These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them…
I. AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF HUMAN CONDITION. The fact which it asserts, it is a very easy thing to acknowledge in words; but nothing can be harder than to realise it particularly. The truth is admitted indeed, just because the denial of it would be utterly beyond hope. Every funeral procession, every tolling bell, furnishes a memorial of what awaits each one of us in our turn. Infirmities, to which our flesh is heir, and ailments, are nothing else but God's messengers to accomplish God's sentence of universal mortality. And there is evidence in the restless and the far-reaching character of human wishes, that the whole sphere of our being cannot possibly lie within the horizon which now circumscribes our dwelling-place. Man looks to the future; he draws on the expectation of other days for the enjoyment of the present. What we have to labour for, is not the admission of the truth, but the imparting to it an operative influence. The brevity of human -life is a matter which belongs to observation and not to experience; we see it in others, but as yet we know nothing of it in ourselves. But it is very hard to bring home to our bosoms the certainty that the hearts which are now full of hopes and fears and wishes shall soon cease to beat. No man believes himself to be immortal; and yet there is no truth so difficult to get embodied as one's own mortality. And all this while the world present environs us about and shuts us in closely on every side. It is visible to the eye of sense; it excludes the world unseen and spiritual. And we remember what Scripture tells us concerning one who, through his usurpation, is called "the prince of this world." We know that it is his business to separate the souls of men from Him who is the only source of their happiness and their good. And he accomplishes his end in the most effectual way when he casts about them the fetters of an utter worldliness, preventing the free spirit from soaring aloft into a better atmosphere and into communion with the Father of all spirits, by binding it down gradually closer and closer to the concerns and the interests of this earth that we tread. He does much indeed for his object, when he can plunge men into sensuality, when he can entangle them in vicious pursuits; for then they must needs, if they would be at peace, administer an opiate to conscience. But we entreat you to remember that the peril arises not merely from things which are in themselves bad and forbidden; but from things in themselves and in their commencement blameless or even praiseworthy — the business of daily life, its thousand schemes and its thousand toils, in the midst of which a man may move forward with his integrity unimpeached, maintaining a character for honour that has never known a stain. He forgets the world that is to be. Now these considerations will furnish, as you will immediately perceive, a great motive why we should enforce the assertion of our text. But it is not the eloquence of the advocate, nor the urgency of the appeal, nor the frequency of the warning, that can dislodge the earthliness of mind whereof we have spoken. The grace of God must come into the heart of man, "teaching him so to number his days that he may apply his heart unto wisdom."
II. AN AVAILING MOTIVE FOR HUMAN CONDUCT. We must, as a preliminary, call upon you to observe that the text includes a reference to the future. The patriarchs believed not merely that they had "no abiding city here"; they believed also that " God had prepared for them a city," "which hath foundations, whose Maker and Builder is the Lord." And the information of the Bible are more and wider and of greater encouragement than what would be contained in a mere detail of the world's barrenness and insufficiency. It sets faith in operation; of which the apostle says, it is "the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." And it so wrought in the patriarchs of old time, who are the subjects of our chapter, that "they that said such things declared plainly that they sought a country." Now what we find operative in the case of godly people many centuries ago, is still the only availing principle whereby we can turn men aside from pursuits and pleasures unsatisfying and perilous, and bring them to follow after Him who alone can satisfy an immortal and redeemed spirit. We cannot turn them aside from the love of this present world, its business or its painted vanities, by sermons alone .on its insufficiency; we must tell them of a world that shall be hereafter, where all is true and good and lovely. And whatsoever may have been the man's particular object of pursuit, there is most mercifully provided for him in the gospel something better in that very department, which shall so through the grace of God lay hold upon his very heart as to separate it from the things whereby it was once enslaved. And if you will think awhile you cannot but perceive that there is a remarkable safety in looking unto that "rest which remaineth for the people of God." It is like the home thoughts which come into the heart of an exile, and which return again and again with the potency of an irresistible charm; they come about the heart of the wanderer, sometimes to preserve him from seductions which would otherwise be insurmountable. And sometimes they sustain him under suffering, carrying him through weary days through the power of the principle of hope, which is strong in his bosom. And thus while God's pilgrims are passing through a world thickly set with perils, encompassed on all sides by foes, they are safe while they think of the land where there are holy affections and dutiful obedience, where there is no sin, where there are no tears, and where trial cannot come any more. And if these things are truly impressed upon the heart, not merely shall we believe the fact which is asserted in our text, but we shall make a correspondent movement. We shall immediately prepare for our journey. And whoever has these thoughts upon his heart will remember that a reckoning must follow. He possesses all things in stewardship; he possesses nothing as a proprietor. "All things are of God," and to be used for His glory. And, finally, in the enumeration of the various motives brought to bear upon the heart of man through the receiving practically the truth which is affirmed in our text, we must by no means forget the sympathy with the great family of man which is thus engendered in the heart. Points of difference may have seemed considerable while we lived as though there were no scene to be entered on but the present; but let us only read our own poverty and dependence and the transitory nature of everything we possess, and straightway there is a brotherhood established large enough to embrace all men — a wider and a wider circle, till it includes every individual of the whole race of man.
(S. Robins, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.