“And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.” – Hebrews xi, 15,16.
We have here a declaration that finds an answering echo in the experience of saints throughout their earthly pilgrimage.
In the chapter from which the text is taken there is given us an example of their varied life of suffering, and the triumph of their faith, over all obstacles, “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” The children of the regeneration as born from above continually manifest their heavenly origin. All of their aspirations turn to the Source from whence they come. As the natural mind turns to its mother earth in all of its desires, so the heavenly, turns to the heavenly father-land from whence it came, in holy desire and bright anticipation.
These children are not of this world either in seed or in development, but most emphatically are of God, as being born of Him; and having been born of Him, must necessarily have ever existed in Him. They are at home in heaven, but “strangers and pilgrims” on earth.
In our text and its connections we have a testimony of their earthly pilgrimage, their hungering and thirsting, their heavenly longing, as seekers of “a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.” They have an heavenly foretaste of these wonderful and precious things in their mortal journey, in the communion and companionship of saints, but the life immortal looks beyond this lower world, to the glorious realization.
The inspired penman tells us: “they that seek such things declare plainly that they seek a country.” The power of indwelling heavenly life must necessarily turn away from these lower things, and turn to its heavenly home. This could never be if the life of the child of grace was an earthly life, for no stream can rise higher than its own fountain, and the life that comes from earth, the “breath of life,” (Genesis ii, 7,) which Adam and his posterity received in an earthly creation, must surely be satisfied with the things of time and sense. The Christian warfare which is experienced by all the children of grace between that which is born of the flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit, between the strong man and the stronger, between the old man and the new, evidences the Truth of this Divine testimony.
The things of earth how frequently and constantly they seek to attract our attention, how strong these earthly ties sometimes seek to draw us away from the path of life.
“The songsters in the arbor,
That grew beside the way
Attract our attention,
Invite our delay.”
But the inspired penman in our text records the travel of these children, that John saw “coming down from God out of heaven.” They have taken an earthly body, or tabernacle, partaken (Hebrews ii, 14) of flesh and blood, following in the path of Him who is their Elder Brother; and also is the “first born among many brethren” ‐ Romans viii, 29. In their manifestation in time and mortality they are called as Abram was [Genesis xii, 1,] out of the land of their nativity; like Ruth, who was a native born Moabitess, and again born of God, receiving in that heavenly birth the faith so fully dwelt upon in the connection of our text, to look beyond the polluted borders of Moab.
These children of heaven are manifested in this land of sin and death, of desert and drought, and yet called by the free and sovereign grace of God out of it. “And truly,” says the inspired testimony, “if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out” . . . truly indeed, for the power of this assertion is written in their life being, wrought in their tears and groans, inspiring their continual cry for deliverance from this land of sin, “for the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”
But in all of their experience of grace and glory, in all of their suffering and sorrows, are they “mindful of that country from whence they came out,” do they wish to return again to its false, deceitful and polluted shores? Most assuredly NO! if so “they might have had opportunity to have returned;” to turn back like Lot’s wife (Genesis xix, 26,) and became a pillar of salt. But this does not pertain to their eternal nature. He who begins a good work will perform it (Philippians i, 6,) to the day of Jesus Christ. “The path of the just (Proverb iv, 18,) is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” “But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.”
A better country most surely, as the heavenly is better than the earthly, as eternity is better than time; and as immortality, beyond all comparison, is better than mortality. In this glorious and heavenly country, God is the Sun, the Life, the everlasting all in all; and freed forever from sin and death, they are pure and holy in the endless life of its immortality.
Truly is He not ashamed to be called their God. The earthly bodies (the “Adam man”,) which these eternal, heavenly children have borne in time, and in which they have groaned, waiting to be delivered, shall be changed from mortal to immortal. And in this groaning state, they are waiting for the appearance of the Lord from heaven, “who shall change our vile body, that it might be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”
“For He hath prepared for them a city.” O glorious thought! O blessed, assuring eternal promise! A city prepared which,
“Hath no need of suns to rise
To dissipate the gloom of night.”
A city prepared where neither sin, sorrow, sickness, nor death can enter. A city where the Redeemed of God alone can come; where their vile bodies are changed, where purity and holiness crowned with resurrection immortality is forever the habitation of the blessed.
A city whose fullness alone can satisfy the longing desires, the aspirations of the heaven-born, and to which the Psalmist so eloquently alludes in the testimony:
“Arise, O Lord, . . . .deliver my soul from the wicked, which is Thy sword: from men which are Thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly Thou fillest with Thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.” – Psalm xvii, 13-15.
Elder William Smoot,