1935 Synod Convention Essay
Numbers 10:29 may properly begin and head this paper: “We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you; come thou with us, and we will do thee good.”
“The Christian’s Earthly Pilgrimage” is a timely topic, very timely at all times. It is a very comprehensive topic, comprising the whole scope of the Christian’s earthly existence and activity, and touching the very vitals of his temporal and eternal well-being. It is a topic, too, which should be intensely interesting to every Christian, because it bears so closely on his every day life and experiences, stimulates hope and wholesome thoughts, and spurs the heart and mind to pursue the course set before him to a successful ending and blessed eternity.
Let it be stated and understood at the outset that by the Christian is meant, not a nominal Christian, a Christian in name only, but a true believer and follower of Christ crucified. The true believers in Christ are spoken of in Scripture as pilgrims. “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.” Hebr. 11:13. So the Christian rightly sings — “A pilgrim and a stranger, I journey here below.”
By earthly pilgrimage is meant earthly life, or course, a journey, especially a long and weary one, and regarded especially as one leading to a future blessed state. “The days of the years of my pilgrimage” — Gen. 47:9.
The Christian’s earthly pilgrimage has its prototype in the Old Covenant Israel’s pilgrimage from the land of Egypt to the Land of Promise. With that prototype as the background, this paper has been prepared under the following headings:
1. The Beginning. 2. The Way. 3. The Leader. 4. The End.
Everything earthly must have a beginning, without which nothing would be. So the Christian’s earthly pilgrimage must have a beginning.
Firstly and briefly, allow a few words touching the Christian’s original state, that is, before he became a Christian, that his life and condition after he became Christian may stand out all the more clear and cheerful by contrast.
“At that time ye were without Christ (namely as Gentiles), being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without Christ in the world; but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Eph. 2:12–13.
Here the Apostle calls the Christian’s attention to his original state: “Without Christ.” That means, without the saving knowledge of Christ, His grace, mercy, and merits. Without interest in Christ, not a stone built upon Him; not a member of His body; not a branch of Christ, the “true vine”; not living by faith in Him and by Him. Without love to Christ, not prizing Him as the pearl of great prize; not esteeming Him as “the Chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely”; not acquainted with Peter’s feelings when he said, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” Without regard for His authority, — not recognizing His lordship and His laws, living as though there were no Christ; but, without Christ — no hope; without God — an heir of eternal death and doom. The original state of a Christian is a state, indeed, of extreme evil, of unspeakable misery, and of impending peril!
The Christian’s earthly pilgrimage, then, begins in a great deliverance — from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty. So it was with Ancient Israel. The history of Israel is full of analogies of the great facts and events in the Christian life. The journeyings of the Israelites are typical of the Christian’s spiritual pilgrimage.
When Moses and Aaron failed in their first attempt with Pharaoh, and brought increased oppression upon them, Israel looked at their position as dark indeed. For nearly four hundred years they had been in Egypt, and most of that time in bondage under despotic Pharaohs and cruel taskmasters. But the Lord had promised deliverance to Israel, and, in due time, that deliverance had to come, for the Lord makes good His every promise. Now the Lord’s time was there, and He commanded Israel to depart out of Egypt. To accomplish this great deliverance, wonders of God were wrought. By the hand of Moses, He led them in a pillar of fire by night and in a pillar of cloud by day, led them to and led them through the Red Sea, the waters of which became the grave of their pursuing enemies. Thus Israel, by the great might of God, came forth from the darkness and bondage of Egypt a free people. Thus the pilgrimage of Israel began in a great deliverance.
Even so the spiritual pilgrimage of the Christian begins in a great deliverance. As the cloud and the sea became the elements by which the children of Israel were separated unto the Lord as His covenant people, so the cloud and the sea became prototypes of the New Covenant Sacrament of Baptism. God delivered His people, Israel, from the darkness and bondage of Egypt into liberty by means of the cloud and the sea — so the Christian is delivered from the dark Egypt of sin, and the bondage of the foulest despots, into the glorious liberty of the children of God, by the Holy Ghost’s marvelous workings in the soul of man in the waters of Holy Baptism. The bodily deliverance of Israel in the Red Sea is a type of the soul deliverance of the Christian in waters of Holy Baptism.
The Christian, then, begins his earthly pilgrimage with a miraculous deliverance. He begins it also with marvelous prospects and promises. With all that baptism gives, or profits, and with all that Christ’s precious promise comprises: — “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” he sets out upon his spiritual journey.
