George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Tent and the City
By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations--Heb 11:9-10
The Unfaltering Faith of Abraham
In this great chapter, the roll call of the heroes, Abraham occupies a very honorable place. His life was so pre-eminently one of faith in God that in this muster of the faithful that was inevitable. There have been men who in some great hour of life or death have risen to a sublime heroism of trust. There have been others whose faith has been most notable in the quiet tenor of uneventful days. But the faith of Abraham did not fail nor falter when he was commanded to sacrifice his son; it rarely deserted him in the days which had no history as he rose and toiled and slumbered in his tent; and it is this inclusiveness--this reach from the least to the greatest--which makes the faith of Abraham unique. Never forget that the faith which we profess should dominate us as Abraham was dominated. That man is not to be reckoned a religious man whose religion is seen only in a few shining hours. Like the glow of health which spreads through a man's whole being, it must show itself in every deed and every day. The temple may manifest it, but so must the tent.
The Tent and the City
Abraham, then, was a dweller in a tent: that fact had made a deep impression on the writer, and immediately he tells us the secret of that tent-life--he looked for a city whose builder and maker is God. The tent and the city, then: that is my theme. What thought does that sharp antithesis suggest? I shall group what I wish to say under these heads. First, it is the tent which makes the city precious. Second, it is the city which explains the tent.
The Tent Makes the City Precious
First, then, it is the tent which makes the city precious. We see at a glance that it was so with Abraham. It was the very insecurity of that tent-life, the isolation of it and its thousand perils, that made the dream of a city so infinitely sweet. Had Abraham spent ail his days within strong wails he would never have known the power of that ideal. Mingling with other men in crowded thoroughfares and sharing in the security of numbers, life would have been too rich, too full, too safe, to leave any place or power for this vision. But life in the tent left room and verge enough. What could be frailer than that covering of skin which shook and flapped at every wandering breeze? How it strained when the blast from the hills swept down on it! How the lashing rain in the dark night would soak it! It is in such surroundings, perilous, lonely, comfortless, that men begin to dream about a city. That is the meaning of God's treatment of Abraham. That is why God housed him in a tent. It was not to harden him nor yet to crush his pride; it was to waken him to the worth of the ideal. It took the tent so fragile and unstable, so lightly rooted, so easily overswept, to make God's promise and prospect of a city a very precious thing to Abraham.
I cannot help but think that as God dealt with Abraham, so does He deal in providence with us all. There is a flood of light poured on life's darker aspects for me when I remember the city and the tent. After all, the important thing is not what we live in; the supremely important thing is what we look for. It is not my actual achievement which is vital; it is the purpose, the aim, the direction of my life. If life is to be redeemed from sense and time and brought under the powers that are eternal, the eyes must be opened somehow to God's city. And how shall I open them? says the Almighty. How shall I make the unseen city precious? The answer to that lies in the tent of Abraham--so insecure, so perilous and so frail. From which I learn that much of life's harder discipline, and many a dark hour that men are called to, is given to humanity by Abraham's God that hearts may begin to hunger for the city.
For example think of sickness in that light. Is it not often the tent that makes the city precious? A man must be freely endowed and finely strung if perfect health does not dull his vision a little. When morning by morning through unbroken years a man has no pain, no sufferings, no frailty--it is strange if there are not some stars across the sky to which the perpetual sunshine does not blind him. But sooner or later to most men there comes sickness; they are sent out like Abraham into the lonely tent. They waken at night to feel their insecurity: another blast and the tent may be in ruins. And who does not know when such hours have come and gone how the eyes have been opened to a thousand things? Springtime is sweeter and the joys of each day; there is not a bird in the tree that does not sing with richer music. Home is more precious, and the play of children, and the love we leaned on far too little once. There is not a promise of God that does not have new meaning; there is not a prayer that is not somehow more real. We did not want that tent-life of the sickroom: we did not choose it; it seemed an interruption. We thought it hard that in the midst of activity should come "the blind fury with the abhorred shears." But for us as for Abraham, it was purposed after ail; and somehow the tent has made the city precious.
In the same light also we may look on death. For we must never forget that death is more than a tragedy. It is shrouded in unutterable loss, yet in the midst of the loss God has implanted gain. There is nothing in the world so cruel as death, nothing so pitiless or so remorseless. It fills the heart with a loneliness far deeper than that of the solitary tent of Abraham. Yet how many homes have been purified by death! How many hearts that once were utterly worldly have been taught to think of heaven through bereavement! There are some things that are never seen so clearly as when they are seen through the sad veil of tears. Death has made tender every human tie; death has made possible the sweetest memories; like the darkened glass through which we can look at the sun, the shadow of death has given us the power of vision. It is impossible to say how self-centered we had been, how selfish, how blind to the unseen and eternal, had the world never known the mystery of death. It is the tent, then, which has made the city precious. It is the frailty, the insecurity, the loneliness that have turned men's hearts to the abiding things. Like Abraham we are led out to a strange land with only a few frail cords to hold our dwellings until the city of God, deep-founded and eternal, never to be shaken and never overthrown, becomes infinitely attractive to the heart.
