The Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God: walk before Me, and be thou perfect
Walking before God
In a certain sense we must all walk before God, whether in solitude or among the haunts of men.
But it is open to us to realize His presence, or to dismiss it from our minds. It is the first of these courses which God counsels Abraham to adopt. The words imply that the realization of the Divine presence is the secret of all perfection. The text answers the question as to how the work of our calling may be done devoutly. It bids us “do all in God,” by habitual mindfulness of His presence.
1. The counsel to be mindful of God’s presence might seem to be quite practicable for those who have to work merely with their hands. But work which involves thought seems to preclude the realization of the Divine presence at the moment of its being done. In answer to this we need only observe that all that is necessary is the consciousness that God’s eye is upon us. Consciousness of a presence need not interfere with the most active operations of mind. The mind of a speaker may be intently occupied while he is making an extempore address, yet all the time he remembers that the eye of the audience is upon him. Consciousness of their presence forms the very groundwork of his mind.
II. The conception of God’s presence will take different shapes in different minds. We may regard Him as locally present everywhere, the veil of matter screening Him from our view; or we may regard Him as having a certain intimate connection with our minds, as upholding momentarily in us the powers of life and thought.
III. In cultivating the consciousness of the Divine presence, we shall find it useful to catch at every help which our circumstances afford. If our hearts are right and true, we may find Christ--or rather may be found of Him--not only in the quiet country, but in the busy city, in the midst of the traffic of secular affairs. (Dean Goulburn.)
A revelation and a requirement
I. THE REVELATION: “I am the Almighty God.” God is always sufficient. Enough for every being and occasion, responsibility and work. All knowledge, wisdom, authority, power.
II. THE REQUIREMENT: “Walk before Me,” etc.
1. An onward and forward step.
2. The habitual recognition of God. (S. Martin.)
The revelation to Abraham
I. The sun, the moon, the stars, were the old gods of the East, the Elohim, the high and mighty ones, who ruled over men, over their good or bad fortunes, over the weather, the cattle, the crops, sending burning drought, pestilence, sunstroke, and those moonstrokes of which the Psalmist speaks when he says, “The sun shall not smite thee by day nor the moon by night.” And these the old Easterns worshipped in some wild, confused way. But to Abraham it was revealed that the sun, the moon, and the stars were not Elohim, the high and mighty ones: that there was but one Elohim, one high and mighty One, the Almighty Maker of them all.
II. Merely to believe that there is one God is a dead faith, which will never be counted for righteousness, because: it will never make a man righteous, doing righteous and good deeds as Abraham did. Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness because it was righteousness, and made him do righteous deeds.
1. His faith in God made him brave. He went forth he knew not whither, but he had put his strength in God, and he did not fear.
2. Faith made him high-minded, generous, and courteous; as when he bids Lot go whither he will with his flocks and herds. Abraham was a plain man, dwelling in tents, but still, as the children of Heth said of him, a mighty prince, not merely in wealth of flocks and herds, but a prince in manners and a prince in heart.
3. Faith in God made Abraham a truly pious man, it made him the friend of God. His communion with God is the especial glory of Abraham’s character. This gave him his name, “the friend of God”; or as his descendants the Arabs call him to this day, simply “The Friend.”
III. Abraham believed God because there was in his heart something which there is not in all men’s hearts--something which answered to God’s call, and make him certain that the call was from God--even the Holy Spirit of God. Blessed is the man who has chosen his share of Abraham’s faith: he and his children after him shall have their share of Abraham’s blessing. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
Preparation for fresh spiritual privileges
I. DIVINE VISITATION.
1. To reward long trial and patience.
2. To reveal the Divine purpose more clearly.
II. ENLARGEMENT AND EXALTATION OF THE IDEA OF DUTY. The more we know of God, the more exalted and noble our conception of the duty we owe to Him. Our sense of the holiness of His law increases.
1. We have a clearer idea of the standard of duty. “Walk before Me.” The moral character of God is proposed for our imitation.
2. We see what is the true evidence of duty. “Be thou perfect.” Perfect obedience--completeness of spiritual character--respect unto all God’s commandments these are the evidences that our duty has been rendered acceptably. The constant aim after perfection is a proof that our piety is real and sincere.
3. We have the Divine encouragements of duty. “I am the Almighty God.” As we have infinite goodness to furnish us with an idea and an example, so we have infinite power to support us and to give us the necessary strength. (T. H.Leale.)
The power of God
We cannot conceive of a God without power; nor can we conceive rightly of Jehovah only as a God of infinite power; as the Almighty God, as He is called in our text. By this name He revealed Himself to Abraham, when He appeared to him to confirm the promise of a very numerous posterity; a thing that seemed unlikely, if human appearances only had been consulted; but to encourage his faith in the promise, He says, “I am the Almighty God.” This was enough; Abraham was satisfied. He believed; he waited; and the promise was fulfilled. It will also greatly assist our faith, and promote our devotion, if we receive and retain a solemn conviction, that God is a being possessed of infinite power. Let us trace the evidences of this truth.
I. In the original production of all creatures.
II. In the preservation and government of all creatures; and,
III. In the redemption of sinful man.
1. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3). They were not merely formed, they were created; they were made out of nothing, the matter of which they were formed was created; for “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1); and these two words, “the heaven and the earth,” include all the countless myriads of creatures and things which fill the universe, and far exceed the view of mortals. God alone can create.
2. The power of God, as it is displayed in the preservation and government of His creatures. The whole system is preserved in its beautiful order by the same Almighty hand which gave it being. He upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). Mark the display of the same Almighty power in making constant provision for the vast family of the universe. The continuance, from age to age, of the various orders of animals, beasts, birds, fishes, insects, and all the multitudes of trees, plants, and flowers, must be ascribed to the same Almighty power. The moral government of God is still more wonderful. To His power in restraining evil spirits we owe much of our safety and comfort. We are more sensible of His power in restraining wicked men. But as the world is, it would be infinitely worse, if God did not withhold bad men from their purposes; but nil hearts are in His hand.
3. The power of God as it shines in the redemption of sinful men by Jesus Christ. Observe this power in the presence of the great Redeemer. When we consider the first planting of our holy religion in the world, by instruments so feeble, and notwithstanding obstacles so great, we shall see with what propriety the gospel is said to be “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). But it concerns us most of all to trace the effects of Divine power in the application of the gospel to the heart, without which its publication to the world, and its preservation to this day, will not avail to our personal salvation. The gospel is designed to produce a great inward change. The corruption of our nature renders this change absolutely necessary; and it is a change so considerable, as to be called in Scripture a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17): this, of course, can be effected only by the power of God; and, therefore, true converts are said to be made “willing in the day of His power” (Psalms 110:3). Let us contemplate one more exertion of Divine power. When Moses saw a bush on fire, and yet that it was not consumed, he turned aside to behold it with admiration. In that burning bush he beheld the emblem of Israel afflicted in Egypt, yet not destroyed; and we may perceive in it an emblem of a true Christian, “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5). And what but the power of God is sufficient for this purpose? What, then, shall we say to these things? What use shall we make of our meditations on the Almighty power of God? Let Him be adored; let Him be feared; let Him be trusted. Let Him be adored. He, and He alone, is the proper object of religious worship. Observe and admire His power wherever you see it; and where can you look without seeing it? Let this Almighty God be feared. Fear not man, who can do nothing but as permitted. Fear not man, said our Saviour, “but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear; fear Him which after He hath killed the body, can cast both body and soul into hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear Him” (Luke 12:5). “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Yes; “trust in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:4). What cannot He do who is almighty? “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Genesis 18:14). (G. Burder.)
The life, walk, and triumph of faith
I. The first thing we shall speak about, upon this occasion, is SURE RELIANCE. The foundation of it is laid before us in the text. True confidence leans alone upon God, who declares Himself to be Almighty God, or God All-sufficient--for such is an equally correct rendering of the passage. All true faith hangs upon God, as the vessel upon the nail. Strong faith realizes the all-sufficiency of God, and that is the secret of its strength, the hidden manna on which it feeds and becomes vigorous. God is God All-sufficient; simple as that truth is for us to speak, and for you to hear, it is a deep unfathomable, and did we really grasp its truth and dwell upon it, it would have a very wonderful effect upon our whole conduct.
1. This blessed text, “I am God All-sufficient,” may apply to us in times when we are inclined to shirk any service for God. “Thou art foolish, but I am wise. Give thyself up to My guidance: trust thyself in My hands, and thou shalt achieve marvels; and exceeding great wonders shalt thou accomplish by My power and grace.”
2. This word may also be useful to those who are trembling under some present temporal trial and affliction.
3. The same may also be applied to each of us when we are under spiritual depressions. Inward tribulations are frequently more severe than temporal trials; the man of God knows this full well. “I am God Almighty,” saith the Lord: “Therefore say thou unto the enemy, ‘Rejoice not over me, for though I fall yet shall I rise again.’”
II. Secondly, our text goes on to speak of our RIGHT POSITION. The Lord says, “I am Almighty God,” and then He adds, “Walk before Me.” It is much easier for me to talk about this than it will be to practise it. The meaning is simple--the actual obedience grace alone can work in us. “Walk before Me.” Not merely “think before Me,” and “pray before Me,” but “walk before Me.” I know many find it easy to cultivate a sense of God’s presence in their own study, or in the room where they are accustomed to pray, but this is the point--to feel it in business, and in the details of everyday life. Oh, it is a great word this--“Walk before Me.” Its brevity is not so notable as its fulness. Surely it means realize My presence, and then, in general life and ordinary conversation, continue under a sense of it, serious, devout, holy, earnest, trustful, consecrated, Christ-like. But He meant more than that. “Walk before Me.” That is, “Delight in My company.” True believers find their choicest joy in communion with God; and did we always walk with God in a sense of communing with Him, our peace would be like a river, and our righteousness like the waves of the sea. “Walk before Me.” Does not it mean just this, in a word, “Do not act as seeing anybody else except Me? Walk before Me.” Now, Abram had walked before Sarah: he had listened to her, and much mischief had come of his so doing at different times. The dearest friends we have are often those who will lead us most astray when we take counsel with flesh and blood. “Do not allow your course to be shaped by regarding Hagar, or regarding Ishmael, or regarding Sarah, or anybody else. ‘Walk before Me.’” I am persuaded that a regard for God, a sense of duty, a straight-forward following out of convictions, is the only true style of living, for if you begin to notice the whims and wishes of one, then you will have to do the same with another; and if your course of conduct is to be shaped to please men, you will become man’s slave and nothing better; and no child of God ought to come into that condition.
III. But we must pass on, for there is another point, and that is, as we have considered our sure reliance and our right position, we notice next OUR GLORIOUS AIM: “Be thou perfect.” Now, the connection shows us that the only way to be perfect is to walk before the Lord. If any man desires holiness, he must get it through communion. The way to be transformed into the likeness of God is to live in the company of God. First, God must be known as All-sufficient; thus He helps and enables His servant to walk before Him, and then, as a consequence, that favoured servant labours to obey the word of command, “Be thou perfect.” “Oh,” says one, “but how can we be perfect?” I will ask thee another question: Wouldst thou have God command thee to be less than perfect? If so He would be the author of an imperfect law. “The law of the Lord is perfect;” how could it be otherwise? I do not find that He bids us partly keep His law, but wholly keep it. And so the Lord holds up this as the standard of a Christian, “Be thou perfect.” And does it not mean, let us be perfect in desiring to have all the round of graces? Suppose a man should have faith, and should have love, but no hope: he would not be perfect. He would be like a child that had two arms, but only one foot; it would not be a perfect child. You must have all the graces, if you are to be a perfect man. And as we have all the graces, so we should seek to have in our lives exhibited all the virtues, in the fulfilment of all our duties. It is a very sad thing when you hear of a Christian man that he is a very excellent deacon, that he is a very admirable local preacher or Sabbath school teacher, but that he is a very unkind father. That “but” spoils it all. A saint abroad is no saint if he be a devil at home. Now, I think I hear somebody saying, “How shall we ever reach such a height?” My dear brother, you never will do so except you remember the first part of the text--“I am the Almighty God.” He can help you. If there be any sin that you cannot overcome yourself, He can overcome it for you. If there be any virtue you have not yet reached, He can lead you up to it. But I will not detain you longer, except to notice that last word. It is a very sweet word: “I will make My covenant between Me and thee.” Oh, it is the man that knows an All-sufficient God, and that lives in the presence of God, and that endeavours to be perfect in his life--it is that man that enjoys intercourse and communion with God, such as no one else knows, for “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” “There shall be a covenant between Me and thee.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Walking before God
I. A DECLARATION--“I am THE ALMIGHTY GOD.”
II. A COMMAND.
“Walk before Me.” Think, act, speak, under a sense of God’s omnipresence.
III. A FURTHER COMMAND OR PROMISE. “Be thou perfect,” or, “Thou shalt be perfect.”
1. As a command it imports, “Thou shalt be upright and sincere in thought, speech, action.”
2. As a promise, “Thou shalt be perfect as thy state and nature can bear, in knowledge, holiness, happiness.” (J. Benson, D. D.)
The Almightiness of God
1. Rebukes our lack of unwavering faith.
2. Teaches us to leave with God all that concerns us.
3. Teaches us to practise perfect openness with God.
4. Is the remedy against all discouragement.
To walk before God is
1. To live as in His sight, and under His special inspection.
2. To realize, at all times, His presence and His Providence.
3. To feel the dignity of the godly life. We are not to walk behind Him, as if ashamed, but before Him, as conscious of the dignity of our high calling.
4. To feel the constant energy of spiritual life. We cannot fail with the Almighty power behind us.
5. To feel the love of God towards us.
6. To apprehend God’s love by our faith.
Walk before Me, and be thou perfect
I. THE DIVINE SUMMONS. “Perfect” here means whole-heartedness--entire surrender of being. Such an attitude can only be maintained by a very careful “walk.”
