There are two things which, of late, have been plaguing my conscience. The first is the calling of the Christian to be a pilgrim and stranger here on this earth; the second is the certainty of death. After thinking about both of them, I came to see that the two are very closely related. For it is only as we fulfill our calling to be pilgrims that we can face death with confidence. So 1 write to you under the theme: Pilgrims and Strangers Even Unto Death. Notice with me three things:
I. Our Calling as Pilgrims
II. The Certainty of Death
III. Our Hope as Pilgrims in The Midst of Death
In I Chronicles 29:15 we read, “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” Psalm 119:54 says, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” We must see, then, that even as the saints of old were called to be pilgrims, so are we.
What is a pilgrim?
First of all, a pilgrim is one on a journey to a specific destination. A pilgrim is not a wanderer. He journeys with an objective in mind. It must also be noted that the intense pilgrim journeys in the hope of arriving at his destination as quickly as possible. He is not one who meanders along the way, wasting his time. He is continually on the move.
The pilgrim travels light, carrying with him only the necessities of life. He allows no overweight to slow and hinder him on his way.
Besides this, we observe that the pilgrim’s abode is a tent. He has no permanent abiding place, and he cannot have because he is continually proceeding on his journey.
As children of God we must see ourselves as pilgrims. As pilgrims we journey with a definite goal in mind. For we look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
We must travel light, carrying with us only the necessities of life. Nothing must hinder us along the way. We must not be distracted by the lusts and pleasures of this world. Nor may its treasures burden us. We must continue on.
Yes, we must continue on. But not in our own strength, for then we are sure to be lost. Letting ourselves be our own guides will certainly end in disaster. But we must take the Word of God for our guide. For it is a lamp upon our feet and light upon our pathway. It alone illumines the way before us and with it all the powers of darkness, which shroud the way, are dispelled.
Our abode is in tents. We have no permanent abiding place. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Note, the apostle calls our earthly abode a tabernacle which is a tent sanctuary.
We must confess, however, that though our abode is in tents, it is exactly our nature to drive those tent stakes as deeply as we can. We don’t want to be continually moving along on our way. We want to stop, for at least a short while, to rest. We want to at least taste a little of this life. We seek to set down roots for ourselves in this world. That which we possess no longer aids us on our journey but hinders us. Our possessions are no longer means to the end of glorifying our God, but are ends in themselves. This is particularly true of us as young people, for it is to us that what the world has to offer is most appealing. To us, to our fleshly desires and carnal ambitions the world is, oh, so attractive. And how often is it that the seductive trickery of the world catches us off our guard or unawares. But this must not be, for then we forsake our calling to be pilgrims and strangers.
Let us now take a look at death. Death is painful. Often death is painful from a physical standpoint. Many are called to bear excruciating pain and terrible suffering before death. Even for those who do not suffer physically, there is the pain of leaving loved ones behind.
As soon as we are born we are launched on a journey ultimately ending in death. For some the journey is short. For others it is long and trying.
To us as young people, death is often something remote, something distant. But wake up, it is not! Death is close at hand, all around us. At any time our Maker may call us to dwell with him, to leave this life which is nothing but a continual death. Are you ready and willing, right now, at this instant, to leave this life behind? Or do the things of this world so have you in their clutches that it is well-nigh impossible to escape their evil grasp? Are you so engrossed in the activity of “living” that life as a Christian has lost all meaning?
May God forbid!
Truly, death is certain, unescapable, experienced by all. We lie in the midst of death; and there is no way out. In spite of the optimistic outlook and predictions of the prophets and leaders of this world, things grow more hopeless as time goes on.
But death is not the final end. For after death is the judgment. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” II Cor. 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Revelation 20:11 and 12 describe the judgment in this way, “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
We see, then, that even as death is unescapable so also is the certainty of judgment.
What is our position as sinners before the righteous judge of Heaven and Earth? Before our God who is a consuming fire; before the righteous and holy king who tolerates no uncleanness and filthiness? We are doomed to hell! For as such we are unworthy servants, rebellious and murderers of His dear Son. But by the power of His grace we are lifted from the caverns of hell to eternal salvation in the blood of Christ. As Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” As the hymn states, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”
You must see yourself as a filthy wretch, unworthy of the least of God’s blessings and unworthy especially of salvation. For it is only in the measure that you see yourself a sinner that you can experience the joy of your salvation.
The connection, therefore, between our being pilgrims and strangers and the certainty of death is this: fulfilling our calling as pilgrims we face death with confidence. Walking in this life as children of God, shunning the evil and clinging to the right, death no longer arouses terror in our souls. The doom of hell is lifted by the Almighty hand of God. Then we see that death is the last portion of our journey as pilgrims; for having passed through death we have arrived at our destination.
Admittedly, the way is filled with obstacles, trials and temptation. But first and foremost, we have the promise of Christ himself that he is continually with us, even unto the end. That for all the onslaughts of the Devil which we face, he will surely provide grace. Besides this we have one another, and, though it is of secondary importance, it must not be overlooked. As pilgrims on the same journey, fulfilling the same calling, we must aid one another. Helping those whom God has placed in ways of want, comforting those in ways of distress, building one another up in the most holy faith. For therein lies the strength of the communion of the saints.
Let us, then, confess with the Heidelberg Catechism that our only comfort in life and in death is that, with body and soul, we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ; and with Paul in Romans 8, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us Thy grace in order that we may walk as pilgrims and strangers in the midst of this evil world. Give us the confidence of salvation in Jesus Christ, that death and the judgment no longer strike terror in our souls but lift us up in the hope of our ultimate glory. Amen.