By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out…
There are some men who are like the patriarch Abraham in this — they have no fixed dwelling-place in the earth. They go from one city to another at the different seasons of the year, arranging to come to each just at the season of its highest bloom. This is thought to be a pleasant, but it is a very poor way of spending life. Men who are always seeking pleasure are never happy. They soon wear all freshness out of their hearts. Better far be at the hardest work all the year round than be such a man. In the intervals of work, however, it is a good thing to see, as one can, the famous cities of the world. It is a relief to leave the well-known streets and the scenes of accustomed occupation for a time; and some expansion of the mind is attained amid the new and varied scenes which come into view. Now, suppose a man on pilgrimage going through a number of such cities, and coming at last of purpose to the best. May we not suppose such a man pausing and saying, "Is this all? Have I seen the strongest that man can build, the fairest that he can paint? Is there no other city which I have not seen, no fairer lands than those which I have traversed? I have been refreshed, I am thankful; but alas for my immortality if this be all! 'Could you not suppose such a man, at such a time, rejoicing in the privilege of taking his place beside Abraham, and "looking for a city which hath foundations"?
I. THE CITY. How far we are to carry forward the ideas which we have about a city on earth, and fix them on that celestial place which God has prepared for the dwelling of His people through all eternity, it is difficult to say. It is with this as it is with the natural and spiritual body: there is a resemblance and yet a difference. To transfer our ideas just as they are, without purification or expansion, would be to vulgarise and degrade heaven. But to rise by their means to higher ideas like them, is just what the teaching of Scripture enables us to do. "A city." Let us thank God for that word — or these: "a country," "a better country, that is, an heavenly." How do these familiar terms fill up for us the dim and vast obscure I They make a home for our wandering thoughts. They give an answer to our wondering inquiries.
1. This city is very ancient. Not the plan of it merely in Divine thought, nor parts of it merely in course of construction, but the whole city was built and finished, and Abraham journeyed to it through the quietness of the patriarchal days, just as a man now might journey to Paris or Rome.
2. This city is very strong and stable. "It hath foundations." It is designedly put in contrast with those frail and movable structures in which Abraham dwelt during his pilgrimage. And what a contrast with the strongest cities and securest abodes of men! Nature and time wear down all man's works. As soon as a house is finished, it begins to vanish away. As soon as a tower is erected, it begins to decay. Man is still weaker than his house. His outward man is perishing far more rapidly than walls and towns, and rooms and pictures. It is to a being mortal in himself, and dwelling thus amid things, that this grand vision is revealed of "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
3. This city is all built by God. He is Architect and Artificer. He designs and builds. How grand is this conception of heaven as the masterpiece of Divine skill! a meet dwellingplace for those who have been cleansed and perfected by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
II. THE WAY to the city. The way to the city is to "look for it," to "expect it." It is the way of faith. Without faith, showing itself by a life-long looking, we have no interest in the place. If we do not look, we reject the whole. This is the way in which heaven is lost to innumerable multitudes. The heart, the soul is in the look, and where a man looks his soul will go. A whole city for a look! Only it must be the look of the whole soul, continued through the whole life, until the city appears. There are those who would be willing enough to think themselves into a celestial city, to speculate concerning a future life, its probable scenes and characteristics, and then to have it as their fancy had feigned. That is not the way to the city. There are those who would be very willing to buy themselves into it. They would give a great many religious services, much money, and some suffering to get there. Neither is that the way to the city. "It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof." They cannot discern it by knowledge. They may measure and weigh the heavenly bodies with the lines and balances of their thought; they may analyse those beams of light which are shot down on us, and describe the chemistry of the stars; but after they have said all, and told all they know, there is still no sign of the city. They cannot win it by strength. Men do not ascend the snowy summits of the mountains, and then go up to a nobler world. Alas! they all go downwards — down, down to the grave. They cannot win it by merit. Do men so live in this world that they would be justified in saying, "We do not need to look beyond this life. There must be another world prepared for us, and we can well afford to wait for the day of entrance"? Benjamin Franklin said, "As this world was all prepared for me before I came here, so the world to which I am going will be ready when I go there." But there is a fallacy in this reasoning; it is to place a man who has lived responsibly, who has, of his own will, chosen good or evil for threescore years, in the same category as an infant who has never lived at all. God has said that this is the way to the city, the way of the faith-look; and if we are to be wise, we must walk in this way, on and on, until the city comes in sight. This "looking" is the whole soul acting in faith, rising in desire, answering to the word and assurance of God in reference to the life to come. No test of a man's state could be deeper or truer than this, and therefore it is good and worthy Of God to make faith the condition of salvation, and to give a city of eternal glory for a life-long look.
(A. . Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.