II. THE REVELATION ON WHICH THIS SUMMONS WAS BASED--“I am the Almighty God”--El-Shaddai. “All power is Mine, in heaven and upon earth. Of old I laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of My hands. I sit upon the circle of the earth; and its inhabitants are as grasshoppers. I bring out the starry hosts by number, calling them all by names, by the greatness of My might, for that I am strong in power: not one faileth. Hast thou not known?--Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary?” All this is as true today as ever. And if any will dare venture forth on the path of separation, cutting themselves aloof from all creature aid, and from all self-originated effort; content to walk alone with God, with no help from any but Him--such will find that all the resources of the Divine Almightiness will be placed at their disposal, and that the resources of Omnipotence must be exhausted ere their cause can fail for want of help.
III. THE COVENANT WHICH WAS DIVINELY PROPOSED.
1. It referred to the seed.
2. It referred to the land.
3. It referred to the coming child. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Consecration to God--illustrated by Abraham’s circumcision
On the occasion of this gracious manifestation, God was pleased to do for Abram what I think is to us an admirable and instructive illustration of the consecration of our redeemed spirit,, entirely to His service.
I. First, then, let us notice in the words of God to Abram, THE MODEL OF THE SANCTIFIED OR CONSECRATED LIFE. Here it is: “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.”
1. For a man to be thoroughly sanctified to the Master’s service, he must first realize the almightines and all-sufficiency and glory of God.
2. True holiness is a walking before God. The saint feels that he must not, dare not, transgress, because he is before the very face of God.
3. The next words are, “and be thou perfect.” Does this mean absolute perfection? Freely I do admit that the model of sanctification is perfection.
II. Secondly, THE NATURE OF THIS CONSECRATION as illustrated in this chapter.
1. Genuine spiritual consecration begins with communion with God. Note the third verse--“Abraham fell on his face, and God talked with him.” By looking at Christ Jesus, His image is photographed upon our mind, and we are changed from glory to glory, as by the presence of the Lord.
2. The next point in the nature of this consecration is that it is fostered by enlarged views of the covenant grace. “As for Me, behold My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.”
3. Note, in reading these words, how this covenant is revealed to Abram peculiarly as a work of Divine power. Note the run of the passage, “I will make My covenant between Me and thee.” “I will make thee fruitful.” “I will establish My covenant.” “I will give unto thee.” “I will be thy God,” and so on. Oh! those glorious “wills” and “shalls.” Ye cannot serve the Lord with a perfect heart until first your faith gets a grip of the Divine “wills” and “shalls.”
4. Further, Abraham had a view of the covenant in its everlastingness. I do not remember that the word “everlasting” had been used before in reference to that covenant, but in this chapter we have it over and over again. “I will establish My covenant for an everlasting covenant.” Here is one of those grand truths which many of the babes in grace have not as yet learned, namely, that the blessings of grace are blessings not given today to be taken back tomorrow, but eternal blessings.
5. In considering the nature of this consecration, I would observe next, that they who are consecrated to God are regarded as new men. The new manhood is indicated by the change of name--he is called no longer Abram, but Abraham, and his wife no longer Sarai, but Sarah. Ye are new creatures in Christ Jesus.
6. Note further that the nature of this consecration was set forth to Abraham by the rite of circumcision. Taking away the filthiness of the flesh.
III. THE RESULTS OF SUCH A CONSECRATING.
1. Immediately after God’s appearing to Abraham his consecration was manifest, first, in his prayer for his family. “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” Men of God, if you are indeed the Lord’s, and feel that you are His, begin now to intercede for all who belong to you.
2. The next result of Abraham’s consecration was, that he was most hospitable to his fellow men. Look at the next chapter. He sits at the tent door, and three men come to him. The Christian is the best servant of humanity in a spiritual sense. I mean that for his Master’s sake he endeavours to do good to the sons of men.
3. The third result was, Abraham entertained the Lord Himself, for amongst those three angels who came to his house was the King of kings, the Infinite One. Every believer who serves his God doth, as it were, give refreshment to the Divine mind. I mean this, God took an infinite delight in the work of His dear Son. He said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and He takes a delight also in the holiness of all His people.
4. Once more, Abraham became the great intercessor for others. The next chapter is full of his pleadings for Sodom. If we do but become consecrated to God, thoroughly so, as I have attempted feebly to describe, we shall become mighty with God in our pleadings. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This admonition implies a serious reproof. It was like saying, “Have recourse no more to unbelieving expedients: keep thou the path of uprightness, and leave Me to fulfil My promise in the time and manner that seem good to Me!” What a lesson is here afforded us, never to use unlawful means under the pretence of being more useful, or promoting the cause of God. Our concern is to walk before Him, and be upright, leaving Him to bring to pass His own designs in His own way. (A. Fuller.)
The repetition of the call
I. He saw the Lord again, and heard His voice calling him, as it were, anew. God was manifested to him in glory, and spoke to him in power. “The Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God” (Genesis 17:1).
II. Abram is called to be perfect. Now, this word “perfect,” or “upright,” when applied to man, in the Bible, is not absolute, but relative. It relates, for the most part, not to the whole character of a man, but to some one particular feature of his character, some individual grace or virtue specified, in respect of which he is said to be complete or entire, consistent and sincere. In the instance before us, it is the duty of “walking before God,” in respect of which Abram is exhorted to be perfect--“Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” Now, to walk before God, is to walk and live as in His sight, and under His special inspection: to realize, at all times, His presence and His providence; to feel His open and unslumbering eye ever upon us. Thus to walk before God is impossible, if there be not redeeming love on His part, apprehended by faith on ours; and to be perfect, guileless, and upright, in so walking before God, is the great duty of the believer. He alone can discharge that duty.
III. Abram has a sufficient reason given to him for his compliance with the command--“Walk before Me and be thou perfect.” It is a reason founded on the nature of God Himself. God appeals to His omnipotence, as warranting His expectation that His servant’s walk before Him should be perfect. “I am the Almighty God.” “This is thine encouragement to act with entire frankness and unreserve in all thy dealings with Me, and to let all be open and undisguised between us. I have all power and all sufficiency; and all that concerns thee may be safely left to Me. There is no need of any underhand or circuitous mode of procedure, nor any occasion to resort to any doubtful walk of thine own for the accomplishment of all that thine heart desires. I am the Almighty God: walk before Me. Commit thy way to Me, and I will bring it to pass. What is it that troubles thee, and would tempt thee to try some device of thine own for relief? Is it sin? And hast thou found no Saviour? Then know that I am the Almighty God; and that, as the Almighty, I have all power to forgive sin. Let thy sin, in all its blackness, be laid bare before Me; for I am the Almighty God; I have a provision such as no resources but Mine could furnish--a provision of infinite wisdom, and power, and love, by which I freely cleanse thee from it all.” In this way, Abram, when in danger of relapsing into worldly indifference, through the hardening influence of the deceitfulness of sin, and the yielding of faith to sense--of the Spirit to the flesh--is called authoritatively and peremptorily to repent, and do his first works. The process of awakening is simple and effectual, as every work of God is, and it is exactly suited to his case. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
A constant walk with God
It is not one or two good actions, but a good conversation, which will speak a man to be a right Christian. A true believer, like the heavenly orb, is constant and unwearied in his motions and actings. Enoch “walked with God”; it is not taking a step or two in a way which denominates a man as a walker, but a continued motion. No man is judged healthy by a flushing colour in his face, but by a good complexion. God esteems none holy for a particular carriage, but for a general course. (G. Swinnock.)
Perfection requires time
The acorn does not become an oak in a day; the ripened scholar was not made such by a single lesson; the well-trained soldier was not a raw recruit yesterday; it is not one touch of the artist’s pencil that produces a finished painting; there are always months between seed time and harvest; even so the path of the just is like the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. (J. Nichol.)
Christian perfection is a spiritual constellation, made up of these gracious stars--perfect repentance, perfect faith, perfect humility, perfect meekness, perfect self-denial, perfect resignation, perfect hope, perfect charity for our visible enemies as well as for our earthly relations, and, above all, perfect love for our invisible God through the explicit knowledge of our Mediator Jesus Christ. And as this last star is always accompanied by all the others, as Jupiter is by his satellites, we frequently use, as St. John, the phrase, “perfect love,” instead of the word “perfection”; understanding by it the pure love of God shed abroad in the hearts of established believers by the Holy Ghost, which is abundantly given them under the fulness of the Christian dispensation. (J. Fletcher.)
Risks attending moral perfection
There are things precious, not from the materials of which they are made, but from the risk and difficulty of bringing them to perfection. The speculum of the largest telescope foils the optician’s skill in casting. Too much or too little heat, the interposition of a grain of sand, a slight alteration in the temperature of the weather, and all goes to pieces: it must be re-cast. Therefore, when successfully finished, it is a matter for almost the congratulation of a country. Rarer and more difficult still than the costliest part of the most delicate of instruments, is the completion of the Christian character. Only let there come the heat of persecution, or the cold of human desertion, a little of the world’s dust, and the rare and costly thing is liable to be cracked, and become a failure. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Culture necessary to the perfection of Christian graces
Have you seen the tulip bed in the garden of the florist? have you marked the gorgeous colours, the rich variety, the delicate pencilling? All these gay flowers were once of a dark dingy hue. Year after year did the gardener watch them, tend them, transplant them from soil to soil, till at length, one by one, some sooner and some later, they broke into these glorious hues, this boundless variety of stripe and freckle. Then did he remove them to his choicest border, and shelter them from sun and shower; and now thou gazest on them in their beauty. Thus dark and unlovely once were the redeemed of the Lord: such pains and watching did He bestow upon them; year after year did He look for the lovely graces of the Spirit in them, till one and another, not all at once, like the tulips, but by degrees, oftentime slow and painful, shone forth in the beauty of holiness. And thus as He transplanted them to His heavenly courts, where, never scorched by the sun, nor smitten by the shower, nor torn by the winds, they shall bloom forever and ever. “Those that he planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the court of our God” (Psalms 92:13). (H. G. Salter.)
Shortcomings as well as excellencies of character to be recognized
An ordinary painter would have been satisfied with executing a picture of grapes which deceived even the birds; but the eminent artist who did so, was dissatisfied with his own performances. Pliny informs us that Zeuxis once painted a boy holding a dish full of grapes so well, that the birds were deceived and flew to the grapes to peck at them. Zeuxis, notwithstanding, was dissatisfied with the picture: “for,” said he, “had I painted the boy as well as he ought to have been painted, the birds would have been afraid to touch the fruit.” Thus does the Christian dwell more on his shortcomings than on his attainments, and the reason is, that “he who has much grace apprehends much more than others that great height to which his love ought to ascend, and he sees better than others how little away he has risen towards that height; and, therefore, estimating his actual love by the whole height of his duty, it appears to him astonishingly little.” I once observed the following motto attached to a coat-of-arms on a gentleman’s carriage, “Tout bien, ou rien,” and it struck me as being peculiarly expressive of what ought to be the Christian’s feeling. (F. F. Trench.)
They say those herbs will keep best, and will longer retain both their hue and verdure, which are dried in the shade, than those which are suddenly scorched with fire or sun. Those wits are like to be most durable which are closely tutored with a leisurely education; time and gentle constancy ripen better than a sudden violence. Neither is it otherwise in our spiritual condition; a wilful slackness is not more dangerous than an over-hastening of our perfection. If I may be every moment drawing nearer to the end of my hope, I shall not wish to precipitate. (Bp. Hall.)
THE COVENANT SEALED
ACCORDING to the dates here given fourteen years had passed since Abram had received any intimation of God’s will regarding him. Since the covenant had been made some twenty years before, no direct communication had been received; and no message of any kind since Ishmael’s birth. It need not, therefore, surprise us that we are often allowed to remain for years in a state of suspense, uncertain about the future, feeling that we need more light and yet unable to find it. All truth is not discovered in a day, and if that on which we are to found for eternity take us twenty years or a life’s experience to settle it in its place, why should we on this account be overborne with discouragement? They who love the truth and can as little abstain from seeking it as the artist can abstain from admiring what is lovely, will assuredly have their reward. To be expectant yet not impatient, unsatisfied yet not unbelieving, to hold mind and heart open, assured that light is sown for the upright and that all that is has lessons for the teachable, this is our proper attitude.
Think you, ‘mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?
We appreciate the significance of a revelation in proportion as we understand the state of mind to which it is made. Abram’s state of mind is disclosed in the exclamation: "Oh, that Ishmael might live before Thee!" He had learned to love the bold, brilliant, domineering boy. He saw how the men liked to serve him and how proud they were of the young chief. No doubt his wild intractable ways often made his father anxious. Sarah was there to point out and exaggerate all his faults and to prognosticate mischief. But there he was, in actual flesh and blood, full of life and interest in everything, daily getting deeper into the affections of Abram, who allowed and could not but allow his own life to revolve very much around the dashing, attractive lad. So that the reminder that he was not the promised heir was not entirely welcome. When he was told that the heir of promise was to be Sarah’s child, he could not repress the somewhat peevish exclamation: "Oh, that Ishmael might serve Thy turn!" Why call me off again from this actual attainment to the vague, shadowy, nonexistent heir of promise, who surely can never have the brightness of eye and force of limb and lordly ways of this Ishmael? Would that what already exists in actual substance before the eye might satisfy Thee and fulfil Thine intention and supersede the necessity of further waiting! Must I again loosen my hold, and part with my chief attainment? Must I cut my moorings and launch again upon this ocean of faith with a horizon always receding and that seems absolutely boundless?
