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Now the Lord had said unto Abram, get thee out of thy country
His obeying the call and command of God, wherein four circumstances are very remarkable.
1. The time when it was when God called.
2. The place from whence God called him.
3. The country whither he was called.
4. The reason or end why he was thus said unto by the great God.
I. First of the first, to wit, THE TIME WHEN ABRAHAM WAS CALLED. It was while he lived in Ur of the Chaldees; for Abraham lived with his father Terah in that place, and in Haran, or Charan, a city of Mesopotamia, till he was seventy-five years old (Genesis 12:4, and Acts 7:2-4). There and then did the God of glory appear to Abraham (Genesis 11:28). This that blessed pro-martyr Stephen (being filled with the Holy Ghost) intimateth, to convince those superstitious and bloodthirsty Jews (who conceited that religion was confined to Canaan or Jerusalem) that Abraham had the true religion even in Chaldea and in Charan, before ever he saw Canaan or received circumcision, or before any ceremonies were appointed by the ministry of Moses, and before there was either tabernacle or temple. When Abraham dwelt with his father on the other side of Euphrates, and served idols (Joshua 24:2), even then did God call him out of his country, making him to follow His call to obedience, not knowing whither he went (Hebrews 11:8), no, nor much caring, so long as he had God by the Hand, or might follow Him as his Guide step by step. By faith Abraham when called obeyed (Hebrews 11:8). The Greek word imports reverence and obedience. He did not stop his ear to this great Charmer (Psalms 58:4-5), but he listened and hearkened to God’s call with an awful respect. Thus Abraham did not dispute, but dispatch God’s command; but immediately departed without solicitation or carnal reasonings against it (Genesis 12:4). His inner and outer man were relatives; so it should be with us.
II. The second circumstance is THE PLACE FROM WHENCE, which is two fold.
(1) Parents ought not to hinder their children from good and from obedience to God. Here Terah, the old father, did not rebuke Abraham his son for being too full of fancy, nor charged him (upon his blessing) to abide in his native country, and not to be so fantastical as to follow so fond a call that told him not of the place whither he was to go; he did not say to his son, Wilt thou leave a certainty for an uncertainty, or wilt thou be wiser than all thy forefathers? etc. Let parents learn from hence to further, and not to hinder, their children in the good ways of God; honour is the reward of the former, but dishonour (if no more) of the latter.
(2) Man’s heart needeth many pulls from God’s hand before man can complete his obedience to God. Here God gives Abraham two calls or pulls before he pulled him to the Land of Promise. The first pull bringeth him only from Ur to Haran; there he settleth, and gathereth much goods Genesis 12:5).
(3) All carnal respects must be subject to the spiritual, and all carnal relations must be bewailed (Deuteronomy 21:11-12), yes, and relinquished (Psalms 45:10).
(4) Divine vocation and adoption floweth wholly and solely from free grace. Nimrod’s Church (as one saith) had almost swallowed up Abraham, while he was young, serving other gods as well as Nabor and Terah, who (as some Rabbins say) got his living by making and selling of images. Yet out of this root so idolatrous, both on father and mother’s side, the whole stock of Israel sprang, to be an adopted people to God. Even Abraham, as well as the rest, until God called him to His foot (Isaiah 41:2) from the feet of idols, and from this bell of Babel, were he born at that time. This doth most highly advance the greatness of the free grace of God, thus to call whom He will (Mark 3:13), and to have mercy on whom He will Romans 9:15-16). God found even Abraham himself ungodly Romans 4:2; Romans 4:5); but He did not leave him so. God must make us good, or He will never find us so.
III. THE PLACE WHITHER ABRAHAM WAS CALLED. This was not named. God did not tell it him in his ear, yet showed it him to his eye (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14).
1. Wherever Abraham was, his chief care was to be going on still toward the south (Genesis 12:9), as towards the sun. So should all the children of Abraham travel towards the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2), setting forth early as morning seekers (Proverbs 8:17), and making progress in grace (2 Peter 3:18), as from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
2. His first care in all places where he came was to build an altar to his God; and so it should be ours. We are a kingdom of priests (1Pe Revelation 1:6), and we have an altar (Hebrews 13:10), which is Christ, who sanctifies the sacrifice (Matthew 23:19); we should build this altar in our hearts Ezekiel 36:26).
3. Abraham built his altars, although the Canaanites were then n the land; and it is a wonder they did not stone him for so doing, which certainly they would have done had not God restrained them. Thus ought all the spiritual seed of Abraham to shine as lamps in the midst of a crooked and cursed generation (Philippians 2:15; Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12), holding forth the word of life. We should set up our altars in sight and despite of idolaters, as Abraham, and call them Jehovah nissi, the Lord is my banner, as Moses did (Exodus 17:15).
4. Abraham was the first man who had God most familiarly appearing to him; and the sight of the Canaanite did not so much discourage him as the sight of his God did encourage him (1 Samuel 30:6).
5. We should look upon our all with a pilgrim’s eye, and use our all with a pilgrim’s mind. It was a mighty work of Abraham’s faith to behave himself as a stranger on earth, because he knew himself a citizen of heaven Hebrews 11:9-10, etc.); so we (Ephesians 2:19-20).
IV. THE END WHY GOD CALLED ABRAHAM. It was only to take possession of Canaan, not to enjoy it as a present inheritance; for we find that he was famished twice out of this good Land of Promise. First into Egypt Genesis 12:10); and, secondly, into Gerar, the Philistine’s country Genesis 20:1). Yet did he ever make Canaan his retreating place, sojourning in it for a hundred years--the remnant of his life. From which learn--
1. The most fruitful land may be made barren for the wickedness of those that dwell in it (Psalm evil. 34). God can famish our Canaan to us Zephaniah 2:11).
2. Suppose we be forced into Egypt or Philistia, to seek for that we cannot find in a famished land of promise; yet this is our best retreating place when God heals our backslidings (Hosea 14:4). Alas! we are over-apt to slip out of the land of promise, as Adam was out of paradise, and Abraham out of Canaan; but the Lord keeps the feet of His saints (1 Samuel 2:9). Obj. Though Hebrews 11:8 saith, God called Abraham to Canaan to receive an inheritance there; and Acts 7:5 saith, Yet God gave him no inheritance in it, not so much as to set his foot on.
These two seeming contradictory places are thus reconciled:
1. Abraham did inherit Canaan mystically, as that land was a type of heaven. God may deny literally, yet grant mystically or spiritually.
2. He did inherit it in his posterity (though not in his person) 430 years after the promise (Galatians 3:17). Thus God kept His promise with him; and so He doth with us, though we see not the performance thereof.
This was Abraham’s ease; yet took he possession of the land because of his title to it, which was threefold.
1. By way of promise. God made Canaan to belong unto Abraham by making a promise of it to him no less than four times (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:7; Genesis 17:8). This promise of God (being a four-fold cord) Abraham accounts his best freehold. Thus it is with all the faithful, as it was with the father of the faithful: such have the spirit of truth to assure them of their interest in Divine promises (2Co 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). It is an earnest. This makes them exceeding rich, though they see not the actual performance of them in their day. Wealth lieth in good bills and bonds, under God’s own hand and seal, all signed in His word, and sealed by His spirit. He therefore accounts heavenly promises far better than earthly performances. As Abraham did only take possession of Canaan, which afterwards he was to inherit, so a Christian takes possession of heaven, with his name written in it (Luke 10:20), and with his heart panting towards it (2 Peter 3:12).
2. By way of conquest. Canaan belonged to Abraham in his conquering Chedarlaomer, etc. (Genesis 14:4; Genesis 15:17). This great king was the son of Elam, the son of Shem (Genesis 10:22), and, according to Noah’s prophecy--Canaan shall be Shem’s servant (Genesis 9:26)--this Chedarlaomer was lord over the Canaanites and over those chief cities which stood in the plains of Jordan. Abraham conquers him in battle; so Canaan became the conqueror’s by conquest; he became the heir of Canaan. The history holds forth this mystery: that all Christians, the children of Abraham, are by their new birth born heirs of heaven, the celestial Canaan; they should therefore be valiant for it (Jeremiah 9:3).
3. By way of purchase Canaan was Abraham’s. Though all the land was his by promise, yet he procures only a burying place by purchase (Genesis 23:16, etc.), not having a foot of it for his own present possession. This purchased burying place was an earnest for all the rest; hence all the patriarchs dying after desired to be buried in it (Genesis 47:30; Genesis 50:25). A sepulchre of one’s own was a sign of firm possession (Isaiah 22:16).All his children must write after his copy of obedience, which, in its transcendency, hath a threefold excellency. It was an obedience so transcendant as to be--
1. Without hesitation.
2. Without reservation.
3. Without limitation. Of these in order--
1. It was obedience without hesitation. He used no disputation in the case; he falls not upon arguing with God in any carnal reasonings against his call and command, saying, I cannot apprehend any urgent occasion why I should forsake my own native country; and may not I justly suspect it no better than a piece of sublime folly to go I know not whither, and to leave a certainty for an uncertainty? Is not one bird in the hand (as saith the proverb) better than two in the bush? He doth not allege, Lord, first satisfy my scruples, and convince my judgment that it is my duty, and then will I follow and obey Thee. No, he doth not dispute, but despatch; he cloth not say (as those recusants in the gospel said), Suffer me first to go and bury my father (Matthew 8:21); or, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go to prove it, etc. (Luke 14:18-20). Neither did Abraham dare to do as better men than those aforesaid, even as Moses (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:1-31; Exodus 10:1-29; Exodus 11:1-10; Exodus 12:1-51; Exodus 13:1-22), or as Jeremy (Jeremiah 1:6), who both do bring in theircarnal reasonings strongly to confute God and His call. It is not a good angel, but the evil one that opens our mouths to make replies upon such a sovereign Master. Our Lord is wiser for us than we can be for ourselves; our fleshly wisdom is enmity against God (Romans 8:7).
2. As Abraham’s obedience was without hesitation, or any contrary disputes against God’s call, so it was without reservation he resigns up himself to the command of God, not by halves, but wholly, without any “ifs” or “ands,” as we say. What we do herein must be done with our whole heart, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. God gives a whole Christ to us, and shall not we give a whole heart to Him?
3. As Abraham’s obedience was without hesitation and reservation, so it was without limitation. It is too, too common with us, as it was with Israel, to limit the Holy One of Israel (Psalms 78:41), especially in four respects:
1. In respect of time.
2. Of place.
3. Of means.
4. Of manner.
Nay, even professors themselves will not own God, unless He appear to them in their own manner; whereas God showeth Himself in divers manners (Hebrews 1:1). Hence have we many famous remarks, as--
1. That though blind obedience as to man is abominable, yet as to God it is highly commendable; such as this of Abraham’s was.
2. Though this obedience of Abraham was a blind obedience as to his own will, yet was it not so as to God’s will; for God’s will was the rule of Abraham’s obedience.
3. Though Abraham knew not whither he went (Hebrews 11:8), yet he knew well with whom he went, even One with whom he was sure he could not possibly miscarry.
4. Abraham knew not, yet followed, not knowing whither. But we know (from the sure word of prophecy) whither our way leadeth--to wit, to heaven. It is a shame for us not to follow. Abraham’s following God blindfold brought him to the earthly Canaan; but our following God with our eyes opened will bring us to the heavenly country. (C. Ness.)
Abraham: the emigrant
The call and migration of the patriarch suggest two thoughts.
I. THE RISE OF PERSONAL RELIGION. Piety may vary in its form in different persons and times, but in its spirit it is unchanging.
1. It takes its rise in God. Abram “was called.” “Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country,” etc. It was not poverty that drove Abram from his native country; it was not persecution; it was not that love of a migratory life which is natural to an Oriental: his journey to Canaan was wholly due to a spiritual inspiration. “God chose Abram” (Nehemiah 9:7) to be a child of grace--a justified sinner (Galatians 3:8). It was God who gave this son of idolaters all his grandeur of soul and his marvellous appreciation of the true and the eternal. The conversion of every believer is similar. Personal religion always takes its rise in God--in His sovereign choice (2 Timothy 1:9), in His Divine power (JohnPhp 1:6), and in His wonderful love (Ephesians 2:4-5). No sinner has ever of his own accord quitted his native land of spiritual darkness and death.
2. It is the fruit of a Divine revelation. Jehovah revealed himself to Abram as the one living and true God, and in summoning him to emigrate to Canaan, made him a magnificent promise. The God of Shem is now the God of Abram. We are not to understand, indeed, that the patriarch’s religious knowledge was at first either extensive or minute. But as each successive revelation was made to him, he learned more of the nature of God, and of the sublimity of his own destiny, until at length he was able to rejoice in the anticipation of the coming of Christ (John 8:56) and in the hope of a glorious immortality (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:13-16). Had the God of Glory not appeared to him, the patriarch would in all likelihood have died a pagan in the land of his fathers. Religion cannot be generated in any heart apart from a Divine revelation of some sort. There must be some knowledge of the truth.
3. It is the product of an earnest faith. “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed.” The truth that was made known to him would have had no influence upon him had he not believed it. Not reason alone is the basis of personal religion, for reason alone would lead to rationalism. Neither is it feeling alone, for that would develop into mysticism. The man of God is a man of faith.
II. THE DEVELOPMENT OF PERSONAL RELIGION. Piety has its fundamental and formative principles, but it has also its developments of these. It has fruits as well as roots. Abram’s piety developed in a complete renunciation of his old life; and the new life which he henceforth followed had at least three strongly marked characteristics. It was--
1. A life of implicit trust in God. Abram’s first act of faith was followed by a confirmed habit of trustfulness. He struck the roots of his soul deep down into the invisible.
2. A life of conscious strangeness on the earth. Abram was content to be “a stranger and a sojourner” in the holy land.
3. A life which shall merge into a blessed immortality. Abram longed for a fatherland, but not for the land of his earthly forefathers. He might have re-crossed the Euphrates, but he never did so. The home that he learned with increasing eagerness to desire was the dwelling place of his Father in heaven (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:14-16). How large the personal interest which the believer has in heaven! He shall yet dwell in it as his fatherland. (Charles Jerdan, M. A. , LL. B.)
The call of Abram
I. In the call of Abram we see AN OUTLINE OF THE GREAT PROVIDENTIAL SYSTEM UNDER WHICH WE LIVE. II. GREAT LIVES ARE TRAINED BY GREAT PROMISES. The promise to Abram--
1. Throws light on the compensations of life.
2. It shows the oneness of God with His people.
3. It shows the influence of the present over the future.
III. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE CENTRAL FIGURES IN SOCIETY, men of commanding life, around whom other persons settle into secondary positions. This one man, Abram, holds the promise; all the other persons in the company hold it secondarily.
IV. ABRAM SET UP HIS ALTAR ALONG THE LINE OF HIS MARCH.
V. The incident in Genesis 12:10-12 shows WHAT THE BEST OF MEN ARE WIZEN THEY BETAKE THEMSELVES TO THEIR OWN DEVICES. As the minister of God, Abram is great and noble; as the architect of his own fortune, he is cowardly, selfish, and false.
VI. NATURAL NOBLENESS OUGHT NEVER TO BE UNDERRATED (Genesis 12:18-20). In this matter Pharaoh was a greater, a nobler man than Abram.
VII. The whole incident shows THAT GOD CALLS MEN TO SPECIAL DESTINIES, and that life is true and excellent in itself and in its influences only in so far as it is Divinely inspired and ruled. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. ALL THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM WAS A SPECIAL TRAINING FOR A SPECIAL END. Chosen, as are all God’s instruments, because he was capable of being made that which the Lord purposed to make him, there was that in him which the good Spirit of the Lord formed, through the incidents of his life of wandering, into a character of eminent and single-hearted faithfulness.
II. THIS WORK WAS DONE NOT FOR HIS OWN SAKE EXCLUSIVELY. He was to be “a father of many generations.” The seed of Abraham was to be kept separate from the heathen world around it, even until from it was produced the “Desire of all nations”; and this character of Abraham was stamped thus deeply upon him, that it might be handed on through him to his children and his children’s children after him.
III. And so to A WONDERFUL DEGREE IT was; marking that Jewish people, amongst all their sins and rebellions, with such a peculiar strength and nobleness of character; and out in all its glory, in successive generations, in judge and seer and prophet and king, as they at all realized the pattern of their great progenitor, and walked the earth as strangers and pilgrims, but walked it with God, the God of Abraham and their God. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
A call from God
I. AT SOME TIME IN OUR LIVES A CALL FROM GOD SENDS ITS TRUMPET TONE THROUGH EACH OF OUR SOULS, as it did when Abraham heard it, and he went forth with the future stretching broad and far before him
II. GOD’S CALL TO ABRAHAM WAS:
1. A call to closer communion with Himself.
2. A call which led him to break with his past.
3. A call into loneliness.
III. The reason why so many of us, who are good and honourable men, never become men of great use and example and higher thought and true devotion, IS THAT WE DARE NOT BE SINGULAR. We dare not leave our kindred or our set. We will not leave our traditional views and sentiments, and we cannot leave our secret sins. God speaks, and we close our eyes and turn away our heads, and our hearts answer, “I will not come.” How long will all this last? Will it last until another solemn voice shall speak to us, and at the call of death we say, “I come”? (W. Page-Roberts, M. A.)
Lessons from the life of Abraham
I. Notice FIRST THE CALL OF ABRAHAM.
1. The call was addressed to him suddenly.
2. It required him to forsake his country and his kindred, while giving him no hope of return.
3. It sent him on a long and difficult journey, to a country lying more than three hundred miles away. Yet Abraham obeyed in willing submission to the command of God.
II. Notice ABRAHAM’S CONQUEST OVER THE KINGS. This is the first battle recorded in the Word of God. It was after his rescue of Lot that Abraham was met by the mysterious Melchizedek. An awful shade of supernaturalism still rests upon this man, to whom some of the attributes of the Godhead seem to be ascribed, and who is always named with God and with God’s Son. There are two lessons deducible from Abraham’s conquests.