The cloud and the passage through the sea were evidences to ancient Israel that they were God’s people, and that God would lead them according to His covenant to the promised Canaan. The Covenant of Baptism is evidence to the Christian that he is a child and heir of God, an immovable and indisputable fact; and that whatever his pilgrimage on earth may be, God will most surely lead him according to His promise, and at last usher him into the immediate presence of the Lamb.
Israel was a people walking by faith as to the future. They were journeying to the place of which the Lord had said — “I will give it you.” They had never seen it; no one had ever come from it to tell them of it. So, in faith and hope and love to God, the Christian from his earliest childhood, through blooming youth and mature manhood, to ripe old age, has his eyes placed and fixed on the Land of Promise.
“Making melody in his heart to the Lord,” he daily sings:
“My confidence unshaken stands
Upon His blessed promise,
That none shall pluck us from His hands
Nor any foe o’ercome us.
He will not break
The word He spake.
He will not leave us, nor forsake,
Nor take His Spirit from us.”
In many respects, Christians are very different from one another. There are the rich, the poor, the powerful, the oppressed, the honored, the despised, the strong, the weak, the old, the young; there are some always cheerful and contented, others are continually discontented and downcast. But in one respect, all Christians are alike — they are all travelers, all pilgrims. Life here on earth is the way on which they all travel. Eternity is the end of the way, the destination toward which they are all constantly hastening. The way of the Christian, Holy Writ prescribes as the way of godliness and righteousness. Some of the chief characteristics of the way are — faith, contrition, confession of Christ, self-denial.
The Prospects of the Christian Pilgrim
How the souls of the Israelites must have been stimulated to endure the trials and privations of the desert life through which they passed by the thought of reaching the Land of Promise, Canaan.
Canaan was a land goodly and glorious. Thus saith the Lord (Deut. 8:7–9): “For the Lord Thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.” To this land the Israelites were journeying.
But however bright the prospects of these people, they cannot be compared to those that beckon the Christian. There is a Canaan of brighter heavens, of more sublime riches and blissful delights than any land that heaven’s mighty orb ever shone upon — the eternal habitation of the perfected saints in God’s immediate presence and glory and majesty.
All men are journeying, but many travel on a way that is dreary, and toward a destination that is unspeakably dreadful. The Christian pilgrim journeys to the spiritual Canaan, which is frequently regarded as a type of heaven. He advances not to a material inheritance but to a spiritual inheritance of perfect holiness and love, and peace, and joy. He journeys to an assured destiny, for the words of the Lord to Israel of old apply with equal force and validity in every age! The Lord said, “I will give it you.”
Furthermore, the Christians are not content to travel alone to the land which God has promised to give them, but earnestly invite others to accompany them, as did Moses, the leader of Israel: — “Come thou with us.”
The pious Christian, who enjoys such glorious prospects, who possesses the grace of God himself, and, who believes that they who possess it not, will be lost, surely will make honest effort to save them. He will long, pray, and work for the salvation of others, and the first approach will be the beautiful and kindly invitation: “Come thou with us.”
Immediately succeeding his own spiritual well-being, the Christian will seek that of his own kindred. That principle we find clearly and abundantly taught by our Lord and His apostles. (Mark 5:19; Luke 8:38–39; 24:47; 1 Tim. 5:4). How much do we do in this respect?
Next to the invitation, the Christian will hold out to others the inducement of the invitation: — “We will do thee good.”
The Christian pilgrim can do much good to his fellow-pilgrims by kindly companionship, fraternal sympathy and fellowship. Add to this the benefits of a good example. How great the influence of example! Its power is abundantly exemplified and established on every hand. When it is for good, what a powerful agency to correct and improve imperfections and the wrong, to stimulate and strengthen the doing of good and right. Says Luther in his Church Postil (for Pentecost Wednesday): — “A Christian’s life is a life of bliss and joy. Christ’s kindness to him has leavened his heart with sweetness and love, so that he has pleasure and joy in serving his neighbor; yea, he is even in misery, if he has no one to whom to show kindness. He is gently and humbly disposed toward everybody, and interprets all things for the best where he sees things are not going right.” Last, but not least, the Christian will do good to his fellow pilgrims by frequent and fervent prayers. Luther, again, says of the Christian: — “When his neighbors are lacking in faith, in love, in life, then he prays for them, and he is heartily sorry when anyone gives offense to God or to his neighbor.” Luther knew the power and blessings of prayer, and he made use of this knowledge. It is set forth in the third part of his Catechisms, The Small Catechism and The Large. Luther was indeed a pattern of a praying Christian. He is quoted as having said: — “I have so much to do today, I need three hours for prayer.” One of the greatest boons that can be conferred upon others is no doubt the effectual fervent prayers of the righteous, for the Lord says: — “They avail much.” In the early Christian Church, how eager the Christians were to invite and induce others to come with them. How much do we do in this respect?