We are familiar with this state of mind. We wish God would leave us alone. We have found a very attractive substitute for what He promises, and we resent being reminded that our substitute is not, after all, the veritable, eternal, best possession. It satisfies our taste, our intellect, our ambition; it sets us on a level with other men and gives us a place in the world; but now and again we feel a void it does not fill. We have attained comfortable circumstances, success in our profession, our life has in it that which attracts applause and sheds a brilliance over it; and we do not like being told that this is not all. Our feeling is Oh, that this might do! that this might be accepted as perfect attainment! it satisfies me (all but a little bit); might it not satisfy God? Why summon me again away from domestic happiness, intellectual enjoyment, agreeable occupations, to what really seems so unattainable as perfect fellowship with God in the fulfilment of His promise? Why spend all my life in waiting and seeking for high spiritual things when I have so much with which I cart be moderately satisfied? For our complaint often is not that God gives so little but that He offers too much, more than we care to have; that He never will let us be content with anything short of what perfectly fulfils His perfect love and purpose.
This being Abram’s state of mind, he is aroused from it by the words: "I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be thou perfect." I am the Almighty God, able to fulfil your highest hopes and accomplish for you the brightest ideal that ever My words set before you. There is no need of paring down the-promise till it square with human probabilities, no need of relinquishing one hope it has begotten, no need of adopting some interpretation of it which may make it seem easier to fulfil, and no need of striving to fulfil it in any second-rate way. All possibility lies in this: I am the Almighty God. Walk before Me and be thou perfect, therefore. Do not train your eye to earthly distances and earthly magnitudes and limit your hope accordingly, but live in the presence of the Almighty God. Do not defer the advices of conscience and of your purest aspirations to some other possible world; do not settle down at the low level of godless nature and of the men around you; do not give way to what you yourself know to be weakness and evidence of defeat; do not let self-indulgence take the place of My commandments, indolence supplant resolution and the likelihoods of human calculation obliterate the hopes stirred by the Divine call: Be thou perfect. Is not this a summons that comes appropriately to every man? Whatever be our contentment, our attainments, our possessions, a new light is shed upon our condition when we measure it by God’s idea and God’s resources. Is my life God’s ideal? Does that which satisfies me satisfy Him?
The purpose of God’s present appearance to Abram was to renew the covenant, and this He does in terms so explicit, so pregnant, so magnificent that Abram must have seen more distinctly than ever that he was called to play a very special part in God’s providence. That kings should spring from him, a mere pastoral nomad in an alien country, could not suggest itself to Abram as a likely thing to happen. Indeed, though a line of kings or two lines of kings did spring from him through Isaac, the terms of the prediction seem scarcely exhausted by that fulfilment. And accordingly Paul without hesitation or reserve transfers this prediction to a spiritual region, and is at pains to show that the many nations of whom Abram was to be the father, were not those who inherited his blood, his natural appearance, his language and earthly inheritance, but those who inherited his spiritual qualities and the heritage in God to which his faith gave him entrance. And he argues that no difference of race or disadvantages of worldly position can prevent any man from serving himself heir to Abram, because the seed, to whom as well as to Abram the promise was made, was Christ, and in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, but all are one.
In connection then with this covenant in which God promised that He would be a God to Abram and to his seed, two points of interest to us emerge. First that Christ is Abram’s heir. In His use of God’s promise we see its full significance. In His life-long appropriation of God we see what God meant when He said, "I will be a God to thee and to thy seed." We find our Lord from the first living as one who felt His life encompassed by God, embraced and comprehended in that higher life which God lives through all and in all. His life was all and whole a life in God. He recognised what it is to have a God, one Whose will is supreme and unerringly good, Whose love is constant and eternal, Who is the first and the last, beyond Whom and from under Whom we can never pass. He moved about in the world in so perfectly harmonious a correspondence with God, so merging Himself in God and His purpose and with so unhesitating a reliance upon Him, that He seemed and was but a manifestation of God, God’s will embodied, God’s child, God expressing Himself in human nature. He showed us once for all the blessedness of true dependence, fidelity and faith. He showed us how that simple promise "I will be a God to thee," received in faith, lifts the human life into fellowship with all that is hopeful and inspiring, with all that is purifying, with all that is real and abiding.
But a second point is, that Jesus was the heir of Abram not merely because He was his descendant, a Jew with all the advantages of the Jew, but because, like Abram, He was full of faith. God was the atmosphere of His life. But He claimed God not because He was Jewish, but because He was human. Through the Jews God had made Himself known, but it was to what was human not to what was Jewish He appealed. And it was as Son of man not as son of Israel or of Adam that Jesus responded to God and lived with Him as His God. Not by specially Jewish rites did Jesus approach and rest in God, but by what is universal and human, by prayer to the Father, by loving obedience, by faith and submission. And thus we too may be joint-heirs with Christ and possess God. And if we think of ourselves as left to struggle with natural defects amidst irreversible natural laws; if we begin to pray very heartlessly, as if He who once listened were now asleep or could do nothing; if our life seems profitless, purposeless, and all unhinged; then let us look back to this sure promise of God, that He will be our God: our God, for, if Christ’s God, then ours, for if we be Christ’s then are we Abram’s seed and heirs according to the promise. How few in any given day are living on this promise: how few attach reality to God’s continuous revelation of Himself, the reality in this world’s transitory history: how few can believe in the nearness and observance and love of God: how few can strenuously seek to be holy or understand where abiding happiness is to be found; for all these things are here. Yet who knocks at this door? Who makes, as Christ made, his life a unity with God, undismayed, unmurmuring, unreluctant, neither fearful of God nor disobedient, but diligent, earnest. jubilant, because God has said, "I will be thy God." Do you believe these things and can you forbear to use them? Do you believe that it is open to you, whosoever you are, to have the Eternal and Supreme God for your God, that He may use all His Divine nature in your behalf; have you conceived what it is that God means when He extends to you this offer, and can you decline to accept it, can you do otherwise than cherish it and seek to find more and more in it every day you live?
Two seals were at this time affixed to the covenant: the one for Abram himself, the other for every one who shared with him in his blessings of the covenant. The first consisted in the change of his own name to Abraham, "the father of a multitude," and of his wife’s to Sarah, "princess" or "queen," because she was now announced as the destined mother of kings. And however Abraham would be annoyed to see the hardly surpressed smile on the ironical faces of his men as he boldly commanded them to call him by a name whose verification seemed so grievously to lag; and however indignant and pained he may have been to hear the young Ishmael jeering Sarah with her new name, and lending to it every tone of mockery and using it with insolent frequency, yet Abraham knew that these names were not given to deceive; and probably as the name of Abraham has become one of the best known names on earth, so to himself did it quickly acquire a preciousness as God’s voice abiding with him, God’s promise renewed to him through every man that addressed him, until at length the child of promise lying on his knees took up its first syllable and called him "Abba."
This seal was special to Abraham and Sarah, the other was public. All who desired to partake with Abraham in the security, hope, and happiness of having God as their God, were to submit to circumcision. This sign was to determine who were included in the covenant. By this outward mark encouragement and assurance of faith were to be quickened in the heart of all Abraham’s descendants.
The mark chosen was significant. It was indeed not distinctive in its outward form; so little so that at this day no fewer than one hundred and fifty millions of the race make use of the same rite for one purpose or other. All the descendants of Ishmael of course continue it, but also all who have their religion, that is, all Mohammedans; but besides these, some tribes in South America, some in Australia, some in the South Sea Islands, and a large number of Kaffir tribes. The ancient Egyptians certainly practised it, and it has been suggested that Abraham may have become acquainted with the practice during his sojourn in Egypt. It is however uncertain whether the practice in Egypt runs back to so early a time. If it were an established Egyptian usage, then of course Hagar would demand for her boy at the usual age the rite which she had always associated with entrance on a new stage of life. But even supposing this was the case, the rite was none the less available for the new use to which it was now put. The rainbow existed before the Flood; bread and wine existed before the night of the Lord’s Supper; baptisms of various kinds were practised before the days of the Apostles. And for this very reason, when God desired a natural emblem of the stability of the seasons He chose a striking feature of nature on which men were already accustomed to look with pleasure and hope; when He desired symbols of the body and blood of the Redeemer He took those articles which already had a meaning as the most efficacious human nutriment: when He desired to represent to the eye the renunciation of the old life and the birth to a new life which we have by union with Christ, He took that rite which was already known as the badge of discipleship: and when He desired to impress men by symbol with the impurity of nature and with our dependence on God for the production of all acceptable life. He chose that rite which, whether used before or not. did most strikingly represent this.
With the significance of circumcision to other men who practise it, we have here nothing to do. It is as the chief sacrament of the old covenant, by which God meant to aid all succeeding generations of Hebrews in believing that God was their God. And this particular mark was given, rather than any other, that they might recognise and ever remember that human nature was unable to generate its own Saviour, that in man there is a native impurity which must be laid aside when he comes into fellowship with the Holy God. And these circumcised races, although in many respects as unspiritual as others, have yet in general perceived that God is different from nature, a Holy Being to Whom we cannot attain by any mere adherence to nature, but only by the aid He Himself extends to us in ways for which nature makes no provision. The lesson of circumcision is an old one and rudely expressed, but it is vital; and no abhorrence of the circumcised for the uncircumcised too strongly, however unjustly, emphasises the distinction that actually subsists between. those who believe in nature and those who believe in God.
The lesson is old, but the circumcision of the heart to which the outward mark pointed, is ever required. That is the true seal of our fellowship with God; the earnest of the Spirit which gives promise of eternal union with the Holy One; the relentings, the shame, the softening of heart, the adoration and reverence for the holiness of God, the thirst for Him, the joy in His goodness, these are the first fruits of the Spirit, which lead on to our calling God Father, and feeling that to be alone with Him is our happiness. It is this putting aside of our natural confidence in nature and absorption in nature, and this turning to God as our confidence and our life, which constitutes the true circumcision of the heart.
Believing as Abraham was, he could not forbear smiling when God said that Sarah would be the mother of the promised seed. This incredulity of Abraham was so significant that it was commemorated in the name of Isaac, the laugher. This heir was typical of all God’s best gifts, at first reckoned impossible, at last filling the heart with gladness. The smile of incredulity became the laughter of joy when the child was born and Sarah said, "God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me." It is they who expect things so incongruous and so impossible to nature unaided that they smile even while they believe, who will one day find their hopes fulfilled and their hearts running over with joyful laughter. If your heart is fixed only on what you can accomplish for yourself, no great joy can ever be yours. But frame your actual hopes in accordance with the promise of God, expect holiness, fulness of joy, animating partnership with God in the highest matters, the resurrection of the dead, the life everlasting, and one day you will say, "God hath made me to laugh." But Abraham prostrating himself to hide a smile is the symbol of our common attitude. We profess to believe in a God of unspeakable power and goodness, but even while we do so we find it impossible to attach a sense of reality to His promises. They are kindly, well-intentioned words, but are apparently spoken in neglect of solid, obstinate facts. How hard is it for us to learn that God is the great reality, and that the reality of all else may be measured by its relation to Him.
Sarah’s laughter had a different meaning. Indeed Sarah does not appear to have been by any means a blameless character. Her conduct towards Hagar showed us that she was a woman capable of generous impulses but not of the strain of continued magnanimous conduct. She was capable of yielding her wifely rights on the impulse of the brilliant scheme that had struck her, but like many other persons who can begin a magnanimous or generous course of conduct, she could not follow it up to the end, but failed disgracefully in her conduct towards her rival. So now again she betrays characteristic weakness. When the strangers came to Abraham’s tent, and announced that she was to become a mother, she smiled in superior, self-assured, woman’s wisdom. When the promise threatened no longer to hover over her household as a mere sublime and exalting idea which serves its purpose if it keep them in mind that God has spoken to them, but to take place now among the actualities of daily occurrence, she hails this announcement with a laugh of total incredulity. Whatever she had made of God’s word, she had not thought it was really and veritably to come to pass; she smiled at the simplicity which could speak of such an unheard-of thing.
This is true to human nature. It reminds you how you have dealt with God’s promises, -nay, with God’s commandments-when they offered to make room for themselves in the everyday life of which you are masters, every detail of which you have arranged, seeming to know absolutely the laws and principles on which your particular line of life must be carried on. Have you never smiled at the simplicity which could set about making actual, about carrying out in practical life, in society, in work, in business, those thoughts, feelings, and purposes, which God’s promises beget? Sarah did not laugh outright, but smiled behind the Lord; she did not mock Him to His face, but let the compassionate expression pass over her face with which we listen to the glowing hopes of the young enthusiast who does not know the world. Have we not often put aside God’s voice precisely thus; saying within us, We know what kind of things can be done by us and others and what need not be attempted; we know what kind of frailties in social intercourse we must put up with, and not seek to amend; what kind of practices it is vain to think of abolishing; we know what use to make of God’s promise and what use not to make of it; how far to trust it, and how far to give greater weight to our knowledge of the world and our natural prudence and sense? Does not our faith, like Sarah’s, vary in proportion as the promise to be believed is unpractical? If the promise seems wholly to concern future things, we cordially and devoutly assent; but if we are asked to believe that God intends within the year to do so-and-so, if we are asked to believe that the result of God’s promise will be found taking a substantial place among the results of our own efforts-then the derisive smile of Sarah forms on our face.
To look at the crowds of persons professing religion, one would suppose nothing was commoner than faith. There is nothing rarer. Devoutness is common, righteousness of life is common; a contempt for every kind of fraud and underhand practice is common; a high-minded disregard for this world’s gains and glories is common; an abhorrence of sensuality and an earnest thirst for perfection are common-but faith? Will the Son of man when He comes find it on earth? May not the messengers of God yet say, Who hath believed our report? Why, the great majority of Christian people have never been near enough to spiritual things to know whether they are or are not; they have never narrowly weighed spiritual issues and trembled as they watched the uncertain balance; they say they believe God and a future of happiness because they really do not know what they are talking about-they have not measured the magnitude of these things. Faith is not a blind and careless assent to matters of indifference, faith is not a state of mental suspense with a hope that things may turn out to be as the Bible says. Faith is the firm persuasion that these things are so. And he who at once knows the magnitude of these things and believes that they are so, must be filled with a joy that makes him independent of the world, with an enthusiasm which must seem to the world like insanity. It is quite a different world in which the man of faith lives.