1. That military skill and experience are often easily vanquished by untaught valour, when that is at once inspired by impulse, guided by wisdom, and connected with a good cause.
2. That Christian duty varies at different times and in different circumstances.
III. Notice THE COVENANTS WHICH WERE ESTABLISHED BETWEEN ABRAHAM AND GOD. From them we learn--
1. God’s infinite condescension.
2. Our duty of entering into covenant with God in Christ. From the history of Abraham we see that God’s intention was:
(1) To secure to Himself one great accession from the idolatrous camp.
(2) To send Abraham as a forerunner and a first step into the land which God had selected as His peculiar prosperity.
(3) To create a family link of connection between God and a distinct race of people for long ages. (G. Gilfillan.)
The call of Abram
The life of Abram approaches completeness. In the Scriptures more space is devoted to him than to all that went before him put together. In the narrative before us we have the starting point of all that was illustrious and good in his life, and, we might almost say, of all God’s gracious interpositions for the race. It is also full of valuable instruction, certain interesting points of which it is our present purpose to notice.
1. It reminds us of God’s patient concern for the ways and welfare of men. The call of Abram was a summons to leave the land of his birth and early associations, and to go forth, under Divine leadership, to another of which he should be told. The purpose of the call was that, in him, the race might religiously start anew.
2. The narrative reminds us of the discrimination with which God selects and trains the instruments of His merciful purposes. His elections and selections are unexplained and often great mysteries. But never are they without reason. Divine sovereignty does not disregard the fitness of things, nor willingly suffer powers to go to waste. The choice fell upon Abram because he was the right man. He had natural gifts of no common order. That he was able to break away from the powerful force of custom and surrounding opinion, even at the Divine command, evinced independence and strength. The ready respect paid him by small and great was a testimony to his commanding powers. Upon the single occasion when valour for the right moved him to go out to battle against certain marauding kings, he displayed military genius which in other times might have made him a great general. It was not, however, for his natural gifts, but for his moral qualities chiefly, that he was selected. He was a man of large faith and prompt obedience.
3. Again, we have here a reminder of the fidelity with which God sustains and cheers those who promptly obey. With a view to such cheer and support it may have been that Abram’s first stopping place was in “the delicious plan of Moreh,” the “place of Sichem,” of the luxuriant verdure of which travellers speak in the most enthusiastic terms. Says Professor Robinson, “We saw nothing to compare with it in all Palestine.” To new converts God often grants special foretastes of their final reward, visions of light and cheer. But delightful as was this sight and rest, it was not all. To Abram, at Sichem, was granted a vision of God Himself.
4. Note, again, the outward expression here shown to be natural to a vigorous faith. Without any distinct command, so far as appears, at Sichem, his first halting place in Canaan, Abram makes haste to build an altar unto the Lord. This he does again at Bethel. Yet again we find him doing the same at Beersheba and at Hebron. These altars were intended to be channels of worship and memorials of Divine mercies. By means of them he publicly professed his own faith in a strange land, and consecrated his promised possession to the Lord. By such means he also the more effectually guarded his children and household against the ensnaring influence of idolatrous and worldly neighbours. And all this he did with cost. Not only did it consume time and labour, it required courage. Abram was a wanderer among peoples proud, fierce, and vindictive; whose worship was idolatry; and among whom his singularity and the rebuke of his example would both provoke derision and excite hostility. Yet never does he withhold or conceal the expression of his reverent faith.
5. Last of all, we have here a hint of the kind of greatness most gratefully and lastingly remembered. It is four thousand years since Abram lived, and yet his memory not only survives, it is green. By multitudes it is cherished with homage and affection. In a recent public address, the missionary Dr. Jessup told this story of his sainted father. In the latter years of his life he was afflicted with a peculiar kind of paralysis. His memory was cleft in twain. That of secular things was gone. His legal knowledge, his great law library, his court house, his old associates on the bench of Pennsylvania, and even the names of his own children, were forgotten. But the Bible, the family altar, the church, the missionary work, and his Saviour Jesus Christ, were all fresh in his memory as ever. The worldly had faded; the spiritual was green. So it may be with all the good in the world to come. So it measurably is now. They see worth and beauty only in that which allies to God. In good men’s hearts only the good will have everlasting remembrance. It was his simple trust and prompt, steadfast obedience, the “entire self-abnegation with which he surrendered everything to the Divine call,” which made him for all after-ages, and in the memories of the good, the hero that he was. By like childlike confidence and cheerful self-surrender we may win like approval with God, if not equal greatness in human sight. (H. M. Grout, D. D.)
A call to emigrate
Abram’s emigration teaches by example precisely the same profound and universal lesson of spiritual life which Jesus taught in words: “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.” St. Francis of Assisi, and many like him, have read this evangelical call to renounce the world too literally. Nevertheless, if we would choose and pursue the heavenly country to which God is calling us, there must be in the heart of each of us a virtual leaving of father and mother, a forsaking of all that we have, in order to be Christ’s followers. Of this we have the first great type in the emigration of Abram. Besides, God cut him off from kindred that He might draw him closer to Himself. If renunciation for God’s sake be the condition of strong piety, solitary converse with God is its nurse. Emigration often does a great deal for a man. By throwing him back for aid upon his own resources, it teaches him to help himself, and develops the manhood that is in him. The emigration of a godly man at God’s call does still more for him. It forces him to lean much on God, Who becomes his only constant comrade and unfailing helper. It throws him back at each emergency upon the spiritual resources of faith, and trains into full maturity the graces of his religious nature. Inwardly, Abram could hardly have become the spiritual hero he was in later life, if he had not been forced to walk through the long trials of his exile with nothing but the unseen eternal God for his “shield,” and compelled to brood through homeless years over the mighty thoughts which God had uttered to his faith. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
The call to religion
The call to religion is not a call to be better than your fellows, but to be better than yourself. Religion is relative to the individual. (H. W. Beecher.)
The Divine summons
I. THIS CALL INVOLVED HARDSHIP. Each step of real advance in the Divine life will involve an altar on which some dear fragment of the self life has been offered; or a cairn beneath which some cherished idol has been buried.
II. BUT THIS CALL WAS EMINENTLY WISE.
1. Wise for Abraham himself. Nothing strengthens us so much as isolation. So long as we are quietly at rest amid favourable and undisturbed surroundings, faith sleeps as an undeveloped sinew within us; a thread, a germ, an idea. But when we are pushed out from all these surroundings, with nothing but God to look to, then faith grows suddenly into a cable, a monarch oak, a master principle of life.
2. Wise for the world’s sake. It is impossible to move our times, so long as we live beneath their spell; but when once we have risen up, and gone, at the call of God, outside their pale, we are able to react on them with an irresistible power. Archimedes vaunted that he could lift the world, if only he could obtain, outside of it, a pivot on which to rest his lever. Do not be surprised then, if God calls you out to be a people to Himself, that by you He may react with blessed power on the great world of men.
III. THIS CALL WAS ACCOMPANIED BY PROMISE. As a shell encloses a kernel, so do the Divine commands hide promises in their heart. If this is the command: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”; this is the promise: “And thou shalt be saved.” If this is the command: “Sell that thou hast and give to the poor”; this is the promise: “Thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” If this is the command: “Leave father and mother, houses and lands”; this is the promise: “Thou shalt have a hundred fold here, and everlasting life beyond.”
IV. THIS CALL TEACHES US THE MEANING OF ELECTION. It was not so much with a view to their personal salvation, though that was included; but that they might pass on the holy teachings and oracles with which they were entrusted.
V. THIS CALL GIVES THE KEY TO ABRAHAM’S LIFE.
1. He was from first to last a separated man.
2. But it was the separation of faith. Abraham’s separation is not like that of those who wish to be saved; but rather that of those who are saved. Not towards the cross, but from it. Not to merit anything, but, because the heart has seen the vision of God, and cannot now content itself with the things that once fascinated and entranced it; so that leaving them behind, it reaches out its hands in eager longing for eternal realities, and thus is led gradually and insensibly out and away from the seen to the unseen, and from the temporal to the eternal. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
A call to emigrate
1. In the selection of men to be the organs or channels of His grace, God’s freedom of choice never excludes some natural fitness in the person chosen. When Abram, escorted by sorrowing relatives to the brink of the great “flood,” did finally set his whole encampment across the Euphrates and turn his face to the dreaded desert, which stretched, wide and inhospitable, between him and the nearest seats of men, he gave his first evidence of that trust in the unseen Eternal One, leading to unquestioning, heroic obedience, which must even then have formed the basis of his character, and of which his later life was to furnish so many illustrious examples.
2. The emigration of Abram, however, had other ends to serve besides testing his personal fitness to become the father of trustful and loyal souls.
(1) For one thing, it was advisable to make a clean break in the continuity of his family history. Only in this way could he become really a fresh point of departure for the human race. Had he remained in Padan-Aram. Abram would have been simply one among his brethren, a sheikh of influence among neighbour sheikhs, a continuator of the Terah name, not the originator of a new epoch.
(2) It was of still greater consequence to break him off from contact with the unwholesome influences which were already at work within his own family. To withdraw into a strange land, meant the abandonment of himself to the guidance of God alone. True piety, in its more masculine and self-conscious stages, always involves some such renunciation of natural supports. It does not always require a literal separation from home or friends, but it does require the withdrawal of the heart’s deepest dependence from earthly props or ministers, in order to rest in a self-contained and unaided trust Upon the Unseen Arm. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Abram the pilgrim
I. THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE LIFE OF FAITH.
1. Natural ties.
2. A desire to be satisfied with the present and visible.
3. Imperfect knowledge of the future.
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LIFE OF FAITH.
1. A firm belief in the testimony of God.
2. A proper estimate of the visible.
3. A worshipping life.
4. To be undismayed at improbabilities.
III. THE BLESSINGS OF SUCH A LIFE.
1. More than compensation for every natural loss.
2. Inward happiness in being the means of doing good to others.
3. It leads to a life of spiritual and eternal sight. (Homilist.)
The call of Abraham
1. God’s patience with sinful men is one of His most wonderful attributes. God makes a third trial in the call of Abram. So it often is with individual men. He makes and renews His gracious offers.
2. When the hour comes for some great work of God, He always has the man ready at His call.
3. When God commands, man has nothing to do but to obey. Obedience is the highest test of piety (John 14:21; John 14:23).
4. Genuine obedience is founded in faith.
5. The highest attainment of a Christian is a consecrated will. Learn this under the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.
6. Every Christian is called of God to go out from the world and be separate. This sometimes involves painful and reluctant sacrifices. Old habits, old appetites, old friends, old associations, old modes of thought and action, may have to be abandoned, and the struggle may be severe. But, “He that loveth father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me” Matthew 10:37-38).
7. Goodness is the only true greatness. No king, or noble, or hero of the earth bears such an honourable name as his who is known in the Book of books as “The friend of God!” (E. P. Rogers, D. D.)
The Divine call
I. A SUMMONS WAS GIVEN TO ABRAHAM FROM THE LORD.
1. It was explicit.
4. Contrary to the carnal inclinations.
II. THE CALL WAS SUSTAINED BY A PROMISE--the promise of guidance. The first call was to an indefinite land, the second to the land. This explains why there was a temporary residence in Haran. God did not tell him He would give him the land, but only that He would guide him to it. God does not reveal all the riches of His grace at once; that might overpower the soul. (F. Hastings.)
I. ABRAHAM THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL.
1. A preeminent pattern or type of faith.
2. The first in whom the doctrine of justification by faith was clearly and openly displayed.
3. The federal head of all believers, Jewish or Gentile, receiving promises and commands which related less to himself than to his spiritual seed in every age.
II. ABRAHAM SETTING OUT ON HIS APPOINTED PILGRIMAGE.
1. His early life.
2. His call.
3. His destination.
4. His obedience.
III. OUR SETTING OUT FOR THE BETTER COUNTRY.
1. God speaks to us--by His Word; by His Spirit.
2. His call opens with a warning and reproof, and closes with a blessing.
3. The promise is indefinite.
4. Our walk is to be one of faith; purely so.
1. Let us address the pilgrims.
2. Let us address those who stay among the idolaters. (T. G.Horton.)
The call of Abraham
I. GOD’S CALL.
1. The call was from the Lord. He put into Abram’s mind “good desires,” and helped him to bring them to “good effect.”
2. The call was a distinct command. Abram was told to do something which was not easy; to give up much that was dear to him.
3. The call was accompanied by many gracious promises.
(1) God promised to guide him.
(2) God promised him posterity.
(3) God promised him renown.
(4) Chiefly, God promised to make him a blessing.
Thus the call to renounce is accompanied by an assurance that the believer shall receive at God’s hands great things.
II. ABRAHAM’S FAITH.
1. Abraham did what God told him.
2. Abraham went where God led him.
3. Abraham remembered God at every stage of his journey. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
A new dispensation
1. The election and selection of what became the people of God. Step by step we see in the history of the patriarchs this electing and separating process on the part of God. Both are marked by this two-fold characteristic: that all is accomplished, not in the ordinary and natural manner, but, as it were, supernaturally; and that all is of grace.
2. We mark a difference in the mode of Divine revelation in the patriarchal as compared with the previous period. Formerly, God had spoken to man, either on earth or from heaven, while now he actually appeared to them, and that specially, as the Angel of Jehovah, or the Angel of the Covenant.
3. The one grand characteristic of the patriarchs was their faith. The lives of the patriarchs prefigure the whole history of Israel and their Divine selection. (Dr. Edersheim.)
Separated from the world
It is a remarkable fact, that while the baser metals are diffused through the body of the rocks, gold and silver usually lie in veins; collected together in distinct metallic masses. They are in the rocks but not of them . . . And as by some power in nature God has separated them from the base and common earths, even so by the power of His grace will He separate His chosen from a reprobate and rejected world. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Deaf to God’s call
Some of us are as dead to the perception of God’s gracious call, just because it has been sounding on uninterruptedly, as are the dwellers by a waterfall to its unremitting voice. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The principle of individual selection in the matter of all great ministries is in keeping with the principle which embodies in a single germ the greatest forests. It is enough that God give the one acorn; man must plant it and develop its productiveness. It is enough that God give the one idea; man must receive it into the good soil of his love and hope, and encourage it to tell all the mystery of its purpose. So God calls to Himself, in holy solitude, one man, and puts into the heart of that man His own gracious purpose, and commissions him to expound this purpose to his fellow men. God never works from the many to the one; He works from one to the many. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Abraham--his call, justification, faith, and infirmity
I. HE IS CALLED BY THE LORD; by the immediate interposition of Jehovah. “The God of glory,” as Stephen testifies, “appears to him”;--there is a visible manifestation of the Divine glory; and the Divine voice is heard. The call is very peremptory--authoritative and commanding; and it is also very painful--hard for flesh and blood to obey. But along with the call, there is a very precious promise, a promise of blessings manifold and marvellous.
II. ABRAHAM COMMENCES HIS PILGRIMAGE AMID MANY TRIALS.
1. Sarai is barren.
2. He knows not whither he is going.
3. He breaks many ties of nature, the closest and the dearest.
4. His father is removed by death.
5. On reaching Canaan nothing is as yet given; he is a stranger and a pilgrim, wandering from place to place, from Sichem to Moreh, from Moreh to Bethel, pitching his tent at successive stations, as God, for reasons unknown, appoints his temporary abode (Genesis 12:6-9).
6. And wherever he goes he finds the Canaanites; not congenial society and fellowship, but troops of idolaters; for “the Canaanites were then in the land.”
7. As if all this were not enough to try him, even daily bread begins to fail him. “There is a famine in the land” (Genesis 12:10); and what now is Abram to do? He has hitherto been steadfast; he has “builded an altar” wherever he has dwelt, and has “called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:7-8). He has at all hazards avowed his faith, and sought to glorify his God; but it seems as if, from very necessity, he must at last abandon the fruitless undertaking. He is literally starved out of the land. Why, then, should he not go back to his ancient dwelling place, and try what good he can do, remaining quietly at home? What wonder can it be, if, in such circumstances, his high principle should seem for once to give way, through Satan’s subtlety, and his own evil heart of unbelief?
III. In Egypt, accordingly, for a brief space, the picture is reversed, and THE FAIR SCENE IS OVERCLOUDED. This man of God, being a man still, appears in a new light, or rather in the old light, the light of his old nature. He is tempted, and he falls; consulting his own wisdom, instead of simply relying on his God. He falls through unbelief; and his fall is recorded for our learning, that we may take heed lest we fall. In this incident, the temptation, the sin, the danger, and the deliverance, are all such as, in Abram’s circumstances, might have befallen us. (H. S. Candlish, D. D.)
The call of Abraham
I. IT WAS MANIFESTLY DIVINE. This call could not have been an illusion, for--
1. To obey it, he gave up all that was dear and precious to him in the world. He could not have made such a sacrifice without a sufficient reason.
2. The course of conduct he followed could not have been of human suggestion. Abraham was not driven from his country by adverse circumstances, or attracted by the premise of plenty elsewhere. But he left a condition which would then be considered as prosperous, and cheerfully accepted whatever trials might await him.
3. The history of the Church confirms the fact that the call was Divine. The Christian Church was but a continuation of the Jewish, with added light, and fresh blessings. That Church must have had an origin in the dim past, sufficient to account for the fact of its existence.
II. IT DEMANDED GREAT SACRIFICES. Upon the Divine call, Abraham was not immediately rewarded with temporal blessings. Appearances were altogether against his deriving any advantages from obedience.
III. IT WAS AN EXAMPLE OF FAITH. The promise was made in general terms, and the good things to come, as far as Abraham was personally concerned, placed at an inaccessible distance.
1. Faith is required to brave the terrors of the unknown.
2. Faith trusts in God.
3. In religious faith there is an element of reason. Faith is not contrary to, only beyond, reason. To follow the promptings of faith is the noblest act of human reason.
IV. IT WAS ACCOMPANIED BY PROMISE. The promises made to Abraham may be considered in a two-fold light.
1. As they concerned himself, personally, He would have compensation for all the worldly loss he would have to endure.
(1) For the loss of country, God promised that He would make him a great nation.
