These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them…
This chapter is a little book of martyrs. It discovers the life and death of the holy patriarchs, and by what means God's children are brought into possession of that that they have an interest and right unto upon earth. It is by faith. There is one faith from the beginning of the world. As there is one Christ, one salvation, so there is one uniform faith for the saving of our souls. We hope to be saved by Jesus Christ as they were. Then again, here is implied a continuance and perseverance in faith. Faith first makes a Christian, and then after, he lives by faith. It quickens the life of grace, and then he leads his life by that faith. He continues in it till he come to death, which is the period of all, and then he dies by that faith. "They died in faith." In the faith of the Messiah, in faith of Canaan, in faith of heaven. When death closed up the eyes of their bodies, then with the eye of faith they looked upon Christ, upon God in Christ reconciled to them.
I. THE GRACE OF FAITH, IT IS SUCH A GRACE THAT IT CARRIES A CHRISTIAN THROUGH ALL THE PASSAGES OF THIS LIFE. It enableth him to hold out to the end, to suffer those things that he is to suffer, and in the end by it he dies. And when all things else leave him in death, when riches, friends, honour, and great places leave him, when his life and senses leave him, yet faith will never leave him till it have put him in full possession of heaven, and then it ceaseth when it hath done the work it hath to do, which is to bring us to heaven. What is it to die in faith? To die in faith is to die in the Lord by faith; and it looks to the time past, present, to come.
1. To the time past. To die in faith is to die in assurance of the forgiveness of sins, when by faith and repentance we have pulled out the sting of sins past. For faith looks upon Christ, and Christ hath taken the sting of death in His own, and death ever since hath been stingless and harmless to His members.
2. For the present. In the present instant of death, to die in faith is to see God reconciled to us in Christ, and with the eye of Stephen, to see Christ ready to receive our souls (Acts 7:59). This is to die in faith; to see ourselves there with our Head, where we shall be ere long. Therefore our flesh rests in hope till the resurrection; because God did not suffer His Holy One to see corruption. This is to die in faith.
3. And for the time to come. To die in faith is by faith to overcome all the horror of death. Faith seeth the faithfulness of God, that God in Christ hath taken these bodies of ours in trust. "I know whom I have believed, and He is able to keep that I have committed to Him" (2 Timothy 1:12). And then for the pangs of death, which nature trembles at, faith considers of them as the pangs of child-birth. Now, what is death but the birth to immortality, the birth of glory? It is a little dark passage to an eternal glorious light. Then for the parting of two friends, soul and body, faith sees that it is but for a while, and then that that parting is a bringing in a better joining; for it brings the soul immediately to her beloved, our Saviour Christ Jesus. And then for friends. Faith sees, indeed, that we shall part with many sweet friends; but faith saith we shall have better friends. We go to God, we go to the souls of perfect men, we go to [an] innumerable company of angels (Hebrews 12:22), we go to a better company a great deal. And for all the employments we have here, that we have below, faith sees that there will be exercise in heaven. We shall praise God with angels and all the blessed and glorious company of heaven. So consider what you will that is bitter and terrible in death, faith conquers it. It sees an end of it, and opposeth to it better things; because, notwithstanding death cuts off many comforts, yet it brings better. And it is the beginning of happiness that shall never end. So, indeed, faith sees that the day of death is better than the day of birth. When we come into misery, it is not so good as when we go out of misery, and enter into happiness. This is to die in faith. This should stir us up, if this be so, to get this grace of faith; above all graces, to get assurance that we are in Christ Jesus, that so we may live with comfort, and end our days with comfort and live for ever happy in the Lord. It is only faith that will master this king of fears — this giant that subdues all the kings of the earth to him. Oh, let us labour, therefore, to get it while we live, and to exercise it while we live, that we may live every day by faith. It is not any faith that we can die by. It must be a faith that we have exercised and tried before. It is a tried, a proved faith, that we must end our days by. For, alas! when death comes, if we have not learned to live by faith before, how can we end our days in faith? Let us all labour for this faith; for though it cannot be said of us that we die rich, or that we die great in the world, perhaps we may die a violent death, as there be divers diseases that lead the body into distempers. It is no matter how we die distempered, and in any estate, so it may be said of us we die in a blessed faith. It is said here, they "all died in faith." He saith not they all died in feeling. A man may die in faith, and yet not die in feeling; and sometimes the strongest faith is with the least feeling of God's love. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises." For God promised them Canaan, and they died many hundred years before. Their posterity came into Canaan. He promised them Christ, and they died long before Christ came. He promised them heaven, and they entered not into heaven till death. So they received not the promises, that is, they received not the things promised; for else they received the promise, but not that that was promised. They received not the type, Canaan, nor the things typified — Christ and heaven. This is added as a commendation of their faith, that though they received not the things that they looked for, yet notwithstanding they had such a strong faith, that they continued to live by faith and died in faith. The promises here are taken for the blessed things promised. This should teach us this lesson, that God's promises are not empty shells; they are real things. And then, whatsoever God promiseth it is not barely propounded to the soul, but in a promise. It is wrapped up in a promise. He gives us not empty promises nor naked things; but He gives us promises of things which we must exercise our faith in, in depending upon Him for the performance of them till we be put in possession. "They received not the promises." He speaks in the plural number, though he mean but one main promise, that is, the Messiah, for all other were types of Him. Believers are called " children of the promise" (Galatians 4:28). Here they are called promises, for the repeating of them. The promise of the same thing it was made oft: there was no new promise. The promise of the same thing it was seven times repeated and renewed to Abraham presently one after another. So they are called promises, to show that the promise can never be too much thought on, though it be the same promise of life everlasting; the same promise of grace and of comfort; the same promise of the resurrection, etc. All the promises of good things to come we cannot think of too oft, nor receive the sacrament, the seal of the promise, too oft. "They received not the promises." They were comforted notwithstanding, that their posterity should receive them. Canaan was a type of Christ and of heaven. I observe this by the way that God doth not reveal all things at all times. God doth leave diverse things to be revealed in diverse ages of the Church. God doth not reveal everything in every time, to comfort all ages of the Church. We see not everything in our times; we must be content. "They saw them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them," etc. This is the order of God's Spirit; first to open the eye to see, and by sight to persuade, and upon persuasion to stir up the heart and affections to embrace; for good things are brought into the soul through the understanding, by the spiritual sight of the understanding, and from that into the will and affections by embracing the things we know. This is God's course daily. Therefore he saith they first saw them, and then were persuaded of them, and then embraced them. "They saw them afar off." By what eye? By the eye of faith. Faith makes things present, though in themselves they be far off. It is the nature of faith to make things that are absent to be present to the believing soul; and it affects the soul somewhat as if it were present. It sees things far off in place. Faith sees things in heaven; it sees Christ there; it sees our place provided for us there; it sees God reconciled there; by it we see ourselves there, because we shall be there ere long. Faith sees all this; it breaks through and looks through all; it hath most piercing beams, the eye of faith. And it works in an instant; it goes to heaven in a moment and sees Christ. And for distance of time, the eye of faith it sees things past and things to come. It sees things past. It sees the creation of the world; it sees the redemption of us by Jesus Christ; it sees our sins there punished in Christ our surety; it sees us crucified with Christ Jesus; it sees all discharged by Him. When we believe Christ was crucified for us and died for us, faith makes it present. And so for the time to come, faith hath an eye that looks afar off. It sees the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Faith sees the general judgment. If sees eternal happiness in heaven; it sees things afar off. It is the evidence of things not seen. What is the reason of it? It makes things not otherwise seen to be seen, and presently seen; it gives a being to things. It is a strange power that faith hath. The Spirit works an eye of faith in the soul, and then it discovers to it the things of God. "They saw them afar off." God created a new eye in the soul, a new sight which they had not by nature; for even as the natural eye cannot see things that are invisible, so the natural man cannot see the things of God, which are seen not by a natural but by a supernatural eye (1 Corinthians 2:10, 11). The eye therefore that must see things afar off, it must be a supernatural eye; and the light that must discover them must be the light of God's truth. For reason cannot see the resurrection of the body, and the life to come, and such glorious things as the Word of God reveals to us. If you ask why this sight of faith is so necessary, this supernatural sight, I answer, nothing can be done in religion without the supernatural eye of the soul; for a man may see heavenly things with a natural eye and be never a whit the better. A man may see the joys of heaven, and think, Oh, these are good things; but yet notwithstanding he doth not see these things with a supernatural eye; he doth not see these things to be holy and gracious, and to be fit for him; he wisheth them with conditions, but not with the altering of his disposition. Our duty, then, is to labour to have our faith clear, to have this eye of faith, to have a strong faith, a strong sight. When is the sight of faith strong? When it is as the faith of these patriarchs was. There are three things that make a strong sight, that make us conceive that the sight of faith is a strong sight.
