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city, which God had formed for his own habitation and the eternal residence of his saints, would continue for ever: and to that he looked as his home; content to have no abiding place here, if only he might attain to that as his eternal reste. Nor was it for himself only that he chose this unsettled mode of life, but for his children also, even for "Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise:" for what he desired for himself, he desired for them also, the enjoyment of the Divine favour, and the possession of an unseen, but everlasting inheritance.]
But whilst we contemplate his conduct in these respects, it will be proper to shew,
II. How far his example is a pattern for us
It is evident that the whole catalogue of saints here enumerated is intended to illustrate the nature and efficacy of faith. Yet in considering the conduct of the individuals, we must make due allowance for the difference of circumstances, and rather mark the principle by which they were actuated, than the particular acts in which it was displayed. If, for instance, we should imagine that we were called to forsake our country and kindred in the way that Abraham did, we should greatly err. But I conceive, that, in the two following respects, all will confess we are bound to follow him:
1. The authority of God should in our minds be paramount to every other authority
[As he "consulted not with flesh and blood," when once the Divine will was intimated to him, so neither should we : it should be sufficient for us that God hath commanded any thing: there should then be no inquiry whether the command be easy or not; nor should there be any regard to consequences in obeying it there should be in us a fixed determination of heart to fulfil his will at all events. If, for instance, the Lord Jesus Christ say to us, "If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me;" we must not stand to inquire into the extent of the self-denial that may be requisite, or the weight of the cross which we may have to bear, but leave that to his wise and gracious disposal, being intent on nothing but the performance of our duty to him. If he add, that we must "forsake all, and follow him," not only not
e Heb. xiii. 14.
loving, but actually hating, in comparison of him, our own nearest and most honoured relatives, yea, and "our own lives also," we must not reply, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" but must set ourselves instantly to fulfil in all its extent whatever he has required of us. If men, who know not God, despise, and revile, and persecute us, we must be ready to welcome it all for his sake; and to reply to the menaces of the most ferocious adversaries," Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." In a word, we must spare no pains to ascertain the mind of God; and, that once learned, neither men nor devils should deter us from labouring to fulfil it.]
2. The interests of the eternal world should be paramount to every other interest
[Abraham had never seen the heavenly city; but, in the hope of reaching it, he counted all earthly possessions, interests, or pleasures, as unworthy of notice. We too are ignorant of what awaits us in the eternal world: we have no conception of the glory that shall be revealed to us at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But by faith we may even now get such views of it, that all earthly glory shall vanish before it, as the stars before the meridian sun. How empty did all the glory of Egypt appear to Moses, when he had respect unto the recompence of reward which awaited him in a better world! And to St. Paul all his accumulated afflictions appeared lightness itself, whilst he looked, not at "the things which are visible and temporal, but at those which are invisible and eternals." And thus it will be with us: it will be a small thing to us that we have no inheritance here, or even that we are called to give up an inheritance we already possess. We shall even "take joyfully the spoiling of our goods, knowing that we have in heaven a better, and an enduring, substance." We shall contentedly live as pilgrims and sojourners here, and seek our rest only in the world above.]
Let us then take occasion from this subject to inquire,
1. Whether we be children of Abraham
[Our blessed Lord has told us, that, "if we be Abraham's children, we shall do the works of Abrahami." Do we then these works? Do we in these respects "walk in the steps of Abraham?" Inquire what authority has God's word with you? Do you set yourselves to obey every command of his as soon as you know it? and are you anxious to know his will in
order that you may obey it? Inquire also, what influence the world has over you? If you belong to Christ, though you are in the world, you are not of it: " you are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world1:" you love it not, nor any thing that is in it: "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, are shunned by you as ensnaring, and despised by you as unsatisfying m." "The very friendship of it you avoid, as enmity with God":" you come out from it°;" and will "not be conformed to it?:" you are even "crucified unto it, and esteem it as a crucified" object in your eyes. Say, is it thus with you? and do you regard it thus in reference to your children, as well as unto yourself; contented that your children after you should live in tents, if only they may attain an everlasting inheritance? The description of all true Christians is," They walk by faith, and not by sight." And surely it is no difficult thing to ascertain what your habits are in this respect. Oh! remember, that if you are not Abraham's sons, you have another father, even the devil. This may sound harsh; but it is the declaration of Him who "spake as never man spake." I pray you, leave not such an interesting subject any longer in suspense: nor rest till you have given evidence that you are "Abraham's seed," by walking as Abraham "walked, and as Christ himself also walkedt."]