(2) For the loss of his place of birth, God promised to bless him with a higher prosperity.
(3) For the loss of family distinction God promised to make his name great. Abraham had to leave his “father’s house,” but he was destined in the Providence of God to build up a more famous and lasting house. These promises may be considered--
2. In his relation to humanity. God said, “Thou shalt be a blessing.” This promise implied something grander and nobler than any personal benefits which Abraham could inherit. It was the higher blessing-the larger benefit. Religion means something more than the selfish enjoyment of spiritual good, and he who only considers the interests of his own soul has failed to catch the true spirit of it. Man approaches the nature of God when he becomes a source of blessing to others. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Abraham was to be a blessing to mankind in the highest sense. As a further expansion of this blessing promised to Abraham--(1) His cause was henceforth to be identified with the cause of God. “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Genesis 12:3). “God promised further, so to take sides with Abraham in the world, as to make common cause with him--share his friendships, and treat his enemies as His own. This is the highest possible pledge. This threatening against hostile people was signally fulfilled in the case of the Egyptians, Edomites, Amalekites, Moabites, Ammonites, and the greater nations--Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian, Greek, and Roman, which have fallen under the curse of God as here denounced against the enemies of the Church and kingdom of Christ. The Church is God’s. Her enemies are His. Her friends are His also, and no weapon that is formed against her shall prosper, for He who has all power given unto Him shall be with her faithful servants, even to the end of the world.”
3. He was to be the source of the highest blessing to mankind. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (T. H. Leale.)
The call of Abram
I. ABRAM’S GENEALOGICAL CONNECTION.
1. He was of Shemitic stock.
2. The Shemitic stock was the theocratic line.
II. ABRAM’S CALL.
1. This call was peremptory.
2. This call was gracious.
III. ABRAM’S OBEDIENCE.
(1) Hesitation destroys the virtue of obedience.
(2) Promptness is the glory of true obedience.
IV. ABRAM’S RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES AND CHARACTERISTICS.
1. He was honoured with personal visitations from Jehovah.
2. His faith in the Divine promise was reassured.
3. His piety was real, habitual, and practical.
1. The characteristic of God as exemplified in the call of Abraham. Graciousness.
2. The essential condition of realizing the fulness of Divine blessing. Obedience.
3. The universal characteristic of true believers. Worship. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The call of Abram
1. The grace of it. There appears no reason to conclude that he was better than his neighbours. He did not choose the Lord, but the Lord him, and brought him out from amongst the idolaters.
2. Its peremptory tone:--“get thee out.” The language very much resembles that of Lot to his sons-in-law, and indicates the great danger of his present situation, and the immediate necessity of escaping, as it were, for his life. Such is the condition of every unconverted sinner, and such the necessity of fleeing from the wrath to come, to the hope set before us in the Gospel.
3. The self-denial required by it.
4. The implicit faith which a compliance with it would call for. Abram was to leave all, and to go--he knew not whither--“unto a land that God would show him.” If he had been told it was a land flowing with milk and honey, and that he should be put in possession of it, there had been some food for sense to feed upon: but to go out, “not knowing whither he went,” must have been not a little trying to flesh and blood. Nor was this all; that which was promised was not only in general terms, but very distant. God did not tell him He would give him the land, but merely show him it. Nor did he in his lifetime obtain the possession of it: he was only a sojourner in it, without so much as a place to set his foot upon. (A. Fuller.)
Call and promise
In all God’s teachings the near and the sensible come before the far and the conceivable, the present and the earthly before the eternal and the heavenly. Thus Abram’s immediate acts of self-denial are leaving his country, his birthplace, his home. The promise to him is to be made a great nation, be blessed, and have a great name in the new land which the Lord would show him. This is unspeakably enhanced by his being made a blessing to all nations. God pursues this mode of teaching for several important reasons.
1. The sensible and the present are intelligible to those who are taught. The great Teacher begins with the known and leads the mind forward to the unknown. If He had begun with things too high, too deep, or too fax for the range of Abram’s mental vision, He would not have come into relation with Abram’s mind. It is superfluous to say that He might have enlarged Abram’s view in proportion to the grandeur of the conceptions to be revealed. On the same principle He might have made Abram cognisant of all present and all developed truth. On the same principle He might have developed all things in an instant of time, and so have had done with creation and providence at once.
2. The present and the sensible are the types of the future and the conceivable. The land is the type of the better land; the nation of the spiritual nation; the temporal blessing of the eternal blessing; the earthly greatness of name of the heavenly. And let us not suppose that we are arrived at the end of all knowledge. We pique ourselves on our advance in spiritual knowledge beyond the age of Abram. But even we may be in the very infancy of mental development. There may be a land, a nation, a blessing, a great name, of which our present realizations or conceptions are but the types. Any other supposition would be a large abatement from the sweetness of hope’s overflowing cup.
3. These things which God now promises are the immediate form of His bounty, the very gifts He begins at the moment to bestow. God has His gift to Abram ready in His hand in a tangible form. He points to it and says, This is what thou presently needest; this I give thee with My blessing and favour.
4. But these are the earnest and the germ of all temporal and eternal blessing. Man is a growing thing, whether as an individual or a race. God graduates His benefits according to the condition and capacity of the recipients. In the first boon of His goodwill is the earnest of what He will continue to bestow on those who continue to walk in His ways. And as the present is the womb of the future, so is the external the symbol of the internal, the material the shadow of the spiritual in the order of the Divine blessing. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)
The advantage of change
As Gotthold was examining with delight some double pinks, which at the time were in full blossom, he was told by the gardener that the same plants had in former years borne only single flowers, but that they had been improved and beautified by repeated transplantations, and that in the same manner a change of soil increases the growth, and accelerates the bearing of a young tree. This reminded Gotthold that the same happens to men. Many a man who at home would scarcely have borne even single flowers, when transplanted by Divine Providence abroad, bears double ones; another, who, if rooted in his native soil, would never have been more than a puny twig, is removed to a foreign clime, and there spreads far and wide and bears fruit to the delight of all.
Leaving all to follow God
“I have been in Africa for seventeen years, and I never met a man yet who would kill me if I folded my hands. What has been wanted, and what I have been endeavouring to ask for the poor Africans, has been the good offices of Christians--ever since Livingstone taught me, during those four months that I was with him. In 1871, I went to him as prejudiced as the biggest atheist in London. To a reporter and correspondent, such as I, who had only to deal with wars, mass meetings, and political gatherings, sentimental matters were entirely out of my province. But there came for me a long time for reflection. I was out there away from a worldly world. I saw this solitary old man there, and asked myself, “How on earth does he stop here--is he cracked, or what? What is it that inspires him? ‘For months after we met I simply found myself listening to him, wondering at the old man carrying out all that was said in the Bible--Leave all things and follow Me.’ But little by little his sympathy for others became contagious; my sympathy was aroused; seeing his piety, his gentleness, his zeal, his earnestness, and how he went quietly about his business, I was converted by him, although he had not tried to do it. How sad that the good old man should have died so soon! How joyful he would have been if he could have seen what has since happened there!” (H. M. Stanley.)
A great promise
Great lives are trained by great promises. God never calls men for the purpose of making them less than they are, except when they have been dishonouring themselves by sin. His calls are upward; towards fuller life, purer light, sweeter joy.
1. Look at this promise as throwing light upon the compensations of life. Abram is called to leave his Country, his kindred, and his father’s house, and, so far, there is nothing but loss. Had the call ended here, the lot of
Abram might have been considered hard; but when did God take anything from a man, without giving him manifold more in return? Suppose that the return has not been made immediately manifest, what then? Is today the limit of God’s working time? Has He no provinces beyond this little world? Does the door of the grave open upon nothing but infinite darkness and eternal silence? Yet, even confining the judgment within the hour of this life, it is true that God never touches the heart with a trial without intending to bring in upon it some grander gift, some tenderer benediction.
2. Look at this promise as showing the oneness of God with His people: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curseth thee.” The good man is not alone. Touch him, and you touch God. Help him, and your help is taken as if it were rendered to God Himself. This may give us an idea of the sublime life to which we are called--we live, and move, and have our being in God; we are temples; our life is an expression of Divine influence; in our voice there is an undertone of Divinity.
3. Look at this promise as showing the influence of the present over the future: “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This is a principle, rather than an exception of true life. Every man should look upon himself as an instrument of possible blessing to the whole world. One family should be a blessing to all families within its influence. We should not be looking for the least, but for the greatest interpretations of life--not to make our life as little and ineffective as possible, but to give it fulness, breadth, strength: to which the weary and sorrowful may look with confidence and thankfulness. Christianity never reduces life to a minimum: it develops it, strengthens it in the direction of Jesus Christ’s infinite perfectness and beauty. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s promises are the comfort of my life. Without them I could not stand for an hour in the whirl and eddy of things, in the sweep and surge of the nations; but I cannot tell how He will fulfil them, any more than I can tell from just what quarter the first flock of blue birds will come in the spring. Yet I am sure that the spring will come upon the wings of ten thousand birds. (H. W. Beecher.)
God’s promises mysteriously dated
God’s promises are dated, but with a mysterious character; and, for want of skill in God’s chronology, we are prone to think God forgets us, when, indeed, we forget ourselves in being so bold to set God a time of our own, and in being angry that He comes not just then to us. (W. Gurnall.)
God’s promises present though not always seen
“When the traveller starts by the railway, on a bright summer day,” writes Champneys, “his attention is drawn to the friends who stand to bid him good-bye; and as the train moves on more and more rapidly, the mile and half and quarter mile posts seem racing past him, and the objects in the far distance appear rapidly to change their places, and to move off the scene almost as soon as they have been observed upon it. Now the long train, like some vast serpent, hissing as it moves swiftly along, plunges underground. The bright sun is suddenly lost, but the traveller’s eye observes, for the first time perhaps, the railway carriage lamp; and though it was there all the while, yet because the sun made its light needless, it was not observed. God’s promises are like that railway light. The Christian traveller has them with him always, though when the sun is shining, and prosperity beaming upon him, he does not remark them. But let trouble come, let his course lie through the darkness of sorrow or trial, and the blessed promise shines out, like the railway lamp, to cheer him, and shed its gentle and welcome light most brightly when the gloom is thickest, and the sunshine most entirely left behind.”
On promptitude in obeying the Divine call
There is an hour in all, ay, even in heathen and sensual minds, when the cry is heard, “Come away hither, seek the far country; strike out on the spiritual and everlasting deep, looking not behind thee, cutting every tie that binds thee to this world, and be led to this, less by the hope of what is before, than by the horror of what is around, and by a simple-minded reliance upon the promise of thy God.” In various manners and at divers times does this cry come, and in divers manners is it treated. Some obey, like Abraham, at once, and set out in search of the land before the voice has ceased to vibrate in their ears. Others delay for a while, and say, like Felix, “Go thy way for this time, and when I have a more convenient season I will give thee an answer”--a season which never comes. Others begin the journey with considerable promptitude and with great alacrity, but speedily become offended, turn round, and walk no more with Jesus; like Pliable, the first fit disenchants them in their childish anticipations, and they retrace their steps. Others are slow but sure in obeying the call of God; they perhaps hang off for a time, they count the cost, they consult, with the town clerk of Ephesus, and do nothing rashly, till the alarm of their hearts and the tumult of their doors become intolerable, and perhaps, as with Faithful, the man Moses steps in and tells them, that if they do not begone, he will burn their house over their heads, and then they address themselves to their journey. And others do not even enter into momentary parley; do not even at the knock condescend to look over the window, but abruptly, fiercely, and forever, refuse. The conduct of this last class is simply insane; it is that of a dying patient who excludes the physician, or of a man whose house is burning and will not permit the engines to play around it. The conduct of those who delay indefinitely the journey is only one shade less absurd, since the Paul once gone seldom returns; and though he were returning, there might be no inclination to hear him. The conduct of those who go forward a little way, and turn back at the first difficulty, is more contemptible still; it is cowardice coupled with folly; it is mean madness. He that deliberates, acts somewhat more wisely; but he too loses time; whereas, since we live in a world where death delays not, where judgment does not linger, nor damnation slumber, the loss of an hour may be the loss of all. Promptitude, valuable in all matters, is of the last importance in the affairs of the soul. Beware of saying, “Serious things tomorrow.” This saying once cost a man dear. It was a governor in Greece, against whom a conspiracy was formed. The night for its perpetration had arrived. He was engaged at a feast. A letter was handed in, and he was told to read it instantly, because it contained “serious things.” What was his reply? He thrust the letter under his pillow, and grasped again the wine cup, and cried out--“Serious things tomorrow!” But that tomorrow never came. At midnight was there a cry made, “Behold the bridegroom cometh!” The conspirators entered, disguised in the dress of females, and they killed the governor, with the letter lying unread beneath his pillow. Now let us imitate the manly decision and unfaltering firmness of Abraham. As we would reach Abraham’s bosom, let us begin immediately to pursue Abraham’s journey. Ledyard said, “Tomorrow.” Say we, “Today.” (G. Gilfillan.)
This was God’s first revelation of Himself to Abraham. Up to this time Abraham to all appearance had no knowledge of any God but the deities worshipped by his fathers in Chaldea. Now, he finds within himself impulses which he cannot resist and which he is conscious he ought not to resist. He believes it to be his duty to adopt a course which may look foolish, and which he can justify only by saying that his conscience bids him. He recognizes, apparently for the first time, that through his conscience there speaks to him a God who is supreme. In dependence on this God he gathered his possessions together and departed. So far, one may be tempted to say, no very unusual faith was required. Many a poor girl has followed a weakly brother or a dissipated father to Australia or the wild west of America; many a lad has gone to the deadly west coast of Africa with no such prospect as Abraham. For Abraham had the double prospect which makes migration desirable. Assure the colonist that he will find land and have strong sons to till and hold and leave it to, and you give him all the motive he requires. These were the promises made to Abraham--a land and a seed. Neither was there at this period much difficulty inbelieving that both promises would be fulfilled. The land he no doubt expected to find in some unoccupied territory. And as regards the children, he had not yet faced the condition that only through Sarah was this part of the promise to be fulfilled. But the peculiarity in Abraham’s abandonment of present certainties for the sake of a future and unseen good is, that it was prompted not by family affection or greed or an adventurous disposition, but by faith in a God whom no one but himself recognized. It was the first step in a life-long adherence to an Invisible, Spiritual Supreme. Under the simple statement “The Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country,” there are probably hidden years of questioning and meditation. God’s revelation of Himself to Abram in all probability did not take the determinate form of articulate command without having passed through many preliminary stages of surmise and doubt and mental conflict. But once assured that God is calling him, Abraham responds quickly and resolutely. The revelation has come to a mind in which it will not be lost. As one of the few theologians who have paid attention to the method of revelation has said: “A Divine revelation does not dispense with a certain character and certain qualities of mind in the person who is the instrument of it. A man who throws off the chains of authority and association must be a man of extraordinary independence and strength of mind, although he does so in obedience to a Divine revelation; because no miracle, no sign or wonder which accompanies a revelation can by its simple stroke force human nature from the innate hold of custom and the adhesion to and fear of established opinion; can enable it to confront the frowns of men, and take up truth opposed to general prejudice, except there is in the man himself, who is the recipient of the revelation, and a certain strength of mind and independence which concurs with the Divine intention.” That Abraham’s faith triumphed over exceptional difficulties and enabled him to do what no other motive would have been strong enough to accomplish, there is therefore no call to assert. During his afterlife his faith was severely tried, but the mere abandonment of his country in the hope of gaining a better was the ordinary motive of his day. It was the ground of this hope, the belief in God, which made Abraham’s conduct original and fruitful. That sufficient inducement was presented to him is only to say that God is reasonable. There is always sufficient inducement to obey God; because life is reasonable. No man was ever commanded or required to do anything which it was not for his advantage to do. Sin is a mistake. But so weak are we, so liable to be moved by the things present to us and by the desire for immediate gratification, that it never ceases to be wonderful and admirable when a sense of duty enables a man to forego present advantage and to believe that present loss is the needful preliminary of eternal gain. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Divine direction in everyday affairs
So, even a journey may be the outcome of an inspiration! “There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we may.” I feel life to be most solemn when I think that inside of it all there is a Spirit that lays out one’s day’s work, that points out when the road is on the left and when it is on the right, and that tells one what words will best express one’s thought. Thus is God nigh at hand and not afar off. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” And thus, too, are men misunderstood: they are called enthusiasts, and are said to be impulsive; they are not “safe” men; they are here today and gone tomorrow, and no proper register of their life can be made. Of course we are to distinguish between inspiration and delusion, and not to think that every noise is thunder. We are not to call a “maggot” a “revelation.” What we are to do is this: We have to live and move and have our being in God; to expect His coming and long for it; to be patient and watchful; to keep our heart according to His word; and then we shall know His voice from the voice of a stranger, for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” If God be our supreme consciousness He will reveal His providence without cloud or doubtfulness. I think it can be proved that the men who have done things apparently against all reason have often been acting in the most reasonable manner, and that inspiration has often been mistaken for madness. I feel that all the while you are asking me to give you tests by which you may know what is inspiration, you have little or nothing to do with such tests--you have to be right and then you will sure to do right. Possibly Abram may have got more credit for this journey than he really deserves. It is true that he knew not “whither he went,” and by so much this is what is called “a leap in the dark; “ but Abram knew two things--
1. He knew at whose bidding he was going, and--
2. He knew what results were promised to his faith. To get a man to leave his “country, his kindred, and his father’s house,” you must propose or apply some very strong inducement. Now, it is worth while to take notice that from the very beginning God has never given a merely arbitrary command: He has never treated a man as a potter would treat a handful of clay: the royal and mighty command has always ended in the tenderness of a gracious promise. God has never moved a man merely for the sake of moving him; ‘merely for the sake of showing His power: this we shall see in detail as we move through the wondrous pages, but I call attention to it now as strikingly illustrated in the case of Abram. Some of you yourselves may remember the words “Get thee out,” who have forgotten the accumulated and glorious blessing. Let us be just unto the Lord, and remember that He treats us as His sons and not as irresponsible machines. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And thou shalt be a blessing
A blessing to be diffused
When God called Abraham, and, in Abraham, the Jewish nation, He cradled them in blessings. This is the way in which He always begins with a man. If ever, to man or nation, He speaks otherwise, it is because they have made Him do so.
