“But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16).
When word came to Augustine, the bishop of Hyppo, in the year 410, that Rome had been sacked by barbarians, he grieved. Though he had written and preached vigorously against the decadence that had eaten away at the core of Roman civilization, he grieved that what was good was being swept away also. Her law and order were crumbling, and the world would become subject to the lusts of barbarians. And he grieved because he had friends and relatives living in Rome.
Anxiety and fear swept through his congregation, but he comforted them with Scriptures such as the above, that spoke of our real home. Rome was built by human hands, he said, and so could be torn down by human hands; but there is a city that has not been built by man and can never be destroyed by man. There is “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” where we have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” (Hebrews 11:10, 1 Peter 1:4). Rome was not then, and is not now, “the eternal city.” Likewise, our own country, the United States of America, while we believe it was established by God for our welfare and are grateful for it, will not last forever. It too will pass away. But we as Christians sense that we don’t really belong here anyway, for we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13), longing for our real home.
In the year 430, Augustine and many of his congregation died when the Vandal army besieged Hyppo. The barbarians saw it as a victory; but for the Christians, it was no defeat to be released from their earthly city into their heavenly home. DER