(1) When the things are far off that we see, then if the eyes see them, it is a strong sight. A weak eye cannot see afar off.
(2) When there are clouds between, though the things be near. Yet when there are clouds between, to break and pierce through them there must be a strong sight.
(3) When there is but a little light. When there are many obstacles in the midst, and to break through all by a little light to see things remote, here is a strong eye; and this was the sight of these blessed men. They had a strong eye.Now to help our sight to heaven, this sight of faith, that we may every day ascend with the eye of our souls with this blessed sight —
1. Let us take heed of the god of this world, Satan, that he do not with the dust of the world dim our sight.
2. And withal desire God to open our eyes every day, to take the scales from the eye of our souls, that we may see the promises, that we may see Christ, that we may see God shining on us in Christ; that He would take away the veil from the things by exposition, that He would open the truth to us by His ministers.
3. Then, again, to help our sight of Christ and happiness, let us get a fresh sight of our corruption and sin every day; let us every day look on the terrifying object of our corruption of nature, hang it in the eye of our souls as an odious object, to humble us. "They were persuaded of them." It was such a sight of the things as was with convincing, with persuasion. And indeed this follows well upon sight, for sight of all other senses persuades best. All the men in the world cannot persuade the weakest man in the world when it is day or night, when the sun shines or it is dark, that it is not so. When he sees it, he will believe his own eyes more than all the world besides. And as it is in sensible things we believe our own eyes, so much more in spiritual things we believe our eyes. When there is a spiritual light of revelation in the word discovering such things, and also to spiritual light a spiritual eye, when the Spirit puts an eye into the soul to see supernatural things that reason cannot attain to, then there is persuasion.Persuasion comes divers ways. There be divers degrees tending to persuasion.
1. The poorest degree of the apprehension of things is conjecture, a guessing that such a thing may be so or otherwise, but I guess it rather to be so.
2. Beyond conjecture there is opinion, when a man thinks it is so, upon more reasons swaying him one way; and yet in opinion there is fear on the contrary, that it may be otherwise.
3. And the third degree beyond opinion is certain knowledge. That is science and knowledge when the mind is persuaded by arguments. But that is not so much here meant, the persuasion by argument.
4. There is another degree then of knowledge, which is by the authority of the speaker, a persuasion from thence. When I know not the thing by the light of the thing so much, because I see the reason of the thing, but because I know such a one saith it, that is the persuasion of faith; when one is persuaded of a thing not so much out of his own knowledge, out of the principles of the thing, setting out the causes of the thing, as out of the credit of the person that speaks. Now, this persuasion riseth out of faith in the authority of the person. We conceive that he is wise, and holy, and able withal; one that we trust. If together with this knowledge and persuasion from the authority, and truth, and goodness, and wisdom of the speaker, there be joined sense and experience, we see it proved; and when there is experience, there is reason why we should believe that he saith, because we have found the thing to be so. Now, both are here meant in some degrees, "they saw the things afar off," both by the authority of the promise, as likewise by their own sight, and some taste they had. For God reserves not all for heaven. God gives His children some taste and feeling, some little joy and comfort, the " first-fruits of the Spirit " here (Romans 8:23). So they were persuaded from the authority of the speaker, and some sense and feeling of the thing in some measure. "And embraced them." They embraced the promises, the good things promised: Christ's coming in the flesh, and Canaan, the type of heaven, and heaven itself. Though they had not these things, yet they embraced what they had, they embraced the promises. That is the nature of faith. If it have not that it looks for, as it hath not till it come to heaven, yet it makes much of that it hath; it embraceth the promises, and in the promises the thing itself promised. Now these things follow one another in a most natural order; for sight brings persuasion, sight and conviction bring strong persuasion, and persuasion breeds embracing. For we embrace that in our affections that we are persuaded of to be good. According to the strength of conviction and persuasion is the strength of the affections. Let us try the truth of our estate by our affections, by our embracing of good things, by opening our hearts to the best things, by our joy and delight in them. Is there a holy wonderment at them? "O how I love Thy law!" (Psalm 119:97); and "One day in Thy courts is better than ten thousand elsewhere" (Psalm 84:10); and "O the depth of His mercies!" (Romans 11:33); and " One thing have I desired of the