Nor can I leave this subject without pointing out to you how it bears evangelically upon the fact of sin. Many a man is brought to see his need of Christ by the same experience as was vouchsafed to Abraham. God has a hundred ways of making Christ Jesus precious. The avenues to the feet of the Savior are innumerable. There is nothing more dangerous than to teach that in coming to Christ all men must have the same uniform experience. Often it is to all that is best in us that Christ appeals; it is on our highest and best side that Christ approaches: we look for a Savior and we recognize Him because we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. But often --remember--it is the very opposite; it is not our best but our worst that makes the Savior precious. God leads us to Christ not by our brightest hopes, but by deepening in our hearts the sense of sin. Never did David so feel his need of God as when he cried, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned." Convicted of his guilt and conscious of his wickedness, God in that hour became most precious. And so in us when the old satisfaction goes, when we feel our unworthiness and when we cry "Unclean, unclean "--in that very moment are we ready to see Christ as infinitely fairer than we ever dreamed. We are made lonely that we may need His fellowship. We are shown our helplessness that we may see His power. We are taught by the Spirit of God how worthless is our righteousness that our eyes may be opened to the righteousness of Christ. Like Abraham, we are made to dwell in tents--ragged, unsightly, insecure, and lonely--but it is the tent which makes the city precious.
The City Explains the Tent
But I pass on now, and in the second place: it is the city which explains the tent. We could never have understood the life of Abraham, never have rightly appreciated his behavior, if the Bible had not told us-the hope that was in his heart--he looked for a city whose builder and maker is God. Abraham was a very wealthy man and there was nothing to prevent him building a home in Canaan. Had he raised a palace for himself there and had he fortified it, it would have seemed a perfectly natural thing to do. He had been bred in the country of Chaldaea where walls were mighty and castles were magnificent; towers, fortresses, buttresses, castellations--on such things had he feasted his boyish eyes. Doubtless he hoped as many a boy has done for the day when he should build a castle for himself. But the day comes when he is free to do it, and yet never one stone is laid upon another. He is rich and powerful, let him build his fortress now. But he doesn't give it a thought; he dwells in tents. And you will never understand that tent, never know why Abraham chose it, until you are told the secret of his heart. Others might dwell in tents because they were lazy. Others might dwell in tents because they were misers. Others might dwell in tents because they were restless and had the spirit of wandering in their blood. But the conduct of Abraham is not to be explained so: it is his vision which interprets it. You learn the secret of the tent when you remember that he looked for a city whose builder and maker is God.
Now doesn't this suggest to us a caution when we are tempted to be rash in judgment? I am amazed at the rash and foolish way in which we pass judgments on each other. Of our brother's hidden life we know so little, of the ideals that are haunting him we are so ignorant--yet we look at the tent he lives in and we judge him by it as if we could read the meaning of the thing. But you may depend upon it that you will never know a man until you know the hopes which animate him. You may think that the tent proclaims the man a sluggard, but in the sight of God it may seal him as a saint. And it is because we are ignorant of the secret of our brother and of all that is stirring and calling in his heart that so often we judge him falsely.
Here for example is a young man with what we call a strong artistic temperament. And nothing will satisfy him but to be an artist; by night and by day he dreams of little else. Everyone tries to dissuade him from that calling: it is painted to him in the blackest colors; he is warned of the disappointment he will meet with; but it is all useless, he will not give it up. Then come long years of hardship--perhaps starvation--and men smile at him and say, "What a fool he was! If he had only become a partner in his father's business, how very comfortable he might have been!" But the heaven-born artist is looking for a city, he is haunted by the vision of ideal beauty: the world is a palace to him, it is full of joy, he can see all the stars from the door of his poor tent. Men pity him and count up what he has forfeited, but he is a thousand times richer than the men who pity him. They cannot understand why he is radiant, for it takes the city to explain the tent.
Or here is a young woman who instead of living idly, resolves to be of some service while she can. She has been eating her heart out with having nothing to do, but now she has been awakened by the grace of God. Once the puzzle was how to kill time; now the problem is how to expand it. There is so much to do, so many lives to help, so many services of all kinds to render. Deliberately she forsakes much that was sweet, dwelling in tabernacles with the heirs of the same promise. She is often weary visiting the poor for life is a sterner thing than she had dreamed. And her old friends, perhaps her own sisters and brothers, cannot understand this change at all. But her eyes have been opened--that is the reason--she is looking for a city that hath foundations now. She has felt the constraining power of the love of Christ. That has become her secret and her song. It is the Spirit of Jesus, welcomed to her heart, which interprets the lowly service of the life. It takes the city to explain the tent.
Brethren and sisters, it makes all the difference in the world what you and I are looking for. It is by what our hearts are set on and by what our thoughts are given to that the tent we dwell in is glorified or cursed. In the roomiest mansion a man may still be miserable if there is nothing but that dwelling in his heart. In the poorest tent a man may still be happy if he looks for a city where is the love of God. I earnestly entreat of you to look to God, to fix your gaze on the Lord Jesus Christ, to lift up your hearts to Him continually, to say, "O Lamb of God, I come." That was the secret of the peace of Abraham. That will make any tent become a temple. We can do much, bear more, and be amazingly happy when our life is hid with Christ in God.
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