Edited from the sermon preached in Pilgrim Covenant Church on 4 July 1999
(PCC’s first worship service as a gathered congregation)

Christianity is the most ancient religion in the world. It existed since the first man,—Adam,—was created. But the Christians of ancient times spoke of Christ in shadows and types. They worshipped God in external rites and rituals that pointed to Christ. They sacrificed animals in order to show that their sins must be paid for, and that one day the Messiah—the Anointed One—Christ will come and pay for their sins on their behalf. The animals were symbolic of Christ. God has only appointed one way for sinful man to be reconciled to Him—through the only mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. This is why in Genesis chapter 4, we read of God rejecting the worship of Cain (the son of Adam) because he offered fruits of the ground instead of a bloody sacrifice. God has appointed that Christ should be represented by lambs and bulls. Fruits and vegetables represented nothing. Abel’s sacrifice, on the other hand, was accepted because he offered the firstlings of his flock to represent Christ.

But since the time of Cain, men and women in their depravity have sought to worship God according to their own imagination. Most remember that they must sacrifice to God. But many forget that they must offer a bloody sacrifice, so like Cain they offer fruits and vegetables. They have forgotten the reason why they were told to offer a sacrifice. Others remember to offer animals, but they forget that the animals represented Christ. So they imagine that they have to sacrifice because their gods were hungry, or their gods were blood-thirsty. Yet others forget that God is their creator, and so they create idols and bow down and worship them. This is how all the religions of the world came about.

The true form of worship was, however, preserved by God in the nation of Israel in the religion which we know today as Judaism. It was the form of religion spelt out in the Old Testament. The Jews were taught to sacrifice animals to represent Christ who was coming. But by and by many of the Jews also forgot the meaning of their form of worship. And having lost the significance of their rituals, they worshipped God in vain and it degenerated into a form of pagan idolatry. And they began to expect the Messiah to come as political king to restore Israel as a nation. But the faithful Jews knew that the Messiah would come as a suffering servant and as a lamb to the slaughter and that when He comes, they would need to offer no more sacrifices.

Now, the book of Hebrews was written at a time when true Old Testament Judaism was beginning to give way to New Testament Christianity. Christ, the substance of the Old Testament sacrifices had been born. He had lived and He died and He had risen. There was no more need for animal sacrifices. The Old Testament sacrifices were like blurred pictures of Christ,…

…but now Christ has arrived, what more need is there for the blurred pictures? Again the Old Testament sacrifices were like candles showing the way of salvation to the Jews. But now the Sun of righteousness has arisen. What need is there for the candles any more?

But something terrible happened in A.D. 64. The Roman Emperor Nero wanted to rebuild Rome, and tradition has it that he set a third of Rome on fire. When the people began to suspect that it was he who ordered the burning, he needed a scapegoat. There was a group of people readily available to serve that purpose. These were the early New Testament Christians—converts—if you like—from Judaism. These were hated by the Jews who were looking for a political Messiah and were jealous of the ministry of Jesus. These were also hated by the Romans because they refused to worship the emperor and they conducted their worship behind close doors—and rumours had it that they were eating the flesh of Christ and drinking His blood. Nero immediately cast the blame on them. Christianity immediately becamereligio illicita—an illegal religion.

Many Christians died. Some were made to don animal skins and torn apart by wild dogs. Other were covered with tar, impale on stakes and set aflame to illumine Nero’s garden as he engaged in some spectator sports.

Understandably many Jewish Christians were discouraged. They understood that they were the true successors of Old Testament Judaism. But now Judaism was religio licita—a legal religion, whereas Christianity was religio illicita. Many were tempted to return to Judaism. It was for this reason that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written. The author explains to his readers that the New Covenant was far superior to the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant saw Christ in shadows and types. The New Covenant saw Christ coming in the flesh, living and dying and then being exalted to the right hand of the throne of God. And so he warns them that if anyone reverts to Judaism, he would be reverting to a pagan religion—for if anyone denies Christ, the Old Testament sacrifices immediately becomes meaningless for him, and the sacrifices of such a person would be no different from the sacrifices of idolatrous pagans who sacrifice to their hungry and impotent gods. So serious was the sin of reverting to Judaism and Old Testament sacrifices that the author warns in chapters 6 that anyone who does so would have committed the unpardonable sin.