Lord; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life" (Psalm 27:4). When the soul stands in admiration of God and good things, when it is ready to welcome Christ and heavenly things and the state of religion: now away all former vanities! away all lusts of youth! away all confidence in beauty, and strength, and riches! The soul had seen better things. There is a discovery of better things; and now the respect of all other things falls down in the soul when there is a discovery of better things. Let us therefore labour more and more to have our affections wrought upon. As we are in our affections, we are in religion. It is impossible that a Christian should be spiritually convinced that there are such excellent things belonging to religion, and that he hath his part and portion in them, and not be transformed to a spiritual state and frame of soul, to love and delight in holy things, and to despise that which is contrary. What be the affections whereby the soul embraceth these good things it is persuaded of? The soul embraceth these things in the affections of faith and hope in the first place; for faith is an empty grace in itself; it is carried to somewhat out of itself that it embraceth and layeth hold on; and hope is with faith alway. Together with the work of faith and hope there is a sanctified affection of the embracing soul; there is a love of the things promised, which is embracing, and a love of the means, and likewise joy and delight in them expressed by thankfulness. How shall this be wrought upon the soul? This embracing we see it follows upon persuasion, and persuasion follows seeing: "They saw them far off, and were persuaded of them, and thereupon they embraced them." Therefore let us labour for a clear understanding of Divine things. That which the eye sees, the heart grieves for in ill, and that that the eye sees the heart embraceth in good. And in what measure our eyesight of heavenly things is clearer, and our persuasion stronger, in that measure our embracing is lovely and full of joy and delight. Therefore let us labour to grow in knowledge, that our persuasion may be stronger every day, that our affections will grow, and will be carried to the things discovered. And there is nothing more effectual to commend knowledge to us than this, that it is a means to work a holy and heavenly disposition and temper in us, especially if it be spiritual. And let us meditate upon what we seem to know and are persuaded of. "They confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on earth." These words contain what they were in regard of earthly things; their disposition and carriage to all things besides the promises, to the things below. They were strangers and pilgrims in regard of their condition below. It sets down how they apprehend themselves to be, and how they discovered themselves to the world to be. They were in regard of heaven indeed, heirs of happiness, heirs of a kingdom; in regard of the world and earthly things they were " strangers and pilgrims." And as they were, so they made themselves to be no better than they were. They confessed it. They apprehended themselves to be as they were, and they carried themselves answerable. Their life and course spake as much as their tongues. They confessed both in word and in deed that they were "strangers and pilgrims."
II. IT IS THE DISPOSITION OF HIM THAT HATH TRULY INTEREST IN BETTER THINGS TO BE A STRANGER AND A PILGRIM IN REGARD OF ALL THINGS HERE BELOW. If a man were on the top of a great mountain, he would see the things below to be very little, and the things above would appear greater to him; so when the soul is raised up to see great things, though they be afar off, as these did with the eye of faith, at the same time, his soul looking to things below must needs apprehend them to be little in quantity, as indeed they are. If a man were in body lifted up to heaven, and should look upon the earth, what were the earth but a poor silly point, the whole earth itself, much more a man's own possession; so when the soul is lifted up to heaven by faith — which sets a man in heaven before his time — when it looks from thence to the earth and earthly things, it must of necessity consider them, as they are, to be poor mean things. Therefore this follows, that being persuaded of the promises, that is, of the good things promised in religion in the Word of God, to earthly things they were "strangers and pilgrims."
1. First of all, a stranger is travelling to another country — to join both in one; for the one follows the other. He that is a stranger, that apprehends what he is, and apprehends that he hath a country to go to, he travels towards it.
2. A stranger that is travelling homeward, he is content with his present condition, for he knows he shall have better at home.
3. So he will be patient if he meet with unkind usage: he will not stand quarrelling by the way, and so hinder himself in his journey; he will be patient in the injuries and wrongs in this life. If a prince be misused in another country, he is contented, and thinks with himself, I have a country where I shall be more respected; and therefore he bears it the more willingly. So a Christian is a king, he is an heir; and being a stranger, he shall meet with dogs in this world; as, who do dogs bark at but at strangers?
