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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Abraham

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ABRAHAM MY FRIEND

I DID not know before that God had ever needed a friend. I did not know, I could not have believed, that any mortal man could possibly have befriended Almighty God. I need a friend. I need companionship. I need advice and counsel and correction. I need to be cheered and comforted. I often feel lonely. I often despond. I often miss my way in life. I often commit myself to rash, ill-considered, and irretrievable steps. I often hurt both myself and other men with me. And, therefore, I need near me a faithful friend. A friend to speak to me in time, and with wisdom, and with both sympathy and encouragement. A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. And there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Faithful are the wounds of such a friend. Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. Iron sharpeneth iron: and so doth a man sharpen the countenance of his friend. Bacon needed a friend. The principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fulness of the heart. You may take sarza to open the liver, steel to open the spleen, flower of sulphur for the lungs, castoreum for the brain; but no receipt openeth the heart but a true friend-a true friend to whom you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it. And our own Edward Irving, a great student of Bacon, often sorely needed a wise friend, as we see in his sad life and read in his superb sermons. The great office of a friend is to try our thoughts by the measure of his judgments; to task the wholesomeness of our designs and purposes by the feelings of his heart; to protect us from the solitary and selfish part of our nature; to speak to and to call out those finer and better parts of our nature which the customs of this world stifle; and to open up to us a career worthy of our powers. 'Now,' adds the most eloquent of all our Presbyterian preachers, 'as every man hath these four attributes-infirmity of judgment, selfishness of disposition, inactivity and inertness of nature, and adversity of fortune,-so every man needeth the help of a friend, and should do his endeavour to get one.' For all these four attributes Solomon needed a friend, and Bacon, and Irving, and you, and I,-but, surely, not God. And yet it stands written out in more scriptures than one that Almighty God endeavoured to get a true friend in Abraham, and got one.

Now, of no mortal man but of Abraham alone does Almighty God ever speak and say, He was My friend. God employs many gracious, beautiful, and endearing names in speaking of the patriarchs, and prophets, and psalmists, and other saints of His in Israel; but it is of Abraham alone that God testifies to Israel and says, Thou art the seed of Abraham, My friend. Now, I wonder if we can get at what was in the Divine Mind, and at what He put into the prophet's mind in that so remarkable and unparalleled expression. Can we put our finger on anything in Abraham's life and say, Here, and here, and here, that wonderful man proved himself to be the friend of God? We have only a few short chapters to cover the long life of Abraham. I wonder shall we find enough in those chapters to satisfy us why Isaiah, and James, and then why both Jew and Mussulman and Christian, all unite in calling Abraham what they call no other man-the friend of God? Let us try.

Well then, we see this, to begin with, that God appeared and asked of Abram a service; a kind of service, and an amount and a degree of service, that He has never needed to ask the like of it again of any other man, if we except the Man Christ Jesus. God had for long-from the fall-been looking out for some man with mind enough and with heart enough to be made the father and the founder of a family into which He could send His Son. God promised His Son to Adam and Eve; but generations and generations had to pass before the fulness of time came. And all those successive generations had to be filled with all that with which our Bible is filled from Genesis to the Gospels. And the foundations of all that had first to be laid in some elect, called, believing, obedient, godly-minded, heavenly-minded man. Only, where was the man to be found who had all the qualifications needful for this supreme post? The long-looked-for man was found at last in Abram, Terah's choice son, in Ur of the Chaldees. To Terah's son, first of all good men on the face of the earth, was God able to say, Get thee out of thy kindred; walk before Me, and be thou perfect. And Abram believed God. Abram believed God with such a depth, and with such a strength, and with such a promptitude, and with such a perseverance that by Abram's faith the foundations of the whole Church of God on earth and in heaven were laid in him. No doubt, the beginning and the middle and the end of that friendship was all in God. No doubt, Abram would have protested against, and would have repudiated the name of friend of God with fear and with shame. But that does not alter the fact. It is still God's way to impute to us what He docs for us: and to reward us for what we let Him do in us. God works in us both to will and to do; but, at the same time, He holds that we work out our own salvation. And so it was in the beginning of His ways with Abraham. God chose Abraham, and called him, and blessed him. But at the same time, God always has made much of the fact that Abraham had the mind and the heart to do what he did both for God and for all the families of the earth. And that immense venture of faith and of love on the part of Abraham, to call it a venture, was so original, so unheard of, and so full of all the great qualities of a godly heart and a heavenly life, that Abraham has ever since been called, not only the father of the faithful, but also the foremost and topmost friend of God. You understand, then, and will take home the lesson. Abraham had the heart to choose, and to prefer, and to venture for God, and for the will and the call of God, before everything else in this world. Abraham immediately, unquestioningly, cheerfully, joyfully arose and went out to do and to be all that God had asked him to do and had promised him to be. Till, as Butler has it, God justified Abraham's taste, and supported his cause, and acknowledged and claimed him as His friend: him, and his seed after him.