The Christians are but pilgrims in the world. “They have here no continuing city, but seek one to come,” — Hebr. 13:14. The city they seek is not to be found on earth; it is the home of the soul in the mansions above, which the Savior has purchased for them with the price of His blood, and prepared for them. (Joh. 14:2.)
The Christian must not set his affection on things of the earth, but on things above (Col. 3:2). He must not allow attractive, crooked by-paths to lure him away from the King’s highway, but carefully follow the directions on the guidepost: — “Keep to the right!” The Bible must be his only guide, lest he err in the way.
The Christians’ earthly pilgrimage is presented to us in the Bible under various figures. Let us consider some of them.
I. The Christian pilgrimage viewed as a service. Jesus Christ is our example as a servant. From the Boy-Christ we have this word: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”, Luke 2:49. He wrought with his own hands as an artisan. This we read of Him: — “Is not this the carpenter?” Mark 6:3. “Behold my servant” is the voice of prophecy (Is. 42:1). “I am among you as he that serveth,” is the declaration of Christ Himself. “He went about doing good.” He is our example. We should follow it. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This means every Christian from the highest to the most humble and lowly station in life. Christian service must not be separated from the common concerns of daily life. A child’s willing help in a household, a girl’s loving ministrations, a boy’s brave Christian endeavors, a domestic’s duties, a workman’s toil, a thrifty man’s business, — any honest occupation in a Christly mind and spirit is turned into a real God-pleasing, Divine service. This is our privilege, that we can make our work, our business, into our Father’s business, and our Father’s business ours. Not to have an occupation, a calling, is contrary to God’s design. Christ’s ordinance is: — “To every man his work,” Mark 13 :34. Talents, fitness, opportunities, regulate individual service. Peter and Paul asked for no higher title, sought no higher honor, than to be accounted: — servants of Jesus Christ. In work, seen or unseen, private or public, the universal obligation cannot be escaped — “Serve the Lord.” Rom. 12:11. Our part as Christians must be to respond cheerfully: — “The Lord our God will we serve and His voice will we obey.”
II. The Christian pilgrimage viewed as a battle. Life is a battle. Physical life is a battle. Men have to conquer the forces of nature, contend with fire, wind, and water, and subdue the earth by tillage, in order to gain the materials necessary to support physical life. Again, it is a battle; for disease strives with health, destructive wars with restoration, depression competes with prosperity.
Many hardships are common to all, but all do not enter nor wage the battle of life with the same advantages. Some are king’s sons and from, or by, birth have the prestige of royalty in their every endeavor. Some have parents of great wealth and have the doors of ease, enjoyment and honorable position thrown open to them. A far larger number seems destined to begin and tread the path of life more among thorns than among roses, and must climb hard to reach a respectable elevation. Some are born even under the shadow of reproach and must fight from life’s beginning their way through prejudice. Disadvantages: — Here, too, the individuals differ greatly in the battle. Some have sickly constitutions making the battle of life a burden to them, while to others it is a comparatively light exercise. Some are blind, maimed, deformed. Some have dissolute parents and uncomfortable homes, are clothed in rags and see only poverty and misery from morning till night and from day to day, have to toil hard for the bare necessities of life, lack the help of education, and have no influential friends to assist them, etc. Yet it is the Lord who fixes a man’s starting point in life and determines man’s every lot. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Prov. 16:7. “For promotion cometh neither from the East nor from the West, nor from the South. But God is the judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” Ps. 75:6–7.
Spiritual life, especially, is a battle. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Evil assumes countless subtle and deceptive forms, so that, to be a “good soldier of Jesus Christ,” the Christian must be ever on the alert, lest he be overcome unawares. “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” 1 Cor. 16:13. In our own strength we are unable to “fight the good fight of faith.” We engage in an unequal battle if we are alone. “Stood we alone in our own might, Our striving would be losing.” (Luther.)
