“For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:14)
Another year has passed and gone. Numbers of our readers have experienced some radical changes, both in their circumstances and in their connections; changes which were sudden and unexpected. But they ought not to feel that some strange things has happened to them. Nor should they be cast down because of them; even the changes which the unerring providence of Him who changes not (Mal. 3:6) orders for us, are among the “all things” which work together for the Christian’s good.
“Change and decay in all around I see” says a well-known hymn. But these frequent changes make us fretful. Possibly that needs some qualification, for the natural man is a bundle of contradictions. One of the poets said, “Variety is the spice of life.” In some moods we hanker after change. Monotony palls on one. Contentment is something few enjoy. On the other hand, the flesh loves to take its ease; and anything which disturbs our rest is resented. In a business position or in our place of residence we like to feel anchored, for a while at least. But God constantly reminds us that “here have we no continuing city.”
The editor and his wife thought they had found a congenial church-home, and hope to remain in it till the Lord came for them. But He willed otherwise. Our preaching was too scriptural for some of them. In Arminian “churches” our exposition of the sovereignty of God gave offense; in this Calvinistic “church” our enforcing of the responsibility of man occasioned trouble. The deaconate and about firty per cent. Of the members deny that is the duty of unregenerate sinners to repent and believe unto salvation. Through the Lord and His apostles (see Mark 1:15; 6:12; John 12:36) pressed these upon all, yet His servants to-day must not, because it is contrary to the denominational “Articles of Faith.” We laboured hard to set before them the teachings of Holy Writ on the subject; but in vain. Moreover, their ideas of maintaining discipline were so different from what we believe the Word of God requires that we felt there was only one course open to us: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). We have, therefore, resigned; and (without any pressure from us) about forty per cent of the membership have done likewise.
“Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:13). This is the word God gave us; and we feel it is a timely one for many of His people to-day. We are now outside of all denominationalism. But blessed be the name of our Lord and Saviour, we are “with Him,” and most blessedly is He manifesting Himself to His despised people. To be His “reproach” is an unspeakable privilege and honour. We have endeavoured to organise on Scriptural lines, without any man-made “rules” or “articles of faith;” fully assured that the Scriptures are sufficient to “thoroughly furnish us unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). May the Lord make His way “plain” before all His dear people.
Returning now to our opening text, “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” The connection is clear. In the previous verse the apostle had said “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” Now he advances a reason (“for”) why Christians should willingly submit to the sufferings which faithfulness to and fellowship with Christ necessarily involve. The little sacrifices we may be called upon to make, ought not to unduly distress us. We are but “strangers and pilgrims” here: we have no permanent abode in this world. This is not our rest; our Home is above and its joys will more than compensate us for what we suffer now. In the light of Holy Writ Christians ought not to be surprised at the vicissitudes of life. Let the reader turn to Numbers 33 and note particularly verses 1, 3, 5-11 and onwards. What is written large across that chapter? This: No resting-place in the wilderness. And we are still in the wilderness, and frequently does God remind us of it. All that is earthly is transitory. Only that which is spiritual is permanent.
But why these frequent “changes” which so perturb the flesh? Because we are called unto “the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). This means something more than participating in His life and sharing His peace and joy. It means that we are called to share, in measure, His experiences—enduring the wrath of God, alone excepted. We are called upon to follow a rejected Christ: see John 10:4; Luke 22:28; etc.
What was Christ’s experience in this world? Even as a little Child these was no rest for Him here; His parents had to take Him down into Egypt, to escape the wrath of Herod. Trace the record of His public ministry: He was ever on the move—“Who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). We read in John 4:6, “Jesus therefore being wearied with His Journey.” We too must share this experience. If we are called unto fellowship with Him who had not where to lay His head, should we be surprised if, in our circumstances, we are frequently reminded that “here have we no continuing city”?
Why these frequent changes? Let the reader carefully ponder Deut. 32:11, 12, “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him.” Thus does God still deal with His people. Why? To teach them to use their wings, that they may soar above the earth, and delight themselves in heavenly places. It is written, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2), and because we are so slow to obey, often God “stirs up” our earthly nests!
Notice how it is put in the text. It is not, “Here there is no continuing city,” but “Here have we no continuing city”—as though believers are the only ones of whom this is true. In reality the worldling has here “no continuing city;” and yet he has in his imagination and affections—he sets his heart on temporal things and acts though he will enjoy them always. See Psalm 49:11; 2 Peter 3:4!
“But we seek one to come.” We see a “City,” which is in striking contrast from “the Camp,” which also has no continuance. This “City” which Christians “seek” is the one mentioned in Heb. 10:34; 11:10; 12:28; Rev. 21:2. This City is also contrasted from the cities of the earth. The first “city” mentioned in Scripture is in Gen. 4:17; where is it now? Destroyed long ago by the flood! Where too are Nineveh, Thebes, Babylon? They were strong and stately in their time; but they are no more. Ours is “eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1)!
Why do we “seek” this City? Because it is the Dwelling-place of God. Where He is, His children long to be. The Greek word here for “seek” is very emphatic, signifying an earnest seeking of the heart, as in Matt. 7:7. It is used of the Gentiles who “seek” the things of this world—seek with great determination and ardour. So it is with the true Christian: the more he is nauseated by this world, the more he longs for Heaven. How blessed is the promise, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out” (Rev. 3:12)!
“We seek one to come.” May this be increasingly true of each Christian reader during 1928. The time is short, beloved; “The night is far spent” (Rom. 13:12). Have we not already wasted far too much time in “seeking” the things of earth? “Set your affection on things above” (Col. 3:2). Press forward unto the things “which are before” (Phil. 3:13). Let this be our watchword for the New Year: “we seek one to come” Seek it by faith, with singleness of purpose; seek it in hope, by blessed anticipation, a hope that shall not make ashamed: seek it in love with our hearts set upon it; seek it as strangers and pilgrims on earth, “for they that say (by their actions) such things declare plainly that they seek a Country” (Heb. 11:14). Thus shall we prove ourselves to be, indeed, the children of Abraham (Rom. 4:16), for “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and make is God” (Heb. 11:10).
– Arthur W. Pink