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Joyous Spirituality of Christian Pilgrimage: Part II by Hugh Martin

By April 10, 2011April 12th, 2016Christian Life

Let us glance at the principle and process as they were seen operating in Abraham, the father of the faithful. A more decided instance of the believer’s relation towards the world, in this aspect of it, cannot be found than in Abraham. The very platform and tenor of his outward life were constructed so as visibly to indicate his spiritual separation form the world. He was not more truly the ‘father of the faithful’ than he was obviously the Pattern of Pilgrims – the very model of a stranger on the earth. ‘By faith Abram, 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. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’ And associating with their father all the ancients like-minded with him, the apostle adds, ‘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.’

Now, what could have prevailed with our father Abraham to assume the pilgrim’s staff and the stranger’s fare and garb? He had a land that he called his own. He had a kindred. He had a father’s house. Doubtless he looked for dying in his nest, his destiny little shaken save by those usual events that gradually change if they do not mar the face of all things in all the homes of earth. Why should Abraham not live, as he has hitherto done, at home among the friends of his youth, the associates of his more active days? What could possibly induce him at one decisive stroke – by one fell swoop – to tear himself away from all that he has counted desirable or dear, and be henceforth a ‘stranger on the earth?’

‘The God of glory,’ says Stephen, ‘the God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee.’ What could make him a stranger on the earth? ‘The God of glory appeared unto him.’ That would do it. From that moment he was alienated from the world.

Formerly he had been at home in the world and a stranger to God. Now he is at home with God and a stranger on the earth. Formerly the world had ‘appeared’ to him – and God was not in all his thoughts. Now ‘the God of glory’ has appeared unto him, and the world disappears and fades from view. The ‘appearance’ of God he beholds as real and glorious. The ‘appearance’ which the world put on, while it beguiled and occupied all his heart, he now discovers to have been false and delusive. He is in circumstances now to choose. The world has appeared unto him with its ease and gifts, its indolent sufficiency lulling his highest faculties asleep, or with its trials and hardships fretting his patience and crossing his aims. And in the counter-revelations of the world’s offer and his Maker’s glory – with which shall he now consent to be at home? to which shall he now resolve to be a stranger? Ah! but he is not left to weigh his scruples and balance probabilities. He not only sees the glory of God, but he also hears his call; and it is indeed in his call, in the revelation of his character as given in his call – that Abram really sees the glory of God. The word of absolute, supreme authority commands obedience. The word of infinite love commends itself to his acceptance. ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.’ Never was Abram so dealt with before. It is the voice of the King. It is glory of sovereign majesty. And its effect is immediate and irresistible. Is Abraham dwelling indolently in the world’s good – the spell of its contentment withering his energy of purpose? The voice awakens him – he starts to his feet. Is he eagerly running his own errand in the world – the strain of covetousness tasking all his effort? The voice arrests him: he stands still to listen. And clear and commanding, as of one having authority, having infinite sovereign right and power, that voice penetrates a secret ear in his heart, and quickens and kindles there a feeling altogether now – the sharp resistless sense of responsibility – responsibility to One with whom Abram now discovers for the first time that he really has to do. Ah! it is a voice that will brook no disobedience, no gainsaying, no delay. It is the voice of the King – the King Eternal and Invisible. It is the voice of the King at last: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from they father’s house.’ No more is Abram’s lot in his own hand. ‘Get thee out into a land that I will show thee.’ ‘Tis the voice of the Sovereign Disposer. Abram’s all is in the hand of ‘the God of glory,’ and he knows it.

But it is the voice of sovereign mercy also. ‘I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee.’ I will bless thee: I who have the same authoritative right and power to bless that I have to command and to dispose. I will bless thee – I whose blessing maketh rich and addeth no sorrow with it – whose blessing is effectual, all-reaching, all-sufficient, eternal: I will bless thee.’ Get thee out, therefore, unto where my blessing shall forever follow.