Edward Irving says that it is part of the office and service of a true friend to call out, and to prepare a scope for those finer feelings of the heart which are chilled and driven back upon the heart in this cold, distrustful, selfish world. Now, if that is true, and if God's heart and our hearts are in the same image in that also; if His heart also is chilled and shut up within itself in this same selfish world; then Abraham's so pressing intercession for Sodom was the part of a true friend to God. Humanly speaking, Sodom and Gomorrah would have been destroyed, and God's heart which was so full of answer to intercessory prayer would never have been discovered, had it not been for Abraham's so friendly part performed that day both to God and to the doomed cities of the plain. And while Abraham was seeking first his own ends and the ends of the two cities in his persevering prayer, he was at the same time without knowing it serving God's greatest ends still more. For God's greatest ends always are that His great Name may be known; His great grace helped down and experienced; and His great heart drawn out to all its depth; and that, too, by persevering and importunate prayer. You are a good man's best friend when you provide him with, and press upon him, opportunity upon opportunity of doing good. And Abraham was the opportune and importunate friend of the Hearer of Prayer when he said, Peradventure, and peradventure, and peradventure, and peradventure, and again, peradventure, and when God in friendly answer reduced the price of Sodom from fifty righteous men to ten. And the Lord went His way as soon as He had left communing with Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Honest Joseph Hall counts up ten trials of Abraham's faith and friendship through which God saw good to pass His friend. And the last of the ten was more terrible to Abraham than all the rest taken together. If any of you is a father, and has a son of your old age; a son of much faith and of much prayer on your part, and of much pure miracle on God's part; then add to that, that your only son is the one and only instrument and chosen vessel of all God's remaining promises to you: and then, that he lies at the point of death. I do not add that he is to die under your hand like Isaac. I only add that he is to die with your consent and surrender and approval. If any of you that is a father or a mother has, or has had, a child like that, then you are the seed of Abraham, the friend of God. For, how you lay all night on the earth before God. How you would neither eat bread nor drink water. How you pleaded and promised and protested; how you vowed and swore and despaired. Then you will know something of how God did tempt Abraham. I do not understand this dark dispensation of God-all the seed of Abraham are often compelled to say. All is dark as midnight to me. Why should my dear, pure, inoffensive, so indispensable, and so promising son be taken away from me in the bloom of his beautiful youth? But God knows. God gave him, and it is God's place to take him when He pleases. I do not understand it. But God's understanding is infinite and unfathomable, and He does nothing of caprice, or of arrogance, or of hard-heartedness, or of oversight, or of neglect. And, when I come to myself, and think of it, if I had ten sons, and all of them were Isaacs, I would build the ten altars with my own hand. In His will is my tranquillity of mind, and my strength of heart, and my submission, and my obedience-so all Abraham's seed are called on and are enabled to say.