But equipped with the “armor of righteousness” we shall triumph over sin. Cheered on by the Captain of our salvation, we shall defeat the purposes of all our adversaries and win the victory in every field of battle. If we shall succeed in resisting the devil, in struggling against evil, in wrestling with temptations, and finally unite with the victors in singing the warrior’s triumph: — “Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57), this must be our determination: — “I will go in the strength of the Lord God.” Ps. 71:16.
III. The Christian’s pilgrimage viewed as a discipline. Tribulation is not a novelty in the world. It is something God’s people have experienced in every age, and will experience. “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” We know of One who “was made perfect in suffering.” Shall the disciple expect a different career from that of his Lord, or the servant different treatment from that his Master received? “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22.)
Every Christian will say and know it to be true:
“I pass through trials all the way,
With sin and ills contending;
In patience I must bear each day
The Cross of God’s own sending;
Oft in adversity
I know not where to flee;
When storms of woe my soul dismay,
I pass through trials all the way.”
(Lutheran Hymnary — No. 269.)
We cannot enter the kingdom of glory unless we are willing to agonize for an entrance. Of those who are “without fault before the throne,” it is declared that they have passed through a process of discipline: — “These are they which came out of great tribulation.” Rev. 7:14. God corrects and chastens those whom He loves. Scripture bears abundant testimony to the truth of this. David’s testimony, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes,” is a testimony borne by thousands who have come out of God’s beneficial discipline. Under hardships, dark dispensations, heaps of troubles, protracted pain, and wearing suspense, we have the precious promise, “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass, and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Deut. 33:25. Knowing this, and believing it, the Christian will, therefore, confront all that God puts before him, take up the cross, and press forward to the refiner’s fire and the maturing discipline with the settled determination: — “In the strength of the Lord God.”
IV. The Christian pilgrimage is also presented to us in Holy Scripture under the figure of a journey at sea. “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then they are glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.” Ps. 107:30. This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) Matt. 8:23–27.
The ship on the sea has often been employed as a type of the church here on earth, and also as a type of the individual Christian journeying over the laborsome sea of life to the serene haven and peaceful strand of the Promised Land.
No ship weighs anchor and starts out aimlessly over the briny deep. There is a desired, definite haven toward which it sails. No Christian sails life’s sea aimlessly, but with a pre-determined goal or journey-destination. What is the Christian’s goal and desired haven? Whatever other answers to this question, this one must be given: — His desired haven is, — Heaven, the Promised Land. Ask any properly instructed Christian child of a few summers where he wants to go when he dies and the answer will be — “to Heaven.” From infancy the Christian’s heart and mind are turned heavenward, his eyes look toward the Father’s house where the many mansions be. But ere he gains the blessed goal, there is the sea to cross, the storms to encounter, the billows to battle. At times the journey is pleasant, for the sea is calm, frequently so at the beginning of the voyage. This may be a type of life’s first years — childhood. The sky is clear, the sun is shining brightly from the azure blue, there is joy and singing, all seems well. Those are the good days. But life on earth, like the sinful world, is changeable. Ere the sailor knows, the sun is veiled with threatening clouds; the winds from their secret quarters are marshalled into tempestuous service; the sea becomes troubled, turbulent, terrifying — the frothing surges soar mountain high, and toss the imperiled ship as a ball from billow to billow. Now the journey is laborsome, jeopardous, now there is fear and trembling. Those are the evil days — a type, if you please, of the Christian’s struggles in mature manhood. Such is the earthly life of the Christian pilgrim. Man himself is as a ship and the passenger of the same, and life itself is a sea full of perils to both, and the safety of the voyage depends solely and wholly upon: — Who is the pilot? The Christian’s pilot is Christ Jesus. The Christian, then, is in care of One, who is infinitely wise, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Ships without number have been taken by Him over life’s sea. He never had a wreck, never could have one. Fierce storms and savage waves have raged and spent their full fury against the ships He hath piloted, but safely and most surely, they all reached their desired haven.
“Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
Leadership is God’s creation and ordination. Every enterprise of human society to be successful calls for leadership. Every individual human life, pursuing a progressive policy, and coveting a constant success in praise-worthy endeavors, must have a leader.
