by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
“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 country…” (Heb 11:15,16).
The proof of faith lies in perseverance. The Apostle tells us that if the people of God had wanted to return, frequent opportunities came their way. There was communication kept up between them and the old family house at Padan-Aram. They had news; more than that, there were messages exchanged; servants were sometimes sent. There was also a natural relationship kept up. Did not Rebekah come from there? And Jacob, one of the patriarchs, was driven to go down into the land; but he could not stay there; he was always restless, until at last he stole a march upon Laban and came back to the life which he had chosen—the life that God had commanded him to live—of a pilgrim and stranger in the land of promise.
They could have gone back to their old ways, but they continued to follow the uncomfortable life of wanderers who dwell in tents, who own no plot of land. They were aliens in the country which God had given them by promise.
Now our position is very similar. As many of us as have believed in Christ Jesus have been called out. The very meaning of church is “called out.” By Christ we have been separated. I trust we know what it is to have gone outside the camp, bearing Christ’s reproach. Henceforth in this world we have no true abiding home for our spirits. We are strangers and sojourners, as all our fathers were; dwellers in this wilderness, passing through it to reach the Canaan which is to be the land of our perpetual inheritance.
I. Our Opportunities to Return if We Wish
Indeed, the word “opportunities” is not nearly strong enough. It is a wonder that we have not gone back to the world, and to our own sin. When I think of the strength of divine grace, I do not marvel that saints should persevere, but when I remember the weakness of their nature, it seems a miracle that there should be one Christian in the world a single hour. It is nothing short of Godhead’s utmost stretch of might that preserves a Christian from going back to his old unregenerate condition.
My brethren, we have opportunities daily to return. Some of you work in the midst of ungodly men. You have opportunities to fall into their excess, into their forgetfulness of God, or even into their blasphemies. Oh! have you not often had strong inducements, if it were not for the grace of God, to become as they are? Or if your occupation keeps you alone, yet there is one who is pretty sure to keep us company and to seek our mischief—the destroyer, the tempter. There are snares in company, but there are snares likewise in our loneliness.
Where can we go to escape from these opportunities? If we should mount upon the wings of the wind, could we find a lodge in some vast wilderness where we could be quite clear from all the opportunities to go back to the old sins in which we once indulged? No. The mischief lies in our bones and in our flesh. Ah! who that knows himself does not find strong incentives to return? How often will our imagination paint sin in glowing colors, and though we loathe the sin and loathe ourselves for thinking of it, yet how many a man might say, “Had it not been for divine grace, ‘my feet had almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipped.’”
Opportunities to return, as long as you are in this body, will be with you to the very edge of Jordan. You will meet with temptations when you sit on the banks of the last river, waiting for the summons to cross. It may be that your fiercest temptation may come even then. Oh! Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from it? But while it continues with me I shall find opportunities to return.
Whether you grow rich, or whether you become poor, if you want to go back to sin, to carnality, to a love of the world, a lack of opportunities will never prevent you.
Let me say also that opportunities to return are often furnished by the example of others. Departures from the faith of those whom we highly esteem are, at least while we are young, very severe trials to us. We think that religion cannot be true if such a man is a hypocrite. May grace be given you so that if others play the Judas, instead of leading you to do the same, it may only bind you more fast to your Lord, and make you walk more carefully, lest you also prove a son of perdition.
And oh! what shouts of triumph our old friends would raise if we should go back! May that day never come to you, you young people especially, who have lately put on the Lord Jesus Christ and professed His name, that you should be welcomed back by the world. May you forever forget also your own kindred and your father’s house, so shall the King greatly desire your beauty, for He is your Lord. Worship Him! Separation from the world shall endear you to the Savior, and bring you conscious enjoyment of His presence.
Do you wonder why the Lord makes these opportunities so plentiful? Could He not have kept us from temptation? Certainly He could, but it never was the Master’s intention that we should be hothouse plants. Depend upon it, faith that is never tried is not faith. It must sooner or later be exercised. These opportunities to return are meant to try your faith, and they are sent to prove that you are a volunteer soldier.