My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations
The second stage of the covenant
Already Jehovah, the Covenant God, had appeared thrice to Abram.
1. Simply to assure him that he should be blessed, and become a blessing Genesis 12:7).
2. To give him the promise of a numerous progeny, as the dust of the earth for multitude (Genesis 13:16).
3. To repeat this assurance, but now likening the number of his seed to the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5). This third vision was confirmed by a solemn sacrifice. In it God stands clearly out as the contracting party, conveying certain blessings to Abram, and requiring the performance of no distinct conditions on His part. Now the covenant has moved forwards another stage, and Abram is to take his own part in it by receiving the appointed sign--“the sign and seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11). This second stage of the covenant was marked--
I. BY MORE DEFINITE AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL PROMISES. This law of progressive revelation has an illustration in the case of Abram. The original promise is renewed, but spread more out into details. Consider these promised blessings--
1. In their natural greatness. Though they have a higher meaning and importance, yet there are aspects of them which belong entirely to this present world.
2. In their spiritual significance. Their ultimate reference is above and beyond the things of time and sense. The sands on the sea shore, and the multitude of the stars, speak to us Christians of the number and extent of the true Church of God.
II. BY A CHANCED NAME. Abram had reached a new stage in his history, and this is indicated by a new name. With God, names are not empty designations, but represent the truth of things. To Abraham it was as a new life to find the promises growing more clear, the gifts of God’s goodness more palpable and evident.
III. BY SPECIAL ENGAGEMENT ON THE PART OF GOD. God is the fountain of the blessing, and the sole proposer of the terms. His covenant is the only foundation of all our hope. We can look for nothing but what is thus assured to us. To believers in covenant, God conveys the riches which are in Christ. They are bound to a life of faith and love, and He engages Himself to impart His fulness,
1. This should excite our gratitude.
2. It should stimulate our faith.
3. It should excite our reverence. (T. H. Leale.)
The ratification of the covenant
I. GOD’S TREATMENT OF ABRAHAM.
1. His revelation of Himself.
2. He changes the names of the patriarch and his wife.
3. An enlarged promise.
4. The promise of a son to Sarah.
5. Yet Ishmael is remembered for good.
II. ABRAHAM’S CONDUCT.
1. He readily entered into the covenant.
2. He instantly submitted to the prescribed rite.
3. He included in the covenant all whom he could influence.
III. APPLICATION. God proposes to enter into covenant with us. He has given His Son as a sacrifice for our sins, and made us the most gracious and abundant promises. Now, we are required to take up the covenant and accept the conditions of it.
1. Look at the covenant on God’s part.
Supper, in token of our covenant relation to Him.
2. Our duty.
(a) Remember His presence.
(b) Seek His guidance and approval in all we do.
(c) Look to Him for protection and reward.
Safe. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
God’s everlasting covenant
I. THIS COVENANT IS THE SHEET ANCHOR OF CHRISTIAN FAITH. No fear of defeat or failure.
II. THIS COVENANT IS A PERPETUAL COVENANT. “Everlasting” is the period of its duration. It is for all ages, all dispensations, all believers in all the world to the end of time.
III. THIS COVENANT WAS MADE WITH ABRAM AND HIS SEED AFTER HIM. Parents do not make enough of it, or plead it with sufficient faith and persistency.
IV. THIS COVENANT IS GOD’S EVERLASTING ARM UNDERNEATH THE SAINT. Away, then, with fear. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
Faith in God’s naked word
The more entirely thou canst rely on God’s naked word and promise, the stronger is thy faith; for then thou trustest Him on His own credit, without any bond from another; and this is faith indeed. He that walks without staff or crutch, is stronger than he that needs these to lean on. (W. Gurnall.)
Distrust of God’s promise
The awkwardness of our hearts to suffer comes much from distrust. An unbelieving soul treads upon the promise, as a man upon ice; at first going upon it he is full of fears, lest it should crack. (W. Gurnall.)
God talked with him
I. SATISFACTORY COMMUNION. The Rev. James Owen, of Shrewsbury, being asked, when on his death bed, whether he would have some of his friends sent for to keep him company, replied, “My fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and he that is not satisfied with that company doth not deserve it.”
II. DEGREES OF COMMUNION. Some value the presence of their Saviour so highly that they cannot bear to be at any remove from Him. Even their work they will bring up, and do it in the light of His countenance, and, while engaged in it, will be seen constantly raising their eyes to Him, as if fearful of losing one beam of His light. Others who, to be sure, would not be content to live out of His presence, are yet less wholly absorbed by it than these, and may be seen, a little farther off, engaged here and there in their various callings, their eyes generally upon their work, but often looking up for the light which they love. A third class, beyond these, but yet within the light-giving rays, includes a double multitude, many of whom are so much engaged in their worldly schemes, that they may be seen standing sideways to Christ, looking mostly the other way, and only now and then turning their faces toward the light. (E. Payson, D. D.)
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee
The change of name here made was founded on a change of character.
II. His fatherhood of Isaac was in consequence of special Divine interposition; and the fact is confirmatory and illustrative of the teaching of a spiritual sonship, so often alluded to in the New Testament.
III. For faith-character he is made the father of the “faithful,” or the full-of-faith. Mere natural descent counts for nothing. Conclusions:
1. Faith is an inheritance.
2. Faith is the sign of our descent.
3. Faith may be transmitted. (The Homiletic Review.)
Abraham a father of many nations
“Abram the Hebrew” stands at the head of many a great stream of history, like the river of Eden which parted into four. Of the leading faiths of the world, there are three which cherish his name with equal veneration; and these three are the only monotheistic faiths. To the Jew, the Moslem, and the Christian alike, the prophet Abraham forms a common ancestor. Trace these three forms of belief to their fountainhead, and they meet in the tent of that ancient confessor, exiled in the dawn of the world for his faith in the unity of God. Divided in so much else, the Englishman and the Turk, the Moor and the Arab, the Catholic and the Jew, agree in deriving their spiritual, if not also their natural, descent from that primeval “friend of God.” Most literally has the promise of his new name been fulfilled. He has become a “father of many nations.” (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
I will establish My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee
The faithful Covenanter
The communion and fellowship of man with God, was first founded on a covenant of works made with Adam in Paradise.
But this fellowship being placed in man’s own freedom, and having so weak a foundation, he lost both himself and it, so that now by the first covenant of works, Adam and all his posterity are under a curse; for we cannot fulfil the law that requireth personal obedience, perfect obedience, and exact obedience. He that “continueth not in all is cursed” Galatians 3:10). Now after this fall, man’s hapiness was to recover again his communion and fellowship with God; and therefore we must have a new covenant before we can have life and comfort. God must enter into new conditions with us before we can have any communion with Him. There are four periods of time of renewing this covenant: first, from Adam to Abraham; and in those first times of the world, those that were under the covenant were called the “sons and daughters of God,” “the children of the promise,” and the covenant of grace was called a promise of the blessed seed. Secondly, from Abraham to Moses; and then it was called a covenant, and they the children of the covenant. “I will establish My covenant.” A covenant is more than a promise, and a more solemn thing, because there be ceremonies. The third period of renewing the covenant of grace was from Moses to Christ; and then it was more clear, when as to the covenant made with Abraham, who was sealed with the sacrament of circumcision, the sacrament of the paschal lamb was added, and all the sacrifices Levitical; and then it was called a testament. That differeth a little from a covenant; for a testament is established by blood, it is established by death. So was that; but it was only with the blood and death of cattle sacrificed as a type. But now, from Christ’s time to the end of the world, the covenant of grace is most clear of all; and it is now usually called the New Testament, being established by the death of Christ Himself; and it differs from a covenant in these respects: First, A testament indeed is a covenant, and something more. It is a covenant sealed by death. Secondly, A testament bequeathed good things merely of love. It giveth gifts freely. A covenant is something to be done. But to come to that which I specially intend. The words, as I said before, contain the renewing of this blessed and gracious agreement between God and man to Abraham, the father of the faithful. “I will establish My covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee.” The words, you see, contain a covenant; and here are all things--all the articles and circumstances that agree to any covenant whatsoever. Here are the parties, both that make the covenant and that are covenanted with. Here is the substance of the covenant, and the qualities of the covenant, and the condition of the covenant. The party making the covenant is God, “I will be thy God.” God is the party covenanting. God indeed is both the party covenanting and the substance of the covenant: “I will be a God to thee.” They fall both together in one. The parties covenanted with, are Abraham and his seed--his seed by promise. The substance of the covenant is, “I will be a God to thee and thy seed after thee.” The qualities of the covenant are--
1. It is a sure covenant: “I will establish My covenant.”
2. It is an everlasting covenant: “I will establish My covenant for an everlasting covenant.”
3. It is a peculiar covenant: “I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed; that is, only between Me and thee, and thy seed; not with the refuse of the world, but only with thy seed by promise; only believers, whether Jews or Gentiles.”
4. It is a most free covenant. It was made to Abraham, whom God called out of Ur of the Chaldees, out of an idolatrous nation, out of an idolatrous family; even as it was at the first most freely made to Adam in Paradise, when he was in a most desperate estate. So here it was freely made to good Abraham:
5. It is a covenant consisting most of spiritual things. It is a spiritual covenant. I mean especially promising spiritual favours, although the other things, as appendices of the main, are likewise meant. And then, lastly, you have the condition of the covenant; and that, though it is not expressed, yet it is implied. “I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed.” “Therefore thou shalt take Me for thy God, carry thyself to Me as thy God,” etc. “I will be thy God.” This is the covenant in the Messiah; but first, what is it to be a God? I answer, To be a God, take it in the general, is to give being to the creature that had no being of itself, and to protect and preserve the creature in its being: in a word, to be a creator; for providence is the perpetuity and continuance of creation. This is to be a God. What is, then, to be thy God? “I will be thy God.” I answer, To be a God in a more peculiar manner, is to be a God in covenant; that is, not only to be a God to preserve and continue this being of ours in a civil life, but it is to be a God in a higher relation to us; to be a God in a reference to an eternal, supernatural estate in heaven; to be a God here in grace, and hereafter in glory; and thus God is a God in a gracious covenant, only by Jesus Christ, and to those that believe in Him. “I will be thy God”: that is, “I will be thy God in Christ,” to give thee a better being than this world can afford; to free thee from the cursed estate thou art in by nature; to deliver thee from all ill, spiritually and eternally: especially to bestow on thee all good, spiritually and eternally; especially as we have it in the words of the covenant (Genesis 15:1), “I will be thy shield and thy exceeding great reward”; a shield to keep off all ill, and a reward for all good. So in Psalms 84:9, “God will be a sun and a shield,” etc. a sun for all sweet comfort and good, and a shield in regard of defence from ill; a sun and a shield till we come to the possession of eternal happiness. Well, to come to the trials. But let me first add this to the former: whomsoever God is a God to, it is known specially by spiritual and eternal favours. A man cannot know certainly that God is his God by outward and common things that castaways may have; for a castaway may have Ishmael’s blessing and Esau’s portion, blessings of the left hand, common graces. To know undoubtedly, therefore, that God is our God, must be by peculiar matters; for those whose God God is are a peculiar people, a holy nation, severed from others. First of all, then, know what the Spirit of God saith to thy soul; for they that are God’s have His Spirit, to reveal to their spirits the secret and hidden love of God. But if the voice of the Spirit be silent in regard of testimony, go to the work of the Spirit; but go to the peculiar work of the Spirit. Let us, then, come to the trial by our carrying ourselves to God. Can we say with David, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? “or “What is there in earth in comparison with Thee?” (Psalms 73:25.) When the conscience can tell us that we make God our treasure and our portion above all earthly things, then we make him our God.
2. Examine what affections we have to God: for it is affection that makes a Christian. Single out some few that We are most offending in.
(a) Whosoever hath God for their God, they have the Spirit of supplication and prayer, to cry unto God, to run unto Him, especially in extremity. All God’s children have the spirit of adoption to cry, “Abba, Father!”
(b) Again, We may know that God is our God by this, by our separating from all others, in ourselves and out of ourselves.
(c) In a word, to name no more trials but this, whosoever God is a God to, there will be a transforming unto God, a transforming unto Christ, in whom God is our God. Having now thus unfolded terms, let us see what we may draw from thence for our use and comfort.
1. First, then, if by these trials we find that God be not, or have not been, our God, alas! let us never rest till we make it good that God is our God.
2. But, secondly, when we have found God to be our God, then make this use of it, a use of resolution. Is God my God? then I will resolve to please Him, though all creatures be against me.
3. Again, If God be our God, then let this stop all base and covetous desires after earthly things.
4. Again, If so be we know this for a truth, that God is our God, then let it be a use of exhortation to stir us up to keep, and maintain, and cherish acquaintance and familiarity with Him; as it is in Job 22:21.
