Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
As God’s people, we are pilgrims and strangers here on this earth. This world is not our permanent home. We are here for just a short time. Each of us is traveling through this world and life with a view to reaching our eternal destination in heaven. And once we arrive there we will say: “Now I’m no longer a stranger. Finally I’m home!”
Consider Abraham. Abraham was called by God to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees and to live in Canaan. In that new land, he lived among a people who worshiped and served other gods. He was obviously a spiritual stranger among them. But that was not all. Abraham and his family were instructed by God to live in tents. They could not and did not build a permanent home. They did not establish and build towns and cities. In fact, they did not even set up their tents in one place and remain there. Repeatedly Abraham and his family uprooted themselves and moved to different locations. This served as a constant reminder to them of what they were. They were pilgrims. They were simply traveling through this life with a view to reaching their eternal home in heaven.
All of this is summarized beautifully in these words: “By faith Abraham…sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles [i.e., tents] with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:8-10).
What was true of Abraham, and what was made clear to him in a very concrete way, is true of all God’s people. This earth is not our home. We live this short and trouble-filled life with a view to reaching our eternal destination in glory.
These truths are very clearly set forth in the book of I Peter. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Peter explains that the people of God are pilgrims on this earth. And he writes his epistle from that perspective, keeping in view throughout the book that we are “strangers” (I Peter 1:1) who are “sojourning here” (I Peter 1:17). And the instruction and admonitions he gives are always with that in mind, as is evident from these words: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims…” (I Peter 2:11).
Why are God’s people pilgrims on this earth? Peter answers that question in the opening part of his letter. This is the case, not because of men, but because of God and His decree of election. We are pilgrims because we are God’s elect. God, in choosing us eternally in Christ, has chosen us to be those who will live forever in heaven. The decree of election, therefore, means that heaven, and not earth, is our home.
That sets us apart from the ungodly. To them, this earth is home. They were not chosen by God. And because they were not chosen, they have not been given and will never have the new life of heaven in their hearts. Thus they do not consider or desire anything else but this earthly life. They feel at home here below. They are comfortable in this world with all its sinful deeds and evil pleasures. They are satisfied with this life and want it to last forever.
The children of God, however, desire heaven. We have been chosen unto life eternal in glory. We have been regenerated by the Spirit so that we know and believe we are the children of God. We do not feel at home on earth. We realize that our home is that house of many mansions that Christ is preparing in glory; that city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Our home is the heavenly inheritance that God has reserved for those who love Him. Our home is the place that is incorruptible, and undefiled, and never fades away; a home whose glory will never diminish, and whose splendor will never grow dim. We and God will dwell together in heavenly perfection, and that for ever and ever.Because all this is true, there is especially one thing that characterizes those who are pilgrims: Hope!
The hope of the pilgrim is biblical hope. Biblical hope is not a mere wish, as is the case when we use the word in our day-to-day talk. Biblical hope is absolutely certain. The pilgrim is absolutely sure of that for which he hopes. There are no doubts or questions. As pilgrims, we are certain that when our journey ends here on earth we will go immediately into heaven. Why are we sure? Because the object of our hope is not dependent on us, but is the sovereign work of almighty God.
Another aspect of the pilgrim’s hope is longing. We are eager for the object of our hope to arrive. We cannot wait for the end of time and for the return of Christ to come so that we might receive the full joys of eternal glory. Our longing is great, for the blessedness of heaven that awaits us is so desirable. There is nothing better. There is nothing on earth that can compare.
On earth we struggle continually with our sin and have to live with its terrible consequences. But in heaven that will all be over. No more sin, and no more of its terrible effects. On earth we face opposition from the ungodly. For some of God’s people this persecution is so grievous that it makes their earthly lives unbearable. But in heaven that will all be over. We will be freed from the hatred of the wicked and the assaults of the devil. On earth we experience many trials and hardships. Our afflictions are numerous and constant. This places a great burden on our souls. But in heaven that will all be over. Every tear and sorrow and distress will be wiped away. In light of all this blessedness, the faithful pilgrim longs earnestly for the day when he will arrive in his eternal home.
This hope comes to expression in the life of the pilgrim. It is the driving force in all that we think and say and do on earth. It explains why we are very different from the world around us. As pilgrims, we live an antithetical life, one that is completely distinct from that of the ungodly. We speak a different language. We have different interests. We do different things. We have a different focus and purpose in life. All of this is true of us because we realize we are not here on earth for the sake of this earthly life itself, but are merely traveling through to reach our eternal home in heaven.
Because we still have the old nature with us, we all fail to long, as we ought, for our eternal home. Therefore God must frequently (if not continually) strengthen our longing.
He does this in various ways. He sends troubles. He makes us suffer sickness and pain. He takes away loved ones in death, so that we experience deep loneliness. He causes an economic downturn, thus making us struggle to find work and to support ourselves and our families. He causes us to lose all our savings. He destroys or takes from us our earthly possessions. He makes the world unstable by sending war, disease, and natural catastrophes. He sees to it that our freedoms as Christians are denied us.
All of this is done, however, in His mercy and love. By means of the things He sends, God uproots us from our earthly-mindedness. He stops us from pounding our tent stakes too deeply and too firmly in the ground. He makes us lift our eyes heavenward and pray, more earnestly than ever, that our Savior might come quickly to take us home. He makes us mindful of how desirable heaven is in comparison to earthly life, and causes us to long all the more for its arrival. Thus the pilgrim’s hope is strengthened.
What a blessing it is to have this hope as pilgrims. In the midst of a hopeless and despairing world, which can only face eternity with dread, we as pilgrims have something most wonderful to long for. May our daily prayer be, “Come, Lord Jesus!”