The Pilgrim Life

A series of articles which examine the calling of true disciples of Jesus Christ. 


Every Christian is a pilgrim. We are all sojourners as our fathers were, a fact little emphasized today and rarely understood. To the degree this truth lives in our consciousness are we Christian and do we share in the anointing of Jesus Christ. 

The church today has destroyed her distinctiveness, mistaken her mission, and traded her true treasure. That last is the root error. In the sixty-second of his ninety-five theses, Martin Luther perceptively and accurately defined the true treasure of the church to be the most holy gospel of the grace and glory of God. Not real estate holdings, not magnificent churches, not elaborate educational institutions, not money in various funds; but the living revelation of the mighty God of salvation! The Bible, the infallible, sacred Scriptures . . . that is the treasure of the church. If that be understood and appreciated, the mission of the church will be seen to be enveloped with that treasure so that the church is thoroughly preoccupied with the Gospel. In and through the various offices, the church will study, develop, defend, and proclaim its message. In all her membership the church will receive that message with gladness, and with whetted appetite will search those Scriptures as one that findeth great spoil. In that way she is a distinctive institution. She is not the handmaid of government social programs, nor a political tool. She is the creation of God in Jesus Christ; she is both the repository and the reflector of the glory and virtues of God! In distinction from all other entities, the church is a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, which is equipped to demonstrate the praises of her Architect and Builder. 

A glance over the present-day church scene does not reveal such a unique creation. Generally, the church is loose from her moorings, has lost sight of the basics, and is not getting her task done. Whether this is the fault of the clergy or the membership is a moot point which we will let aside. Likely both must share in the blame. One reason, however, may be suggested, and that is, the individuals in the Body of Christ have not taken theirpilgrim calling seriously. 

It will be profitable, therefore, to spend some time with the important truth of the pilgrim life. There are especially three reasons for this. First, what does our subject mean as far as our daily calling is concerned? If we are to be more than Sunday-Christians, what is involved with pilgrimage? Increasingly, witness and evangelical outreach is being emphasized as integral to true discipleship. And so it is: but may we again suggest that if a person or a communion of persons is serious about being the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and really wants to witness to the power of divine grace, he must above all else live as a pilgrim! Also, it is well that the stand of our churches on the problem-areas of life be understood by many others. We have a stand, a stand we believe to be Scriptural. We invite you to consider that stand and test it by the Scriptures. Finally, we hope these articles will be instructive not only, but also encouraging unto faithfulness. Being a pilgrim is seldom easy; it involves a calling which leads us through hardship and affliction. More and more, pilgrims need each other. Perhaps the only true ecumenism this world will ever see is the aid and succor that tiny groups of pilgrims give to each other. 

The Scriptural Data 

Our subject is not one that is suspended upon a slender thread in the Scriptures, nor one that can be discovered only in a few passages of the Bible. That would be enough, of course; God only needs to say something once to make it forever true. Yet, if God had spoken but once concerning pilgrimage, we might not be able to understand it, nor see it for the many dimensioned truth that it is. God has wisely revealed it to us in various places and in different connections, so that by bringing together and comparing we may discover the full meaning of the Spirit. We find then in both Testaments a rather wide variety of terms: sojourn, alien, stranger, foreigner, pilgrim, and pilgrimage. Altogether they occur in the Bible, in the sense in which we write, between forty and fifty times. 

The word pilgrim stresses the idea that a person is passing through a land as a wayfarer. For a time he is in a land that is not his, and his abode in that land is affected by that fact. He is on a journey, so that from the moment of his birth until the moment of death he finds himself in a land in which he has no permanent place. The term stranger brings out his actual experience as he goes through his pilgrimage. From his point of view, he feels strange and out of .place; he is not comfortable, and he experiences a certain tension. And from the point of view of those round about him, the non-pilgrims, he is accounted as strange and marked as different. Also inherent in this term is something disturbing and threatening. A certain amount of distrust and skepticism is implied; indeed, the word in the original is related to the word for fear. Alien andforeigner are legal terms involving matters of allegiance and citizenship. The Christian passes through a land in which he does not have citizenship and its rights, and to which he does not give his highest allegiance. His citizenship is in another country, the land towards which he is journeying. This, too, brings about tension. And finally, the word sojourn adds the idea of temporality. He will not have to journey forever, he will not always be a stranger and a pilgrim, but there will come an end to the journey. And when the homeland is reached, the pilgrimage will seem not to have been long. 