5. Lastly, If by these comfortable signs we find God to be our God, then here is a spring of comfort opened to a Christian. If God be mine, then all that He hath is mine; He is my Father; He is my Husband; He is my Rock; His goodness, His wisdom, His providence, His mercy, whatsoever He hath is mine. “I will establish My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee,” etc. I come now to the qualities of this covenant; and before I speak in particular of them, I beseech you observe one thing (which I will but touch, to make an entrance to that which follows), from the manner of setting down the covenant; it is not here set down as it is in other places of Scripture; “I will be thy God, and thou shalt be My people”; but here is only the first part, the main of the covenant of grace recited, “I will be thy God.” Why doth He not say, too, Thou shalt take Me for thy God? Because where the first is, He ever works the second; our part depends upon His. It is therefore--to come to the first quality--called a free covenant. It cometh from God merely of grace. Again, secondly, it is a sure, a certain covenant. I will establish My covenant. But in whom is it established? how cometh it to be sure? It is established in Christ, the Mediator of the covenant, in the Messiah; for “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). That is the fundamental promise. And as it is a sure covenant, so, thirdly, it is an everlasting covenant. “I will make an everlasting covenant with thee.” God is everlasting, Christ is everlasting, the graces of the Spirit are everlasting. When we are dead, He will be a God unto us, as it is said, “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,” their God when they were dead. He is the God of our dust, of our dead bodies. He will raise them up, for they are bodies in covenant with Him. Again, it is a peculiar covenant. God is in covenant only with those that answer Him, that take Him for their God, that are a peculiar people. It is not glorying in the flesh; but there must be somewhat wrought that is peculiar before we can be assured we are of Abraham’s seed, and in covenant with God. And we may know that we are God’s peculiar by some peculiar thing that we can do. What peculiar thing canst thou do? To speak a little of that by the way. Thou lovest and art kind; but, saith Christ, what peculiar thing canst thou do? A heathen man may be kind and loving, but canst thou overcome revenge? Canst thou spare and do good to thine enemies? Canst thou trust in God when all means fail? What is the power of the Spirit in thee? Doth it triumph in thee over thy natural corruption? Canst thou do as Abraham did? He left all at God’s command; canst thou do that if need should be? Canst thou leave children, and wife, and life, and all at God’s command? Canst thou sacrifice Isaac as he did? Canst thou more trust in the promise of God than in the dearest thing in the world, yea, than in thy own feeling of grace? (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
The covenant as made with believers
I. THAT THE COVENANT OF GRACE IS MADE WITH THE SAINTS, AND THEY ARE ALL FEDERATES THEREIN, WILL APPEAR BY THESE ARGUMENTS.
1. From the type of the first Adam, for he is made the type of Him that was to come. Thus as the first covenant was made with the first Adam and all his posterity, so the second covenant is made with the second Adam and all His posterity also.
2. We read of a covenant made with persons and people, and promised unto them as special mercies, a covenant made with Abraham and Isaac, a covenant made with David: “The Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant in all things ordered and sure” (2 Samuel 23:5).
3. It will appear from the promises of the second covenant, though it is true, that they are all yea and amen in Him, yet are they properly and formally made unto us, either the first promises of grace or else of reward unto grace. Promises of grace are, “He will give His Spirit, and will give repentance, He will heal our backslidings,” etc., and “We have an unction from the Holy One,” etc.
4. The covenant of grace is a covenant in the hand of a Mediator, and confirmed by the death of the Testator; it is not only a covenant, but it is a testament.
5. The sacraments are seals of the covenant of grace.
6. There is a double oath to confirm this covenant, there is an oath made by God the Father to Christ, and there is an oath also made to us; there is an oath made unto Christ, and therefore He is said to be made a priest by a covenant oath (Psalms 110:4), and the oath to us: “Who are heirs of promise, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:17-18).
II. THE REASONS WHY IT WAS NECESSARY THAT THE COVENANT OF GRACE SHOULD BE MADE WITH ALL THE FAITHFUL AND NOT WITH CHRIST ONLY AS THEIR HEAD.
1. To answer those great ends why God will deal with man in a covenant way.
(2) The Lord’s intention was to honour man also; and it is one of the greatest and highest dignities that the Lord hath put upon His people, to bind them unto Himself for a name and a glory; and Deuteronomy 26:18-19) the Lord did avouch them to be His people, to make them high above all people; and therefore the staff of beauty mentioned in Zechariah 11:10 is the covenant between God and His people.
(3) That the Lord might bind men unto Him more firmly in a way of obedience, and that the obedience might be made the more sweet. Man was bound unto God by a bond of creation; and from whom he has his being, unto Him did he owe his service; but the Lord will bind him unto Him with a further cord and bond of stipulation; the one was natural and necessary, and the other voluntary.
(4) That the people of God might exercise faith in their prayers, putting these bonds in suit that the Lord hath made over unto them, when they look upon themselves as sons of Abraham, heirs of promise, and children of the covenant, etc., and thereby they come with a great deal the more boldness before the throne of grace, as David, “Let the thing Thou hast spoken concerning thy servant and his house be established forever” (1 Chronicles 17:23-24).
2. There is a covenant made with the saints also, that they may see that they are as strictly bound to obedience in their own persons under the second covenant, as they were under the first covenant; and that the doctrine of the gospel though it be a doctrine of liberty, yet is not a doctrine of licentiousness.
3. That the saints also may stand in awe of the threats of God under the second covenant. (W. Strong, D. D.)
The covenant renewed
I. WHY SHOULD IT BE NEEDFUL FOR MEN TO RENEW THEIR COVENANT SO OFTEN?
1. Because of the unbelief of our spirits, and from the infirmity of our faith: for the confirmation of our faith in the mercy and grace of the covenant.
2. To manifest the sincerity of our hearts, that though we fail in the duty of it, yet our hearts still stand to it, we delight in the Law according to our inward man; though we fall every day, yet says a soul in covenant with God, I love to think of renewing the engagement that is between God and me; as a loving and tender wife loves often to renew her engagement to her husband, and to have it much in her mind.
3. By reason of the falseness of our hearts; there is so much treachery of spirit, that we are not easily kept within bounds, our purposes are easily broken, and men draw back from the Lord by reason of the falseness of their hearts, and the treachery that is in them: How weak is thy heart Ezekiel 16:30).
4. They renew their covenant, that by often repeating and renewing it, it may be set on upon their spirits the more, and lay the greater engagement upon them.
5. By reason of the forgetfulness of the heart; there is nothing that the ungodliness of a man’s heart is more prone to than to forget his engagement unto God, and therefore was that strict charge laid upon them Deuteronomy 4:23).
6. By reason of the ignorance and blindness of the mind of man, we have need to be remembered of our covenant, and to renew it often; we are all narrow-mouthed vessels, and receive all things from God but by drops, and light comes in upon us but by degrees in several beams, and a man looks often upon it before he can understand it; and therefore the Lord gives unto us “line upon line, and precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10).
II. HOW IS THIS WORK TO BE DONE AND WHAT IS IT FOR A MAN TO RENEW HIS COVENANT.
1. He that will renew his covenant with God must be deeply sensible of the breach of covenant, and of the unfaithfulness of his heart therein.
2. It must be with a resolution of heart to break all our covenants; men are said to “make a covenant with death and hell” (Isaiah 28:15).
3. A man must know the terms and read over the articles of the covenant anew; for no wise man will set his hand to an obligation, of which he is not well acquainted with the condition.
4. It must be with a free and full consent of heart, for the covenant in the renewing of it must be as voluntary as it was in the making of it; to make fair promises while men are under the rod, as many do in sickness, they promise to lead new lives, but yet return to their old ways.
5. A man must be willing to bind himself in the highest way unto obedience thereunto. When the people did make a covenant, they did stand up to the covenant, and said, Amen, Amen.
6. It must be with an earnest desire to God for grace to keep it, and an acknowledgment of our weakness and inability to perform any one of the duties of the covenant.
III. WHAT ARE THE TIMES AND SEASONS THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD HAVE SPECIALLY OBSERVED IN RENEWING OF THEIR COVENANT WITH THE LORD?
1. When a man hath eminently fallen into any great sin, or hath relapsed into former sins that were repented of, and that we have humbled our souls for, and if being washed, we have again defiled ourselves, and turned again to folly, then is a season in which the Lord calls you to renew your covenant.
2. In time of public humiliation, when men would divert and turn away judgment either from a nation or a person, then is the time for them to renew their covenant, and this was the ground of the covenant that Hezekiah made (2 Chronicles 29:8).
3. In a time of public reformation, when the foundations have been destroyed, and all things out of course, and a great deal of difficulty appears, and even impossibility in carrying on the work; yet the people of God, looking upon it as a duty, have set upon it with full resolution and purpose of heart, and have covenanted to go through with the work, notwithstanding all opposition.
4. As a testimony of a man’s thankfulness for any great mercy or special deliverance, or as an argument of faith that a man is to use unto God, when he doth pray for and expect from God any special mercy.
5. When a man finds his heart bent to backsliding, and he is unsteady and unstable in any good way.
6. When a man doth receive the sacraments, any of the seals of the covenant, it is his duty to renew the covenant, as often as we set to the seal anew, we shall read over the obligation anew.
IV. NOW THE FRUIT AND BENEFITS THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD HAVE FOUND BY THE RENEWING OF THEIR COVENANT ARE MANY.
1. It hath been a testimony to them of the truth of their repentance Matthew 3:8).
2. It is the foundation of consolation (2 Chronicles 15:14-15); in the time of Asa the king of Judah they swore with a loud voice, with trumpets and cornets, and all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their hearts.
3. It is a means to establish and stay the heart, which is in itself exceeding fickle and uncertain.
4. It is a special means joined with fasting and prayer to prevail with God for mercy, when a man is willing as well to engage himself to duty, as he is to expect mercy from the Lord, “They sought the Lord with their whole desire, and He was found of them, and the Lord gave them rest round about” (2 Chronicles 15:1-19).
5. It cloth not only establish the heart, but make it better; as the will becomes good at first by willing what is good, so it is then best when it most strongly wills what is best. Now when doth the will more strongly will what is best, than when it doth most firmly renew its covenant with God, its best good? So many grains as there are of a determined will in adhering to God, according to the terms of the covenant, so many grains there are of saving grace.
6. The frequent renewing of our covenant with God is that which fortifies the heart against temptations.
7. Such as oft renew their covenant with God have a great advantage for the strengthening their union with Christ.
8. The principal part of the soul’s communion and walking with God as a friend consists in this renewing its covenant with God.
9. The frequent renewing of our covenant with God is the most sovereign means to prevent or recover the soul out of any course of backsliding. (W. Strong, D. D.)
To thy seed after thee
Why the Lord will take children into their parents’ covenant, and not take in the parents alone, and leave their children in the condition in which they were by nature
The grounds of it are these: To show the extent of the grace of the second covenant; the Lord hath not dealt with men as He did with the angels, He did make a particular covenant with every particular angel, but He doth not so with men. He has always delighted to take in man into a covenant made with parents for them, that men might see that grace prevented them, and that they were engaged unto God, and His promise was out of grace entailed unto them as a birthright; and, therefore, as in the first covenant, God takes in Adam and all his posterity, and the second covenant is made with the second Adam and all His posterity; so, that there may be a resemblance hereof kept in the world, He hath taken in the children into their parents’ covenant, that they may see grace extend beyond their persons, even to their posterity.
I. THAT IT IS A. SPECIAL PRIVILEGE FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN, THAT THEY ARE TAKEN INTO THEIR PARENTS’ COVENANT, will appear by these arguments and demonstrations.
1. It will aggravate their sin if they abuse it; therefore it is a mercy and a privilege in itself: for what is not a mercy and a privilege in itself, that cannot add to a man’s sin and judgment. Now, as it is in riches and honours, and all the blessings in this life, they will be unto a man judgments if they are abused; therefore, they are blessings in themselves, blessings in the thing, though a snare to the man; so this very argument that is brought to prove that they are no blessings, and give no benefit, doth clearly prove that the thing itself is a privilege and a blessing.
2. For a child to be disinherited and cast out his father’s covenant is a very great judgment, and the sorest of all outward afflictions that can befall a man; as we see it in Cain, “Thou hast cast me out from the face of the earth, and from Thy face I shall be hid.”
3. It is promised as a special blessing for the visible Church of God to continue in any man’s posterity; and therefore we are to look upon it so Genesis 4:25); it was so in Seth, “God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel whom Cain slew”; and so it was promised to Shem, “that the church of God should be in his posterity continued,” and that in due time “the Lord should enlarge Japhet to dwell also in the tents of Shem.”
4. It is the greatest wrath that God doth pour out upon men in this life, to cast them out of external church privileges.
II. BUT WHAT ARE THOSE PRIVILEGES AND THOSE PARTICULAR BENEFITS THAT COME UPON A PERSON AND HIS POSTERITY THEREBY?
1. Many of them shall be saved, elected, and converted to God; for the Lord doth take the number of His elect out of the loins of His own, the Church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven is hid in the visible Church here as wheat in a heap of chaff.
2. It is the only ground of hope that parents have for the salvation of their children dying in their infancy.
3. There is no ordinary way of salvation, but it is amongst them that are taken into covenant, salvation is of the Jews: there was in an ordinary way salvation to be had nowhere else, and therefore, by being taken into the outward privileges of the Church, a man is brought into the ordinary way of salvation.
4. It is a special honour to be the vineyard of the Lord, the garden of the Lord hedged in from the rest of the world.
5. By this you have special privileges: Jerusalem is the valley of Vision, and Jeshuron the seeing people; it is Ariel, the altar of the Lord, chiefly to them are committed the oracles of God, which they are to keep and to transmit unto posterity; it is a depositum laid up and concredited to them: “In Judah is God known, His name is great in Israel; He hath not dealt so with other nations”; they are a people near unto Him, and the Lord hath promised that He will give them His special presence: “I will dwell in the midst of them”; Christ walks in the middle of the golden candlesticks, though He be in glory.
6. By coming under the outward privileges of this covenant, they have very glorious operations, mighty works upon them that other men have never experience of; and all this, even in them that perish; and they have this as a fruit of their external interest; for (Hosea 6:5) there is hewing and slaying, there is sowing and planting, when the rest of the common fields lie untilled, and there are great gifts bestowed, such as the Lord cloth not bestow on any other sort of people in the world; for the great gifts that come from Christ as ascended are upon the visible Church of God; yea the thorns and briars in the Church have the rain and influences, great and many common works of the Spirit raising and elevating and improving nature, the least of which works and motions is more worth than the world, it is so in the things, though it prove at last a curse to the man.
7. They by this means come under the care of the Church.
8. They attain many temporal blessings, and are delivered from many temporal afflictions thereby; Ishmael had many outward blessings by Abraham’s covenant; the external blessings of the covenant are made good to them; God will not destroy Jerusalem, and the judgment came not upon King Hezekiah, “for David My servant’s sake,” and, “I will not rend it from Rehoboam, because I will not put out the light of Israel.”