Thus did the God of glory appear unto our father Abram; in sovereign majesty, demanding his unreserved unconditional allegiance; in sovereign mercy, conferring an unlimited and unconditional blessing. And Abram beholds the glory of God: in the new keen sense of adoring loyalty Abraham welcomes and obeys his King: in the new sweet sense of filial confidence and final and eternal security, Abraham welcomes and puts trust in his reconciled Father which is in heaven.

From that moment he is a stranger on the earth. He has believed God, and parted with the world. He has believed God, and it is imputed to him for righteousness, and the Scripture is fulfilled which saith, ‘He was called the friend of God.’ But the friend of God is a stranger on the earth, ‘By faith therefore he goes out, not knowing whether he goes. By faith he sojourns in the land of promise, as in a strange country.’

In the usual administration of the grace of his kingdom, the King of Zion is not wont to call for a local transference of our persons from one land to another, or away from the society of our relatives into seclusion or to the companionship of those unknown to us. But as to the spirit of our minds, as to the principles which shall govern our hearts and habits, as to the change of purpose and procedure which the sinner undergoes when he returns unto the Lord, and the Lord hath mercy upon him and doth abundantly pardon, there is a transference, a translation, an exchange from one system of feelings and principles, and desires and hopes and efforts to another, as complete, as sweeping, as decisive, as thoroughly producing a revolution upon his nature and character, as the call to Abraham to get him out from his country, and his kindred, and his father’s house. Is it not as a pre-eminent example and model in this respect that Abraham is uniformly set forth to us as ‘the father of the faithful’? – that we are called upon to walk ‘in the steps of our father Abraham’? – and that ‘they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham’? (Gal. 3:9) – and that ‘if we are Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’? (Gal. 3:29)

To us, therefore, as to him, if indeed we be of the seed of Abraham, God’s friend, the God of Glory hath appeared; to us the word of God hath come. We have seen the glory, and heard the call, of God. And his glory hath appeared to us pre-eminently in the power and privileges of the call. It is indeed in our seeing glory in the call, a glory which the carnal mind never sees, that we realize the call as effectual, or rather that the call realizes itself as effectual upon us. The glory of the Sovereign Lord we see in his assertion of his claims over us, his right to command us at his pleasure, his right to dispose of us at his will. ‘Get thee up, O slumberer, and flee from the wrath to come. Away to the refuge set before thee! Repent, arise, and flee for thy life.’ The glory also of a Sovereign Father we see in his most merciful and most majestic offer and determination in Christ to bless us – to bless us freely, to justify us fully and gratuitously, to reconcile and adopt us in his own Son’s righteousness and titles, freely, finally, and forevermore. No longer do we cling to our olden views of God – our dim and doubtful, hazy and suspicious, and half-slumbering views of the glory of God. No more do we dally – dreamily tampering – with the call of God. His majestic and unreserved command, Get thee up and away from the lake of fire – away from thy wicked companions – away from thy worldly idols that are thy gods, thy all: this unconditional command deals mightily with all that is within thee. And his merciful and unconditional determination, ‘I will bless thee’ – bless thee with a free and full forgiveness, if, being guilty, thou needest that – bless thee with an omnipotent regeneration of thy soul, if being depraved and under Satan’s bondage thou needest that; this sovereign, immediate, unconditional, free and all-sufficient grace deals not only mightily, but deals bountifully with thee. The Eternal King, in short, hath come. He demands thy allegiance: ‘Come forth from among them and be thou separate.’ But he charges himself with thy lot and thy blessedness for ever: ‘I will bless thee, and be a Father unto thee.’ And believing his testimony and acquiescing in his proposal – seeing his glory and hearing his call – by faith you arise obedient to your Lord, justified by faith, and having peace with God; your faith working by love and overcoming the world: you arise, for this is no more your rest: the Lord is your friend; he is your strength and your song; he also is become our salvation. Your treasure, your citizenship, your home is in heaven. And reconciled to God, and obedient to him, and glad to be so, you are a ‘stranger on the earth.’