God appointed Moses as deliverer, mediator, lawgiver and leader for His people, Israel. While His people were groaning in Egypt, God was preparing the deliverance through His appointed leader, Moses. This man of God was well learned in the wisdom of Egypt, well qualified for his high office, by cordial love, meekness, long suffering, disinterestedness, and ever-watchful zeal, a beautiful type of the coming eternally-elected great Leader of God’s people. God put His rod into the hand of Moses. As a servant of the Most High, he led the vast multitude out of the Egyptian captivity.
Not at once did Israel reach the land of promise, but was led thitherward through a toilsome, protracted pilgrimage. Moses was their God-appointed leader and guide, and they knew it, and believed it. But back of all was the eternal Leader — “The living bread which came down from heaven,” of Whom the manna was a figure; and the Rock of Ages, of Whom that rock which gushed forth water in the wilderness was a shadow.
He accompanied and led Israel, though not yet incarnated. Moses called Him who accompanied and led them: — the “Angel of the Lord.” By this same “Angel of the Lord,” eternally elected, God also accompanies and leads His New Covenant, Israel, through the wilderness of the world to the Land of Promise.
Who is this Chosen One? He is designated and described by many blessed names in Holy Scripture — “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace, The Son of God, The Son of Man, The promised Messiah, The Redeemer of the world, Our Substitute, The Author and Finisher of our faith, The Captain of our salvation, Christ, and Jesus,” and a multitude of other blessed appellations.
What an unspeakably great, exalted, sublime leader and guide the Christian has on his earthly pilgrimage! What are his prospects with such a leader? A retrospective view of the pilgrimage of ancient Israel will serve in no mean measure to answer this question; for the leader of God’s people has always been one and the same leader: — The unchanging and unchangeable Christ Jesus, — “The same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” — Hebr. 13:8.
Therefore whoever purposes to follow the people of Israel in their sinful ways, to be unfaithful in special trust, ungrateful for innumerable favors, rebellious against Divine laws to turn unto other gods, and the like, — he will experience that Divine goodness is turned into Divine wrath. Thus the Leader, speaking of the apostasy of Israel after the death of Moses said to him: “Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them.” Deut. 31:17. Divine warning preceded, but was unheeded. As a consequence, multitudes were consumed by affliction. When Israel repented and turned to their God, they saw and experienced that the God of Israel possessed Divine power, and in mercy exercised it on behalf of His people. Triumphs and victories were multiplied unto them.
So it was then, so it is now, and ever will be.
Would a Christian know how it will go with him in the world? His faithful Leader, Christ Jesus, tells him the prospects of His disciples: — Sorrow and joy will alternate. For a little time sorrow, and again for a little time joy. Sorrow, when they feel bereft of Him and His gracious presence, joy, when they rest assured that He is with them. What prospects Christians have in this world with Christ as their leader, He has made abundantly clear by a multitude of unmistakable and faithful declarations. Such are some of them: — “In the world ye shall have tribulation” — John 16:33. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, ye shall be sorrowful,” Joh. 16:20. “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” — Luke 21:17.
“If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” — Joh. 15:20.
But, such also are some of them:
“Your sorrow shall be turned into joy” — Joh. 16:20. “Your joy no man taketh from you” — Joh. 16:22. “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” — Luke 10:20.
Promises. What promises of his Leader does the Christian pilgrim enjoy? These are some of them:
1. He will supply their needs:
“Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure” — Is. 33:16. “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” — Ps. 84:11. In his pilgrimage, then, the Christian will not lack any good thing.
2. He will guide and protect:
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way in which thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye” — Ps. 32:8. “There shall no evil befall, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” — Ps. 91:10–12. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” — Ps. 46:1. (See also John, Chapter 17.)
3. He will accompany and sustain them all the way.
“I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” — Heb. 13:5. “My grace is sufficient for thee” — 2 Cor. 12:9. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be” — Deut. 33:25. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” — Matt. 28:20.
4. He leads them to expect a glorious future.
He calls them to a more glorious heritance than that to which the Israelites attained. Only a faint hope beyond Canaan and the present life, was theirs; but we look for “an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled.” This is assured, for our faith and hope rest in the sure promises of our faithful Leader and unchangeable Lord.
“Jesus, still lead on,
Till our rest be won:
Heavenly Leader, still direct us,
Still support, console, protect us,
Till we safely stand
In our fatherland!”
As the Christian’s earthly pilgrimage, and all earthly things, must have a beginning, there must come a time when they cease to be. So the Christian’s earthly pilgrimage must come to an end.