III. WHY WILL THE LORD HAVE THE COVENANT RUN BY WAY OF ENTAIL, IN REFERENCE TO THE OUTWARD PRIVILEGES OF IT, AND NOT IN REFERENCE TO THE INWARD GRACES OF IT? The covenant that was made with Adam was to convey the one as well as the other, and the image that he had received he was to convey to his posterity, and the promise of life spiritual, and life eternal, was made unto his posterity in case of his obedience, as well as unto himself; and therefore, as all died in him, so all should have lived in him. So that by the first covenant Adam might have conveyed not only outward privileges, but inward graces also; and whereas now by reason of the fall, all mankind do convey death to their children, but not life.
1. The Lord will not have the graces of the covenant entailed from parents unto posterity.
2. Because under the second covenant it is the election of God that takes place, and puts all the difference between men and men, between whom in themselves there is no difference.
3. Because since the fall the Lord has appointed another way to convey life unto His people, and that is not by generation from the first Adam, but by regeneration from a second Adam; and therefore, the Lord will surely honour His own way, and He will not; convey the grace of the covenant from parents unto their posterity, but from Him only who is the second Adam. (W. Strong, D. D.)
Every man child among you shall be circumcised
The covenant seal
ITS SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE.
1. It taught the natural depravity of man.
2. It taught the necessity of purification.
3. It taught regeneration.
4. It taught that God’s people are to be distinguished from the children of this world.
5. It taught dedication to God.
6. It pointed to Christ, who does not come by natural generation. He was the promised seed. His human nature was pure from its source. Thus circumcision preaches the whole doctrine of salvation, its necessity, and the means by which it is brought about. It proclaims the soul’s need--of the mortification of the flesh, of repentance, of a Saviour from sin.
II. ITS SUBJECTS. The rite of circumcision was enjoined not only upon Abraham and his seed, but also upon all his servants or slaves, and upon all born of them in his house. Everyone connected with him by social or domestic ties must submit to this outward sign of the covenant. In his capacity as a father and as a master he had to see that this rite was administered.
1. The principle of human responsibility.
2. That a man is accountable for the souls of those who are connected with him by social or domestic ties.
3. That the covenants of God are not narrow in their range.
4. That in our duty to others there is an element of hope and encouragement.
III. ITS OBLIGATION.
1. Because God commanded it.
2. Because God’s commands were hedged about by sanctions. (T. H.Leale.)
The sign of the covenant
It is only in proportion as we know the spiritual meaning of circumcision that we can enter into the joyous appropriation of the friendship of God. But if we are willing, our Lord and Saviour is both able and willing to effect in us this blessed spiritual result.
I. SEPARATION. Abraham and his seed were marked out by this rite as a separated people. And it is only as such that any of us can be admitted into the friendship of God. Bloodshedding and death--the cross and the grave--must lie between us and our own past life; yea, between us and allcomplicity with evil.
II. PURITY (Colossians 2:11). There is hardly a single grace dearer to God than this: to keep lily-white amid the defiling atmosphere. Purity can only be attained by the special grace of the Holy Spirit, and by doing two things: first, by our turning instantly from paragraphs in papers, or pictures on the walls, and all things else, which excite impure imaginations; secondly, by our seeking immediate forgiveness, when we are conscious of having yielded, even for a moment, to the deadly and insidious fascinations of the flesh.
III. OBEDIENCE. “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” We do not obey in order to become friends; but having become friends, we hasten to obey. Love is more inexorable than law. And for the love of Him who calls us by so dear a title we are glad to undertake and accomplish what Sinai with all its thunders would fail to nerve us to attempt. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The seat of the covenant
I. THE PROMISE OF THE COVENANT.
1. The renewal of the promise.
2. The fulness of the promise.
3. The wide range of the promise.
II. THE OBLIGATION OF THE COVENANT. Divine promise is connected with human duty.
III. THE SIGN OF THE COVENANT. Circumcision reminded those who used it as a religious rite, ordained of God, of three things--
1. Separation from the world. So baptism is the token of a new life given by God.
2. Consecration to God.
3. Family religion.
Conclusion: See, then, in this narrative not merely a history of what took place so long ago, but lessons for us now: lessons as to Divine grace; as to human responsibility; and as to appointed outward ordinances which serve to join together the thought of what God gives, and of the service we ought to render. Such ordinances, used in a faithful, humble, earnest spirit, are seals and channels of covenanted blessing. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
All benefited, whether slave or master.
I. A PAINFUL CEREMONY. Full of meaning, and suggesting then what the New Testament teaches now, “Your bodies are the temple,” etc.
II. ADMINISTERED TO CHILD WHO COULD KNOW NOTHING EXCEPT PAIN. “What good?” “Unreasonable?” “Cruel?” “Following our own reason,” no child would have been circumcised. But God’s command far outstrips man’s reason (Genesis 17:14). And Colossians 2:11-12, shows that baptism now answers thereto. And is equally for babes. A week old. Parents ought to do as this tells them. Do you so. And then look for a blessing, if only you will teach and train them as Christians--day by day--every day. (G. Venables.)
Circumcision--the seal of the covenant
I. AS TO THE TIME OF THE APPOINTMENT of this ordinance, it is important to observe, that Abraham is now about to become a father, not according to his own will merely, but according to the will of God; he is to be, in a remarkable manner, the founder of a family or house.
II. THE RITE ITSELF now instituted, the sacramental act, is not an unmeaning form or ceremony. It is significant of the great leading fact in the covenant of which it is the seal--the extraordinary and miraculous birth of Him who is preeminently and emphatically the seed of Abraham, the holy child Jesus.
III. Hence it appears that it is strictly and properly to THE COVENANT OF GRACE THAT CIRCUMCISION, AS INSTITUTED ON THIS OCCASION, HAS RESPECT. It is true that under the Mosaic economy it served a farther purpose. It became a national badge or mark of distinction--the pledge of the national covenant in terms of which God governed the nation of Israel. Even then, however, it did not lose its primary and original significancy. To a spiritually-minded Jew--to one who was an Israelite indeed--it was still the token of the better covenant, and the seal of the righteousness that is by faith. And as at first ordained for Abraham, it had absolutely no other meaning at all. It could have no other. For, in the first place, there is no limitation or restriction of it to the Jewish nation in particular. It is enjoined on Abraham, as the father of many nations; and on all, generally, who are of his house, or may be embraced, by whatever right, even the right of purchase, within it (Genesis 17:9-13). And, secondly, the covenant with which it stands associated is not temporal and national, but spiritual and universal. It is the everlasting covenant, in the one seed of Abraham, which is Christ.
IV. THE CHILD, EIGHT DAYS OLD, WAS TO BE CIRCUMCISED. And are the children of God’s people now to be placed on a worse footing than in the days of old? Is there any evidence of a change in this respect? On the contrary, did not the Lord specially distinguish little children as the objects of His love, taking them into His arms, and affectionately blessing them? And do not the apostles proceed all along on the principle that the visible Church is to embrace not only all the faithful, but their children also? Thus Acts 8:39) speaks of the promise being to believers and to their children. Paul also (1 Corinthians 7:14) founds an argument on the assumption that the children of a believing parent are, not unclean or common, but holy. And, accordingly, we read in the Book of Acts Acts 16:33, etc.) of entire households being baptized; the expressions used being such as to render it very unlikely that the little children were excluded.
V. On very much the same principle on which this intiatory rite is administered to the children of God’s people, IT IS DECLARED TO BE OF INDISPENSABLE OBLIGATION, and the neglect of it is made a ground of exclusion from the visible Church (verse 14). So is it also with the sacraments, the signs and seals of grace. No liberty of discretionary choice is left in regard to their observance; it is not merely my precious privilege, but my bounden duty, to receive them. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
It is impossible to arrive at a clear idea of this remarkable rite, and of its true meaning in the Mosaic system, without pursuing its origin and history more clearly than is generally done. We distinguish four chief periods.
1. Circumcision seems to have been first practised by the Ethiopians and other nations of Southern Africa. The question arises, What was the origin of this singular custom? It must evidently have a general cause, inherent either in the human mind or in the human frame, since it was in use among so different nations, possessing no mutual intercourse. Now, a religious motive seems to be out of the question; for some of the nations alluded to are not only strangers to all religious ceremonies, but are destitute of all moral feelings. Philo distinctly observes, that it prevents the painful and often incurable disease of carbuncle; it, further, obviates some fearful disorders; modern travellers testify that it precludes great physical inconvenience among the Bushmen; and the Christian missionaries who exerted themselves for its abolition in Abyssinia were, by the dangerous physical consequences, compelled to desist from their plans. If we hereto add, that among nearly all those tribes the operation is performed not in infancy, but at the approach of puberty, it becomes evident that the burning temperature of their southern climes, in many cases combined with a peculiar bodily structure of those races, gave rise to the custom of circumcision.
2. From the south, it spread northward into Egypt. Many parts of this country were colonized by emigrants from Ethiopia; and thus many primitive customs of the south were transplanted into the land of the Pharaohs. The intercourse with Ethiopia was both constant and animated. Now, the same complaints to which we have referred as frequent in Ethiopia may, in many instances, have appeared in Egypt also; and circumcision may, therefore, as a matter of precaution, have been gradually adopted by all Egyptians. But it recommended itself to this people from another consideration also, in their views of the highest importance: that of cleanliness. The examination of the mummies; the fact that the Colchians, who were Egyptian settlers belonging to the army of Sesostris, performed the ceremony; and the accounts of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, Philo and Strabo, concur to prove that circumcision was a general and national institution among the Egyptians. Now, the great authority and exceeding reputation for superior wisdom which they possessed in the ancient world induced many nations to adopt from them, among other institutions, the practice of circumcision also. Thus, it was performed by the Arabians and Edomites, by the Ammonites and Moabites, by the Phoenicians and Syrians about Thermodon and the river Parthenius; and in this instance, not merely blind veneration, but a regard for health and cleanliness, assisted in spreading the custom.
3. It was natural that the wise men of Egypt should connect some higher religious or philosophical notions with the rite of circumcision, especially since it had become entirely their own. Now, it is well known that a great part of the Egyptian religion consisted in the deification of the powers of nature, and especially of generation; this idea is chiefly represented by their two principal deities, Osiris and Isis, who presided both over fertility and fruitfulness. In Egypt a chief part of the festival of Bacchus was the public procession of the phallus, performed in an obscene manner amidst the wild songs of women; and the same rites in honour of Bacchus were from Egypt introduced into Greece. It was, further, generally believed that circumcision enhances prolificness; and the Egyptians ascribed their increasing population, in a great measure, to the same custom, although it was, besides, considered to be attributable to the purity of the air and the quality of the water of the Nile. It seems evident, therefore, that the Egyptian priests connected circumcision with the very centre of their religion; that they regarded it as a part of the system by which they endeavoured to penetrate into the secret working of nature; and that, by dedicating the prepuce to their gods, they ascribed to them the wonderful powers of generation.
4. Among the nations which derived the custom of circumcision from the Egyptians were undoubtedly the Hebrews. But did Mosaism blindly adopt a heathen ceremony? And here we have arrived at the culminating point of this deduction. In no other institution, perhaps, do we see with greater force and distinctness that fundamental principle which pervades the whole legislative part of the Old Testament, and without regard to which it will ever be impossible to comprehend its full spiritual meaning, and to balance its exact historical value . . . By connecting the rite of circumcision with the purest ideas of resignation and piety, Mosaism laid a sure foundation for moral conduct; licentiousness, stimulated by the fiery temperament of the Oriental, was checked; the passions were restrained; and if sinful ideas or vicious imaginations arose within him, he was reminded by the covenant sealed on his flesh that he had promised holiness of life and innocence of the heart. Hence the word “uncircumcised” was in the Hebrew language generally used in a purely figurative sense; and phrases like “uncircumcised of heart” or “of ear” prove that the rite here discussed was indeed conceived as a type of some of those inward virtues which constitute the chief end of religion. The blood of circumcision confirmed the personal covenant; hence the boy was, on the day when that rite was performed, called “a bridegroom of blood” (Exodus 4:25); and the resected foreskin, which was considered unclean, typified both the abnegation of lasciviousness, and, like the offering of the firstlings, the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty. Thus a custom of the basest sensuality was converted into a rite of morality; worship of nature into reverence of God; and hierarchy into theocracy. Therefore, to sum up our opinion on circumcision, Mosaism was compelled to retain it on account of the ignominy with which its neglect was regarded by neighbouring nations, and, in consequence, by the Hebrews themselves; but it reformed it from a physical expedient or superstitious rite into a symbol of holiness and of alliance between God and man. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Notes on circumcision
Originally circumcision was performed with a stone knife, to prevent inflammation (see note on Exodus 4:25), but at present it is safely done with a steel knife, except on boys who die before the eighth day from their birth, when the ancient custom is followed, as is the case in all instances among the Abyssinian Christians. Sons of Hebrew mothers and heathen fathers were admitted, but not compelled, to circumcision. The operation was generally performed by the father himself, but any Israelite was allowed to act in his stead; heathens alone were excluded. In cases of emergency women even were admitted. But as practice is required to prevent danger, pious persons devoted themselves to that office, which they exercised gratuitously, finding their reward in the consciousness of having introduced the children into the holy covenant. The boy generally received his name on the day of circumcision. And hence we may derive another collateral reason why Abraham’s name was changed when that ceremony was commanded to him. There is no historical difficulty in the supposition that circumcision was already introduced in Abraham’s time, though it can scarcely be doubted that it received its deeper and internal development only since the diffusion of Mosaism; for it was long generally neglected, and Joshua first carried it out in its full extent (Joshua 5:2-9); but from that period it seems, on the whole, to have been faithfully observed; the epithet “uncircumcised” was deemed the greatest insult and ignominy; and the strictures of the prophets are not directed against its omission, but against “the uncircumcised circumcised people” who observe the external ritual, but are nevertheless “uncircumcised in heart”; and in this sense even circumcised nations seem sometimes to have been simply called “uncircumcised ones,” a proof how clearly the internal purity was regarded as the only aim of this rite. Among the Israelites, therefore, circumcision took, in the course of time, deeper root, while it gradually fell into disuse among the Egyptian people--a natural consequence of the fact proved above, that the one regarded it as a matter of religion, the others of expediency. Although it was by no means an exclusive characteristic of the Israelites, since they shared it with many other nations, and though it was not even original among them, its sacredness was, indeed, peculiar almost to them alone; and hence heathen conquerors, as Antiochus Epiphanes and other enemies, often rigorously interdicted it as one of the surest means of weakening among them the faith of their ancestors; but they never succeeded; it was practised in secret till they were again permitted to perform it without restriction. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Significance of circumcision
In its heathen significance it was certainly saturated with that worship of the forces of the physical world in which probably polytheism took its rise, and with polytheism nearly all the religions and mythologies of antiquity. It bore very directly on the deification of the generative or reproductive virtue in nature--the foul source of much that was cruel and nearly all that was obscene in the mysteries of paganism. Transferred to holy soil, and attached to a covenant of grace, it implied an acknowledgment that God, who is above nature, and not any natural force whatever, is the true Author of physical life and its increase; the sovereign Giver of fertility; above all, the only Quickener of a holy or consecrated life. It taught that what is born of the flesh can only be flesh. It suggested that it is by the painful renunciation of fleshly desire and natural self-confidence man must be surrendered to God’s service as His fit instrument for gracious ends. Finally, it served to point forward to one pure and superhuman birth, through which alone the fatal chain that links in one the sinful generations of mankind could be severed, and a new fountain of salvation and blessing opened for the fallen race. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher says: “If there was one thing which the Jews set above another, as they do still, it was circumcision. It not only was a patriotic ordinance, but it had come down to them as a race peculiarity, a symbol of which they were proud, and they ran along the line of that observance clear back to Abraham himself. While I was in the West, I came across a Rabbi who told me that a man had travelled over six hundred miles with a child in order to have him circumcised. ‘I admit,’ he said, ‘that the people may not have been moral, and may not have been religious, but they wanted the child circumcised anyhow.’ That feeling existed in the time of the Apostle Paul to the last degree. The Jews felt about that as you feel about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Paul says: ‘Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.’”