2. How you may become so
[It was by faith that Abraham was brought into a justified. state and by faith are we also to be made partakers of that happiness. By our works we must prove our relation to him; but by faith only can we obtain an admission into his family. We must believe in the promised Seed, as he did; and then shall we be Christ's, as he was: "And, if we be Christ's, then are we Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise "." Now it is of the utmost importance that we understand this matter well. For there are many who imagine, that to sequester themselves from the world is meritorious, and to live as monks or hermits is to secure the favour of their God. But this is a fatal error. There is no acceptance with God but by Jesus Christ, even by faith in his atoning blood. The Apostle especially guards us on this head. Abraham was circumcised: yet his righteousness came not by circumcision, but by the faith which he had whilst he was yet uncircumcised. So it is not by any obedience of ours that we are to purchase an inheritance in heaven; we must receive it as the free gift of God
1 John xvii. 14-16. 2 Cor. vi. 17.
r 2 Cor. v. 7.
u Gal. iii. 6, 7, 29.
m 1 John ii. 15, 16.
s John viii. 38-44.
n Jam. iv. 4.
t 1 John ii. 6.
through Christ Jesus; and then press forward towards it in the way of his commandments. Let us walk with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in this world, and then we shall "sit down with them for ever in the kingdom of our God."]
THE PRACTICAL EFFICACY OF FAITH.
Heb. xi. 13. 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 precepts contained in Scripture may be supposed to admit of a latitude of interpretation favourable to the views of those who profess to regard them; but the examples that are recorded there, exhibit a light, which the ingenuity of man in vain attempts to obscure. Who that reads the history of the patriarchs, and the commendations bestowed upon them, can doubt the efficacy of faith to produce obedience, or the nature of that obedience that ought to be produced? After all the allowance that must of necessity be made for a diversity of situation between them and us, the principle by which they were actuated remains the same, and its operation also must be the same, as far as the circumstances in which we are agree with theirs. It is manifest that the catalogue which is here given us of holy men, was not recorded merely for the sake of historical information, but for our instruction in righteousness, and as an incentive to imitate their virtues. The passage before us relates to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who alone " had opportunity to return to the country which they had left:" confining therefore our attention to them, we shall shew,
I. Wherein they excelled
From the account given of them in the text, we are led to admire,
1. The strength of their faith
[They were taught to expect a numerous seed, and the possession of the land of Canaan: and, together with these temporal blessings, others of a far sublimer nature were promised; namely, a descendant in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed; and an everlasting inheritance in heaven — — — These promises they did not see accomplished: yea, not even the temporal blessings did they receive: for in the space of two hundred and forty years their posterity in the promised line amounted to but seventy; and Jacob, after sojourning as a stranger in Canaan, died in Egypt. But the patriarchs "walked by faith, and not by sight;" and, notwithstanding all their discouragements and delays, held fast their confidence even unto death: "they all died in faith."]
2. Its practical effects—
[Expecting higher blessings than this world could afford, they disregarded the things of time and sense as of little value They considered themselves as mere "pilgrims and sojourners on the earth," and repeatedly "confessed" this to be their true and proper character. This correspondence between their principles and their practice marked both the sincerity and efficacy of their faith, and was, in fact, their highest commendation.]
It will be easily seen from hence,
II. Wherein they should be imitated
We are certainly not required to resemble them in their wandering unsettled kind of life; but we should imitate them,
1. In the state of their minds
[We have promises, as they also had; and promises which yet remain to be fulfilled to us. God has not only assured us of acceptance with him in and through his beloved Son, but has engaged to send his Holy Spirit into our hearts, for the carrying on and perfecting his work within us. We meet with many delays and difficulties, which at times disquiet our minds, and lead us almost to doubt the truth of the promises themselves: but we should "against hope believe in hope:" yea, we should "hold fast the rejoicing of our hope firm unto the end." If God be true to his word, and able to perform it, "not one jot or tittle of it can ever fail." Convinced of this, we should say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."] 2. In the habit of their lives
[The name "pilgrims and strangers" was not given to the patriarchs merely on account of their sojourning in a strange
a Gen. xxiii. 4. and xlvii. 9.