Abraham withheld not Isaac from his Friend on one of the mountains of Moriah; and in the same country, two thousand years after, God was not to be outdone by Abraham in the seal of His friendship to Abraham and to his seed for ever. And the bare mention of that brings God, and His friendship to us and our friendship to Him, two thousand miles nearer us and two thousand miles more possible to us than Abraham's too splendid faith and too wonderful love. With all that has been said I have difficulty in believing what has been said. No; not exactly in believing it, but in what we call realising it. For all that we have read and heard in Abraham's history,-that any mortal man should be able to befriend Almighty God, still remains a very startling thing to say about Almighty God. But not about Jesus Christ. We could have befriended Him ourselves. And I think, nay, I feel sure, we would have done it too. Multitudes of men and women who were as weak and as evil and as unbelieving as we are, will be led out at the last day to receive the thanks of the Father because they befriended His friendless Son. The women of Galilee who ministered to Him of their substance will be brought forward; Martha will be brought forward, and the woman at the well; the owner of the ass's colt, and the owner of the upper room, and the owner of Gethsemane; Simon the Cyrenian also, who helped Him to carry His cross; the soldier also who gave Him some of his vinegar to drink; and Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, and the women with their spices, and the angel who rolled away the stone. O!-you start up and exclaim: O! if my lot had only been cast in Galilee, or in Samaria, or in Judea, or in Jerusalem! O! you cry, how you envy the men and the women to whom the Father will say, Inasmuch as ye did it to Him, ye did it to Me! But, as you still cry that, this scripture comes up into my mind. You will remember it when I repeat it: 'Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.' And again: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' And again, in the same kind: 'Henceforth I call you not servants, but I have called you friends.' And then, to His Father, this: 'Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.' Well then, we do not need, we have no temptation now, to challenge the wisdom and the love that cast our lot two thousand years after Christ; as the same wisdom and love cast Abraham's lot two thousand years before Christ. Abraham believed the word of the Lord in his day; and if we believe in our day through the word of the disciples, then are we Abraham's seed, and need envy neither Abraham our father nor any of our brethren. Abraham laid down his life and the life of Isaac at the call of God. And Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Son of Abraham, laid down His life at the same call. But our call, our first call, is not yet to lay down our life, but to take Him as our Friend who has laid down His life for ours. Now, what do you all say to that? Are you His friends on that footing? A friend gives full scope to his friend's love and goodness. Have you given Jesus Christ full scope to His life and death for you? Has this Man laid down His life for you? He has, if you have ever asked Him to do it. He has if you have ever come up to His cross and said over Him, He gave Himself here for me. He has, if you have ever said, I lay my sin and my death on Jesus Christ. Did it ever come to this terrible pass with you, your life or His? And how did that terrible pass end? When was it? Where was it? How long ago was it? When did it take place last? Has it taken place today? Is it taking place every day? Then you need envy neither Abraham nor any other man. Your day is the best of days for you. Your call is the best of calls for you. And you will be brought forward among the very first and the very best as that sinner who has adorned the doctrines of the death of Christ, and of the heart of God to sinners, as no other sinner has done from Abraham's day to the day of judgment. Does that amazing Man still stand offering me His death for me, and His living and everlasting friendship to boot? Then, this moment; then, in this house, and on the spot, I am His friend, and He is my friend.

All that is most commendable to speak, and most consoling to hear. It is very blessed to speak and to hear about Christ and His friendship to death in the sanctuary tonight; but it will all die out of our hearts in the shop, in the office, in the kitchen, in the drawing-room, and in the dining-room tomorrow. So it will. But, then, that is not all that our Lord says about how we are to make friends with Him, and to keep up that friendship. He is very practical and matter-of-fact in His friendship. 'Ye are My friends,' he goes on to say, 'if ye do whatsoever I command you.' Well then, take the thing by that handle. Try that door. Strike up, and keep up, the friendship on that plain, pedestrian footing. You cannot attain to His cross, you complain. His blood is too remote, too transcendental, too, somehow, spiritual, and too altogether heavenly for you. I wonder at you. But let that pass. Try this commonplace way. Do this and that which He commands you to do, and you will be as much-ay, and more, His friend than if you preached and prayed and praised His blood and righteousness day and night, and did nothing else. Do this for one thing that He so pointedly commands. Shut your door tonight. And if you have no door to call your own, yet you have a heart with doors. Enter your heart, then, and pray to your Father, whose true temple is the praying man's heart. And see if He does not one day tell all the world who took His Son in earnest, and who did not. O, how easy on that footing is the friendship of God! O, how impossible it is to get past it! And then, do this tomorrow-tomorrow when the lights shall all be out in the church, and when the preacher's voice shall be silent, and when the Chaldeas and the Sodoms and the Egypts of this world shall have all men's choices and friendships-do this. God has the day prepared, and has filled it full for this purpose. All tomorrow love your enemies, and your rivals-that is to say, try to do it. Work at it. Enter into the strait gate of it. Bless them that curse you. Do good to them, and to their wives and children, who hate you, with, or without cause. Ye are My friends, says the Son of God, if ye do that. Then, again, if you are a father with a sick son, or a son in a sudden accident; or a son who has not succeeded at school, or at college, or in life; or a son who has brought grey hairs here and there upon you, till all men mark it. How you deal with that son of yours will prove, or will disprove, you a friend of God as much and as surely as if your name had been Abraham, and your son's name Isaac. Or, if God needs you or your son to go abroad on any mission of His, as He needed Abraham, then go. Be like noble old Terah, go half the way with your elect and expatriated son, till God arises out of His place and comes to meet you, and says to you-As sure as I live, all the land on which thou standest will I give to thee and to thy seed with thee, because thou hast not withheld thyself or thy son from Me. Or, if it is this. If there is a famine of bread and water where corn and wine had been promised and expected; or if the laughters and the shouts of baptized children are silent where they would have been as the voices of God's angels to you,-what then? Then thy God will descend into thine heart, and He will ask: Am I not more to thee than sons and daughters? Is My love not better to thee than corn and wine? Am I, and My salvation, and that city of Mine which hath foundations, not more to be desired by thee than all else that I could give thee? Till you will find it in your bereaved and broken heart to say to Him henceforth and continually, Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Abraham'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/a/abraham.html. 1901.

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Friday, September 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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