•  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
“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” (Heb. 11:1313These 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. (Hebrews 11:13)). Few things are more difficult of realization than that the world of today is evil in character, and that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are delivered from it by Him who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world (or age) according to the will of God and our Father (Gal. 1:44Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: (Galatians 1:4)). It is not here deliverance from wrath, although included of necessity, but deliverance from a system or order of things which has been built up by man under the influence of its prince. Both have been judged morally at the cross. “Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:3131Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)).
True, the execution of judgment is suspended and the Holy Spirit is using the interval as a day of salvation, gathering souls, and He who was lifted up receives and delivers them. And this is accomplishing the will of God our Father. Our position then in the world, according to this new relationship must be that of strangers and pilgrims. It is not merely that we seek it as such. It is the character of a heavenly relationship made good in our hearts by the Spirit of His Son (Gal. 4:66And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)). It is noticeable that in this epistle the saints were under bondage by law, and far from realizing their privileges according to the work and glory of Christ. Yet the apostle in the most absolute way affirms the nature and the power of this new relationship as to them. The fact itself remained unaltered by their folly in falling from grace to law. He says, “Because ye are sons;” while they had lost the sense of so near a relationship. The Holy Ghost had been sent into their hearts, and was yet crying “Abba, Father.”
The apostle John too places the family of God in absolute contrast to the children of the wicked one, and insists that the love of the Father and the love of the world are irreconcilable. The Spirit again encourages the Hebrew saints as partakers of a heavenly calling to take up their new place and privileges, including access to God within the veil (Heb. 10), and exhorts them earnestly (in chap. 13:13) to go forth unto a Christ rejected by the Jews as well as by the Gentiles. Indeed the two things are closely connected, “Inside the veil,” and “outside the camp.” To give ever so intelligent an assent to the truths of Christianity will not make anyone a stranger on the earth. But if the Spirit of God occupies my heart with Christ Himself, especially in His heavenly glory and His things, a character will be given to my walk and testimony here, which the world will neither understand nor care for, but hate. Compare John 15:18-2118If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me. (John 15:18‑21); 1 Cor. 15:48; 248As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. (1 Corinthians 15:48) Cor. 3:18; 5:15-17, etc. The more truly and fully Christ's character is displayed in the believer, the more practically will such a one be a stranger in a world which has seen and hated both the Father and the Son (John 15:22-2522If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. 23He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. (John 15:22‑25)). It may help us to realize this if we recall evidence of patriarchal faith, thus proving itself the more remarkable, because of the necessarily incomplete revelation which formed their testimony. They only saw the promises afar off; we are made nigh; and to us they are accomplished in Christ. Yea, the mystery has been declared which was hid in God in ages past. The revelation of the Christian's heavenly calling and hope, and the exposure of man's true character at the cross, should make it easy for us to maintain the pilgrim character.
Presuming the reader has made himself acquainted with the fruits of faith enumerated in Heb. 11, let us mention some, which more especially illustrate the strangership of the heavenly man who has embraced the promises. In Gen. 23 we see the dignity of faith in Abraham, ref using to make his sorrowful experience at the moment an occasion for being a debtor to the world in however small a degree. We know that at such seasons the heart is peculiarly susceptible of sympathy, as we are open to be off our guard, and to accept what at other times we should refuse. The whole land was given to him and to his seed in promise; but not a foot of it was in actual possession. God had enriched him, and the world could but acknowledge it. “Thou art a prince of God amongst us” (see margin); but he confessed himself “a stranger and sojourner amongst you.” Faith had made him such, and in a deep trial like that faith must or ought to rule. For a “friend of God” to accept a gift from a judged world, to anticipate the promised blessing, would be inconsistent with that high and holy intimacy which he was privileged to know.
Turn now to Moses the destined deliverer of God's people. The name which he gave his son expresses this principle (Exodus 2:2222And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land. (Exodus 2:22)), a stranger here. He himself was first and last given up to death as his people were, but “drawn out,” he was delivered from “this present evil world,” as he in faith identified himself with the people of God, and placed himself at their disposal, only to be contemptuously rejected, his authority questioned, and himself exposed to the wrath of the king. In all this he was a type of Him who came in grace into the midst of His people, and knew their sorrows. But, by them He was rejected, and delivered to the Gentiles. Moses fled from the wrath of Pharaoh, yet nothing could alienate his heart from the heirs of promise. They might refuse him as a judge; they could not prevent him from suffering with them, strangers as they were, in a land which was not theirs. He by faith cheerfully accepted the place of a stranger in a strange land. In the failure of his long cherished plans for the deliverance of Israel he recognizes the hand of God, bows to his will, loses all confidence in the flesh; so that when God's time arrives, he scarce believes it possible that any real use can be made of so weak and worthless a one. Yet the power of God fills him and makes use of him for great things.
Let us turn from this subject to another servant of God who had to learn the same lesson and to walk in the same path of strangership and rejection. David, anointed king of Israel, was used of God to accomplish a mighty deliverance; but he must submit to the prelude of a protracted trial of faith. Saul who should have been foremost in acknowledging what God had wrought by his hand professed ignorance of him (1 Sam. 17:5656And the king said, Inquire thou whose son the stripling is. (1 Samuel 17:56)). It is difficult to believe that he had forgotten all about one whose minstrelsy had benefited him so materially (chap. 16:23). But it illustrates the solemn fact that the world easily and willingly ignores the development of God's purposes for man's blessing by his chosen instrument. “Who is David?” and “who is the son of Jesse?” said another who refused his claims and despised his person (1 Sam. 25:1010And Nabal answered David's servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master. (1 Samuel 25:10)). “I am become a stranger with my brethren and an alien with my mother's children” (Psa. 69:88I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children. (Psalm 69:8)) tells of the deep sorrow of a loving heart, forced into such a place of isolation by faithfulness to God; while of course in its application to the blessed Lord Jesus it receives its perfect fulfillment alone in Him who entered more fully than any other into every character of suffering which can come upon the servant of God in the world.
Let me close with another sample from the life of this blessed saint of God (1 Chron. 29:1515For 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. (1 Chronicles 29:15)). It was toward the end of a long and honored life in which God had used him, greatly for the blessing of His people. A moment of triumph too it was; for the dearest object of his heart's desire was about to be accomplished. God's purpose as to the succession had been made known to all Israel; when the privilege denied to him was to be conferred upon the son of David, to build a house for the name of Jehovah. David had long been aware of this and, happy in submission to God's will, had prepared with all his might for that house. At such a moment he leads the praises of the great congregation and confesses, “For we are strangers before thee and sojourners.” Was it the right moment for such an avowal? Yes indeed! How different the blessing of that time, from the ruined condition of things at the close of Saul's reign! Compare 1 Sam. 28:77Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. (1 Samuel 28:7).
Yet even this could not satisfy the heart of God or exhaust His purposes of blessing for His people. The brightest picture the world has ever witnessed is but a faint foreshadowing of the glory of millennial days. Then all shall depend not on what grace deigned to accomplish by such ones as Moses or David (themselves only failing men), but upon Him who shall be fastened as a nail in a sure place. Faith refuses to rest in anything short of perfection. When the name of the city shall be Jehovah-Shammah,” strangership shall give place to citizenship. Every promise of blessing shall be abundantly, yea more than, fulfilled. While we wait in patience for the heavenly glory of that blessed day, may it be ours to live and walk in the power of the Spirit, and under the realized influence of heavenly things. For our citizenship is in heaven from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, who will introduce us to the prepared place in the Father's house and make us quite at home there with, Himself. G. S. B.