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. THE LONGING WHICH THE GODLY HAVE FOR SOMETHING BETTER THAN THIS WORLD CAN GIVE. Here we may notice first of all the difference in kind between this longing and sinful discontent on the one hand, and the difference between it and the noble aspirations of worldly minds on the other.
1. Discontent is the spirit of self-will, displeased with the ordinances of God, or denying a providence and complaining of its destiny. This temper is insubordinate, for it would remove the disposal of things out of God's hands: it is proud and selfish, for so far from being willing to take an humble place in the universe, it would take the highest, and bend everything to its own arrangements: it is worldly, for the excessive desire of earthly good, which by the nature of the case must be ungratified, gives it birth: it is not only miserable in itself, but the source of new misery, for it leads the soul to look on the dark side of its earthly lot, and to make the most of whatever counteracts the desires. Compare with this discontent the temper of the godly man, as he looks with dissatisfaction upon this world. He is not like the chained beast which howls with rage and bites his chain, nor even like the caged bird that sings as he flies about the walls of his little prison but seizes the first chance to escape: he is rather like the soldier in the garrison, with whom he has often been compared, weary, it may be, with the constant vigilance and the toilsome defence, but stationary until his commander allows him to depart, and giving himself up meanwhile, with energy of will, perhaps with heroic joy, to the defence of the fortress.
2. The feeling of the godly man towards this world, so unlike the spirit of discontent, resembles much more the higher aspirations of mere human nature. There are men who seem to have by nature a high standard of character and attainment, who, if they lived alone and were uneducated, would have a certain dignity about them which is not allotted to all. These men are not made to be worldlings; the toils of covetousness, the intrigues of ambition they despise. Now these men have this resemblance to the godly who are our true pilgrims, that they are at a wide remove from earthly-mindedness in its worst sense, that they never reach the goal of their choice, and that thus they gather a dissatisfaction, often a very great dissatisfaction, with themselves and the world., But they differ from them in this; that they have not surrendered their native self-will, and that their standard, however lofty, is not spiritual.
II. The text leads us to remark in the second place THAT THE GODLY HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO RETURN TO THEIR FORMER STATE AND MAKE THIS "WORLD AGAIN THEIR PORTION. By not doing this they show that they seek a heavenly country. The confessions which proceed from their lips and lives prove that the world has not yet satisfied them. But if their earthly desires are not controlled by heavenly principles, they have abundant facilities for making new experiments upon the world. They can immerse themselves it again, as they did in their days of thoughtlessness. The world is ready to welcome them back, for it does not relish the silent reproofs which a non-conformist to its rules utters, as he withdraws from it. But he with opened eye is seeking for a better country, that is a heavenly. It is not the extent of his dissatisfaction with the world, or the strength of his resolution, or the force of circumstances, or a peculiar nature which leads him on in his chosen course, but the conviction that there is a better country to which he can attain. And it is better not simply because it promises a greater amount of good, or more lasting good such as the earth gives for a few years, but because it lays before his hopes another kind of good, as different from earthly as possible. This difference between spiritual and temporal good was always a reality of infinite importance, but he could not perceive it until his eye was opened and his affections transferred. Since that great revolution in his character, weak and tempted and often vacillating as he has been, he has resisted the invitations of the world to return to his old plan of life, because his desires are fastened on a new object, on the heavenly inheritance, which comprises all that is holy and truly blessed.
III. Owing to these heavenly desires, to this spiritual mind of the Christian, GOD IS NOT ASHAMED TO BE CALLED HIS GOD. As his God and Protector, God takes care of his interests by preparing for him a city. The man of God dwells in a tent or tabernacle in this world, and not only wants no city here, but feels that he can find none. Still his nature longs for something abiding. Death, decay, change, uncertainty are alien from his nature, they run counter to the longing for immortality which is within him. Such an abidingplace God, his God, hath provided for him. It is a permanent home. Again it is a city which is prepared for the godly man, in distinction from a lonely tent among strangers. So that his feeling of being by himself away from his best friends will have an end. As the traveller in the East passes from the bazaars and thronged streets of some capital, to the border of the wilderness, where the Bedouin is encamped for a season, he finds a new sort of people, who have no turn for city life, who are retired from the haunts of men, and when nearest to cities feel wholly estranged from them. Something so do godly men feel amid all the ties and joys of this world. Its spirit is unlike theirs. They have no home-feeling in its neighbourhood; they have, while they live closest to it, an unsatisfied sense of absence from something most akin to them, a sense of emptiness for which hope alone furnishes a relief. The city which God, their God, hath prepared for them fills up this want. There they are to be among friends, in whom they can fully confide — with God, Christ, and the redeemed — there they will no more have that sense of loneliness which saddened them in their night-wanderings through this world.
(T. D. Woolsey.)
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.