From these terms emerges a definite picture of the Christian Pilgrim, in fact, the picture of Abraham, the father of the faithful, is called to mind. The reader is urged to read from the Bible Hebrews eleven, verses nine through fifteen. You will have noticed the striking language: sojourned, strange country, tabernacles or tents, strangers and pilgrims, a better country . . . it’s all brought together in one passage! A little analysis will show two countries, the earth or the present kingdom of this world under the dominion of Satan and under the curse, and the better country, the heavenly Canaan with the New Jerusalem as its capital. While Abraham was on this earth, he did not set down roots nor did, he form entangling alliances, but he and his sons lived as pilgrims in tents. The inhabitants of the land looked at him as an outsider who was not to be trusted. And he viewed the Canaanites as people with whom he might not mix nor inter-marry. He was not ashamed of being a pilgrim either, but he plainly declared and confessed the fact. He let it be clearly understood that he sought another country where he had his citizenship. And when later his sons came into actual possession of Canaan, after their stay in the land of pilgrimage called Egypt, they were given to understand that even Canaan was not the better country, but only a picture of it. Even when Israel dwelled in the land of promise, the land spoke to them of another land. Lastly, this passage makes clear that there was a certain cutting off, rejection and separation involved when Abraham left a land behind him. He was not mindful of it, that is, he did not muse upon it or desire it, or have second thoughts about having left it; if that were true, he might have been tempted to return to Ur. That did not happen, for the power of faith kept his eyes on the destination. He did not look back because the prospect of the heavenly country was so bright! There God would not be ashamed to be called his God, but would welcome him as a son into His covenant house! 

In summary, there are two lands, two kings, two sets of laws and constitutions, two lives: the one mortal and corrupt, the other immortal and glorious.

The Cause of Being a Pilgrim 

Since the above implies a distinction between all men who ever lived, an important question is: why are some pilgrims and not others? Why Abraham and you, but not others in Ur or even today? The apostle Peter, when he penned his First Epistle, addressed pilgrim strangers as we have spoken of them and answers the question concerning origin and cause exhaustively. In I Peter 1:3 he speaks of having been begotten again. He tells the saints they are pilgrims due to regeneration. He couches that truth within a doxology: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Let that anthem be in the forefront as we notice this re-birth. In order to be a pilgrim, in order to live as an Abraham, an individual must undergo an amazing, gracious, transforming experience called in the Scriptures regeneration, or a being born again and from above. Without entering a detailed discussion on the differences between natural and spiritual birth, let it suffice to notice that in regeneration a seed or a principle of the resurrection life of Christ is planted within the heart of a man. In that seed is contained the-potential for all spiritual abilities and powers. Now the point here is that one of the potential abilities given in regeneration, and that will become an actual, usable gift, is spiritual vision. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In distinction from all the blindness that characterizes natural man, the born again pilgrim sees and loves the city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God! The power of regeneration puts him on the pilgrim road, gives him to see glorious vistas of heaven, keeps his face toward the destination unmindful of that which lies behind. For that, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 

That is not the whole answer. If only “some” are regenerated, who belong to that “some”? It ought to be clear that such a matter cannot be determined by a man. All men by reason of their natural birth have been born unto death. Besides, birth and therefore rebirth, lie outside of human initiation and decision. This matter is in the hands of God entirely and safely. He has chosen us out of the world! Peter, in verse two of his first chapter, calls that choice election; in fact, the original places the word elect next to strangers, so that it is clear that election lies behind pilgrimage. How can it be explained that some have been called out of this destruction-bound world? Why are there pilgrims and non-pilgrims, sheep and goats, elect and reprobate, church and world, naturally born and spiritually born? Let it be understood that the answer rests in God. Election is sovereign, eternal, and unconditional. God always purposed that there would be in the midst of the world a little pilgrim band, seeking the heavenly city. God determined who would be pilgrims and who would not. This choice did not revolve about foreseen faith and good works, did not depend upon some pilgrim qualities in man . . . man did not influence God in any way! He chose His pilgrims according to His own good pleasure; If you are one of those, then acknowledge that election is of grace! And again sing: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Election is the fountain of every saving good (Canons 1:9): of regeneration, of our calling out of the kingdom of death, of the vision of faith, of walking hand in hand with Abraham. 

This Distinction Revealed 

Although the specific way in which the pilgrim calling is revealed will be the subject of future articles, we may notice a few things in general at this point. In the first place, because true religion means we keep unspotted from the world, the pilgrim reveals himself antithetically in this life. He is called to live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven as he sojourns in an alien land, to serve God and not Mammon, to be for one thing and againstanother, He is constantly required to make sanctified choices, to view life as an either-or proposition. This will involve him in problems: he is crucified to the world and the world to him. 

Thus secondly, a pilgrim reveals a willingness to suffer at the hands of wicked men. He knows that it has been given to him not only to believe on Jesus Christ, but also to suffer for His sake. He arms himself for this suffering with a tremendous thought: the way of pilgrim suffering leads to glory! That is the way it was for our Lord, and if I follow my Lord in His suffering; I shall follow Him into His glory! And therefore, he sings in the house of his pilgrimage! 

Finally, he has hope. The pilgrim lives each day out of the power of hope. Nations may rise and fall, Readers may come and go, heaven and earth shall pass away, but the object of his hope can never fail. He is certain that Christ shall come to vindicate the pilgrim, and prepare the heavenly Canaan as the everlasting abode. For that he longs with a desire that borders on impatience. He stretches out unto the grace to be revealed in the coming of Christ. He hopes unto the end. 

And when Christ comes, all hope is fulfilled. The Christian’s suffering is replaced with unspeakable glory, instead of being a stranger he is welcomed into covenant fellowship with God in the heavenly mansions, and with the saints of every age he exchanges his tent for a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 

Are you really a pilgrim? Am I? Does that name fit us? Let us be asking that question of ourselves as we continue to examine our pilgrim calling in the months ahead.