I. Many of us account religion rather as a possession to be held, or a privilege to be enjoyed, than as a life which we are to spread, a kingdom we are bound to extend. Consequently our religion has grown too passive. It would be healthier and happier if we were to cast into it more action.
II. Wherever Abraham went he shed blessings round him, not only by his prayers and influence, but by the actual charm of his presence. As Abraham was a blessing to the Jews, still more were the Jews a blessing to the world.
III. Then came the climax. He who so blesses with His blood, He who did nothing but bless, He was of the seed of Abraham.
IV. As joined to the mystical body of Christ, we are Abraham’s seed, and one of the promises to which we are admitted is this, “Thou shalt be a blessing.” The sense of a positive appointment, of a destiny to do a thing, is the most powerful motive of which the human mind is capable. Whoever desires to be a blessing must be a man of faith, prayer, and love. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
I. EVERY GOD-TRUSTING MAN IS A CENTRE OF BLESSING. Because God is at the centre of his soul.
II. A DEVOUT MAN IS A BLESSING TO THOSE WHO CAN RECEIVE HIS INFLUENCE.
III. THE MEASURE OF OUR FAITH DETERMINES THE BLESSING WE SHALL TRANSMIT TO OTHERS.
IV. TO BE A BLESSING THROUGH THE POWER AND FAVOUR OF GOD, IS THE HIGHEST HONOUR IN THE WORLD. (F. Hastings.)
Blest becoming a blessing
I. THE ASSURANCE OF DIVINE BLESSING IN CONNECTION WITH THE DIVINE CALL.
II. THAT SPIRITUAL BLESSING CAN ONLY BE REALIZED AND ENJOYED IN THE EXERCISE OF FAITH AND OBEDIENCE.
III. ONE GREAT PURPOSE OF GOD IN ELECTING AND BLESSING US IS, THAT WE MAY BECOME INSTRUMENTS OF BLESSING TO OTHERS.
IV. THERE IN AN ORDER AND A MEASURE APPOINTED BY GOD IN BLESSING US AND MAKING US INSTRUMENTS OF BLESSING. (G. W. Humphreys, B. A.)
Man must be good before he can do good
Before you can do good you must be made good; for who will look for water from a drained river, or that sweet grapes should grow upon a withered vine? (W. Secker.)
The blessed of God, a blessing to others
I. With regard to THE SPEAKER, it is the Lord Jehovah Himself. He alone can bless His people. I do not say, but the Lord may make use of the smallest instrumentality to bless His children. I do not deny the ministration of angels, though one knows so little about it. I do not undervalue their untiring zeal and great unwearied love. I believe they are always as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them, who shall be heirs of salvation.” Neither do I deny the instrumentality of man; and God may, and does, bless man to man. But all these things are but the streams--or the channels; the great source is God Himself. No one can bless the souls of His people but God Himself. Our wants are too many for any but God to supply them; our sins are too many for any but God to pardon them; our corruptions are too great for any but God to subdue them. Our waywardness is such, that nothing less than infinite patience could bear with us. And even the desires of the new nature are so great, that all heaven could not satisfy them, but as God fills all heaven with Himself.
II. But observe now, secondly, TO WHOM IT IS THAT THIS PROMISE BELONGS. I am quite ready to believe, and to acknowledge, that it was spoken primarily and especially to Abraham; but thanks be to God, we have been taught by the blessed Spirit, I trust, to know that there is not a promise in God’s Word but the child of God has it for his inheritance. The Lord has such a people; and they are dear to Him “as the apple of His eye.” He has chosen them in Christ Jesus before the world was; they are redeemed by precious blood; He forms them for His glory; He moulds them to His image, and “they shall show forth His praise.” No language can describe how precious they are to Him. He sees them in His Son; beholds them in the Beloved. They are dear to Him; the holy image in which they are renewed is precious to Him. The fruit of His own workmanship shall never perish, shall never be annihilated, shall never be destroyed. Their lives are precious to Him; and their deaths are precious. Their services are precious; the very tears they shed for sin are precious; the sighs that heave their bosom for sin, are all precious to Him. To them He looks; with them He dwells; and they are “His jewels,” and not one of them shall be lost. But yet they are a needy people, and they want His blessing. They want infinite power to sustain them; they want infinite wisdom to guide them; they want infinite love to bear their infirmities and weaknesses; and they want the patience of a God, to endure them to the end. Leave them to themselves, and they are no blessing, and can communicate no blessing to those around them; nay, leave them to themselves, and they shall be a curse to all around them. But these are they that are here spoken of as the inheritors of the promise--blessed through Abraham, and blessed “with faithful Abraham.”
III. Consider, thirdly, the riches--THE WONDROUS RICHES, THAT ARE TO BE FOUND IN THIS BLESSING. “I will bless thee.” Ah! what is there not included in this one idea? What limit is there, what boundary? What adequate conception can we form of the words--“I will bless thee”? It is not a mere general promise; it is a peculiar, personal, individual promise. For while all the members form one body, yet each member stands alone, and wants its own individual blessing; and each child of God wants his own individual blessing, and he has this individual promise given to him personally, the same as if there were no other upon the face of this earth. But here is another promise concerning them: not only “I will bless thee,” but “I will make thy name great.” This would almost seem as if it must belong exclusively to Abraham. The name of Abraham, you know, was a sort of object of idolatrous worship to the Jew: “We be Abraham’s seed,” said they, “and were never in bondage to any man.” “Think not,” preached John the Baptist, “to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” He brought down their high thoughts, their carnal confidences, their reposing in Abraham, and laid them low; and there was no greater hindrance that He had to contend with than this. The parallelism, I confess, seems to cease here; and yet it is but in look--it is not in reality. I know the world has all mean words and mean names for the child of God. A saint--oh! it is the scorn of the world; it is the very ridicule of the world. “Good man”--“man of piety”--“excellent man!”--that may do; but a saint!--it is a term of ridicule. A saint? what a termof glory! Set apart by God, from before all worlds, for Himself; purchased by “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” and sanctified by God the eternal Spirit. See what a name this is; it is indeed “a great name.” A Christian--everyone has that name now; yet if I look at what a real Christian is, what a name it is! Anointed of the Holy Ghost with that unction that cometh down from Aaron, the true High Priest, our true Aaron, our great Melchisedec, flowing down from His head to the very skirts of His clothing; partaker of that Divine unction that teacheth all things; what a name of glory is His! Compared with it, all earthly names sink just into nothing. Children! dear children! And, a brother of Christ! But let me rather dwell on the third clause--“thou shall be a blessing.” There is something deeply affecting in the thought that an ungodly man is no blessing; he can be no blessing. Oftentimes he is the very opposite of blessing. An ungodly man is an evil, be he where he may. How many a father is a curse to his whole family! How many a mother is a plague sore to her whole family! How many a child is as a curse to all around! These things are not imaginations; they are truths--awful, solemn truths. But the child of God is a blessing, wherever he is. Wherever he acts as a child of God, in proportion as he bears the image of his Master, and reflects that image, he is a blessing; however feeble his gift, however small his grace, however circumscribed his place, he is a blessing, wherever he is and whatever he does. How shall I set before you the blessing attending holy example? Who can say how great a blessing attends the bold avowal of principles, the bold declaration of truth, the bold manifestation that we are on the Lord’s side? (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The smile of God
I have seen in an African desert a beautiful patch of green, a luxurious blending of graceful palm waving grass, rippling spring, pendent fruits, and tropic flowers--an island of verdure, refreshment, and comfort, in the midst of a sea of sand, of dreary brushwood, and of stunted thorn. Hither came both man and beast, hot with travel, scorched with heat, oppressed with hunger, faint with thirst, and found food and drink, shelter and repose. The negroes who dwelt in the surrounding region called the weary tract around “The Torment,” because it was hard, dry, difficult, inhospitable. The patch of natural garden ground in the centre they called by an African word which means a god or a spirit in a good temper, or rather, the smile of God. The smile of God! Verily a good name and a beautiful; a smile that lightens the heart and cheers the lot of every drooping traveller that passes that way. As he gazes with hand-shaded eyes through the haze of the desert heat, and catches a glimpse of the green isle upon the border line, that smile of God begets a smile on his own tired and weary face, and with quickened step and hopeful eye he presses thitherward and rejoices in its cool and grateful shade! It may well be called “The Smile of God!” Just what that green oasis is to the tribes of Ham, the God-trusting, God-fearing man is to his fellow men, a centre of blessing, a precious possession, nothing other, nothing less than the “Smile of God.” It is not enough that you carry your light in a dark lantern, and flash it out on a Sunday, or on some occasion of special feeling, and then withdraw it as suddenly, to leave blinking spectators rather more uncertain as to your moral whereabouts than before; but rather like the electric flame, which is only toned down by the medium in which it burns, your humanity should exhibit the veiled but glowing light of life and love Divine that dwells behind. I remember seeing, on a certain festive occasion, nearly a thousand men marching through the streets of a northern city when the clock in the minster steeple was tolling out the midnight hour. Neither moon nor star appeared in the sombre sky, and the lamps along the streets were but as twinkling beads of light which vainly tried to lighten the gloom of the dull November air. But wherever the procession went, wherever the tramping of their feet was heard, the light, clear, full, and brilliant, lit up the streets and houses, illumined statues, and was flashed back from every window and every gilded sign. Every face shone bright, every form stood clear, and the dull, dark night, right up into the gloom above, glowed and gleamed as with the light of morn. How was this? Every man carried a pitch pine torch; each flashed its little measure of light upon the sombre gloom, and altogether they conquered darkness and created day! As a disciple of Christ, it is given to the Christian, not so much to carry a torch as to be a torch. He himself is to be set alight, and is to move in and out through the world’s sad shadow land, a peripatetic illumination, showing the beauty of goodness--dispensing the knowledge of God. Yours, O Christian, be it to exhibit all holy virtues, all kindly charities, all manly attributes, all Christly compassions, all godly speech and deed; and remember that if you are to be a true Christian, an Israelite indeed, the friend of God, the disciple of Christ, the heritor of heaven--you are to be--must be--a blessing! It is not enough that you are not a curse, thatyou do no ill and work no harm. The poisonous upas tree and the barren fig tree shall both be east into the fire. The captured rebel, caught red-handed, and the sentinel asleep at his post, alike are doomed. To cease to do evil is only the lesser half of the Christian’s code of law--he must learn to do well. Note, again, that just in proportion as a Christian is a blessing, he has a blessing. Kind words, they say, have kind echoes, but that is not all the truth. The echoes are more musical than the original, because God mingles a benediction in the tone. It is hard to say whether the sea or the land is the greater gainer by the race for giving: the sea into which the silver streams are rolled, or the land on which the jewels of the clouds are scattered, like the largess of a king.
“And the more thou spendest
From thy little store,
With a double bounty,
God will give thee more.”
I have said that the Christian is to be a blessing; that according as he is a blessing he has a blessing; but before all this comes something else. It is said of Abram, “Thou shalt be a blessing”; but there are vital words before that. Hark! “I will bless thee.” That’s how it is. Neither Abram nor you can either be a blessing or have a blessing, in the full, clear, and joyous sense, unless it be imparted from above. If this stream of blessing is to rise in your own soul, ripple along your pathway and cool the lips of others in its flow, then all your springs must be in God. He must be all in all--He, the God from whom all blessings flow. (J. J. Wray.)
Blessed and blessing
Grass-feeding animals while cropping their pastures are scattering and disseminating the seeds of the grasses; and the birds and insects while thrusting their beak or proboscis deep down into the nectaries of the flowers, are gathering and depositing again the fertilizing pollen.
The treasure house of grace
Survey this treasure house of grace; how rich! how full! The believer may say, This heritage is all my own. Measure, if it be possible, the golden chain which extends from one hand of God in eternity past to the other in eternity to come. Every link is a blessing. Behold the starry canopy. The glittering orbs outshine all beauty, and exceed all number. Such is the firmament of Christ. It is studded with blessings. But millions of worlds are less than the least; and millions of tongues are weak to tell them. Mark how they sparkle in the eye of faith. There are constellations of pardons. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sin.” There is the bright shining of adoption into the family of God. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” There is the milky-way of peace, perfect peace, heaven’s own peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” There is the morning star of sin destroyed. “God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you in turning away every one of you from His iniquities.” There is the lustre of Divine righteousness. “This is His name, whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.” There is the light of life, “I give unto them eternal life.” There is all glory. “The glory, which Thou gavest me, I have given them.” There is the possession of all present, and the promise of all future good. “All things are yours,” “things present--things to come.” There is the assurance that nothing shall harm. “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Such is the blaze of blessings, on which the believer calmly gazes. But reader, are they yours? (Dean Law.)
The blessed life illustrated in the history of Abraham
It would seem the simplest thing in the world to come at once and be blest. Why not? Welt, there is a secret mistrust of God. Is not Abraham called upon to give up home, and kindred, and country, and everything? And we tremble. Our ways are not God’s ways; and our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. What He counts a blessing we dread rather than desire. We lose the blessed life through fear. Then there is a dulness, an inertness, a spiritual apathy about us. Like a talk about pictures to a blind man, like the pouring forth of a musician’s soul to one who is utterly unsympathetic--alas! so does our God make His appeal to us. Sad enough it is that the appeal of God to the world should be unheeded and rejected. The Blessed Life--the Life of Faith--grows out of the knowledge of God; it is as we come to see how really good and loving our God is; how really blessed are His purposes concerning us; how lofty is the calling wherewith He doth call us; how graciously and tenderly He fulfils His purpose; thus is it that we learn to surrender ourselves wholly to Him for His own.
I. The blessed life is A REVELATION FROM GOD. Think of life as it presented itself to Abraham without God. “Here am I in this pleasant and goodly land,” he might have said to himself; “a land endeared to me by the memory of my fathers and as the home of my people. Here are my friends; here is my business; my flocks and herds; my fertile pastures; and my faithful servants. Now I will set to work and do the best I can, toiling diligently day by day, and seeking at once to enrich myself and others by my labour. I have a goodly wife, whom my heart loves right well; who is as true to me as I am to her; who is watchful of my interests and eager for my comfort; diligent, thrifty, managing well. Then here have I also the opportunity of doing good. My brother Terah has left an orphan son. I will adopt him, and make him my care, and will seek his welfare; I will do by him as honestly and generously as if he were my own. I will set myself boldly against wrong; and I will set myself resolutely on the side of all that is good, and true and right in the world. So let me live and labour; and when my work is done I will lay me down and rest with my fathers.” Yet all this time there lay about this man a larger life--infinitely higher, and deeper, and broader: a life opening up a new world, unfolding new capacities; a life blessed and enriched and ennobled by the Presence of God. Think of the soul finding its rest in God; the loneliness of life lost in His presence; the common toil glorified as His service; hope made boundless by His promise; and fear driven away by His abiding and eternal care! So God stood and called Abraham: “Come forth into a land that I will show thee.” And Abraham passed out into a life where his relation should be with the world’s Redeemer; where his example should stimulate the faithful of all time; to become a man whom all nations should call blessed. Into that fuller and larger life God is ever seeking to lead us by the revelation of Himself: “I will bless thee;. . .thou shalt be a blessing.”
II. The blessed life is A REVELATION OF GOD. It is quite possible for us to know God without entering into the fulness of the blessed life. Our dwellings limit the amount of heaven that we see by the size of the skylights; a foot square may admit light enough for a day’s work, and it may sometimes admit so much as half-an-hour’s sunshine. That is different from darkness, and much better. But that, too, is different from stepping out under the great heaven, being arched and domed about by it, and to find the golden sunshine flooding earth with blessedness and flashing in a myriad forms of beauty. “I will bless thee”; that blessing can only be ours when we let God Himself come to us. They who; rant the gifts of God only, and not Himself, must ever go without the best gift: that which is more than all gifts. The blessed life begins only when He Himself is welcomed, trusted, and loved, and when His will is accepted and rested in. I will--the blessed life begins with the heart reception of that I and of that will. And I am blest exactly in proportion as that “I will” becomes my will. “I will bless thee.” I have my thought and estimate of what is good; and my desires go forth eager for a score of things which seem to make up the true blessedness of life. By these desires my purposes are shaped, and life itself is determined. Yet what do I know? See, here in the doorway of the mother’s house is the little child. Like us, it too has its thought of what is good, and has the fullest confidence in its judgment and wisdom. It thinks it knows all the world, and can manage quite well without anybody’s help. So away it goes out on to the crowded pavement; on across the perils of the streets; now amidst the roar of the traffic and rush of carriages it stands bewildered and lost. There is but one safety; but one blessedness. It is to put the hand in His, to accept His guidance, to surrender the will to Him, to make His way my way, quite sure that the truest blessing I can find is to let God have His own will and His own way with me in everything. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God. The blessed life is that into which God only can lead us.
III. The blessed life is A REVELATION FOR ME. When we get as far as this do we begin to sigh? “Yes, I know all this is what I ought to be; and of course it is what I want to be!” But it is such hard work: struggling striving, failing. Stay a moment. Have you not begun the sentence at the wrong end? The first word is I, not thee. Put it in the right order. First, “I”--God comes to thee; make room. “I will”--not what you are, but whatGod wills is what you have to think of next. “I will bless.” There, throw back the shutters, and let the sunshine in. “I will bless--thee.” That is the right order: leave that thee until you get the other side of the blessing. When I begin with myself, what blessed life is possible? But when I begin with God, the blessed life is just the commonplace, and the highway wherein I do walk. “I will bless thee.” Of course He will; He can do nothing but bless. Was not this fair world once in chaos and darkness: a dreary waste? but, lo! it made room for Him and His Will; and then the stars shone in the heavens, and the dry land appeared, and the grass grew, and the fishes swam, and the beasts roamed, and the birds sang, and at last there was the finished bliss of Paradise, and all was very good. To make room for Him and for His will is alway to make room for blessing. Yet neither Paradise nor heaven have such a wondrous manifestation of God’s eagerness to bless as that with which He meets us in all the rich provisions of His grace. “I will bless thee.” It is not only as we count will. With us to will is oftentimes as idle as to wish. Hemmed in by a thousand hindrances, our lofty will is mocked by the cruel defiance of our circumstances. But when our God saith, “I will,” it cannot be broken. Almighty Power doth wait to make that will fulfilled.