This warning against apostasy was a central theme of the book for the first 10 chapters. This theme is summarised in the last 2 verses of chapter 10:

"Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb 10:38-39).

When we come to chapter 11, however, we see a change in tone. Rather than arguing theologically, the author now demonstrates by example. He shows that all the Old Testament saints were given prominence not because they were strict in their observance of Old Testament rituals, but because of their faith. Faith in what? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The author lists fifteen names from Abel to Abraham to Moses to David. But the person whom he gave the most attention to was the father of the faithfuls.

This morning we would like to highlight two aspects of Abraham’s life of faith by which I hope to shed some light on why we call our church Pilgrim Covenant.

Abraham a Pilgrim

The first aspect is taken from Hebrews 11.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb 11:8).

Abraham originally dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees. God called him from there saying:

"Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen 12:1-3).

Abraham obeyed promptly. He Heleft Ur of the Chaldees with his father Terah, and then for a while settled in Haran until the LORD called him again when Terah died. Then Abraham proceeded to Canaan.

What motivated Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees in the first place?

Some say that he went because he was a merchant, and it was natural that he should travel to seek trade. But that cannot be because Abraham left with his entire family including his flock and his servants. In Genesis 13:2, we read that "Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver and in gold." Why would he want to relocate his entire family and property—especially when he did not know where he was heading for?

Others say that Ur of the Chaldees was a small agricultural community, and there was nothing much for Abraham to lose anyway. But this has proven to be false because archaeology has shown that Ur of the Chaldees was in fact a very prosperous city with ziggurats, massive tombs and three storey houses. Several pieces of exquisite works of art have even been excavated and are on display at the British Museum in London.

Did Abraham make a mistake? Did he think that God was going to lead him to a great city that is more majestic and richer than Ur of the Chaldees? Was Abraham disappointed when he saw Canaan—that it was sparsely populated and backwards in comparison to Ur of the Chaldee? Not at all. For we read in v. 15: "And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned" (Heb 11:15). Abraham and Sarah could have returned to Ur of the Chaldees had they been disappointed with what they saw in Canaan.

What then motivated Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees? We are told in verse 8 that Abraham stepped out of Ur of the Chaldees "by faith." We are told in verse 9 that it was also "by faith" that he persisted to dwell in the strange country—Canaan, dwelling in tabernacles rather than returning to his palace in Ur of the Chaldees. But what was the motivation for Abraham’s faith? Christianity is not a just-do-what-I-say religion. Faith is not blind. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). What did Abraham hope for?

We are not left to guess. The answer is given immediately in the next verse: "FOR",— "Because",—"For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11:10). Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees by faith BECAUSE… He remained in Canaan BECAUSE … he was not looking for an earthly city. He was looking for a "city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." He desired "a better country, that is, an heavenly" (Heb 11:16). What is this heavenly city? No doubt, it refers to heaven. To a spiritual inheritance in heaven. But there is more. The city refers not to heaven merely as a place, but to heaven as where the bride of Christ—the Church—is united with Christ—the head of the Church, the bridegroom—in eternal, ever blessed communion.

We read in Hebrews 12:22-24 about the true believer:

"But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant" (Heb 12:22-24a).

The Greek for the word ‘come’ is in the perfect tense: "But ye HAVE come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." Every genuine believer has come "unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." You have not experienced the glories of heaven and the face to face intimate communion with Christ, but you are already part of that general assembly, part of the heavenly Jerusalem, part of the New Jerusalem that the Apostle John refers to as the bride of Christ in Revelations 20 and 21.