The pilgrimage of Israel was drawing to a close. We think of them now as encamped for the last time on the plains of Moab. When they strike their tents again, it will be to march toward the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. As we see them in their present position, we regard them as an illustration of the Christian approaching the end of his earthly pilgrimage.
There is an analogy in the following particulars:
I. The Christian as he draws near to the end of his pilgrimage is cheered by delightful prospects. From the present encampment the Israelites could behold the land promised to their fathers. They looked forward to rest from their toils and wanderings. The Christian nearing home anticipates rest from sin and sorrow, from toils and trials, from doubt and dread. Ere long he shall rest from his labors. Ere long he shall enter upon the possession of his inheritance, “incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away.” Ere long he shall enjoy the full realization of precious and long-cherished hopes.
For a long, long time the noblest of the Israelites had been animated by the hope of the possession of Canaan. Now the hope is on the point of fulfillment. So the Christian hopes for freedom from sin, for holiness, for Christ-likeness, for the undimmed vision, and immediate presence of God, joining with the Apostle John in saying: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” I Joh. 3:2. As he nears the end of his pilgrimage, the realization of this precious hope comes into clear and ever clearer view. Now most brilliant and blessed are his prospects.
II. Again, as the Christian draws near to the end of his pilgrimage, he realizes also the great need of preparation for the new state into which he is about to enter.
In the last encampment, the Israelites realized that much preparatory work had to be done before they could advance to the crossing of the Jordan and to the possession of Canaan. This preparatory work is narrated in the last eleven chapters of the Book of Numbers and the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses completed his work as legislator for them, gave them directions as to the conquest and division of the land, and took great pains to guard them against apostasy, to confirm them in their covenant relation to God, and to strengthen their loyalty to Him. Finally came the repetition of the Law in three addresses to the people who had been born in the wilderness, and had not heard the original promulgation of the Law; the appointment of Joshua as his successor; his Song and final blessing. To Joshua was now entrusted the task of settling the people of the Lord in the Land of Promise. How much had to be done in a short time! And so, as the Christian approaches the end of his earthly career, the progress of his preparation for heaven is often manifest and marked. How busy he will be to set his house in order, to prepare for his departure! His increasing meetness for his inheritance may be observed in the beautiful ripening of his character. His life becomes luminous with foregleamings of the great “glory which shall be revealed” in him. Gradually he is “made meet to become a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
III. Finally, the Christian as he draws near to the end of his pilgrimage is still subjected to trials and difficulties.
While encamped in Moab, and before entering the Promised Land, Israel experienced perilous temptations, painful separations, and dreadful difficulties.
Perilous temptations. Israel was subjected to perilous temptations, arising from their association with idolatrous peoples and practices, to which many of them yielded. The Christian, likewise is sorely tempted and tried by the multifarious idolatry of the world, even while having the heavenly Canaan within his view.
Painful separations. Their great liberator and leader, Moses, died there in the land of Moab, and Israel wept for him thirty days. May we not think that other Israelites also were summoned, causing painful separations? So the Christian pilgrim before he ends his earthly course often experiences painful separations. The dear partner of his life, and perhaps several dear children, are summoned home before him, leaving him to finish his pilgrimage alone in weariness and sorrow. The end of the pilgrimage always involves separations, and very often trying ones.
Dreadful difficulties. Jordan had to be crossed before the Israelites could enter Canaan. So the river of death, of which Jordan is a type, must be passed through before the Christian pilgrim gains “the rest in store for the people of God.” To many this is an event of great anxiety and trial, but we can say with David, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Ps. 23.)
May not the prophecy of Zechariah 14:7 — “But, it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light,” refer to the end of the Christian pilgrimage, the eventide of the Christian’s earthly life?
Life’s close has been, and is, to the mind of many a time of great gloom. But such is not its character to the Christian. His heart is fixed on Jesus for salvation, and life’s close to him is viewed as an hour of triumph. Heaven’s eternal day dawns upon the follower of Jesus as the night of life’s end threatens to envelop and engulf his soul.
The Christian’s earthly pilgrimage is a passage ever through danger, but amongst angels; through trials, but with Jesus; through death, but to heaven.
“O sweet and blessed country,
The home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessed country
That eager hearts expect!
Jesus, in mercy bring us
To that dear land of rest;
Who art, with God the Father
And Spirit, ever blest.”