The baptism of infants founded on this covenant
Mark how this renewal of the covenant turns upon the consecration of children. Hitherto we have to do with grown-up people, but now we are brought face to face with little ones. We have hardly had a child at all as yet in this long history. One wonders what notice God will take of young life; will He say, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me,” or will He shut them out of His view until they become great men? Is a child beneath God’s notice? Listen to the covenant: “He that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you.” What an oversight on the part of the Lord not to observe that a child eight days old could not understand what it was about! What a waste of piety to baptize an infant of days when it cannot understand what you are doing to it! It cries, poor thing; therefore, how ridiculous to baptize it! It plucks the preacher’s gown, or chuckles and coos in the preacher’s arms; therefore, how absurd to admit it into the covenant! For myself, let me say that when I baptize a child I baptize life--human life--life redeemed by the Son of God. The infant is something more than an infant, it is humanity; it is an heir of Christ’s immortality. If there be anyone who can laugh at an infant and mock its weakness, they have no right to baptize and consecrate it, and give so mean a thing to God. God Himself baptizes only the great trees; does He ever baptize a daisy? He enriches Lebanon and Bashan with rain, but did He ever hang the dew of the morning upon the shrinking rose? Account for it as you please, God did appoint circumcision for the child eight days old! Christian baptism is founded upon this very covenant. Abraham was ninety-and-nine years old when he was circumcised; Ishmael, his son, was thirteen years old; and then came the infant men-children. So in heathen countries the man is baptized, and the woman, and the child of days. We plead Divine precedent. Whatever objections stand against baptism stand against circumcision, and, therefore, stand against God. The child does not understand the alphabet, do not teach it; the child does not understand language, do not teach it; the child does not understand the Lord’s Prayer, do not teach it. You say the child will understand by and by; exactly so; that answer is good; and by and by the child will understand that it was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, three persons in one God. Beautiful, too, is Christian baptism when regarded as the expansion of the idea of circumcision. It well befits a tenderer law; circumcision was severe; baptism is gentle: circumcision was limited to men-children; baptism is administered to all: circumcision was established in one tribe, or family, or line of descent; baptism is the universal rite--“Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” So we go from law to grace; from Moses to the Lamb; from the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, to the quiet and holy Zion. (J. Parker, D. D.)
As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah
The clearer revelation of covenant blessings
In God’s spiritual dealings with mankind the patience of faith is rewarded by a clearer discovery of His will.
Obedience is the way to knowledge. The darkness in which faith commences turns to light in the end. The lines along which God’s gracious dealings are to proceed are now distinctly laid down before Abraham. The clearer revelation, in this instance, is marked by the same general characteristics as belong to the advance of Scripture.
I. THERE IS THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THINGS CONTRARY TO HUMAN EXPECTATION.
1. Thus God preserves His own glory (Proverbs 25:2). God hides His purpose from man until the time comes for Him to reveal it more clearly. This concealment must tend to His glory, for it is rendered necessary by His infinite superiority to us. We who are but of yesterday cannot scan the designs of Him who is from everlasting to everlasting. The great deep of God’s judgments is to us unfathomable.
2. Thus God preserves His independence of man. He has no need of our suggestions or advice. How can we contribute any light to Him who is the Fountain of Light?
3. Thus God humbles the pride of man. If we could calculate beforehand what God shall reveal, or what blessings He shall bestow, we might be tempted to pride ourselves upon our clear and sure reason. Our humility is promoted by that arrangement which renders it impossible for us to discover what God is pleased to conceal.
4. Thus piety is of necessity a life of faith. God so deals with mankind that if they are to serve and please Him at all they must trust Him. We are made to know enough of His goodness to commence trusting Him; and He still keeps much hid from us so that we may continue to trust Him.
II. THERE IS AN INCREASED STRAIN PUT UPON THE STRENGTH OF OUR FAITH.
1. God’s gracious purpose is to throw our faith completely upon its own inherent power. It must not be hampered by the operations of the intellect, or by the feelings of the heart.
2. Faith must look to God alone.
III. THERE IS A REVELATION OF HUMAN WEAKNESS IN US. The faith of Abram, though it rose superior to trials, was yet mixed with some human weakness.
1. The weakness of a thoughtless amazement. The laugh of Abraham, when he heard the real direction of the promise, unquestionably had in it the elements of adoration and joy. But there was also in it a kind of unreflecting amazement--that unhealthy astonishment which paralyses. It was a joy which was yet half afraid.
2. The weakness of doubt. In Genesis 17:17, Abraham expresses a doubt. It was a momentary feeling, but at that time it rose irresistibly to the surface.
3. The weakness of attempting to thrust our own way upon God.
IV. THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY GIVEN FOR THE GLORY OF GOD’S GOODNESS TO SHINE FORTH. In every fresh revelation God is but showing Himself to His servants. He is showing His goodness mere and more, and that is His glory. The qualities of the Divine goodness would now be manifested more clearly to the soul of Abraham.
1. This is seen by the supernatural character of the blessings promised (Genesis 17:15-16; Genesis 17:19).
2. This is seen by the intrinsic excellence of the blessings promised.
3. This is seen by God’s gracious provision even for those human desires which betray imperfection. God would remember Ishmael, after all, and in some way satisfy the yearnings of Abraham’s heart (Genesis 17:20). God does not chide His servant for those humanly natural longings. With all his imperfections, the heart of the patriarch was right at bottom, and his purpose to please God steady and sincere. If we have true faith, whatever desires there are in us which still betray some human imperfections, God will turn them into better courses, and show us His way. (T. H. Leale.)
Sarah: Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother
I. SARAH’S HISTORY.
II. SARAH’S CHARACTER.
1. There was in her a clear and decided spiritual faith.
2. She had a strong, loving, and imperious affection.
3. There were defects in her faith, and may have been defects in her character.
III. THE TYPICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SARAH’S LIFE AND HER PLACE IN THE UNFOLDING OF THE REDEMPTION OF HUMANITY. The story is written in the Book of Genesis mainly in the masculine gender and in relation to Abraham. But, in reference to the covenanted mercy, there are two great blessings to which special significance is attached, and concerning both Sarah’s was a prominent position. The one was the seed, the other the land. (W. H. Davison.)
I. THE MEANING OF HER NAME, AND ITS CONNECTION WITH THE COVENANT.
II. DEFECTS IN HER CHARACTER.
1. She did not, as the Scriptures teach, avoid all appearance of evil.
2. She did wrong in giving Hagar to be Abraham’s concubine.
3. She showed a weakness of faith in laughing at the promises of God.
4. She was cruel in sending Hagar and Ishmael away from her home.
III. THE STRENGTH OF HER CHARACTER.
1. She was truly devoted to her husband, and preferred him to all others, even though kings sought to gain her.
2. She is commended for her holy life and fidelity to Abraham, and as such is an example for wifely imitation (1 Peter 3:6).
3. After all, faith was the ruling principle of her life. Doubt was only a momentary exception. (The Homiletic Review.)
O that Ishmael might live before Thee.
Abraham’s prayer far Ishmael
I. ABRAHAM’S UNBELIEF. Not that his prayer was altogether destitute of faith. He believed in the reality of the personal God, and in His power and willingness to bless; but unbelief as to the methods was struggling with his faith.
1. It is the thought of the heart that is here recorded.
2. The natural obstacle to the fulfilment of the promise was greater now than on the previous occasion.
3. He had to discharge from his mind a belief which he had long nourished and cherished.
II. ABRAHAM’S IMPATIENCE.
III. ABRAHAM’S NATURAL AFFECTION. (J. W. Lance.)
The prayer for Ishmael
I. A SPIRIT NATURAL TO A TRUE PARENT. Abraham desired the prosperity of Ishmael.
II. A SPIRIT ESSENTIAL TO THE TRUE SAINT. Dependence on God.
III. A SPIRIT HONOURED BY HEAVEN (Genesis 17:20; see Genesis 25:10-15). (Homilist.)
Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael
I. WHAT THE CHRISTIAN PARENT SEEKS FOR HIS OFFSPRING. What is meant by living before God? It means to enjoy His forgiving grace, that we be not consumed by His wrath; and to receive His fostering protection and blessing, without which life would be a calamity, and existence a burden. We would not have our children go forth through life neglected of God; still less, contending against Him as an enemy. Many blessings may be included in this general one.
1. There are spiritual blessings; life in and through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness. Regeneration. Eternal life.
2. Temporal good is sought; not without, but in addition to, spiritual blessings; and not absolutely, but in entire submission to the will of God.
II. HOW THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD ACT TO BE CONSISTENT WITH THESE DESIRES ON BEHALF OF HIS OFFSPRING.
4. Discipline. Conclusion:
Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael
I. It must strike the most casual observer, that THERE IS A SPECIALITY IS THE PRAYER which makes it necessary that the import of the prayer should be unfolded. For it appears not but that Ishmael was in all the glow and vigour of his youthful health; there was no symptom of physical decay, there was no indication of approaching death. Whence, therefore, and why did the patriarch pray, “Oh! that my child might live?” Was it that his days might be lengthened out? Was it that his health might continue unimpaired? was it that he might live to a green and a good old age? No, we find a key to the patriarch’s prayer in the one simple expression--“Before Thee.” “Oh! that Ishmael might live before Thee.” Before his father’s eyes, before the eyes of mankind, the child lived; but the father had reference to another and a higher and a different life--a life in the sight of God. It follows, then, that adequately to comprehend the import of the prayer, we must illustrate the death, from which the patriarch desired his child to be set free. And we are led to remark, that every child of man, as he comes into the world, is dead in the sight of God, in a two-fold sense; he is legally dead, he is spiritually dead. He is dead in the sight of God in law, and he is dead in the sight of God in his moral nature. He is “dead in trespasses and sins.” But how, then, is life given to man? and what was the life, for which the patriarch prayed on behalf of his child? In order to remove the eternal death under which we lie, the Son of God took our nature upon Himself, stood as our substitute; so that God might be just in justifying every penitent, that lays hold on the righteousness of the Redeemer and comes to God in faith. Everyone, then, that by faith is brought into a participation of the righteousness and redemption that is in Christ, is, in virtue of that righteousness and that redemption, passed from death to life.
II. I pass simply and briefly to press upon you THE IMPORTANCE OF THAT PRAYER.
1. The importance of the patriarch’s prayer appears, in that till that prayer is accomplished in a child or in a man, that child or that man is a poor, maimed, imperfect being. What a wretched life is the mere vegetable life for a man to live!
2. But the importance of the patriarch’s prayer is still more emphatically and touchingly impressed on our minds, if we remember the fearful peril in which every man stands, that is not “living before God.” (H. Stowell, M. A.)
Parental duties and encouragements
I. I shall inquire WHAT BLESSINGS SHOULD A CHRISTIAN PARENT SEEK FROM GOD ON BEHALF OF HIS CHILDREN?
1. Is it forbidden to desire the continuance of their natural life? Certainly not; provided that desire be entirely under the control of submission to the will of God.
2. Nor is it forbidden to ask those things for our children which would contribute so much to their temporal comfort; provided, that desire be also in entire submission to the will of Jehovah.
3. Still, however, these things are but secondary objects of desire with him who contemplates, in its true light, the character and destiny of that being which with rapture he calls his child. What can or what ought a Christian parent to desire for his child, as the grand ultimatum of all his anxiety and solicitude, short of everlasting bliss? It is in this sense that he uses the prayer of Abraham, “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee.”