By this you shall know whether you are Christ’s or not: if you don’t return when you have opportunity, that shall prove you are His. We see two men going along a road, and a dog is behind them. Now they come to a crossroad. One goes to the right, and other goes to the left. Which man does the dog follow? The one which is his master.
When Christ and the world go together, you cannot tell which a man is following; but when there is a separation, and Christ goes one way, and your interest, your pleasure seems to go the other way, if you can part with the world, and keep with Christ, then you are one of His. So these opportunities to return may serve us a good purpose by trying our faith, and helping us to see whether we are, indeed, the Lord’s or not.
II. ‑We Cannot Go Back Because We Desire Something Better
Notice the text: “But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly.” Perhaps the world satisfied you when you were dead in sin. A dead world may satisfy a dead heart, but ever since you have known something of better things have you ever been contented with the world? Perhaps you have tried to fill your soul with worldly things. But did you not find very soon that there was a thorn in the flesh? Have you not been obliged to say, after you have had all that the world could give you, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”?
If the child of God should get entangled for a while, he is uneasy in it. Abraham’s slips were made when he had left the land and gone down among the Philistines. But he was not easy there; he must come back again. And Jacob, though he had found not one wife but two in Laban’s land, was not content.
No child of God can be. Whatever we may find in this world, there is no paradise this side of heaven. There is enough out there in the farmyard for the hogs, but that is not for the children. There is enough in the world for sinners, but not for saints. They have a nobler life within them, and they desire a better country; their citizenship is in heaven, and they cannot rest anywhere but there. Even when they do not yet enjoy that something better, the desires Divine grace has produced in their hearts become mighty bonds that keep them from returning to what they were.
Dear brethren, cultivate these desires more and more. Let us think of heaven, of Christ, of all the blessings of the covenant, and let us thus keep our desires wide awake. The more they draw us to heaven the more we shall be separated from earth. But I must close with the sweetest part of the text:
III. God Sees Us as We Will Be
“Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city.” Because they are strangers, and because they will not go back to their old abode, God is not ashamed to be called their God. Yet how is it that God bears with such weak, foolish, forgetful ones as His people are? He might well be ashamed to be called their God if He looked upon them as they are. Yet he never is. Jesus Christ, however low His people may sink, and however poor they may be, is not ashamed to call them brethren.
Why? Because He does not judge them by what they are, but by what He has prepared for them. “He hath prepared for them a city.” All you can see in the poor child of God is a hard-working laborer, who is mocked at and despised. But God sees in him a dignity and a glory second only to Himself. You see only his earthly tabernacle; you do not see the twice-born immortal. But God sees His poorest child as he will be in that day when he shall be like Christ. I believe God loves His children for what He means them to be rather than by what they appear to be.
You who are the children of God, don’t wonder if you have discomforts here. If you are what you profess to be, you are strangers. Don’t expect the men of this world to treat you as one of themselves—if they do, be afraid! Don’t expect to find comforts in this world that your flesh would long for. This is our hostel, not our home. We may bear the temporary discomforts of the night, for we are away in the morning. Remember that your greatest joy while you are a pilgrim is your God. Could you find a greater source of consolation? When the creature streams are dry, go to this eternal Fountain, and you will find it ever springing up. Find in your God your true joy.
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About the Author:
C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1891) was the son and grandson of preachers. He was converted at age 15 when he was admonished by a Primitive Methodist layman to “Look to Jesus!” He began preaching at a Baptist chapel in Cambridge the next year, and at age 20 he was called to the New Park Street Church in London. In 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which seated 6,000 persons, was built to accommodate the congregation. Spurgeon was widely acknowledged as “the prince of preachers,” though he himself wished only to be a “John Ploughman,” keeping his hand to the plow and plowing a straight furrow. His books of sermons and devotions are still very much in demand.
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Abridged from a sermon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, on Thursday, July 13th, 1871
This file from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit is provided to ICLnet and the internet community by the Bath Road Baptist Church, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.