When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, it was not to seek a fortune or to seek fame. It was to seek the heavenly Jerusalem. It was to seek to be a member of the bride of Christ at the marriage of the Lamb. It was in other words to seek Christ. And it was his pursuit of Christ that manifested itself in the attitude described in verse 10: "For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."

It was for his love of Christ that Abraham obeyed the call of God and left Ur of the Chaldees not knowing whither he was going. It did not matter. It mattered only that God is pleased with him. He had the same attitude as the Apostle Paul: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21). His aim in life was Christ, and his hope in life was Christ. And he lived his present life with that hope of ever-blessed union and communion with Christ in view. He lived in preparation of eternal life in heaven. So he did not regret leaving the great city of the Chaldees. So he did not mind dwelling in tents. So he did not, so to speak, drive his stakes too deep. He was seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He was laying up treasures in heaven. He was in the world, but not of the world.

In other words, Abraham was a Pilgrim—passing through this world—heading towards the celestial city to which Christ beckons him—a city which God has prepared for him and for all who hope and trust in Christ.

All of us who, like Abraham, hope and trust in Christ ought to be like Abraham—having a pilgrim attitude as we head towards our eternal home. And so we call ourselves Pilgrims that we may constantly be reminded that we must walk with Christ and eternity in view.

Abraham a Covenant Child

The second aspect of Abraham’s life of faith is hinted in Hebrews 11, but seen clearly in Hebrews 6.

"For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise" (Heb 6:13-15).

The event referred to in this verse is recorded for us in Genesis 15. You remember how Abraham asked God how His promise to bless him could possibly be fulfilled seeing that he was childless. God brought him out to the open and showed him the stars and assured him that as many stars as his eyes could see, that many descendants would he have. Of course, in the Palestinian night sky during the days of Abraham, the stars visible in the sky would have been uncountable. We read that Abraham "believed in the LORD; and [God] counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen 15:6). The Lord then reiterated that he would give the promise land to Abraham. But Abraham needed an assurance. He pleaded: "Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" (Gen 15:8). Then we read:

"And [God] said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away" (Gen 15:9-11).

What was God asking Abraham to do? He was instructing him to prepare to cut a covenant. Today when we make a covenant or contract, we have a stack of paper declaring the agreement, and then both parties would sign on the front page. In those days it was not so simple. In those days covenants were cut rather than made. The Hebrew does not say "make a covenant," but "cut a covenant." The way this is done is to have several animals divided right in the middle and laid on the ground to create a bloody path. Each of the covenanting parties would walk through the path created by the animals. And as they walk through the path they would say something like: "May God deal with me ever so severely if I should fail to keep my promise." The divided animals symbolised what they were calling God to do to them if they should fail to keep their promise. They were calling God to cut them asunder if they fail their oath.

In Genesis 15, God was making a covenant with Abraham. But who passed through the pieces? We read in verse 12 that a deep sleep fell upon Abraham. Then we read in verse 17: "And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces."

Who went through the pieces? Abraham did not! God alone went through the pieces in an amazing pair of theophanies of a smoking furnace and a burning lamp. Does not the smoking furnace or oven remind us of the God the Father, the Giver and Sustainer of life (cf. Mt 6:8-9, 11)? And does not the burning lamp remind us of Christ, the Light of the World (Jn 8:12)? Who passed through the pieces? It was God the Father and God the Son! What is the meaning of this drama, but an enactment and ratification of the unilateral Covenant of Grace?

God declared three significance truths through this event. Firstly, in passing through it Himself only, God declared to Abraham that He alone would ensure that the covenant would be kept. There is no condition on the part of Abraham. The condition in the Covenant of Grace was to be kept by our representative, Christ our Lord. God does not keep His covenant with us because we keep our part of the deal. He keeps His covenant promises and He enables us to fulfil our covenant obligations. Secondly, as the God-Man and the representative of His elect Christ declared that He would take the punishment due to their breaking the stipulations of the covenant upon Himself. He was nailed to the cross for us. Thirdly, as God alone passed through the pieces, He was essentially saying, "I will keep my word. Let me be destroyed if I should fail to keep my promise".