IV. In all the world there is BUT ONE THING THAT CAN HINDER GOD. It is not in the material upon which He works, nor is it in the conditions in which that material is placed. The only hindrance God can ever know is in my will. When the “I will” of God is met with the “I will” of my heart, then there is no power in heaven or hell that can thwart or hinder. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
On being a blessing
A young lady was preparing for the dance hall, and, standing before a large mirror, placed a light crown ornamented with silver stars upon her head. While thus standing, a little fair-haired sister climbed in a chair and put up her tiny fingers to examine this beautiful headdress, and was accosted thus: “Sister, what are you doing? You should not touch that crown!” Said the little one, “I was looking at that, and thinking of something else.” “Pray, tell me what you are thinking about--you, a little child.” “I was remembering that my Sabbath school teachersaid, if we save sinners by our influence, we should win stars to our crown in heaven; and when I saw those two stars in your crown, I wished I could save some soul.” The elder sister went to the dance, but in solemn meditation; the words of the innocent child found a lodgment in her heart, and she could not enjoy the association of her friends. At a seasonable hour she left the hall and returned to her home; and going to her chamber, where her dear little sister was sleeping, imprinted a kiss upon her soft cheek, and said: “Precious sister, you have won one star for your crown”; and kneeling at the bedside, offered a fervent prayer to God for mercy.
Joy of doing good
Well do I remember when I first knew the Lord how restless I felt till I could do something for others. I did not know that I could speak to an assembly, and I was very timid as to conversing upon religious subjects, and therefore I wrote little notes to different persons setting forth the way of salvation, and I dropped these written letters with printed tracts into the post, or slipped them under the doors of houses, or dropped them into areas, praying that those who read them might be aroused as to their sins, and moved to flee from the wrath to come. My hears would have burst if it could not have found some vent. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The life of faith
Now of this character, with so many claims to fame, it is a very notable thing that the New Testament dwells only on one feature, and passes by all those of which we have spoken. One thing, and one thing only, is kept to the front in all the life of this hero: It is his faith. The Hebrew, treasuring as no other people did, and with greater reason than any other people had, the pride of their race, can record of their father Abraham nothing but his faith in God. This lives and shines, eclipses everything else. “Faithful Abraham,” this is his title; Abraham believed, this is his achievement; by faith Abraham, this is the secret of his triumph. Take that fact and dwell upon it. You will find in it the secret of the blessed life: that life is great, is true life, only as it is the outcome of our faith in God. We need to hear it until we believe it, that our fitness for service is not in the strength of intellect, not in the vastness of wealth, not in the genius, not in the greatness which the world counts great; God’s estimate of us--the only true estimate--is by the measure of our faith. Our worth lies in our faith. He who will set God ever before him, and then in God’s own strength, will go out and do the will of God, he, and he only, is the man who can come to be amongst God’s heroes. Only the man who is very intimate with the Most High will be entrusted with the secrets of God, and commissioned for active service. The blessed life is the life of faith. But does that greatly help us? It sounds all true enough, and we accept it as if its familiarity were the warrant of its orthodoxy. But what is the life of faith? Faith seems such a vague, indefinite, intangible something, a happy phrase by which we conceal our ignorance. Well, whatever it is, it is a gain certainly to have it embodied in real flesh and blood, to find a living man with a wife and a great many servants, some of them troublesome; and children, not always agreeing; and cattle and sheep, for whom it was hard to find food sometimes; and neighbours, who could be very disagreeable; and relations, who were sometimes very selfish; a man, too, who could make mistakes like other people. Certainly it is helpful to have the blessed life lived out in our own very nature, and in our commonplace world. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
The birthplace of Abraham was Ur of the Chaldees, away to the Northeast of Palestine, beyond the river Euphrates. It is plain that the family of Abraham, like almost all the rest of the world at that time, was idolatrous, Joshua speaks of it: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods.” A legend comes down to us of the story of Abraham’s conversion which is very beautiful, and certainly may be true that as he lay upon the mountain height amidst his flock at night, there rose a star so brilliant and beautiful in the great arch of heaven that Abraham was filled with the glory of it, and said: “This is my god; this will I worship.” But, lo! as the still hours of the night passed by, the star sank down and was gone. And he said: “Of what avail is it that I worship my god if it die out in the darkness and I see it no more?” Then above the hills there rose the moon and flooded all the earth with silvery light, and quenched the stars. And Abraham hailed it, saying: “Thou art fairer and greater than the star, thou art my god, for thou art worthier.” But lo, it too hastened away and sank in darkness. And Abraham cried: “If my gods forsake me, then am I as others that do err!” Soon rose the sun, in radiant splendour. It scattered the darkness and his doubts. And he said: “Thou, thou art my god, greater than moon and star. I will worship thee.” But at even the sun sank, and like the moon and star, it too was gone. Then was Abraham alone; but as he gazed into heaven there came the thought of One behind the star, the moon, the sun--the Maker of them all. And Abraham cried: “O my people, I am clear of these things, I turn my face to Him who hath made the heavens and the earth; He only is my God. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Diffusers of happiness
Some men move through life as a band of music moves down the street, flinging out pleasures on every side through the air to everyone, far and near, who can listen. Some men fill the air with their presence and sweetness, as orchards, in October days, fill the air with the perfume of ripe fruit. Some women cling to their own houses like the honeysuckle over the door, yet, like it, fill all the region with the subtle fragrance of their goodness. How great a bounty and a blessing is it so to hold the royal gifts of the soul that they shall be music to some, and fragrance to others, and life to all! It would be no unworthy thing to live for, to make the power which we have within us the breath of other men’s joy: to fill the atmosphere which they must stand in with a brightness which they cannot create for themselves. (H. W. Beecher.)
St. Paul finds the key to the constitution and the order of the human home in the spiritual sphere. Christian philosophy is inevitably transcendental--that is, it believes that earthly things are made after heavenly patterns, and that the “things seen and temporal” can only be fully understood by letting the light fall on them from the things which are not seen and eternal. It was the redemption of the home when Christ’s redeeming love to the world was made the pattern of its love. That home is the highest in which love reigns most perfectly.
I. THE HOME IS THE INSTRUMENT OF A DOUBLE EDUCATION, Its function is to develop the Divine image in parent and in child.
II. AS THE FIRST STEP TO THE FULFILMENT OF HIS PURPOSE IN RESTORING MAN TO HIS OWN IMAGE, GOD SET “THE SOLITARY IN FAMILIES.” He laid the foundation of the home as the fundamental human institution, the foundation of all true order, the spring of all true development in human society. Out of the home State and Church were to grow; by the home they were both to be established. And so God took the dual head of the first human home, the father and mother, and made them as gods to their children, and He sent them there to study the pain and the burden of the godhead as well as the power and the joy. This was the only way by which man could gain the knowledge of the mind and heart of God. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
The influence of Christianity on the purity and happiness of families
If it shall be seen that Christianity has done that for the world which no other system of philosophy or religion has ever effected--if its influence has been so mighty as, wherever it has comes to have civilized the savage--to have raised men in the scale of being, till they have become the first amongst nations; if in every instance, when it has had its proper influences it has exalted the individual above his race, transforming the most vicious into a model of virtue--then we have a new class of arguments in its favour, scarcely less conclusive than those more direct evidences which we first mentioned. An unprejudiced observer cannot deny that all this is true. It is a matter of too much notoriety to be controverted. The Christian nations have, at this moment, such a superiority over all others. I have to place before you, tonight, a single instance of the operation of this mighty agency, in its influence on the purity and happiness of families. I propose to show you in what manner Christianity prevents, or rectifies, the evils of domestic life, and contributes to the happiness of families. It does this in two ways.
I. By the influence of its laws on the community.
II. By the operation of its principles on the minds of individuals.
I. Let us view THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIAN LAWS ON A COMMUNITY.
1. The laws of all those nations which are called Christian are, to a considerable degree, founded on the Christian code.
2. The laws which regulate the marriage contract have an important influence on human happiness. There are three points which we shall notice as applicable to our subject.
(1) Marriage, according to the Christian religion, is a union between a single pair: the husband being permitted to have but one wife, and the wife but one husband.
(2) The Christian law makes marriage between two parties binding for life.
(3) But Christianity provides relief for the greatest injury which a husband or a wife can suffer by making adultery a dissolution of the marriage tie.
3. On the happiness of woman, Christianity has a most special influence. In temporal things she is more indebted to it than man. Her exact place in the social scale is defined in the Scriptures. Christianity, by investing her with equal religious privileges, has forbidden her husband to treat her as a being of an inferior order. “There is neither male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.”
II. I have to show you how it contributes to the happiness of families BY THE OPERATION OF ITS PRINCIPLES ON THE MINDS OF INDIVIDUALS.
1. The first moral principle of Christianity is love. He only is a real Christian in whom this is predominant. His religion teaches him that his love must be all-pervading and quenchless. His God is represented as love. His Saviour is love incarnate, the embodiment and manifestation of Divine love to our world. On this perfect model the Christian’s character must be formed. The whole system of Christian ethics is only a development of the same principles. The gospel, throughout, inculcates the most perfect courtesy and politeness: not that false and hollow code which consists of polished manners and a specious hypocrisy; but that real courtesy which seeks the happiness of others. That which the man of high life professes to be, the Christian really is. He is humble, and the servant of all. He esteems others more highly than himself. Self-denial is a duty which he has practised, as long as he has been a Christian.
2. The principles and precepts of Christianity are not merely general things which apply to the mass of mankind; but they are adapted to particular cases, and especially to domestic duties.
3. Now, such being the operation of Christianity on the character, the residence of one Christian person in a family must have an important influence on the happiness of the whole. The Christian religion qualifies alike for every station. To have learned the lesson of the gospel gives dignity and lustre to the humblest duties.
4. If such be the happy influence shed on a family by one Christian member, how much greater will it be when the head of the family is a Christian. The character and example of the master must have a great influence on the household. Besides, his will is the law by which all things are regulated and controlled. The character of the whole, will, to a considerable degree, reflect the colour of his.
5. How happy must that family be, all the members of which act on the principles of Christianity. In concluding this discourse, I would offer the following practical remarks for your consideration.
I. Recollect that what you have heard this evening is only a small and very subordinate part of the evidence in favour of the truth of Christianity. That evidence is large and conclusive, as I noticed at the commencement of this lecture. He who is in doubt should examine the whole with serious attention and candour, for his own sake: for it cannot be concealed that his everlasting happiness depends on the question.
II. Do not fall into the common mistake of misjudging Christianity by the conduct of Christians. Religion is not chargeable with the fault of its disciples. Whatever the actions of Christians may he, the rule which is given for the direction of their life is perfect. The question at issue is, not what men are, but what Christianity.
III. AS A MATTER OF DOMESTIC POLICY, YOU SHOULD ADOPT CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES. Nothing is so conducive to the happiness of families: it is therefore a point of wisdom to introduce Christian regulations.
IV. If the beneficent influence of Christianity on domestic life tends to prove its Divine origin, THIS ARGUMENT SHOULD PERSUADE YOU TO RECEIVE IT AS A REVELATION FROM HEAVEN. If it be a revelation from heaven it is worthy of all acceptation. Not confined in its influence to the narrow circle of domestic life, nor to the present world, its sublime scheme extends beyond the visible universe, and grasps eternity. It interposes between man and God, and saves the sinner from hell. (S. Spink.)
So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him
AT FIRST, ABRAHAM’S OBEDIENCE WAS ONLY PARTIAL (Genesis 11:31). It becomes us to be very careful as to whom we take with us in our pilgrimage. We may make a fair start from our Ur; but if we take Terah with us, we shall not go far. Let us all beware of that fatal spirit of compromise, which tempts us to tarry where beloved ones bid us to stay.
II. ABRAHAM’S OBEDIENCE WAS RENDERED POSSIBLE BY HIS FAITH Genesis 12:4-5).
III. ABRAHAM’S OBEDIENCE WAS FINALLY VERY COMPLETE. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
An example of faith
I. THE DIVINE VOICE OF COMMAND AND PROMISE. God’s servants have to be separated from home and kindred, and all surroundings. The command to Abram was no mere arbitrary test of obedience. God could not have done what He meant with him, unless He had got him by himself. So Isaiah Isaiah 51:2) puts his finger on the essential when he says, “I called him alone.” God’s communications are made to solitary souls, and His voice to us always summons us to forsake friends and companions, and to go apart with God. No man gets speech of God in a crowd. The vagueness of the command is significant. Abram did not know “whither he went.” He is not told that Canaan is the land till he has reached Canaan. A true obedience is content to have orders enough for present duty. Ships are sometimes sent out with sealed instructions, to be opened when they reach latitude and longitude so-and-so. That is how we are all sent out. Oar knowledge goes no further ahead than is needful to guide our next step. If we “go out” as He bids us, He will show us what to do next. Observe the promise. Our space forbids our touching on its importance as a further step in the narrowing of the channel in which salvation was to flow. But we may notice that it needed a soul raised above the merely temporal to care much for such promises. They would have been but thin diet for earthly appetites.
II. THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH. We have here a wonderful example of prompt, unquestioning obedience to a bare word. We do not know how the Divine command was conveyed to Abram. The patriarch knew that he was following a Divine command, and not his own purpose; but there seems to have been no appeal to sense to authenticate the inward voice. He stands, then, on a high level, setting the example of faith as unconditional acceptance of, and obedience to, God’s bare word.
III. THE LIFE IN THE LAND. The first characteristic of it is its continual wandering. This is the feature which the Epistle to the Hebrews marks as significant. There was no reason but his own choice why Abram should continue to journey, and prefer pitching his tent now under the terebinth tree of Moreh, now by Hebron, instead of entering some of the cities of the land. He dwelt in tents because he looked for the city. The clear vision of the future end detached him, as it will always detach men, from close participation in the present. It is not because we are mortal, and death is near at the farthest, that the Christian is to sit loose to this world, but because he lives by the hope of the inheritance. He must choose to be a pilgrim, and keep himself apart in feeling and aims from this present. The great lesson from the wandering life of Abram is, “Set your affection on things above.” Cultivate the sense of belonging to another polity than that in the midst of which you dwell. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Abraham obeyed. The obedience of faith Hebrews 11:8). Consider how his faith operated.
I. IT SUPPLIED NEEDFUL ELEMENTS OF CHARACTER.
1. Courage. Men were gregarious. Dwelt together for mutual aid and protection. He became bold to go forth alone.
2. Disinterestedness. Might have grown rich on the verdant plains of Mesopotamia. Gave up all at God’s bidding.
3. Great activity. At seventy-five years of age he gave up a life of comparative ease, and at a time when men are usually thinking of rest, he went out to found a nation, in a country that he knew not of.
II. IT OVERCAME SURROUNDING ATTRACTIONS.
1. The love of country. This, strong in all men, specially so in an Oriental. The memories of the past and sepulchres of his people endeared the place.
2. The ties of kindred. Though he tool: Sarai and Lot with him, many were left behind, to be seen no more. He went out, “not knowing whither he went,” and to dwell among a strange people speaking an unknown tongue. When Englishmen emigrate, they know the land, the people, and the language.
III. IT ROSE SUPERIOR TO PROSPECTIVE DANGERS.
1. An unprecedented journey. Ancient migrations were usually made along the shores of rivers. Pasturage and water for the flocks required this. Abram’s path lay across a desert.
2. An unknown destination. To an inhabited land where opposition might be expected.
IV. IT LEANED CONSTANTLY ON GOD. His halting places were marked by the altars he reared. He walked not by sight; or the desert, the famine, and the Canaanite, might have hindered and discouraged him; but by faith. Learn--
I. The obedience of faith is the most perfect and acceptable obedience.
II. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (J. C. Gray.)
Great journey, suggestive of much! It reminds us of the “Pilgrim Fathers” and their memorable expedition; but they, unlike Abraham, knew something of the country to which they were going. It reminds us of the noble travellers, Ledyard and Park; the former saying, when asked when he should be ready to set off for the interior of Africa, “Tomorrow”; and the latter leaving again the peaceful banks of the Tweed for the sandy deserts which had nearly overwhelmed him before; but they, too, knew where they were bound, and besides were certain of renown, if not of safety, and both expected to return. A truer parallel to this wondrous journey of Abraham is found in the case of the dying Christian, who, full of faith and hope, calmly and cheerfully takes his plunge into the darkness of the future world. But he does this, partly at least, in obedience to necessity, whereas Abraham, who might have stayed at home, went in willing submission to the command of God. (G. Gilfillan.)