4. Likewise the knowledge of this that we are strangers and pilgrims, it will make a man not only content and patient, but thankful for any kindness he finds in this world; that God sweetens his pilgrimage on earth somewhat: what a mercy is this! He is thankful for any contentment; he is thankful to the world, to those that do anything for him, that afford him any courtesy here that may help him in his pilgrimage, and make it less troublesome.
5. He that is a stranger, he is glad of any good company. Oh, if he meet with a man of his own country, he is a man alone for him; so it is with a Christian that walks in the way to heaven with him, he is comforted much in it.
6. A stranger, he hath his prime intention home to his country, and what he doth in the way, it is in virtue of his prime intention, though he doth not, in every particular action that he doth, think of it. A traveller when he rides on the way he doth not think of home in every step. Ay, but he doth that that he doth in virtue of his prime intention when he first set out, and calls to remembrance ofttimes as he goes home; he thinks of his journeys.
7. And hence it is that there is another property of a stranger that is going to a place, perhaps he may step out of the way, yet notwithstanding, by virtue of his first intention, he gathers himself homeward again. If he take other matters in hand, he gathers home still, though he go out of his way, in he comes; he considers, this is not my way. So a child of God, sometimes he diverts and turns aside, yet notwithstanding he considers, doth this way lead to Godward, to heavenward? Be these actions Christian actions? Are they the way to heaven? If he see they be not, though he have stepped awry, he comes in again, and is gathering homeward.
8. A- traveller and stranger provides beforehand for all encumbrances. He knows though he meet not with troubles, yet he may, therefore he will be sure to go with weapons, and he will go with that that may sustain him by the way. Religion teacheth a man to gather out of the Word of God comforts beforehand, and munition beforehand, to carry with him. When we travel, and are going on in our journey towards heaven, it is good to consider higher things, it is a good meditation. Therefore to go on a little further.
9. A traveller and stranger is inquisitive of the way, whether he be in the way or out of the way. He asks not at random. That doth not content him, whether he go west, or north, or south, or east: it doth not content him to ask where lies my country, eastward? &c. No; but he will ask the particular towns, and particular turnings, how he may avoid going out of his way, and which is the right way, and he will ask upon every occasion, because he knows if he go but a little out of his way it will be a long time ere he shall recover it, and he will be ashamed to come back again; and the more he goes out of the way, the more trouble it is to come back again. So it is with a Christian, he doth not only desire to know in general, but he desires to have daily direction, what shall I do in such a case of conscience, and in such a case? How shall I overcome such a temptation if I meet with it? And so he is willing to have daily direction how to walk with God day by day, that he go not out of his way in anything.
10. And even as a traveller considers of things by the way as they make to his end, to further his journey or hinder his journey, he looks to heaven as his country that he hopes for, and therefore he doth not tangle himself with any more than may help him home. If they hinder him once, away they go; if they may help him, he takes them. If I find that things, though they be indifferent in themselves, if they trouble me in my way to heaven (it may be they are not so to another, but they are to me), though another can do it, yet I must consider whether I can do it, and find myself enlarged to heaven as at other times. If not, away with it. It is not indifferent to me, because it hinders my journey to heaven.
11. Again, he that accounts himself a stranger here, he doth not value himself by outward things. Faith teacheth a man, when he is an heir of heaven, not to value himself by earthly things. He thinks himself a stranger in his own house, as David did, though he were a king, as I said. Every Christian is a stranger at home. He values not himself by his honours, nor dignity, nor by the things that he hath here; nor he doth not disvalue himself by poverty or disgrace. He knows he is a stranger; he is going home; therefore he values himself by that he hath at home.
12. A traveller in his way must of necessity have refreshings by the way, or else he will fail; therefore sometimes he sings, and sometimes useth other refreshings. Now, what said David? "Thy statutes have been my song in the house of my pilgrimage" (Psalm 114:54); that is, when I want other comforts, they are my song, my joy, my delight. A traveller must needs have comforts that may revive him in his fainting; he must have some pleasant walks for meditation. Let us therefore, when we grow weary, refresh ourselves in walking, in holy meditation.
(R. Sibbes, D. D.)
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.