do your hearts draw homeward? Are your desires stronger and stronger every day after eternal life? Natural motion grows swifter and swifter still, as it draws nearer and nearer its centre. So certainly a Christian, if he had the motions of the new nature, he would be drawing homeward more every day.
2. What provision do you make for another world, if you are strangers ? Many bestow all their labour and travel about earthly things, and neglect their precious and immortal souls. They are at home; all their care is that they may live well here. O Christians! what provision do you make for Heaven? A traveller doth not buy such things as he cannot carry with him, as trees, houses, household stuff; but jewels, pearls, and such as are portable. Our wealth doth not follow us into the other world, but our works do. We are travelling to a country whose commodities will not be bought with gold and silver, and therefore are we storing ourselves for Heaven, for such things as are current there. Men that make a voyage to the Indies, will carry such wares as are acceptable there, else they do nothing. Do you make it your business erery day to get clearer evidences for Heaven ? to treasure up a good foundation ? and do you labour every day to grow more “meet" for Heaven ? (Col. i. 12.) That is the great work of a Christian, to get evidences and a meetness for Heaven. These are the months of our purification, we are now to cleanse ourselves for the embraces of the great God. When we grow more mortified, strict, holy, heavenly, then we ripen apace, and hasten homeward : “ They go from strength to strength,” &c. (Psalm lxxxiv. 7); every degree of grace, it is a step nearer; and therefore do you grow more meet for this blessed estate.
3. In the fulness of your worldly enjoyments, do you mind your country. He that was going pilgrim to Jerusalem cried out, “Oh! this is not the holy city.” So, whatever enjoyments you have, do your hearts call you off, and say, Soul, this is not thy rest; this is not that thou shouldest take comfort in ; thou art bound for Heaven. Do you miss your country and your parents? The men of the world would have their portion here; here is their rest ; but when you have most of the world at will, are you strangers ? “ Using this world as not abusing it" (1 Cor. vii. 31); that is, 80 making use of God's bounty, as expecting a greater happiness. How do we use the world as not abusing it? When we use it as a type, as a motive, and as a help to Heaven. As a kind of type: the enjoyment of temporal things should stir us up to a more serious consideration of hea. venly; as the prodigal's husks put him in mind of bread in his father's house. The company of your relations puts you in mind of the company of God and Christ. The cities of the Amorites, their walled towns, put the patriarchs in mind of a city which had foundations (Heb. xi. 16). If an earthly city be so glorious, what is the heavenly city? These are the comforts of a strange place. You abuse them when you forget home, and therefore take heed. If the creature be sweet, Heaven is better. And when you use them as a motive to serve God more cheerfully, the more you find him a good master : “Trust in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. vi. 17). To make you more earnest in good works : saith David, “I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains" (2 Sam. vii. 2). When you have such kind of reasonings stirred up within you, What do I for God that hath enlarged my house here? And when you use them as a help; your worldly enjoyments as instruments of piety and charity. Here is a man's trial, what he doth in a full condition, whether his heart be for home still, yea or nay; when he hath the world at will, if then he be treasuring up a good foundation, and encouraging himself to serve God faithfully.
4. What is your solace in your affliction, and the inconveniences that you meet with in your pilgrimages? Doth this comfort you, home will pay for all ? “Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in vourselves that ye have in Heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Heb. x. 34). Do you reckon upon a more enduring substance ? Though the world frown upon you as a step-mother, yet you remember you have a better home. From whence do you fetch your supports in any cross? Doth this comfort you in the midst of the molestations of the world ? They do not know your birth, your breeding, your hopes, nor your expectations. Strangers may be abused in a foreign place; when we come home, this will be forgotten. The saints walk up and down, like a prince that travels abroad in disguise; though he be slighted, abused, he doth not appear what he shall be. You have a glorious inheritance reserved for you ; this is your cordial, and the reviving of your souls, and that which doth your heart good to think of; and so you can be contented to suffer loss and inconveniences upon these hopes. The discourse between Modestus, (a governor under Valens) and Basil, in Nazianzen's twentieth oration, is very notable ; I shall only transcribe what is exactly to the purpose in hand, when he threatened him with banishment: “I know no banishment (saith he) who know no abiding-place here in the world: I do not count this place mine ; nor can I say the other is not mine ; rather all is God's, whose stranger and pilgrim I am.” This was that which supported him in the midst of those threatenings. Therefore from whence do you fetch your support ?
5. If religion be kept up in height and majesty, the world will count you strangers, they will stand wondering at your conversation (1 Peter iv. 4). Men gaze upon those that come hither in a foreign babit, that do not conform to the fashions of the country ; and so a child of God is won. dered at, that walks in a counter motion to the studies and practices of other men, as one that is not conformed to the world (Rom. xii. 2). What do you discover of the spirit of your country, so as to convince others ?
Thus much by way of inquiry, namely, Whether we are strangers, yea or nay.
USE II.-Behave yourselves as strangers here upon earth. 1. Avoid “fleshly lusts” (1 Peter ii, 11); these cloud the eye, and be