The blessed life illustrated in the history of Abraham
Let us notice how Abraham’s circumstances helped his faith. “Get thee out of thy country.” He was to go away from his possessions, away from the land which he loved and ruled as a chief, “unto a land that I will show thee.” He is to find his possession in God. He looses his hold upon those things about him that he may grasp the hand of God, and find what God can give him. See further, his faith was helped by the departure from his kindred. Why from his kindred? We have often thought of the hardness, almost the harshness, of the call. It is strange that we have never thought about the mercy of this command. The troubles of Abraham’s life came from the kindred that did go with him: Sarai, brave and faithful as she was, yet once or twice was rather a hindrance than a help to Abraham; and as for the ungrateful and worldly Lot, Abraham had to face many perils for his sake. Remember, too, that the kindred whom he left behind were idolaters; and the bitterest foes a man can have are those of his own household, specially in the matter of religion. Abraham, fearless as he was, yet like many a man of high courage, was so peaceable that he preferred a compromise to strife. His safety was away from his kindred, alone with God. And, turning to ourselves, how little do we know what friendships and early associations may help or hinder the life of God within us. There was yet a further aid to faith: “And from thy father’s house.” Abraham was to leave his father’s house, that henceforth he might live in a tent, and that tent was no less than a very sacrament. It was the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace. It set forth God’s command, and it expressed Abraham’s obedience. By it he said: I am a pilgrim here, on a journey, seeking a country which God hath promised to give me. Thus the tent, with all its surroundings, was in itself the reminder of the promise, and the prompting of his faith. Let us look back upon the incident once more, and turn to think of its relation to our own lives. The one great purpose of the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is to do for us what God did for Abraham. The New Testament idea of the Christian’s life is throughout that of a resurrection. The Cross of Christ is our three-fold death: death to sin, death to self, death to the world. The life we now live is a life begotten in us by the Holy Ghost, who raised up Jesus from the dead; a new life with new faculties, and new aims and new relations. Born of God, our relationship is to God; our affections are set on things above; our home is in God; citizens of the Heavenly City, we are eager for its honours, and jealous for its glory. The Cross of Christ is to do for me all that God commanded Abraham; and I have not rightly found its meaning until it is to me a power so to use the world that in it everywhere I find the presence of God, and by it I am made more fit for His service and more like unto Him, blessed and made a blessing. So is it that by the surrounding of our daily life our God is seeking to lead us into the blessed life. “So Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him.” And as he goes, leaving father’s house and kindred and country, shall we turn away and complain that the terms are so hard; that unless one be much more brave and resolute than most men it is vain to seek this good; that humanity so coarse as ours is incapable of any such sacrifice, and that our innate selfishness cannot endure the strain? Nay, verily; love loses all thought of sacrifice, and turns it all to joy. So Abraham departed--not driven, not trembling, but lured and won by the God of glory who had appeared to him with the gracious promise: “I will bless thee;. . .and thou shalt be a blessing.” (Mark Guy Pearse.)
They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came
This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible.
It is so simple and yet so sure. It tells us that the end is certain if the beginning is right.
I. The text is WRITTEN FROM HEAVEN’S SIDE OF THE QUESTION. It is the history--put in short--of all the saints who ever went to glory. They took a long journey, and at last they got safely home. The rest--how it was, why it was, all that makes up the interval--is the grace of God.
II. THERE WERE DIFFICULTIES BY THE WAY: why are we not told of them? Because from the mountain top the way by which we have travelled looks level and easy. Things that were great at the time seem so small from that height that we do not care to see them.
III. WHAT IS IT REALLY TO SET OUT? It is to recognize and answer God’s call. The great secret of life is to have a strong aim. All through his life Abraham had one single object in view. It was Canaan. The record of each antediluvian patriarch was, “He lived so many years, and he died.” That is one side of the picture, but there is another: “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The obedience of faith
I. IT WAS PROMPT.
II. IT WAS CONSIDERATE OF THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.
III. IT WAS MAINTAINED IN THE MIDST OF DIFFICULTIES.
1. He was a wanderer in the land which God had promised to give him.
2. He was beset by enemies. “The Canaanite was then in the land.”
3. The Divine promise opened up for him no splendid prospect in this world.
IV. IT RESPECTED THE OUTWARD FORMS OF PIETY.
1. It was unworldly. The action of Abraham in building an altar amounted to the taking possession of the land for God. Thus the believer holds the gifts of Providence as the steward of them, and not as their possessor.
2. It satisfied a pious instinct which meets some of the difficulties of devotion. It is difficult for man to realize the invisible without the aid of the visible. Hence the pious in all ages have built places in which to worship God. This arises from no desire to limit God in space; but in order that men might feel that He is present everywhere, they must feel that He is specially present somewhere. God meets man by coming down to his necessity.
3. It was a public profession of his faith. Abraham was not one of those who hid the righteousness of God in his heart. He made it known to all around him by outward acts of devotion. Such conduct glorifies God, and gives religion the advantage that is derived from the corporate life of those who profess it.
4. It was an acknowledgment of the claims of God. By building an altar and calling upon the name of the Lord, Abraham confessed that all claims were on the side of God, and not on that of man. He confessed that sin requires expiation, and that all true help and reward must come to man from above. The only religion possible to man is that of penitence and faith. (T. H. Leale.)
The journey of Abram into the land of Canaan
1. Observe here the gradual revelation and accomplishment of Abram’s destiny. And this is the history of every one of us: gradually and slowly our destiny opens to us. Our Redeemer and Master teaches us not to be over anxious for the morrow, for we cannot discern its duties; all that belongs to us is to do the duty that lies before us today, and we may be sure of this, that when we have done the duty that is close before us we shall understand and see clearly the duties that lie beyond.
2. Observe again the number of the ties that were rent asunder when Abram left for Canaan. We must learn to live alone, not with regard to external things, but in our inward spirits. Let us not be anxious to hear the hum of applauding voices round us, but be content to travel in silence the way which our Master travelled before.
3. Observe again the two-fold nature of the promise given by God to Abram; it was partly temporal, partly spiritual. The temporal promise was that he should have a numerous posterity, and that they should inherit
Canaan; and the spiritual promise was that he should be blessed (Genesis 12:2). Now this record was of great importance to Moses, who gave it to the people of Israel. He was about to take Israel away from Egypt, and therefore he had to make them understand that the land they were going to was their own land, from which they were unlawfully kept out. In proof of this he could refer to this promise of God to Abram. Observe once more the manner of Abram’s journey through Canaan. As he went along he erected altars to commemorate the mercies of God and to remind his posterity that this was really their own land. Here we have that strange feeling of human nature, the utter impossibility of realizing the invisible except through the visible. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Effectual calling--illustrated by the call of Abram
I. EFFECTUAL CALLING IS ILLUSTRATED IN THE CALL OF ABRAM.
1. Abram’s call was the result of the sovereign grace of God.
2. Abram’s call was divinely applied and enforced.
3. Abram’s call was personal, and it grew more personal as it proceeded.
4. This call to Abram was a call for separation.
5. Abram was obedient to the call.
6. It must have required in Abram’s case much faith to be so obedient.
7. Abram’s obedience was based on a very great promise.
8. Abram may be held up as an example to us in obeying the Divine call, because he went at once.
9. Abram did his work very thoroughly. He set out for Canaan, and to Canaan he came.
10. The difference between the Lord’s effectual call, and those common calls which so many receive.
Perhaps some of us who are professors have been called not by the grace of God, but by the eloquence of a speaker, or by the excitement of a revival meeting. Beware, I pray you, of that river whose source lies not at the foot of the throne of God. Take care of that salvation which does not take its rise in the work of God the Holy Ghost, for only that which comes from Him will lead to Him. The work which does not spring from eternal love will never land us in eternal life.
II. If our text may very well illustrate effectual calling, so may it PICTURE FINAL PERSEVERANCE. “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and to the land of Canaan they came.” That is true of every child of God who is really converted and receives the faith of God’s elect. God has purposed it. He purposes that the many sons should all be brought to glory by the Captain of their salvation; and hath He said it and shall He not do it? The way shall not weary us: He shall give us shoes of iron and brass, and as our days so shall our strength be. The roughness of the road shall not cast us down; He will bear us as upon eagles’ wings; He will give His angels charge over us, lest we dash our foot against a stone. In conclusion--Think of these three things:
1. We have set forth for the land of Canaan; we know where we are going. Think much of your haven of rest. Study that precious Scripture which reveals the new Jerusalem.
2. In the next place, we know why we are going. We are going to Canaan because God has called us to go. He gives us strength to go, puts the life force within us that makes us tend upward towards the eternal dwelling place, the happy harbour of the saints.
3. And we know that we are going; that is another mercy. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The Christian’s journey to Canaan
There can be no impropriety in applying the passage before us to Christian pilgrims going forth from the city of destruction, through the wilderness, to the heavenly Canaan. It gives us a short and comprehensive view of it, which will be interesting, and I trust profitable, for us to consider.
I. IN ITS COMMENCEMENT. “And they went forth.” This is descriptive of the period when the sinner, having felt in some measure the importance of Divine things, is resolved to give himself up to God, and, acting under His guidance and direction, leave the broad road of destruction, and enter into the way of life eternal.
1. The scenes they have to abandon. From what do they go forth?
(1) From the world to God. They are to be separated from it. In it, but not of it.
(2) They go forth from a state of nature to a state of grace--from that spiritual darkness in which the mind of every unconverted man is enveloped, to that heavenly light which is imparted by the Spirit--from all that is degrading, and that tends to debase the soul, to the highest honours and dignities that can ennoble our nature.
(3) They go forth from all vulgar prejudices against religion, and mistaken notions which in ignorance they have formed, and rejoice to come to the true light, that their deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.
(4) They go forth from the practice of sin to the pursuit of holiness.
(5) They go forth from self to Christ, renouncing all human merit, and pleading the all-sufficient atonement of Him who is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, and bled on Calvary.
2. The principles on which they act. Abram went not of his own accord, but as he was directed by the Almighty. It is so here. Believers are influenced by a Divine power, in going forth and seeking a better country. If left to themselves, they would still remain satisfied while at a distance from God. But He influences them by His Spirit; He shows them the vileness of sin, the deceitfulness of the human heart, and gives them another spirit, by which they are enabled to follow Him fully and serve Him joyfully. They go forth in God’s strength--they go forth relying on His power. They now act from conviction: they are assured that nothing can supply the place of religion. They go forth as the result of deliberation: they have weighed both worlds, and the future preponderates. They are led to form their estimate by faith, and not by feeble sense. This was the principle on which Moses acted (Hebrews 11:24-26).
3. The opposition they have to overcome. It is not an easy thing to break forth from the world, and pursue the Christian course. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Our course must be marked by firmness and decision, so that we shall neither be laughed nor threatened out of our religion.
II. IN ITS PROGRESS. “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan.” When the pilgrim leaves the Egypt of a natural state, he enters on a journey, and his way lies through a wilderness. His course is of a most peculiar nature, and is diametrically opposed to the course of this world. The way in which he goes is divine--marked out by God; it is the right way--the way of truth, and peace, and pleasure. But there are three things in particular we may mention about it:--
1. It is identified with all that is important. For what do they go forth? Oh! it is not to secure the fleeting, transitory pleasures of a vain world--it is not to obtain worldly aggrandizement. They go forth for an object infinitely superior to every other pursued by mankind.
2. It is connected with much that is trying. We have alluded to the opposition the heavenly pilgrim meets with at She commencement of his journey. Let it be remembered that his way runs through a desert, filled with thorns and briars, and not a garden of roses. There is no going to Canaan but through the wilderness--“a dangerous and tiresome place.” The way to the kingdom is by the cross, and it is through much tribulation we must enter into the joy of our Lord. There are privations to be endured, trials to be encountered, sorrows to disturb us in our Christian course; but still we must go forth.
3. It is associated with pleasures that are divine. God has not left us without provision in the wilderness. “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” There remaineth a rest--yes, and it is not only future, but present. “We which have believed do enter into rest.” You rest in His grace, His love, His righteousness, His bosom, His Spirit, His promises.
III. IN ITS TERMINATION. “And into the land of Canaan they came.” The end crowns all. And what a consummation is here! He who delivers His people from the world, and leads them through the wilderness, will land them safe on Canaan’s shore. This termination is a joyful one--it is an honourable one--it is a peaceful one. Let us here--
1. Draw a comparison between the land of Canaan and heaven. There are many points of resemblance.
(1) It was a promised country. So is heaven.
(2) It was a land of plenty--“a land flowing with milk and honey.” In heaven there is everything that can possibly contribute to the joy and happiness of His people.
(3) It was a land of peace. So is heaven. There is nothing to annoy and disturb there.
(4) Jordan must be crossed before Canaan could be entered. So it is here--“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither dothcorruption inherit incorruption.” We must die to live with God above. We must die to go home. We fall to rise--we die to live again.
2. Show the superiority of the one to the other. The earthly Canaan was only a temporary possession; but the heavenly Canaan is to be enjoyed forever. The one excels the other, inasmuch as the antitype surpasses the type. (E. Temple.)
Compare this singular expression with Genesis 11:31, where we have Terah’s emigration from Ur described in the same terms, with the all-important difference in the end, “they came” not into Canaan, but “unto Haran, and dwelt there.” Many begin the course; one finishes it. Terah’s journeying was only in search of pasture and an abode. So he dropped his wider scheme when the narrower served his purpose. It was an easy matter to go from Ur to Haran. Both were on the same bank of the Euphrates. But to cross the broad, deep, rapid river was a different thing, and meant an irrevocable cutting loose from the past life. Only the man of faith did that. There are plenty of half-and-half Christians, who go along merrily from Ur to Haran; but when they see the wide stream in front, and realize how completely the other side is separated from all that is familiar, they take another thought, and conclude they have come far enough, and Haran will serve their turn. Again, the phrase teaches us the certain issue of patient pilgrimage and persistent purpose. There is no mystery in getting to the journey’s end. “One foot up, and the other foot down,” continued long enough, will bring to the goal of the longest march. It looks a very weary journey, and we wonder if we shall ever get thither. But the magic of “one step at a time” does it. The Guide is also the upholder of our way. (H. C. Trumbull.)
They went forth
1. Energetic action! Men are not saved while they are asleep. No riding to heaven on feather beds. “They went forth to the land of Canaan.”
2. Intelligent perception! They knew what they were doing. They did not go to work in a blundering manner, not understanding their drift. We must know Christ if we would be found in Him. Men are not to be saved through the blindness of an ignorant superstition. “They went forth to the land of Canaan, and to the land of Canaan they came.”
3. Firm resolution! They could put up with rebuffs, but they would not put off from their resolves. They meant Canaan, and Canaan they would get. He that would be saved, must take heaven by violence. “To the land of Canaan they came.”
4. Perfect perseverance! “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” Not a spurt and a rest, but constant running wins the race. All these thoughts cluster around the one idea of final perseverance, which the text brings out. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Canaanite was then in the land
The Canaanite in the land
THE CANAANITE IS IN THE LAND.
1. The present world, through which we are travelling, is in the hands of the enemies of God.
2. Yet this very earth is to be, one day, the possession of the saints.
3. Meanwhile, our position in it, as pilgrims, is one of privation and peril.
(1) We have spiritual foes, unseen, but ever watching against our souls.
(2) We find the Canaanite in ourselves, in our fleshly infirmities, natural appetites, and carnal propensities and cravings, not yet wholly subdued.
II. OUR DUTY OF ALLEGIANCE TO GOD IN THE LAND OF OUR SOJOURN.
1. Like Abraham, we must be inoffensive to the Canaanite in the land, biding our time.
2. We are not to refrain from common acts of courtesy and civility in intercourse with worldly men.
3. Yet we must so keep aloof from them, as to preserve the purity of our pilgrim separation.
4. We must openly worship in the midst of the enemy’s country.
5. In this spirit we are to pursue our pilgrimage. Conclusion:
1. This is not our rest.
2. Let us not covet worldly possessions.
3. Let our hearts be fixed on the final recompense of reward.
4. A word to the Canaanite. Are you content to stay in the land which you cannot long or finally possess? (T. G. Horton.)
State of the population of Canaan in Abraham’s time
When Abraham was brought by the guidance of God into the land of Canaan, he found himself in the midst of population which could not be regarded as wholly alien. Nor do the inhabitants appear to have been of a character which would repel all intercourse. They had already abandoned, at least to a certain extent, their original pastoral and nomadic habits, and we find them gathered into cities, leaving the open country principally to the occupation of friendly strangers such as Abraham. Their civilization was, however, but little developed; for good and for evil they seem to have retained much of their primitive character. Where kings are mentioned, they approach more nearly to the patriarchal heads of tribes than to the barbarous despots of later days. We come across no traces of the fearful moral corruption that afterwards made “the land spue out” its inhabitants, except, indeed, in the wealthy and luxurious cities of the plain. There the degeneracy that was afterwards to bring the Divine judgments upon all the nations of Canaan had rapidly run its fatal course. But the rest of the land was still comparatively uncorrupted. Later on we find the numerous cities of the land, excluding such as were still held by the warlike and savage aborigines, loosely grouped into four main divisions. There are the Amorites, or Highlanders, a fierce people--apparently the furthest removed from the Canaanites proper--that dwelt in the mountains, from the Scorpion Range, south of the Dead Sea, to the hills of Judah. The Hittites are their neighbours, dwelling in the valleys, lovers of refinement at an early period, and living in well-ordered communities possessing national assemblies. The fertile lowlands by the course of the Jordan, and along the coast of the Mediterranean, are held by the Canaanites, who, as possessors of the choicest of the land and by far the best known by foreigners, often gave their name to the whole of the population of the country. These also were much more addicted to commerce than to war, in this resembling the fourth main division, the Hivites of the midland region, whose principal city seems to have been the flourishing, wealthy, but timorous Gibeon. (A. S.Wilkins.)
Abraham a witness for God
I. UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES DID ABRAHAM BEAR HIS WITNESS FOR GOD?
1. He did it as a stranger in a foreign land. It is emphatically said Of Abraham, that when he came “unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh,” “the Canaanite was then in the land.” When he first came among them, he came as a man who was utterly unknown. There was nothing whatever to introduce him, nothing whatever to give him authority and influence among them. He was a mere stranger, whose history, whose life, whose conduct was altogether strange.
2. But not only so: he was surrounded by wicked men. Abraham, then, bare his witness for God under the most unfavourable circumstances. He bare his witness where he was a stranger, where all that were around him were opposed to God, and enemies of that faith which he professed and that practice which he displayed. Let no man after this fancy that he will find an excuse in not witnessing for God by the difficulties of the circumstances in which he is placed.