II. I shall now mention THOSE MEANS WHICH MUST BE USED BY HIM IN ORDER TO OBTAIN IT. In the distribution of His favours to the human race, God generally connects His bounty with our exertions. This remark applies both to temporal and spiritual benefits.
1. If we would have our children grow up as we desire, we must maintain discipline in our families. By discipline, I mean the exercise of parental authority in enforcing obedience to all suitable commands and prohibitions. This part of religious education should begin early. The supple twig bends to your will, while the sturdy oak laughs at your authority.
2. Instruction is the next branch of religious education. I shall consider:
3. If you would give either meaning or force to anything you say, add to instruction a holy and suitable example. I would also insist upon the necessity of not only setting them good examples at home, but of using the utmost caution that they be not exposed to the contagion of bad example abroad. It should therefore be your business to select for them suitable companions. Of course, this establishes also the importance of choosing a proper person to superintend the general education of your children.
4. Let it not be supposed that any system of education can be complete without prayer.
III. Exhibit THE ENCOURAGEMENT WHICH THE SCRIPTURES AFFORD, THAT SUCH EXERTION WILL BE BLESSED TO THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THEIR DESIRED END. (J. A. James.)
Passion, impatience, and expediency
I. THE DARLING WISHES OF MEN ARE NOT ALWAYS GRATIFIED BY GOD.
II. A REASONABLE EXPLANATION OF THIS REJECTION OF ISHMAEL CAN BE SUGGESTED.
1. God had other purposes in view, from which He would not depart to gratify the wishes of the best man living.
2. The purpose of God was associated with righteousness, whereas Ishmael originated in a pitiful, immoral expedient. Many a failure in the individual life, and church life, and national life, is rooted in the rank, poisonous manure of wrong-doing.
3. The blessing of God was in connection with Isaac, the glad meditative son of peace. It is in vain that we try to force the hand of Providence if our heart is set on Ishmael, the offspring of our human passion and impatience.
III. GOD WILL, IN AN UNEXPECTED SENSE, ANSWER OUR PETITIONS. Look at the answer that came to Abraham’s prayer. It had already been predicted that he was to be “a wild man, his hand against every man,” etc. Now still further comes this guarantee. “. . .I will make him a great nation.” Abraham’s gift of intercession was not an unqualified good. If his supplication had not been successful, much misery might have been spared to himself, his family, his nation, and humanity at large. Can anyone calculate the mischief that has been created by the existence of Ishmael in the world? (W. J. Acomb,)
Abraham believed God, and was overcome with joyful surpass. But a doubt immediately occurs, which stakes a damp upon his pleasure: “The promise of another son destroys all my expectations with respect to him who is already given!” Perhaps he must die, to make room for the other; or if not, he may be another Cain, who went out from the presence of the Lord. To what drawbacks are our best enjoyments subject in this world; and in many cases, owing to our going before the Lord in our hopes and schemes of happiness! When His plan comes to be put in execution, it interferes with ours; and there can be no doubt in such a ease which must give place. If Abraham had waited God’s time for the fulfilment of the promise, it would not have been accompanied with such an alloy: but having failed in this, after all his longing desires after it, it becomes in a manner unwelcome to him! What can he do or say in so delicate a situation? Grace would say, Accept the Divine promise with thankfulness. But nature struggles; the bowels of the father are troubled for Ishmael. In this state of mind he presumes to offer up a petition to heaven: “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!” Judging of the import of this petition by the answer, it would seem to mean, either that God would condescend to withdraw His promise of another son, and let Ishmael be the person; or if that cannot be, that his life might be spared, and himself and his posterity be amongst the people of God, sharing the blessing, or being “heir with him” who should be born of Sarah. To live and to live before God, according to the usual acceptation of the phrase, could not, I think, mean less than one or other of these things. It was very lawful for him to desire the temporal and spiritual welfare of his son, and of his posterity after him, in submission to the will of God: but in a case wherein natural affection appeared to clash with God’s revealed designs, he must have felt himself in a painful situation: and the recollection that the whole was owing to his own and Sarah’s unbelief, would add to his regret. (A. Fuller.)
A mother’s prayers
A young soldier suddenly embraced religion much to the surprise of his comrades. One day, he was asked what had wrought the sudden change. He took his mother’s letter from his pocket, in which she enumerated the comforts and luxuries which she had sent him, and, at the close said, “We are all praying for you, Charlie, that you may be a Christian.” “That’s the sentence,” said he. The thought that his mother was praying for him became omnipresent, and led him to pray for himself, which was soon followed by a happy Christian experience.
Prayers of a mother
Samuel Budgett was about nine years of age, when, one day passing his mother’s door, he heard her engaged in earnest prayer for her family, and for himself by name. He thought, “My mother is more earnest that I should be saved than I am for my own salvation.” In that hour, he became decided to serve God; and the impression thus made was never effaced. (W. Arthur.)
Why Ishmael could not inherit the covenant blessing
Two reasons in particular seem to have made it unsuitable, or even incompatible with the Divine purposes, that Ishmael should be the continuator of the sacred line, and the inheritor of that blessing for mankind which had been secured to Abraham by covenant.
I. For one thing, Ishmael was slave born. The children of a slave mother shared her condition, even when the father was a free man--indeed, though he were the master himself. In the absence of any issue by the free and proper wife, it is true that Ishmael could have inherited his father’s wealth, just as, in the absence of any issue, Eliezer of Damascus might have done so. Inherently, however, he possessed no right of inheritance. So soon as a free-born son appeared, Ishmael sank to his mother’s level. It is easy to see how unfit such an heir would have been to represent, at the very outset of a family history which was to be saturated throughout with symbolical meaning, the entire body of God’s spiritual children, for whom the great blessing was ultimately destined.
II. In the second place, God’s covenant with Abraham’s seed was one of gracious promise. By it, the Eternal and Omnipotent drew near again to sinful men, laden with spontaneous blessings, such as they themselves could neither win by force nor merit by virtue, but must expect to receive through the superhuman operations of God. The Promiser of such blessings must be also their Donor. The fulfilment of a Divine promise, whose characteristic is sovereign grace, could not lie within the sphere of man’s natural ability, or what in Bible language is called “flesh.” It lay outside that region altogether; in a redemptive, and therefore miraculous, interposition of God. Now it corresponded ill with an alliance like this, that the first to inherit and transmit its benefits or hopes to posterity should be one into whose origin there had entered so little faith, and so much fleshly policy and fleshly desire. (J. O. Dykes, DD.)
The love of the worldly life
Ishmael was born after the flesh; and he was first in order, as being “born of blood, and of the will of the flesh, and of the will of man.” He was, nevertheless, a gift of God, and, perhaps, a gift of faith; but he was not the one to whom the promise was made. Ishmael, therefore, stands for the promise of this earth, of the world, and of this present life. I do not mean that he represents our sin, nor those evil passions which haunt and afflict us, nor the low, gross life of carnal men: for Abraham, his father, was a man of faith and a servant of righteousness before Ishmael was born; but he stands for the fair good promise of this earth, before a better thing is born in the soul. While the world lasts, it is the gift of God; for He created it, and “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” Our desire for it, our love of it, our pleasure in it, are natural, and would not be subject to reproof, had we never known of another state and a higher life. And there is a time, in the history of God’s servants, when they might fairly be likened to Abraham, content in Ishmael, and devoted to that child which Hagar bare to him. What Ishmael was to his father, such was once, to many a man and woman now consciously and resolutely alive in Christ, the first and native wish and passion of the undisciplined will, the first love of the mere worldly life. The child of the heart was there, beloved, and to all appearance, secure, yea, moreover, sufficient to every desire and wish. The thirteen years had established that dominion; and, in the still possession of that dear object of a natural desire, the conscience had grown torpid, and the earlier hours of life had slipped away. Consider if it be not so. The history of many a life, perhaps the history of every life led apart from God, is this: that some prevailing tendency, some dominant motive, exists there, having the influence and gentle lordship of a child of the heart, the offspring of the desire and will. Of offspring thus engendered, naught can come but anxiety and pain. Ishmael’s pedigree was fated and banned from the very first; it is so with everything that springs out of the human heart without the prominent grace of God. Whenever a man permits some one desire to get the better of him, or, at least, to exert a wide and general influence over his actions; and when he finds, as the result, that he is growing nervous and uneasy, that a feverish solicitude pervades his thoughts, that he frets himself continually, that the dignity of a well-balanced character is slipping from him; or else, when it is come to this, that he feels as if with one deep draught of that soul desire, every day, he could be content to live on here, interminably; or when, for the want of such gratification, the day is tedious, and the hours are long, and hunger and thirst grow and burn within; when signs like these appear, he must be blind indeed who cannot read the story of his life; who knows not that he is fast in the world’s net; that another Lord besides his own has dominion over him; that the fierce and untamed Ishmael is in his tent; that his life is bound up in a temporal promise, and that he has ceased to care for the promise of the world to come. So is it with you, who are not consciously and lovingly in Christ: and so was it once with you, who, now changed and altered from the pattern of your former selves, can yet look back upon days when you were wandering, and either thought wrongly, or thought not at all, of God. And here the allegory meets us once again, and shows the marvellous dealings of the Holy Ghost with the souls of those whom He brings forth and fixes in the Lord. As Ishmael represents the promise of the earth, so Isaac stands for the promise of heaven. The new promise comes, not in the natural course of things, not in the common order of this monotonous world, but in another way, known to God. Marked religious changes are sometimes the result of strange and bitter disappointment; but it is not always so. They often come, simply, of some word of the Lord, which carries a promise, and yet breaks in upon a repose in which we would fain have continued without even His most holy intrusion. The object proposed is above this world, and beyond it; faith discerns, resignation accepts, the “old man” dies hard. Slowly and with reluctance hath many an one cast forth the bondwoman and her son, to give place to the intruder who “cometh in the name of the Lord.” It should not be thus with reasonable men when they lay hold of the promises of God. Those promises are unearthly, distant, and somewhat shadowy; they are calculated, not to add a piquancy and zest to the banquet which we have already spread for ourselves, but to sweep all from the board and lay the table anew. They demand, on man’s part, submission and resignation; they tell him that it is time to leave off playing with petty conceits, and that the hour has come to go to the rigorous school of Christ, where men may not seek their own, nor mind earthly things, but bend themselves bravely to duty, and let pleasure go for a time. Who can hear these things without trembling? Who can rebuke the rising wish that it might be otherwise? Who can wonder that men should try to keep as much of the old life as they can, when they attempt the higher life of grace? Such emotions appertain to that weakness of ours in which God’s grace must be made perfect; and the victory is to be sought, by accepting what may look like a dubious favour and setting faith in its rightful lordship over sight. Then, if the trial seem too hard to bear, reflect once more upon the allegory; there is comfort in it, if you read it intelligently. Ishmael lived. The natural gifts and blessings of God are not destroyed by His supernatural graces: they are remanded to their own place, allowed to work out their determined ends, to yield increase after their proper law. Nothing can be lost forever, which God’s grace can hallow; the Son of Man cometh to save, not to destroy; and that, in us, which God saw and pronounced to be good, when He created us, may be refined in fire, purified, and may be a part of our eternal treasure. (M. Dix, D. D.)
My covenant will I establish with Isaac
Isaac, a type of Christ
He is born in a miraculous manner. He was the child given by promises, and came not in the ordinary course of nature. So Christ was long promised and miraculously born.
2. He was the son of the house, while all others were his servants. So the position of Christ in the heavenly household was made by His birth. No circumstances could alter His relationship to that household. He was there by a natural necessity. Others may come and go, but the Son abides.
3. He was the progenitor of a free race. Isaac was the son of the free woman, and the ancestor of a great and free people. Christ makes men free when they are born into the kingdom of God by His spirit, and thus belong to that holy nation whose children walk in perfect liberty.
4. He was the channel of blessing to all nations. Christ was the life and power which gave effect to that blessing. He was that blessing itself.
Isaac, a type of the regenerate man
1. He was born by a distinct act of the will of God. So the regenerate man becomes God’s child, not by the course of nature, but by a special grace. He is eminently born of God.
2. He was free born. So each child of God is made free from all bondage. He needs not the commands of law to compel him to obedience, for he obeys from love of his Father. Thus Isaac was the type of the evangelical dispensation, as Ishmael was that of the legal.
In the self-same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son
Obedience to the Divine voice
1. To delay is to despise God’s authority.
2. It is safest to act upon moral impulses immediately.
II. UNQUESTIONING. God’s will is both law and reason.
III. COMPLETE. A particular and intense regard to God’s known will is the essence of piety. (T. H. Leale.)
Abraham’s obedience to God’s command
There are three things in particular in the obedience of Abraham worthy of notice.
1. It was prompt. “In the self-same day that God had spoken unto him,” the command was put in execution. This was “making haste, and delaying not to keep His commandments.” To treat the Divine precept as matters of small importance, or to put off what is manifestly our duty to another time, is to trifle with supreme authority. So did not Abraham.
2. It was punctilious. The correspondence between the command of God and the obedience of His servant is minutely exact. The words of the former are, “Thou shalt keep My covenant and thy seed after thee,. . .and he that is born in thy house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.” With this agrees the account of the latter; “In the self-same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son; and all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.” A rigid regard to the revealed will of God enters deeply into true religion; that spirit which dispenses with it, though it may pass under the specious name of liberality, is antichristian.
3. Lastly: It was yielded in old age, when many would have pleaded off from engaging in anything new, or different from what they had before received; and when, as some think, it would be a further trial to his faith as to the fulfilment of the promise. “Ninety-and-nine years old was Abraham when he was circumcised.” It is one of the temptations of old age to be tenacious of what we have believed and practised from our youth; to shut our eyes and ears against everything that may prove it to have been erroneous or defective, and to find excuses for being exempted from hard and dangerous duties. But Abraham to the last was ready to receive farther instruction, and to do as he was commanded, leaving consequences with God. This shows that the admonition to “walk before Him, and be perfect,” had not been given him in vain. (A. Fuller.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany