Not all journeys are the same. Tourists are focussed on their surroundings; pilgrims are fixed on their destination. Tourists want to capture as much as possible of what they see; pilgrims mark their progress towards an unseen destination. How do we respond to this world? Are we so comfortable and satisfied in it that we could better be described as tourists than pilgrims in relation to this world? Or half pilgrim, half tourist? Not all pilgrims are the same. Some are simply pleasing themselves under cover of religion. What is it to live as true pilgrims in this world?
Scripture must of course be our guide. 1 Peter 1:17 speaks about pilgrims who have a careful walk that is afraid of offending God. 1 Peter 2:11-12 speaks of keeping ourselves apart from the prevailing sins of the world we pass through so that we have a testimony that speaks to others. Is your life a pilgrim’s protest against the course of this world? Hebrews 11 outlines brief biographies of true pilgrims; particularly Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (11:8-16). David Dickson draws out various concise lessons for us in this updated extract.
1. True Pilgrims Walk by Faith
By faith Abraham obeyed God’s call and left his native country (v8). This teaches us that:
- Faith in God will cause a man to leave his country, parents and every dearest thing if God calls him to.
- Faith esteems God’s promises better than present possessions. It is content to leave the one for the other.
- Faith is content with a general promise from God of that which is better. It is willing to obey even if it is blind as to how God will fulfil His promise.
- Faith is willing to obey as soon as it sees authorisation from God.
2. True Pilgrims Will Forego Anything
Abraham sojourned in Canaan living in tents (v9). This teaches us that:
- Faith can for a while submit to being a stranger even from that to which it has best right to in this world.
- When faith is certain of a heavenly inheritance, it can be content with a small portion of earthly things.
- Someone who sojourns amongst idolaters should be sure that God has called them to be there. If they must be amongst such, they ought to behave as strangers and sojourners.
- Even where we still have that which we have best right to on earth, we ought to have a pilgrim’s mind.
3. True Pilgrims Seek Heaven as their Permanent Home
It was the hope of a settled dwelling place with God, in the company of the saints in heaven that prompted Abraham to live as a sojourner on earth (v10). This teaches us that:
- Heaven is a settled, spacious, and safe dwelling place. All places here are but moveable tents.
- The patriarchs under the Law looked for entry into their eternal rest in the kingdom of heaven, after the end of their pilgrimage here.
- The hope of heaven is able to make a man content with pilgrim’s fare and lodgings in the present.
4. True Pilgrims Persevere in Faith
These pilgrims died in faith not having obtained the promises (v13). This teaches us that:
- Faith is not commendable unless we persevere in it until our death.
- Even though we do not see a promise made to the Church or ourselves fulfilled in our time, we may go to death with assurance that it will be fulfilled.
- Those who would die in faith must live in faith.
- Though these pilgrims did not receive the Promises, yet they saw them afar off and were fully persuaded of them and embraced them.
- Although faith does not possess the promise, yet it comes to behold a time of possession coming and is persuaded that the promise will be obtained
- Faith embraces the promise: the original word implies greeting them in a friendly way. It is the sort of greeting that friends give one another while drawing near to embrace one another after a long time of separation.
5. True Pilgrims Openly Profess to be Pilgrims
They confessed in their lifetime that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. We only read this of Jacob when he appeared before Pharaoh but the mind of one of the faithful in the main matters, makes evident what is the mind of the rest. This teaches us that:
- True believers must profess their faith before all, even before the idolaters they live amongst.
- Those who know heaven to be their own home, reckon this world a strange or foreign country.
6. True Pilgrims Seek a Better Country
The apostle infers from their profession that they were strangers (v14-16) the following things: (a) they desired a country for their home; (b) this must have been either their own earthly country, or a better country; (c) it cannot have been their own earthly home country because they might have returned to it if they wished; (d) they therefore desired a better country; (e) if it was a better country, then it must have been a heavenly country. In other words, they desired heaven itself for their country. This teaches us:
- To read Scripture so as to not only observe what is spoken, but also what is implied as a consequence (inference).
- That which is implied by what someone has said plainly declares the mind of the speaker. This is not an obscure deduction, as those who deride this method of interpretation call it. The apostle says that those who say they are strangers plainly declare that they seek a country.
- It is lawful to proceed in drawing one consequence after another until we find out the full mind of the author as long as the deduction is evident and follows sound reason, as it does here.
- The apostle has proved here that the patriarchs sought heaven for their country; because they sought a better than any on earth.
- The apostle knew no place for departed souls better than earth, except heaven alone. If there had been any other place, such as some imagine, his reasoning would not have been solid.
- The patriarchs, after the end of their pilgrimage here on earth, went home to heaven.
Heaven was prepared for the patriarchs, and the rest of God’s saints before they ended their pilgrimage on earth. To put them into hell or any other place must not be a teaching from heaven. [Dickson is referring to the false Roman Catholic teaching that believers who died before Christ went to limbus patrum – a state of limbo for the fathers].
7. True Pilgrims are Honoured by God
Since they counted themselves strangers until they came home to heaven, God is not ashamed to be called their God (v16). This teaches us that:
- God will honour those that honour Him.
- God will avow Himself to be the portion of those who renounce the world for His sake.
- The Lord will even abase Himself in order to exalt and honour those who honour Him
- When the Lord has done thus, He considers it no dishonour to Himself to do anything that may honour His servants.
- God prepared a city for them (which the apostle previously called heaven, or the heavenly country).