II. OF WHAT DID HE BEAR WITNESS?
1. In the first place, he bare witness to the paramount importance of godliness. His chief thought was to testify that he was the servant of God; and the first thing he did after he pitched his tent was this--to erect an altar, and to call upon the name of the Lord. Oh! brethren, this was a testimony that “godliness is profitable to all things,” that it has “the promise of the life that now is” as well as “of that which is to come.” It was as much as to say, “All my prosperity and all my success, all that I have gained and all that I have achieved, is absolutely nothing unless I am a servant of Almighty God.”
2. Again: he was a witness to the love, the power, and the providence of God. He was a witness to these things in that he openly addressed himself to God.
3. Moreover, Abraham bare witness to His faithfulness. When was it that he erected his altar, and called upon the name of the Lord? Just when he had received His promise. God said unto Abraham, “I will give thee this land”; and Abraham “builded an altar unto the Lord.” He showed that he depended upon God’s promise.
4. But Abraham did more than merely witness to these general truths. Much indeed it was to witness to the importance of godliness; much to witness to a wondering and a hating world the love, the power, and the providence of God; much to bear witness to the faithfulness of His promise; but Abraham did more--he was a “preacher of righteousness.” He “rejoiced to see the day of Christ, and he saw it, and was glad; “ and the great fundamental truths that lie at the very foundation of the scheme of man’s redemption, were by his altar and by his prayer preached and proclaimed unto mankind. It is the duty, brethren, of every child of God to bear witness to the same truths; and exactly in proportion to any influence or authority we possess does the duty become more imperative, and the obligation upon us the more binding.
III. TO WHOM DID ABRAHAM BEAR WITNESS?
1. In the first place, he bare witness to the world around. He did not go amongst ungodly men, and hear the Master whom he served profaned, and think that he would keep his sentiments for another time; he bore his witness openly, boldly, undauntedly, in the face of day. And this is just the course that all of us, if we are sincere in our profession, are bound to pursue No man will give us credit for sincerity unless we do so.
2. Not only, however, did Abraham testify to the world around him, but he testified especially to the members of his own household. His own household partook most of the influence of that genial piety. Their ears it was that listened oftenest to the accents of his fervent prayers; their hearts gathered in the mild and holy effects of that blessed teaching, which taught them to took down the line of time for a sacrifice and atonement for their guilt. (H. Hughes, M. A.)
Shechem--Abram’s first halting place in Canaan
The first place in Canaan where Abraham halted with his family and his household was at Shechem, near a celebrated oak tree. As we might have expected, the first recorded encampment of the patriarch is not without significance. Shechem is situated in the very centre of Palestine; it is in the Bible even called the “navel of the land,” and was the natural place of assembly for all the tribes of the country; the oak was, in the time of the Judges, still famous under the name of “oak of sorcerers,” and near it was a rich temple of the idol Baal-Berith; but the region in and around Shechem was even at that time still partly occupied by the heathens. Only by remembering these facts, our text will appear in its full and deep meaning. Abraham proceeded at once to the central town of the land intended as the future habitation of his descendants; a town obviously too important by its position to be left in the hands of the enemies; and there that promise of the land was for the first time made (verse 7). The place of the ancient tree, which so long witnessed superstitious and cruel rites, was hallowed by a Divine vision, and converted into a sacred spot; and at the side of the idolatrous temple rose an altar dedicated to the God of heaven and earth. Thus the facts related obtain a prospective and didactic force for which we have prepared the reader by some of the preceding remarks. Shechem, perhaps one of the oldest towns of Palestine, and in early times inhabited by the Hivites, is situated in a narrow but beautiful valley, between 1,200 to 1,600 feet wide, seven miles south of Samaria, not far from the confines of the ancient provinces of Ephraim and Manasseh, and in the range of the mountains of Ephraim, at the foot both of Mount Ebal and Gerizim, which enclose it north and south, which were themselves famous by early altars and sanctuaries, and were of the highest religious interest by the blessing and the curse proclaimed on them for the observance or the neglect of the Law. The town was not only important in the history of the patriarchs, but in the theocratical and political history of the Israelites; it was a city of refuge and a Levitical town; here Joshua delivered his last solemn address to all the tribes of Israel; it was, in the time of the Judges, the principal town of Abimelech’s kingdom; here Rehoboam was proclaimed king, and promulgated to the delegates of the people his insulting policy; and when the ten tribes declared their independence of his despotic rule, it became the residence of the new empire. It was not unimportant in the time of the captivity, and became after its expiration the celebrated centre of the Samaritan worship, whose temple was only destroyed by John Hyrcanus (me. 129). In the first century of the Christian era it lay in ruins; but on its ancient site, or in its immediate vicinity, a new, though smaller town, Neapolis, was built, probably by Flavius Vespasianus; it was the birth place of Justin Martyr, and the seat of Christian bishops; although captured by the Moslems and the Crusaders, it suffered but little or temporarily; after several vicissitudes, which could not annihilate its prosperity, it fell finally into the hands of the Turks in A.D. 1242. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land
The land of promise
The first feature which eminently marked out the land for the residence of God’s chosen nation is this: it unites, as no other does, the two indispensable conditions of central position and yet of isolation. To lie in the midst of the nations, at the focus and gathering place of those mighty and cultured empires, whose rivalries ruled the politics, as their example led the civilization of antiquity, yet at the same time be shut off from such contact with them as must of necessity prove injurious, seemed to be opposite requirements, very hard to be reconciled. To a curious extent they are reconciled in the land of promise.
2. Another characteristic which qualified Palestine to be a training ground for the Hebrews was this: that it combined to an unusual degree high agricultural fertility with exposure to sudden and severe disasters. In most years it could sustain a dense population of cultivators, supposing them to be industrious and frugal, without any excessive or grinding toil. Enough, not always for export, but for home consumption at least, its well-watered valleys and vine-clad hills could furnish in ordinary seasons. For comfortable sustenance, therefore, though not for wealth or luxury, such a nation of peasants was sufficiently provided within its own borders. It could dwell apart, yet experience no want. At the same time, the people were kept in close dependence for the fruits of harvest upon the bounty of Providence.
3. To these advantages for its special design, this perhaps ought to be added: that hardly any regions offer so few temptations to corrupt the complicity of their inhabitants, or better facilities for the defence of their liberties. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
There builded he an altar unto the Lord
I. THIS ALTAR WAS REARED ENTIRELY IN HONOUR OF GOD. No self-glorying In it.
II. ABRAHAM’S ACT EXPRESSED HIS ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE FACT OF DIVINE GUIDANCE IN HIS PAST LIFE. He found it a joy to be under the leadership of God, and he built this altar to express his gratitude.
III. ABRAHAM’S ALTAR EXPRESSED HIS DEPENDENCE ON THE MERCY THAT COMES THROUGH A PROPITIATORY SACRIFICE.
IV. THIS ALTAR WAS VALUABLE IN GOD’S SIGHT, BECAUSE IT EXPRESSED ABRAHAM’S READINESS TO CONSECRATE HIMSELF ENTIRELY TO GOD.
V. THE RAISED ALTAR EXPRESSED THE PATRIARCH’S FAITH IN THE FULFILMENT OF THE DIVINE PROMISES. (F. Hastings.)
The altar at Sichem
1. The first thing Abraham does on his arrival is to acknowledge God. He recognizes Him as the One who has protected him.
2. We see in this erection of the altar an acknowledgment of God in time of prosperity.
3. That altar signified a grateful heart.
4. The altar was a token of Abram’s faith.
5. This altar was not the product of a spasmodic exertion, or something to meet a sudden emergency. It was the result of a fixed purpose, a fixed state of mind, a character.
6. Again, this altar suggests to us that “local worship” is important. God is not always to be thought of as the broad blaze of light, but rather like the pointed rays. It is when the rays are brought to a focus that the heat and fire are manifested. God is everywhere, but is in this place and that in a special sense. We need to localize God. There are spots specially holy. The closet, the family altar, the church--how sacred!
7. Finding this spirit in Abraham, we are not surprised that God manifested Himself to him. As we advance in holiness, we advance toward God, and communion is more easy. (I. Simmons, D. D.)
Outward signs of piety
Abram set up his altar along the line of his march. Blessed are they whose way is known by marks of worship. The altar is the highest seal of ownership. God will not lightly forsake His temple. This setting up of the altar shows that our spiritual life ought to be attested by outward sign and profession. Abram had the promise in his heart, yet he did not live a merely contemplative life; he was not lost in religious musings and prophesyings--he built his altar and set up his testimony in the midst of his people, and made them sharers of a common worship. (J. Parker, D. D.)
He removed from thence
Faith moves a man from place to place in the world, upon God’s word or intimation.
2. The bad entertainment of believers in the world maketh them remove their stages.
3. In the wanderings of believers, God sends abroad the discoveries of His will to several places.
4. Faith maketh souls dwell in tents here below, and be still movable for heaven.
5. Faith causeth souls to adhere unto and make profession of the true religion of God in all places; faith is never ashamed of God, truth, worship, or way.
6. Believing souls cannot be without communion with God in offering to Him and hearing from Him.
7. Supplication to God and speaking in His name are special ways of worship suiting believers (Genesis 12:8).
8. Faith maketh saints true sojourners below, to be still taking up their stakes at God’s beck.
9. To all points, east and west and south, God orders the motions of the saints to leave some savour of His truth everywhere (Genesis 12:9). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
In a meeting to pray for the president’s recovery, one of his classmates rose and said, “Twenty-six years ago tonight, and at this very hour, our class were on the top of Graylock to spend the night of the fourth of July. As we were about to lie down to sleep, Garfield took out his pocket Testament and said, ‘I am in the habit of reading a chapter every night at this time with my mother. Shall I read aloud?’ All assented; and when he had read, he asked the oldest member of the class to pray. And there, in the night, on the mountain top, we prayed with him for whom we have now assembled to pray.” (Dr. Prime.)
Abram went down into Egypt
Abram in Egypt: the temptations and trials of a life of faith
The life of faith has many temptations and trials.
I. THEY MAY ARISE FROM TEMPORAL CALAMITIES. Famine.
1. They direct the whole care and attention of the mind to themselves.
2. They may suggest doubt in the Divine providence.
3. They serve to give us an exaggerated estimate of past trials.
II. THEY MAY ARISE FROM THE DIFFICULTY OF APPLYING THE PRINCIPLES OF RELIGION TO THE MORAL PROBLEMS OF LIFE.
1. We may be tempted to have recourse to false prudence and expediency.
2. We are exposed to the sin of tempting Providence.
3. We may be tempted to preserve one good at the expense of another.
4. They may tempt us to hesitate concerning what is right.
III. THEY ARE MADE THE MEANS OF IMPRESSING VALUABLE MORAL LESSONS. Abram would learn many lessons from his bitter experience in Egypt.
1. That man cannot by his own strength and wisdom maintain and direct his own life.
2. That adverse circumstances may be made to work for good.
3. That a good man may fail in his chief virtue.
IV. GOD IS ABLE TO DELIVER FROM THEM ALL. When a man has the habitual intention of pleasing God, and when his faith is real and heart sincere, the lapses of his infirmity are graciously pardoned. God makes for him a way of escape, and grants the comfort of fresh blessings and an improved faith. But--
1. God often delivers His people in a manner humiliating to themselves.
2. God delivers them by a way by which His own name is glorified in the sight of men. (T. H. Leale.)
Abraham in Egypt
This is our first introduction to Egypt in the Bible. Let us ask what religious lessons it is intended to teach us; what was the relation of Egypt to the chosen people and the religious history of mankind? It is, in one word, the introduction of the chosen people to the world--to the world, not in the bad sense in which we often use the word, but in its most general sense, both good and bad. Egypt was to Abraham--to the Jewish people--to the whole course of the Old Testament, what the world, with all its interests, and pursuits, and enjoyments, is to us. It was the parent of civilization, of art, of learning, of royal power, of vast armies. The very names which we still use for the paper on which we write, for the sciences of medicine and chemistry, are derived from the natural products and from the old religion of Egypt. Hither came Abraham, as the extremest goal of his long travels, from Chaldea southwards; here Joseph ruled, as viceroy; hero Jacob and his descendants settled, as in their second home, for several generations; here Moses became “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” From the customs, the laws, and arts of the Egyptians, many of the customs, laws, and arts of the Israelites were borrowed. Here, in the last days of the Bible history, the Holy Family found a refuge. On these scenes for a moment, even though in unconscious infancy, alone of any Gentile country, the eyes of our Redeemer rested. From the philosophy which flourished at Alexandria came the first philosophy of the Christian Church. This, then, is one main lesson which the Bible teaches us by the stress laid on Egypt. It tells us that we may lawfully use the world and its enjoyments; that the world is acknowledged by true religion, as well as by our own natural instincts, to be a beautiful, a glorious, and, in this respect, a good and useful world. Power, and learning, and civilization, and art, may all minister now, as they did then, to the advancement of the welfare of man and the glory of God.
2. But, secondly, the meeting of Abraham and Pharaoh--the contact of Egypt with the Bible--remind us forcibly that there is something better and higher even than the most glorious, or the most luxurious, or the most powerful, or the most interesting sights and scenes of the world, even at its highest pitch, here or elsewhere. Whose name or history is now best remembered? Is it that of Pharaoh, or of the old Egyptian nation? No. It is the name of the shepherd, as he must have seemed, who came to seek his fortunes here as a stranger and sojourner. Much or little as we, or our friends at home, rich or poor, may know or care about Egypt, we all know and care about Abraham. It is his visit, and the visit of his descendants, that gives to Egypt its most universal interest. So it is with the world at large, of which, as I have said, in these old days Egypt was the likeness. Who is it that, when years are gone by, we remember with the purest gratitude and pleasure? Not the learned, or the clever, or the rich, or the powerful, that we may have known in our passage through life; but those who, like Abraham, have had the force of character to prefer the future to the present--the good of others to their own pleasure. (Dean Stanley.)
Abram in Egypt
I. THAT LIFE CAN BE TOO DEARLY PURCHASED.
1. When truth is sacrificed for its safety.
2. When the purity of others is exposed to danger.
3. When injustice is done to others.
4. When every ether thought becomes subordinate to this.
II. THAT THE DIVINE IS THE ONLY STANDARD WHICH DETERMINES THE VALUE OF LIFE.
1. We shall then realize that its existence depends on God.
2. That the strength of life is in God.
3. That its true prosperity is from God.
4. That through God it can be restored to Canaan. (Homilist.)
I. THE NATURE OF THE CARNAL POLICY OF ABRAHAM. “A lie which is part a truth is ever the worst of lies”; so a truth which is part a lie is a very dangerous one.
II. THE FAILURE OF ABRAHAM’S CARNAL POLICY. (F. Hastings.)
Faith in weakness and conflict
1. Here is faith in conflict with natural disappointment. “There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there.”
2. Faith is here in conflict with, and is overcome by, fear and affection. “He said unto Sarai his wife, Behold, I know that thou art a fair woman,” etc.
3. Faith is here seen in conflict with a false expediency. “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister,” etc. (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
Abraham in Egypt
I. ABRAHAM’S CONDUCT.
1. His trouble. Famine.
2. He has recourse to Egypt. The granary of the world at that time.
3. His danger and device.
4. His dishonour.
1. What a lesson on the weakness and treachery of the human heart!
2. We are taught to expect trouble in our Christian life.
3. We see here the temptation to a false and worldly policy.
4. We see the evils of trimming and temporizing. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
The blessed life illustrated in the history of Abraham
I. HERE IS A MYSTERY. “The famine was grievous in the land”--so it begins. And yet Abraham was in the land to which God had called him, and where God had promised to bless him. What does it mean--“the famine was grievous in the land”? That it should be counted a mystery shows how blind we are, and how shallow and selfish are our thoughts of God’s holy religion. Hardship, difficulty, even famine is accepted readily enough by many men whose aims are to be reached by such endurance. The athlete in his training, the soldier in his calling, the man of science in his search for truth, the student in his work, all accept such sturdy self-denial as the condition of success. What science, and art, and love of travel can stimulate other men to endure, cannot our holy religion and the vision of God inspire us to accept and rejoice in? Or the benefactor sends the boy to sea, forth to wild storms, the boy that his mother screened, and for whom she made endless sacrifices--now amidst this rough set, tossed on angry waves, exposed to dangers on every hand. Shall they not pity him? But what shall they say now, as the surgeon bends in some work of mercy which the angels might envy--brave, skilful, unerring? Or what now, as the captain takes his place, alert and wise, rendering splendid service to a host of people? There was a famine in the land--why? Because God hath forgotten Abraham? No. Because God hath said, “I will bless thee;. . .and thou shalt be a blessing”; and because here, as everywhere else, hardship and stern discipline have their place and their work to do. God hath spoken it, and He knows full well how to keep His own promise. Think of the captain to whom we should say, “Sir, do you know what to do in a storm?” “No,” says the captain, “I do not; I am thankful to say that I have been always kept in the harbour in very smooth water.” What think you of a doctor to whom one should say, “Do you know what to do in case of fever, or in a serious accident?” “No,” he replies, “I do not; I have happily never been permitted to deal with anything worse than an occasional chilblain, or a sick headache!” I should prefer another captain, another doctor, and should wonder how they got their names. O soul! dost thou know what God can be to one in trouble? “Ah!” thou sayest, “until then I never knew what God was; how tender and gracious, how mighty to uphold, how good to deliver!”
II. HERE IS A GREAT COMPENSATION. “And the Canaanite was then in the land”; “And there was a famine in the land”; “And the Lord appeared unto Abram.” Did visions of a goodly land “flowing with milk and honey” fill the mind of Abraham? a land where annoyance should cease, and life should be a leisurely enjoyment; where everything should fit exactly into one’s desires? If so, his was a bitter disappointment. What was the use of parting with a pleasant place like Haran for a land like this? And as for leaving a respectable set of people like our friends there, to live amidst the Canaanites--it was really a great mistake. Even faithful Sarai, thinking of the fertile slopes of Haran and the kindred, might sometimes sigh and say in her heart, “Was it worth while to come so far and to give up so much for this?” If land, and cattle and flocks and gain be all, he has made a bad bargain. But had not the God of Glory appeared to him, saying, “I will bless thee;. . .thou shalt be a blessing”? It was because God was more to him than flocks and herds that Abraham is here; and because God is more to him than all else he will dwell here still. The sweet promise rang in his soul. That satisfied him and silenced his doubts. If thus God is going to keep His promise, by Canaanite and famine, it is all right. Abraham has not to teach God how to be as good as His word; and with Him he has all things. “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land; and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.” Lot saw the Canaanite and the famine, and thought it was a poor place. Abraham saw God. O blessed land, thrice blessed, where my God doth appear to me and speak so comfortably! By this everything was settled and determined. Which was counted best and dearest--the gift, or the Giver? God, or the land? Life will always be a mystery and a distraction if God be not ever first and only first. My sure possession is in God. That is the Blessed Life.