The author of Hebrews is referring to this event in Hebrews 6:

Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us (Heb 6:17-18)

God cannot lie, it is impossible that He does not fulfil His promise. This is guaranteed by the two immutable things represented by the smoking furnace and burning lamp.

But what has this covenant to do with us? Is not the promise in Genesis 15 about land promises? (see v. 7-8, 18-21). What has that to do with us?

Well, I do not intend to go into a discussion about how God’s land promises has already been fulfilled by the time of Solomon, but I do want to show you that God’s promises in this chapter has much to do with us spiritually. Turn first of all to Rom 4. This whole chapter has to do with Abraham’s faith, and in fact brings into focus chapter 15. Look at v. 3 "For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." This clearly is a quotation of Genesis 15:6 "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." Now look at:

"13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression" (Rom 4:13-15).

We see that Paul is not only stressing that Abraham was saved by grace through faith but that the promise was not really to the physical descendants of Abraham (through the law), but to his spiritual descendants (through the righteousness of faith). Another text makes it very clear:

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal 3:16).

Yes, the seed that God refers to in Genesis 12-17 has a reference to Christ. And the descendants of Abraham whom God made the promises and the unilateral covenant with are, in fact all who are elected in Christ and "children of the promise" (Rom 9:8). Historically, these are manifested as believers and elected children of believers. "For the promise is unto you, and to your children" says the Apostle Peter to the early believers at Pentecost.

Yes, the promise that God made with Abraham has to do with us.

You who have fled to Christ for refuge to lay hold of the hope that is set before you, can have the deep assurance that God will receive you because Christ has been punished on your behalf.

And you can also be sure that because God laid down His entire being when He cut the covenant with Abraham that He will preserve you unto the very end and for eternity. He "which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). Yes, in this life we may sin and fall, but we will never finally fall away. But one day, "this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (1Cor 15:53). Then we shall have ever-blessed communion with Christ our Lord, the desire of our hearts, for ever and ever. What a blessed hope!

Also, you can be very sure that because the promise is unto you and to your children that among your children will be found the children of promise. Indeed, I believe that as a general rule, all the children of believing parents who are faithful to their covenant obligations will come to be regenerated early and come gradually to faith and repentance as they grow up in their covenant homes. But you have a covenant obligation to bring up the children that the Lord has given you. As a covenanted person, Abraham not only lived a life of gratitude and obedience, but he ensured that his children observed the stipulations of the covenant. The covenant, after all, was made with him and with his seed after him. So in Genesis 18:19, the Lord declared concerning Abraham:

"For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him" (Gen 18:19).

We who are constituted as a covenant people in the name of Christ can be assured of His blessings, because God is a covenant keeping God. When He looks at us as His covenant people, He looks at us with favour—even though we are not perfect. This is because He views us organically as a branch of Christ the Vine.

It is because of the significance of the covenant that God made with Abraham and with His people that we call ourselves a covenant church.


Abraham was a covenanted pilgrim. For reason of the excellency of the hope set before him, Abraham lived his earthly life as a pilgrim heading towards the celestial city. May all of us present here this morning be like Abraham: a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth. May we who name ourselves Pilgrims be constantly reminded of our heavenly calling and heavenly destination—so that we set our affections on Christ and on things above rather than on things below. And may we also be mindful that we who are the spiritual children of Abraham are the covenant people of God. May we therefore order our lives according to all the Word of our Covenant God that we be distinctly different from the people of the world—for we bear the name of Christ. May our Covenant Lord grant us that we may be faithful to carry out our covenant obligation of obedience to His Word individually, in our families and corporately as a church. May the name of Christ be greatly magnified in this way. Amen.

—JJ Lim