III. HERE IS A FALL. “And Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there.” Certainly Abraham had no business to be in Egypt. Egypt is ever the type of the world that knows not God, out of which God calls His Son. And the one incident which is recorded of Abraham there, as well as that which is not recorded, makes us feel that he is out of his place. Alas! here there is no room for an altar; and no opportunity for communion with God. Here is wanting the record that Abraham pitched his tent and builded his altar. Here it is not written that Abraham called upon the name of the Lord. He could scarcely be alone! This silence is full of meaning. Abraham without his altar is Abraham shorn of his strength, weak as are others. Learn that many a man loses the blessed life in seeking to better his position. Never was there more need for strong words upon this matter than today, when changes are so easily made, and when unrest is in the very atmosphere. How many go down to Egypt in these times! there is a famine in the country. How many hundreds are there in London of whom it is true! I have known many man in the country, doing comfortably enough by hard work--a very pillar of the Church, the centre of an influence that was felt throughout the place, helpful to the neighbours and rich towards God--a life full of brightness and peace. Then, with the hope of making money, he came to London--a stranger. He found nothing to do in religious service; chiefly, I believe, because he did not look for it. And day after day he sank deeper and deeper in the clay, until he could not get out of it, trying very hard to keep a little religion alive; and that is the hardest thing in the world. Pride and greed and querulousness plagued him, and plagued those about him. Set the verses over against each other: “He builded an altar, and called on the name of the Lord, and there was a famine in the land”; “And Abram had sheep and oxen and he-asses, and men servants and maid servants, and she-asses and camels”--but no altar. Which was better: the famine with his God--the wealth without? Let us learn another lesson: That our safety is only in God. If any position could keep one from falling, Abraham might claim it--he to whom the God of Glory had appeared, to whom were spoken such “exceeding great and precious promises,” in whom such sublime purposes awaited fulfilment, a man of such brave and triumphant faith. But that availed him nothing without his God. Our safety lies only in communion with God. No attainment leaves us independent. The old Puritans had a saying that a Christian was like a wine glass without a foot; though it be full it must still be held, or it will speedily be emptied. If our communion with God be disturbed, then is everything imperilled. If circumstances render that impossible, then is all lost. Our God alone is our “Refuge and Strength.”
IV. THE RESTORATION. Abram returned unto the altar that he had builded at the first, and called upon the name of the Lord. The man of God makes but a poor worldling. He is spoiled for it. Of all people in Egypt, none is so unhappy as Abraham without his God. So true is it, in all conditions and of all variety of character, “Thou hast made me, O God, for Thyself; and my heart cannot rest until it rest in Thee!” (M. G. Pearse.)
Abram in Egypt
1. The famine itself, being in the land of promise, must be a trial to him. Had he been of the spirit of the unbelieving spies in the time of Moses, he would have said, “Would God we had stayed at Haran, if not at Ur! Surely this is a land that eateth up the inhabitants.” But thus far Abram sinned not.
2. The beauty of Sarai was another trial to him; and here he fell into the sin of dissimulation, or at least of equivocation. This was one of the first faults in Abram’s life; and the worst of it is, it was repeated, as we shall see hereafter. It is remarkable that there is only one faultless character on record; and more so that in several instances of persons who have been distinguished for some one excellency, their principal failure has been in that particular. Such things would almost seem designed of God to stain the pride of all flesh, and to check all dependence upon the most eminent or confirmed habits of godliness.
3. Yet from all these trials, and from the difficulties into which he brought himself by his own misconduct, the Lord mercifully delivered him. (A. Fuller.)
Afflictions from God
1. Affliction to affliction, trial to trial, doth God knit sometimes for His believing saints.
2. Where His saints come, God sends sometimes heavy judgments, though not for their sakes.
3. A fruitful land is quickly made barren at the word of an angry God.
4. In midst of famine God opens a way for His believing saints to avoid the stroke.
5. Believers will turn no way but God’s for their security and sustenance.
6. Saints desire but to sojourn in the world; for a little space to live here.
7. Grievous, prevailing judgments in a place are sometimes a call to God’s servants to remove (Genesis 12:10). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The lessons Abraham learned in Egypt
1. Abram must have received a new impression regarding God’s truth. It would seem that as yet he had no very clear idea of God’s holiness. He had the idea of God which Mohammedans entertain, and past which they seem unable to get. He conceived of God as the Supreme Ruler; he had a firm belief in the unity of God and probably a hatred of idolatry and a profound contempt for idolaters. He believed that this Supreme God could always and easily accomplish His will, and that the voice that inwardly guided him was the voice of God. His own character had not yet been deepened and dignified by prolonged intercourse with God and by close observation of His actual ways; and so as yet he knows little of what constitutes the true glory of God. What he so painfully learned we must all learn, that God does not need lying for the attainment of His ends, and that double-dealing is always short-sighted and the proper precursor of shame.
2. But whether Abram fully learned this lesson or not, there can be little doubt that at this time he did receive fresh and abiding impressions of God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. In Abram’s first response to God’s call he exhibited a remarkable independence and strength of character. This qualification for playing a great part in human affairs he undoubtedly had. But he had also the defects of his qualities. A weaker man would have shrunk from going into Egypt, and would have preferred to see his flocks dwindle rather than to take so venturesome a step. No such hesitations could trammel Abram’s movements. He felt himself equal to all occasions. He left Egypt in a much more healthy state of mind, practically convinced of his own inability to work his way to the happiness God had promised him, and equally convinced of God’s faithfulness and power to bring him through all the embarrassments and disasters into which his own folly and sin might bring him. His own confidence and management had placed God’s promise in a position of extreme hazard; and without the intervention of God Abram saw that he could neither recover the mother of the promised seed nor return to the Land of Promise. He returned to Canaan humbled and very little disposed to feel confident in his own powers of managing in emergencies; but quite assured that God might at all times be relied on. He was convinced that God was not depending upon him, but he upon God. He saw that God did not trust to his cleverness and craft, no, nor even to his willingness to do and endure God’s will, but that He was trusting in Himself, and that by His faithfulness to His own promise, by His watchfulness and providence, He would bring Abram through all the entanglements caused by his own poor ideas of the best way to work out God’s ends and attain to His blessing. (M. Dods, D. D.)
A famine in the Land of Promise
A famine? A famine in the Land of Promise? Yes, as afterwards, so then; the rains that usually fall in the latter part of the year had failed; the crops had become burnt up with the sun’s heat before the harvest; and the herbage, which should have carpeted the uplands with pasture for the flocks, was scanty, or altogether absent. If a similar calamity were to befall us now, we could still draw sufficient supplies for our support from abroad. But Abraham had no such resource. A stranger in a strange land; surrounded by suspicious and hostile peoples; weighted with the responsibility of vast flocks and herds--it was no trivial matter to stand face to face with the sudden devastation of famine. Did it prove that he had made a mistake in coming to Canaan? Happily the promise which had lately come to him forbade his entertaining the thought. And this may have been one principal reason why it was given. It came, not only as a reward for the past, but as a preparation for the future; so that the man of God might not be tempted beyond what he was able to bear. Our Saviour has His eye on the future, and sees from afar the enemy which is gathering its forces to attack us, or is laying its plans to beguile and entrap our feet. His heart is not more careless of us than, under similar circumstances, it was of Peter, in the darkening hour of his trial, when He prayed for him that his faith might not fail, and washed his feet with an inexpressible solemnity. And thus it often happens that a time of special trial is ushered in by the shining forth of the Divine presence, and the declaration of some unprecedented promise. Happy are they who gird themselves with these Divine preparations, and so pass unhurt through circumstances which otherwise would crush them with their inevitable pressure. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
A lie lasting
A little newsboy, to sell his paper, told a lie. The matter came up in Sabbath school. “Would you tell a lie for three cents!” asked the teacher of one of the boys. “No, ma’am,” answered Dick, very decidedly. “For a dollar?. . .No, ma’am.” “For a thousand dollars?” Dick was staggered; a thousand dollars looked big. Oh, would it not buy lots of things! While he was thinking, another boy behind him roared out, “No, ma’am!” “Why not?” asked the teacher. “Because, when the thousand dollars is all gone, and all the things they have got with them are gone too, the lie is there all the same,” answered the boy. Christian character:--Seaweed plants, which live near the surface of the water, are green, whereas those in lower beds of the sea assume deeper shades of rich olive, and down in the depths still below, far removed from worldly glare, and where no human eye can penetrate, these flowers of ocean are clothed with hues of splendour. Abram’s surface qualities do not look so very attractive, mingling as they do with human defect. But the deeper down we gaze into the moral depths of his being, the fairer are the flowers blooming there. Gazing into the clear tranquil depths of Abram’s spirit, far removed from worldly glare or natural discernment, we behold richly-coloured graces and virtues. (W. Adamson.)
1. Approach to danger hastens on temptation upon God’s own eminent ones.
2. Places of refuge may prove places of danger and distress to God’s own.
3. Fear may overtake believers and weaken faith in times of danger.
4. Fear may put saints upon carnal Consultations for their security.
5. Beauty is a shrewd snare for them that have it, and them that love it (Genesis 12:11).
6. Lust is baited with beauty to the violation of nearest bonds, even between husband and wife.
7. Raging lust is cruel even to destroy any that hinders it.
8. Lust spares its darling, and favours it, only to abuse it (Genesis 12:12).
9. Believers may be so tempted as to make lies their refuge, and dissemble.
10. Self-good and security may put the faithful upon bad shifts to compass it, so here; but as a way-mark to avoid it (Genesis 12:13). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The sombre tints of life
Every life has dark tracts and long stretches of sombre tint, and no representation is true to fact which dips its pencil only in light, and flings no shadows on the canvas. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The holy tempter
Satan makes choice of such as have a great name for holiness to do his work; there is none like a live bird to draw other birds into the net. Abraham tempts his wife to lie--“Say thou art my sister.” The old prophet leads the man of God out of his way. (W. Gurnall.)
Abram in Egypt
No doubt Sarai was Abram’s step-sister; their father was the same, not their mother. Allowing the fullest consideration to this point, still Abram’s character falls very deeply. “O that he had died when he built the altar!” we may be inclined to exclaim. Have there not been times in our own history when we have uttered the same exclamation? Had we been caught up into heaven in some ecstatic mood of devotion, we should have been saved from this sin and from that. Why were we spared, when God must have foreseen that our very next act was to be one of dishonour? Spared to sin! There are two practical points of great importance:--
I. AVOID EQUIVOCATION. It is not enough to tell the truth, we must tell the whole truth. There are men whose life seems to be one long experiment of trying how near they can go to the boundary line without becoming positive liars. There is a very minute particle of truth in what they say; and to that particle they trust for acquittal should their integrity be impugned. Few of us surely are liars--deliberate, scheming, confirmed liars; but how many of us are innocent of equivocation, of fine-spun attempts to give a word two different meanings, of saying a little and keeping back much, of saying sister when we ought to say wife?
II. TRUST GOD WITH THE PARTICULAR AS WELL AS WITH THE GENERAL. Abram had undoubtedly great faith. Abram could trust God for the end, but he took part of the process into his own keeping. So difficult is it to let God govern little things as well as great--to take care of one’s home as well as one’s heaven. Could God not have taken care of Sarai? Did He not, in fact, after all, take care of her and deliver her? But we cannot give up our own little foolish ingenuities; we stand amazed before our own shallow profundities, and think how grand they are. More than this, we shelter ourselves behind such words as “prudence,” “due care,” and “proper precaution.” Where is the perfect faith which God requires, and never fails to honour? What a humiliation for Abram, to stand before Pharaoh, and to be rebuked for a mean and childish artifice! And, on the other hand, how honourable to human nature to act as Pharaoh acted! One thing, however, is to be borne in mind, and that is, that religion is never the cause of any man doing a mean thing. Do not blame Christianity because professing Christians act dishonourably; they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ; they crucify the Son of God afresh! (The Pulpit Analyst.)
I. THE FAILURE OF ABRAM’S FAITH. Doubtless the Lord intended by this famine in the Land of Promise to subject the faith of His servant to a serious test. We do not read that the patriarch asked counsel of “Jehovah who appeared unto him,” and his neglect to do so was probably the point at which he went wrong. Unhappily he still “looked at the things which are seen,” and lost for a season his perfect confidence in the guardian care of God.
II. THE WORLDLY DEVICE WHICH HE ADOPTED.
1. To call his wife his sister was deceitful; it was a mean equivocation--that sort of half-truth which is the most dastardly and sometimes the most dangerous of lies.
2. Abram’s policy was cowardly; it was adopted as a means of selfishly insuring his own life against those in Egypt who might account murder a less heinous crime than adultery; when he ought instead to have bravely trusted, as heretofore, in the Divine presence and protection.
3. And his device was cruel; it involved elements of serious wrong to Sarai, for it constituted her a partner in the falsehood, and exposed her honour to serious perils while it also laid a snare in the way of the Egyptians. But the cunning device was a failure.
III. THE PUNISHMENT WHICH OVERTOOK HIM. When Sarai was removed from him into the royal harem, Abram must have suffered the torture of an accusing conscience, as well as intense anxiety on account of the danger to his wife, the future mother of the promised seed.
IV. GOD’S GRACIOUS INTERVENTION ON HIS BEHALF. Abram has sinned; but he is a man of God still, and the Lord “will not deal with him after his sin.”
1. “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isaiah 2:22). The best of men are but men at the best.
2. Eminent saints sometimes lamentably fail even in their most marked excellences of character. As here with Abram, so it was afterwards with Moses, with David, with Peter.
3. Honesty is the best policy.
4. Holy Scripture recognizes personal beauty as a good gift of God, although one not unattended with danger. None of the sacred writers countenance a gloomy monachism.
5. The simple candour of this narrative in not concealing the faults of its hero is an attestation of its truthfulness.
6. “Morality is not religion; but unless religion is grafted on morality, religion is worth nothing” (F.W. Robertson).
7. How gentle and forbearing the Lord is with the moral infirmities of His people! He “blots out their transgressions for His own sake, and will not remember their sins.” (Charles Jerdan, M. A. , LL. B.)
Abram’s sinful evasion
The transgression of Abram was the saying that Sarah was his sister when she was his wife, and the saying was not distinctly false, but rather an evasion, for she was his half-sister. Now we do not say that every evasion is wrong. For example, when an impertinent question is asked respecting family circumstances or religious feelings it is not necessary that we should tell all. There are cases, therefore, in which we may tell the truth, though not the whole truth. It was even so with our Redeemer; for when asked by the Pharisees how He made Himself the Son of God, He would give them no answer. But it will be observed that Abram’s evasion was nothing of this kind, it was a deception. It was not keeping back part of the truth when the questioner has no right to ask; it was false expediency. It was a right expediency in Samuel when he permitted Israel to have a king, and the law of Christian expediency is to select the imperfect when the perfect cannot be had. It will be observed however that the expediency of Abram was altogether different. It was not the selection of the imperfect because the perfect could not be had, but it was the choice between telling the truth and saving his life; and Abram chose the falsehood that he might save his life--that is, he used an expediency which had nothing to do with Christian expediency. Of two blessings let the temporal blessing be the higher, and the spiritual blessing the lesser; still they are not commensurate. Man must not stop to ask himself which is best, right or wrong; he must do right. It was on this principle that the blessed martyrs of old died for the truth; it was but an evasion that was asked of them, but they felt that there was no comparison between the right and the wrong in the matter. “I have a life, you may take that: I have a soul, you cannot destroy that.” It was thus they felt and acted. There is but one apology that can be offered for Abram--the low standard of the age in which he lived; it must be remembered that he was not a Christian. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
1. Sometimes what unbelief feareth, cometh to pass in the very time and place expected.
2. Unclean hearts love to gaze where lust may be satisfied.
3. Eminency of beauty God can give in old age (Genesis 12:14).
4. The greatest beauty may bring the greatest danger.
5. High places make men bold sometimes to commit high sins.
6. Courts of wicked kings are usually schools of uncleanness.
7. God suffers chastest souls sometimes to be tempted in such places.
8. It is a grievous temptation to be under the power of a lustful king (Genesis 12:15). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. God’s help useth not to be far off from the extremities of His servants.
2. Great plagues are near to great sins.
3. God is the only Protector of the innocency and chastity of His saints.
4. God will reprove and punish the proudest of kings and princes for His people (Psalms 105:12).
5. God’s plagues are the speedy and terrible remedy against lust.
6. Partners in sin must be so in judgment.
7. The saving of His from sin is more dear to God than the lives of the wicked (Genesis 12:17). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. God’s plagues may put wicked hearts upon speedy inquiry into their evils.
2. God’s heavy strokes may force oppressors to call for oppressed to relieve them.
3. Wicked hearts will charge others to be the cause of their afflictions rather than themselves.
4. Sinful concealments in saints, are justly reprovable by the wicked (Genesis 12:18).
5. Equivocation and ambiguous speaking to deceive is chargeable as evil by nature itself.
6. The infirmities of saints which may be occasion of sin unto the wicked are to be reproved.
7. Adultery is odious to the principles of corrupted nature (Genesis 12:19).
8. Judgment wrings the prey out of the hand of the wicked.
9. Judgment makes wicked men give everyone their own.
10. God can make the mightiest enemies command good for, and be a guard to, His saints, and all they have (Genesis 12:20). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter