Genesis xii. 1
Abraham, the Man of Faith.
"FAITH cometh by hearing; and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans x. 17). So here "the Lord had said." In the very short history of Abram, in the close of the preceding chapter, there is nothing to indicate faith; we have simply nature and nature’s ways. But now comes God’s Word and God’s call, and from thenceforth, there is in the soul of this man, faith in God. It is very necessary to remember this at the outset of our study of all the wonders which we shall see in Abraham’s life. There is no true faith in nature. When we find the life of faith, it is in the new creation, not in the old. God must begin. THE LORD HAD SAID, "In the beginning was the Word." Let us never lose sight of the exceeding value of the Word of God. I know that Jesus Christ is Himself the Word; but His power was exercised, and is still exercised, by the Words which He spake. "The Words which I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John vi. 63). If our Bibles are closed, we cannot possibly know the power of the Living Word Himself. "Faith cometh by hearing." "Whether, therefore, it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed" (1 Corinthians xv. 11). The Lord said unto Abram, and faith came. "God spake, and it was done." This was while he was in a state of nature in his own country, among his own kindred, with the name as well as the nature that his earthly parents had given—Abram. When God names men or things, He calls them what they are, and His "new names" are given only to His new creations.
The faith-begetting Word always separates. It is a command and a promise, just as in the case before us; and it always separates from the old. "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house." Surely a most complete separation; yet not one whit more thorough than the faith-producing Word effects still, wherever it comes. Country and kindred and father’s house must still be left behind when the heart goes after God; and one child of faith living in a house where all the others are as yet only "natural" (1 Cor. ii. 14), is more truly separated than if widest ocean rolled between his dwelling-place and theirs. Yet his old home, the home of his kindred, was doubtless a pleasant land, for Haran means brightness, and, for aught we read, the father’s house held a happy and loving family. He was living in Haran, when the Word of the Lord found him, a bright and happy life amid bright surroundings. This was no misanthropical separation from his fellows in gloom and discontent, neither was it a pharisaic exodus of self-righteousness displaying itself on higher ground. Ah! brethren, there are separations and separations, but this was "separation UNTO GOD." The natural life may be happy, the natural surroundings bright; but when God gives the Word that leads to faith in Himself, the soul begins to experience a thirst which nothing short of God can ever satisfy. It is not, perhaps, that the old hearts or the old surroundings have changed for the worse, but we have changed. Haran has lost to us its attractions, and we must go to the land which He in Whom we have trusted "shall show to us." Where it is, or when we shall reach it, is not asked. He hath spoken, and called, and promised, that is enough; and Abram goes out, "not knowing whither he went" (Heb. xi. 8). This is faith in action. This going out was and is as truly a work of faith as the subduing of a kingdom or the stopping of a lion’s mouth. It was an evidence of the power of God through the spoken Word. Let not the young believer forget this. As for the first time the heart is drawn after God, and the things of God, and the people of God; as the old pleasures and the old companions begin to lose their charms and their power, it is because GOD has been at work. This is no more nature’s doing than if, by faith, we walked on the waters or removed mountains.
As faith is tested and strengthened, there shall be greater miracles; but this also is one of God’s "works of wonder," a true miracle. There was nothing to see. The departure from Haran was no rush to an El Dorado already discovered, neither was it a sanguine search of discovery. The believing one in his first act of faith was, so far as sense and sight were concerned, going out from brightness to the dark, or at least the doubtful. He had only the Word of God. The land was yet to be shown him, and all the promised blessings were in promise only, not in sight. This is faith, and faith in God made him absolutely sure of the land and sure of the blessing; for "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen." (Hebrews xi. 1).
Brethren, what glorious things to be certain of! They are all ours in Christ Jesus. The feeblest child of faith may and ought to be as absolutely certain of the fulfilment of the wondrous promises in these second and third verses as the Word of the Living God can make him.
BLESSED AND MADE A BLESSING.
Separated from the world at the call of God, we are not to stand alone. For a time, the path may seem lonely, but God has said, "I will make of thee a great multitude." The call may, as it has in many cases, almost break the heart as the child of God begins to realize the division and distance between the old dear ones which the new Christ-life entails; but the Word of Him who cannot lie, has been passed, "I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing." How sweet to the believing heart this is— "Thou shalt be a blessing! "A blessing! One of God’s blessings. We do not always feel this, any more than we feel always anything which God calls us to believe; but He has promised, and "He is faithful." Thou art a blessing, dear believing one, a blessing from God; aye, to those even from whom the call has separated you, and between whom and yourself there seems to be nothing but hopeless distance. In calling thee out, God pledged Himself to bless thee and make thee a blessing.
We have here a law of God as exact as any of the laws of nature. Separation unto Him, in obedience to His revealed truth, puts us into the only way of being blessings to others. This principle may be traced through all the Word of God. It is not when we are in sympathy and fellowship with the many that we are helpful to them, but when we are in sympathy and fellowship with GOD.
Friendship without separation to God may deeply injure; but when there is such separation in spirit and in truth, the very distance brought about is always more or less a means of blessing.
"I will make thy name great." This, too, is certain. We would not seek such greatness of name. We seek God. But He will have it so; and sooner or later, the child of God must be led to the front, great in name, because he has been made great in reality. "Thy gentleness hath made me great" (Ps. xviii. 25). Sooner or later, it must be so. Not at first, as we shall presently see; not always amid the present state of things, but certainly by-and-by; and at last, with nothing of the old about us, the new name fully acknowledged, we shall shine forth to His praise Who hath said it, when earth’s ambitious ones---who have sought not after God, but after name and fame and power only—shall be dishonoured and forgotten. "And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee." How deeply solemn is this! If the poor unsaved worldlings who scorn and malign feeble children of faith, could only know how certainly their course is leading to the curse of God, would they not tremble sometimes in their pride? "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones that believe on me." Well may we sing with deeply solemn joy—
"I know it, GOD is for me,
Tho’ all against me rise."
FIRST STAGE OF THE JOURNEY.
"So Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him . . . And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh." The first halting-place of this man of faith was a plain. He had left the brightness of earth, and had been led, not to scenes of greater brightness, but to a lowly position in the midst of the Canaanites—the enemies of God. Surely, with Jehovah’s sanction and blessing, he may take a lofty position, and rule with a high hand the ignorant and wicked people around him. No! he takes the plain of Moreh, the humble position of a teacher. How different is the path of faith from that of the world! His first resting-place in the sphere which God had given him as a possession, a lowly plain of patient and meek teaching (Moreh), while the Canaanite was in the land. So, my brother, it ought ever to be with us. Has God, indeed, said, "I will give thee this land for a possession"—"Every place where the sole of thy foot treadeth shall be thine. There shall no man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life" (Joshua i. 5). Then let us say, "I will occupy for God. If no man shall be able to stand before me, I will meet him humbly, tenderly, and patiently with the truth which God Himself has taught me. If my land is full of Canaanites, I shall see whether—first at least—the battle may not be fought and won on the plain of Moreh, and by my humble bearing and tender yet faithful teaching of the truth of God, the enemies may not become the people of God, and the devoted friends and helpers of the teacher." Depend upon it, this is true rule. He is a true leader and king, whose faith leads to this. May the Lord help us ever to remember the plain of Moreh.
II.—GOD MANIFESTS HIMSELF.
FAITH is "precious," not to us only, but to God Himself. It glorifies Him, and He delights to honour it. To the man who, without doubt or cavil, has accepted what He "hath said," God ever more clearly and fully reveals Himself. Thus it was here—"The Lord appeared unto Abram, and said,"
At the first it was "The Lord had said." Now it is "The Lord appeared, and said." The child of faith knows the meaning of this. We cannot explain it, even to one another, but we understand it. While we only hear about such manifestation, we may exclaim, with Jude, "Lord, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself to us, and not (at the same time) to the world?" (John xiv. 22); but when our blessed Lord has indeed done so, ah! then it is no longer a mystery. As we have already said, there is a divine progress in the path of true faith, and it is ever upward in the knowledge of GOD HIMSELF. The order also is important—"The Lord had said." Abram believed the Word of promise, and obeyed the commandment. His was the "obedience of faith," and now the Lord appeared unto him; yet not at the moment when Abram begins to obey the call, but when he had fully obeyed it. From verse 4, we learn that, in obedience to the command of the Lord, "Abram departed, as the Lord had said unto him; but it was not till he had passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh, into the very midst of the Canaanites, that the Lord "appeared" unto him. So in John xiv., " He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself unto him"
(verse 21). Perhaps someone may be ready to say that he knows the Word of God, believes it, and yet knows nothing of such a manifestation as our Lord here refers to. If so, my brother, let me earnestly ask you to be very honest with yourself. You know the Word; it has come to you with power, "the Word of faith which we preach." You have believed it. Have you obeyed it? Where has it led you for God? Do not forget, I pray you, that it is a separating Word. It must, if truly received, lead you out from your old self and old surroundings to "the place which God will show thee." Are you sure that you have been faithful to the Gospel call? Alas! there are so many who have heard, yet not "obeyed the Gospel;" so many who "have" His commandments, but who are NOT "keeping" them. God is faithful; He cannot deny Himself. "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me, . . . and I will love him and will manifest Myself unto him." "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out, . . . obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. xi. 8). "He might have had opportunity to return" (verse 15). Yes, had his mind been towards that from whence he came out; but it was not. It was towards God. Thus, going on in the course of the call, in simple faith, not seeing, but believing, "the Lord appeared" unto him; yet, somehow, not as the world could see—"in another way." The eye of sense, physical or mental, has nothing to do with this. "He that is spiritual" alone can "see" here; but when once our Lord has thus appeared to us, we can no more doubt that we have had intercourse with the Lord of Glory than if we had seen and handled Him with bodily senses. This also is God’s own doing. It comes from Him alone, and is far beyond the ken of the merely natural.
How intensely blessed is this path of faith! "Eye hath not seen, neither hath ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which GOD hath prepared for them that love Him" "he it is that loveth Me" (John xiv. 21)], "but God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit" (1 Cor. ii. 9, 10). What, then, is this appearing? Something of it we can tell you.
"How is it, Lord?" said Judas. The answer is, "If a man love Me, he will keep My Words, and My Father will love Him, and We will come unto him, and will make Our abode with him." This, then, we can tell you; it is not the appearing for a little of one who calls at our door as a passing stranger, never more to return; it is not the visit of "a wayfaring man who turneth aside to tarry only for a night." Our Lord’s explanation of manifesting Himself is that He will come and make His abode with us. When the faith-producing Word came to him, Abram’s ear was opened; the voice of the Lord had reached him, but now his eye is anointed, and he sees God. Henceforth, there will be the continued sense of the Divine presence. Just as with the disciples in those wondrous forty days after our Lord’s resurrection, every fresh manifestation must have impressed them with the truth that He was never far from them, till gradually they had come fully to realize what He meant when He said, "The world shall not see Me, but ye shall see Me," and had joyously recognized the truth that when He ceased to impress their earthly senses, He was still wondrously, but not less really, making Himself manifest to them, and they were thinking, speaking, working, and living in His perpetual and near presence. From the moment our Lord thus appears to us, the sense of His presence becomes very real, and we never can think of Him again as very far away.
It must not, however, be fancied that what we speak of is merely feeling. This is no mere emotional sentiment. He still speaks. "The Lord appeared unto Abram, and said." At first the commandment and the promise may have been sent. Jehovah may have spoken to us by the voice of a friend, by letter, by tract, or by Scripture text, and it may still have come with the power and authority of God; but now we are in His very presence; we know Him near; we can see Him as the world cannot, but He is not silent. He still speaks to us. There may perhaps be the Word of the Lord without this deep sweet sense of His own presence, but we must not fancy that there is a true sense of His presence without the Word. If our Bibles cease to speak to and influence us, we are not living in the manifested presence of our Lord, howsoever much emotional feeling may seem to say so. There may be a Bible without Christ, but Christ never goes anywhere without the Bible.
Nevertheless, my brother, how great is the difference, and how sweet the Word, when He Himself speaks it! How sweetly and rapidly the disciples learnt on the road to Emmaus when He drew near and opened up the Scripture! Thus it still is. If He has once made us know what this manifestation of Himself means, nothing can ever compensate for the want of it. Our private study of the Word, our fellowship with fellow-believers, our very work for the Lord—all become sadly empty and unenjoyable if we do not realize that HE is with us making Himself known.
BUILDING THE ALTAR.
Abram did not speak. He was listening too eagerly at this time to speak. By-and-by we shall hear him speaking to the Lord, and, alas! the words had better have been withheld; but that is in a time of failure, when the Word of the Lord is doubted. Brethren, our times of silence, when the heart is bent to "hear what God the Lord will speak," are far from being our poorest. I sometimes fear that we lose much through our busy lives and our much speaking. Not that for a moment, I would discourage testimony and work for Christ; only if we are ever listening in the presence of our Lord, all our own words and actions shall be truly regulated, because regulated by Him. Abram did not speak to God, but he acted for God. He listened eagerly. It was but the old promise repeated. It was not, therefore, so much what was said, as the ONE Who said it; and we learn from the narrative that it was not the repeated promise so much that stirred him to the work as the loving presence of the Promiser. The promised land may have been dear before, for was it not his own? but now it has a charm to the man of faith which tongue cannot express. It is not only his in which to live for God, and testify for God, and serve God, but GOD HIMSELF there. It is "Jehovah Shammah." Suddenly he is wakened up to the glad knowledge that his home is God’s home. "And there he builded an altar to the Lord, Who appeared unto him." This, then, was what Jehovah’s appearing to the child of faith wrought-—an altar to the Lord, Who appeared to him. When Jehovah had first spoken, there was separation from nature; when He manifested Himself, there was death of self, and life beyond death in fellowship with God. Nothing short of all this is expressed by Abram’s altar. First he acknowledges Jehovah’s righteous sentence against sin, and individually takes his place in death before God. Only grace can bring the sinner to do this. Hard-handed rule, however just, cannot. The thunderings of Sinai could make the rebellious Israelites stand afar off in fear and trembling, but they could not lead them to a humble acknowledgment of their worthless and sinful condition. In their terror and blindness, they still said, "All that God hath spoken we will do." Peter’s self-sufficiency was shattered, and he himself led to take his true place as a sinner, only when his blessed Lord bent upon him that tender forgiving look at the very moment he was denying with oaths and curses that he knew Him. So it has ever been.
Abel knew the grace of God in the "coats of skin" which the Lord "had given" to his parents (Gen. iii. 21.), and builded his altar when he brought the firstlings of his flock to God.
It was when the Lord manifested Himself to Job that he cried, "Behold, I am vile." Mine eye seeth Thee, therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. Thus he builded his altar. Even so with Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah; "Woe is me! for I am undone; . . . mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah vi. 5). The disciple whom Jesus loved had often built his altar; but he built it as never before when he saw in Patmos, that the One who loved him so, was the Almighty God, the Beginning and the End, with all the power of Godhead at His disposal. That THIS ONE should have so cared for him as to have his poor worthless head rest on His bosom! Before such a fact, all sense of one’s own worth is withered in a moment, and we take our true place before God. Surely this was what David meant when he cried, in Psalm xliii. 3, 4, "O send forth Thy light and Thy truth; let them bring me into Thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy." Yes! restraint never brings us to this; punishment for sin never brings to this; knowledge of our sinfulness even will not bring to this. All combined, will lead only to hardness and despair; but when in the midst of clear light about ourselves the grace of our God is manifested, then, indeed, the heart is broken, and we at once accept the place where the judgment of God puts us. This is God in Christ; and when the eye of faith sees God in Christ, the Lord has indeed appeared, and we build the altar. But thus appearing, He cannot leave us in the place of death—"I kill and make alive;" and so the altar becomes the place besides, of burnt offering and of incense. Abraham had but one altar. The Lord’s appearance brings into a new life, beyond condemnation and death—resurrection life in His presence. The altar acknowledges that this new life, in all its motions and affections, belongs to God. Thus we yield ourselves unto Him as those alive from the dead (Romans vi. 13). Only those made alive from the dead, and only such as clean ones, can truly build the altar as one of burnt offering. In this light and in this presence, there is likewise the sacrifice of praise continually, the fruit of lips giving thanks to His name (Hebrews xiii. 15). In building this altar, however, there was more realized and confessed than all this. "They who wait at the altar are partakers with the altar" (1 Cor. ix. 13). Death and judgment passed in grace, through the wonderful provision of Christ, and God truly seen in all this—the altar becomes to the man of faith, in his sense of resurrection life, the place of closest fellowship with God. It is the true table of the Lord. In building it to the Lord, Who appeared to him, Abram realized that as he was no longer his own, so the place of manifestation was no longer his abode only—it was God’s. We have already seen that this is exactly the explanation of the expression, "I will manifest Myself to him," given in John xiv. 21, by Christ. It is Jehovah’s table, but Abram is to sit and "sup" with Him (Rev. iii. 20).
Beloved brethren, if God has indeed appeared to us, He means nothing short of this: "Lo, I am with you every day, and all the day; I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." He gives us Himself, with all He is and has, and He takes us, with all we have and are. For very love of us, He chooses our position and place and circumstances as His abiding place, to sup with us and cause us to sup with Him. No cup of joy we have is too insignificant for Him to partake of; no dish of want too empty; no bowl of sorrow too full! My brothers, have we built an altar to the Lord, who has manifested Himself to us?
III.—BACKSLIDING. ---"WHATSOEVER IS NOT OF FAITH IS SIN." ROM. XIV. 23.
"AND he removed from thence" (Gen. xii. 8). Why? Alas! here is something not of faith, for true faith waits on God, and ever needs a word of guidance. Here, then, is Abram’s first failure in the path of faith. Failure! why should we not say sin, seeing that God has said, "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin"? We shall see much of this in the wonderful history before us. May God grant that it lead you and me to see the hatefulness of the will of the flesh and of all mere fleshly energies—the right names for everything in us and about us which is not the outcome of God’s instructing and God’s power. We have not yet learned to be half hard enough upon self. What we generally mean by "self-will" is some active opposition to the will of God; but have we not sadly to learn that the mind of the flesh is far more often seen in those movements which we make without God than in those against Him? How terrible this is in the light of that Word, "The mind of the flesh is enmity against God" (Rom. viii. 6). It may seem to the reader that in thus writing sin against Abram, we are wrongly accusing the child of God, judging only by the simple record of verse 8. The sin, however, will be very apparent as we proceed. It was only moving without the Word of the Lord, and it was but a little way; but it very rapidly led to further journeyings (verse 9), still apart from God’s guiding, and ever towards Egypt, till at last, down in the heart of Egypt itself, the way of the flesh terminates in a gross open act of sin. What solemn warning there is in all this to us who are the true people of God! May He give us to see and avoid the very beginnings of the ways of the flesh. It is deeply important to note the time in this case at which---
THE PATH OF SIN BEGAN.
The Lord had but just appeared to him. Hitherto since the call, the ways had been faith-ways. He was living in loving trust on Jehovah, and "keeping His Words." The Lord had manifested Himself to His servant. In the light of that manifested presence he had, as we have seen, judged self, and, passing thus from death unto life, had yielded himself as one "alive from the dead" unto God in consecrated worship and service. He had wakened up to the happy truth that where God thus chose to appear must be God’s home and God’s table, and humbly and joyously he had sat down to sup with God.
"And (now) he removed from thence." Again we may well ask, why? There was no word of guidance. Had there been, the companionship would not have been interrupted, and the subsequent sins had not been committed. There is something inexpressibly sad in the thought that as the Lord and Abram thus sat together Abram was the first to rise. God help us, what pitiful sinners we are, and know it not! Weary of the manifested presence of God! Cannot rest even in that blessed presence, and sup with Him, and wait for His moving, but must rise from His very table, go on before Him, and leave Him to mourn over us. Yet it was that very presence, when first manifested to us, which brought us to true self-judgment, and we were taught then, for a little at least, that the true life was only in abiding there. Brethren, let us confess that the flesh within us, the children of God, is very abominable; since even after we have been enabled to see it and judge it in the light of God, it is capable of rising in the very presence of God, and leading us to leave Him. Woe to us if we fancy, with many deceived ones in our day, that the first act of self-judgment is enough---that by such act, the "flesh is dead " and "sin eradicated."
Blessed be God, it is true that "we have died unto sin," and "are alive unto God" (Rom. vi. 10-11); but we shall soon learn to our cost, that if we living ones do not abide in the presence of God, and, ever conscious of our own weakness, wait on Him and "wait for His Word," the flesh can still rise and overcome us, leading us away from God down into the very heart of Egypt. It is one thing to believe that we are dead unto sin, and by God’s grace have been made alive unto God in resurrection, in Christ Jesus, and quite another thing to believe that the flesh is dead; for this we have no authority in the Word of God. We living ones, living on resurrection ground in Christ, have the privilege and responsibility of "crucifying the flesh" and "mortifying the deeds of the body." At the outset of this sad backsliding, Abram, so far as the eye of sense might judge, DID NOT GO FAR.
Nay, more, sense might judge it an upward step, for we read, "He removed from thence to a mountain;" but it was away from God. Yes, when the step is "from thence" however much it may look like progress, whatever of up-going labour it may necessitate, whatever high platform and wide range it may seem to give us, it is in reality a downward progress in God’s sight and to the eye of faith, and is certain to lead down into Egypt. Alas! even that would be UP to the carnal eye: "Up to the metropolis of earth" always, in the language of God’s Word, "down into Egypt " (Isa. xxxi. 1).
On this mountain, he again built an altar to the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord. Yes! but now it was only the outward form of the old sweet spiritual fellowship. From the real and true worship, he had just removed to a "high place" of his own choosing, and "multiplies altars."
Doubtless, in all this, the natural eye sees only what is right and beautiful. Such can easily discern the outward trappings of religion, but not GOD; and so can by no means discern the want of Him. Multiplied altars are common enough, and the altar upon earth’s high places; but where is God? Alas! it is sin like this of Abram’s that gives point to the sneer and the defiant taunt of to-day’s scepticism. Let us remember, that it is only where God is, that there can be the true altar. Blessed be His name, wherever there is a child of His own, walking in simple faith humbly and lovingly before Him, there is the altar of Jehovah; and wherever two or three meet together in His name, there also is true worship; but, let the child of God step aside from Him, though his sonship is not affected, he ceases to have true worship, even if in the esteem of multitudes around, he has built his altar on a higher platform; and if the two or three lose their fellowship with God Himself, whether they abide the two or three or increase to the two or three thousand, they cease to have the true altar and the true worship, even when outwardly no difference can be detected in their altar or its surroundings. Here, all was exactly similar, and only the spiritual eye could discern the sad difference. In both, Abram "built an altar, and called upon the name of the Lord." In all this, Abram is unsatisfied. The heart that has once tasted the sweetness of fellowship with God can never find satisfaction or rest apart from Him. So he very soon leaves his mountain, and "Abram journeyed in going and journeying" (margin). The very language labours to describe the activities of such unrest. Poor Abram, in his own ways, where God can hold no fellowship with him! Alas for the labour and restlessness! the many difficulties and the anxious plannings of carnal reason to meet them, and the sad blunderings leading to deeper sins and sorrows; sad, weary ways of the flesh in contrast with the path of faith. It is well for us that our Father has not cloaked them over in writing the history of His saints—not only because they are such faithful warnings, but because, we too, my brethren, have fallen and grieved our God in like manner, and might have well doubted whether we were His at all had it not been that we were taught to see in such wondrous mirror as the life of Abram, our very selves.
If God’s saints have their ways in the flesh, God will have His ways towards the flesh. These also it is important to recognize and understand. It will not do for the child of God to seem to be going on in the true path and yet to be really so far from God. God, in His love, will do something which will at once show whether this is faith-walk and worship, or merely beautiful fleshly counterfeit. Sooner or later, He must always strip the flesh and show it in its naked vileness. So it came that "there was a famine in the land." Here, then, is a test and encouragement to true faith; an obstacle to the child of God in a fleshly path, and a detective of the flesh itself. What will Abram do? Return? Alas, no! "And Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was grievous in the land." "But surely, he had a good excuse!" Yes, indeed, my brother, if the flesh continues to lead, the famine IS a good excuse, nay, more, the going down to Egypt is now absolutely necessary. But to faith, in exercise on God—NEVER!
"A famine!" What is that to true faith, worshipping and rejoicing in the manifested presence and companionship of Jehovah? "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that cometh from the mouth of God shall man live" (Matt. iv. 4). "Bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure" (Isa. xxxiii. 16). Yea, if need be, the very ravens shall "carry bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening" (1 Kings xvii. 6). But Abram is not in the manifested presence of God. He has, indeed, "removed from thence," and the famine has been God’s detective to bring this clearly to the light. What will Abram now do? This may be a blessed turning point. Now it must be GOD or EGYPT. Faith has all the resources of the Godhead with which to meet the famine; the flesh has only Egypt. Alas, faith is weakened now, at the very time it was needed in its strength; and all this time the flesh has gained in might. How weak is the child of God in himself, at the best, against the will of the flesh and its power; but when he has step by step yielded to it in seemingly little things, where is the possibility of resistance when difficulty and temptation after difficulty and temptation are thrown across his path? Hitherto, in his path apart from God, the flesh has been concealed, perhaps in great measure even from Abram himself. God will permit this no longer. The test has come which clearly shows Abram where he is, and if he will not now return, but allow the flesh still to lead him, then it shall be brought still more fully to the light, and manifested in its true character and hideous deformity in him, so that even the unchanged children of nature, who have never known God—the very dwellers in Egypt—shall seem superior in their moral tone and social uprightness to the flesh-conquered child of God. How marvellous are the ways of God! His child must learn the hatefulness of the flesh, and must be delivered from its power, and be brought back to fellowship with Himself, even if it be thus. "Oh, how He loves! "He will brook dishonour for a time, even to the taking part with this poor cowardly utterer of falsehood in the face of a God-denying world, which is, with good reason, despising His child. He can afford to bear this—has He not gone unfathomed depths beneath that for us?—but He cannot afford to lose us; He cannot bear to have Abram longer from His side. It costs Him much that the proud enemy should see and rejoice over the power of the flesh in a child of God, but it costs Him still more to lose the fellowship of the least and most unworthy of all His blood-bought family. Is any dear child of such a Father walking apart from Him as these lines are read? My brother, let me entreat thee, hasten back to "the place where thou didst build thine altar at the first" (verse 4, chap. xiii.) Be sure of this, that if the way of the flesh is still persisted in, He loves thee too well to let it be long in secret. Longer may lead to thine own shame and His dishonour in thee; this He can bear, since it must serve to bring thee at last back in repentance to His side; but far better and far happier to go now. And oh! beloved, for the time when we "shall never more go out"!
IT is not by any means pleasant to follow Abram’s sin in all its details; but it is needful, and will do us good. Let us not read merely, but deeply study this history, which GOD has written for us, of His child’s failure, and we shall know, perhaps, more fully the meaning of that Word in 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17: "All Scripture given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly perfected (margin) unto all good works."
In verse 11 of this chapter (Gen. xii.), we learn that as Abram "was come near to enter into Egypt," he became the tempter—drew his wife into fellowship with him in his sin, and exposed her to terrible danger. As we trace step by step of this downward progress, it does seem, indeed, as if each fresh advance were to startle us more and more painfully in this already so painful history.
Can this be the man of whom the Lord had said, "I will make thee a blessing" (verse 2)? The same! only now apart from God—severed for the time being from Him who is the alone source of blessing. It is well to remember always that it is so still with us. Our Lord has truly said, though we often practically forget His Words, "Apart from Me, ye can do nothing" (John xv. 5). We receive present blessing in our own souls, and power is conferred on us to bless others, only as our trust is in the present tense. "He that believeth (not once believed) on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John vii. 38). It will be understood, of course, that in all this, we are not dealing with the question of final salvation, but of present conscious blessing and power to bless. The poor sinner who has once cast himself in simple trust on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus is SAFE FROM WRATH FOREVER; but it is only in abiding and present trust that we can enjoy abiding fellowship with God and manifest spiritual power. No past trust, and no past experience, however blessed, that may have come out of such trust, avails for the present.
It is but tradition in another form. "HE THAT BELIEVETH" "HE THAT BELIEVETH" is "writ large side by side with every promise in Christ Jesus. Brethren, let it be written so in our hearts. Alas! when the child of God is out of fellowship with Him, it is not only that he ceases to be a blessing; his influence becomes sadly baneful. The Christian in fellowship with God is always a blessing; the Christian out of fellowship with God IS ALWAYS A CURSE! It may not be that he is always conscious of the one or of the other, but so it is. "None of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself"(Rom. xiv. 7). "We are members one of another, and (in this sense also) when one suffers all suffer with it." A little leaven, and the whole lump is leavened; a single "root, of bitterness, and the many become defiled." This is deeply solemn truth. We must remember also that if at any time we are out of fellowship with God, our present evil influence must be proportionate to our former influence for good. Would to God that this truth were stamped on the hearts of individual believers and of Churches! Are we now cold and formal, and worldly and carnal? A little while ago and, deeply sensible of our own need, we were leaning "hard" on God, and in loving confidence, we had our fellowship with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ. Consciously or unconsciously, we were blessing others—centres of holy influence, channels of living water. Now, in the very measure in which we were blessings, must we influence for evil. A dead Church is always the same; a living Church, fallen from its source of strength, is a terrible evil. We are not ordinary men, my brethren. In a close, Enoch-like walk with God, we are His instruments, and by means of us, He puts His stamp on everything with which we have to do. But, apart from Him, even as we "come near to go into Egypt," the hearts that have been drawn to us, the eyes fixed on us, the trustful little ones who have learned to look for guidance to us---alas! my brethren, who can measure the influence for evil of a cold-hearted, worldly Christian who but a little while ago was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost"?
Abram as yet is only near Egypt, and already we see how thoroughly godless he has become. His thoughts, his reasonings, his words and actions, are all those of a man without God. The eye is turned from the Lord, and he sees with fear, the beauty of Sarai. His very joys have become sources of grief and terror. He has ceased to learn of God, and yet he says, "I know;" and from the knowledge of unbelief, he draws the inference which has plunged him into despair, and made him a coward and a tempter, and a cruel, selfish betrayer of the purity and happiness of the woman whom God has given him to protect and cherish and guide. His is indeed the "fear that hath torment," and his only refuge is a "refuge of lies." True, he could once have said, "Behold, God is my refuge!" and then in the care of the Lord, he should have known the "perfect love which casteth out fear" (1 John iv. 18); but now, alas! many unjudged sins are between him and his true Refuge. Moreover, the dreaded famine is between them, and he is very near to Egypt. Its power is too great for him, and thus it is that in his miserable "goings and journeyings" (verse 9) he enters Egypt.
How sad the companionship too! Out of fellowship with God, he has drawn his wife into companionship with him in sin. They agree together to get on in Egypt without God. Doubtless, if the veil were wholly withdrawn, that sojourn in Egypt, with all its money-getting and increase of cattle and silver and gold, should be seen to have been a time of wretched unhappiness, and of anything but true, loving companionship. Abram had said, "Thus shall my soul live because of Thee," and Jehovah must permit him to prove the sad mockery of his words—deadness of soul and bitterness of sin’s companionship. True love, love abiding, love which in its nature is eternal, must be in fellowship with God---"only in the Lord."
Relationship in the flesh is while the flesh lasts; companionship in sin is companionship in condemnation, and must bear its judgment. Ah, beloved, "the END OF THESE THINGS IS DEATH! But God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickened us." So it ever is. God was the first to seek Adam. God followed apostate Israel. "God so loved the world." Thus it was that while no word is given to Abram in Egypt, no message sent to him, God is watching over him. He plagues Egypt because of him and his sin, but He hides His face from Abram. Jehovah metes out to everyone his due and his need. Poor Abram! it is enough to him that he is beginning to know what it is to be without God. To Egypt and its king, God must touch that which they can feel. This is God’s way; God plagued Pharaoh; He hid Himself from Abraham. From that first step away from God, till the time when Abram returns to the very spot from which in his apostasy he started,---GOD HAS NO DEALINGS WITH ABRAM, AND NO WORD FOR HIM.
My brothers, is it a deep grief to us that God is hiding the light of His countenance? Then He is not far off. He will see to it that our circumstances, our very enemies, the consequences of our sins, shall be made to speak to us, and bring us as with "bit and bridle" back to Himself. So it was with Abram. "He went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; unto the place of THE ALTAR which he had made THERE at the first; and THERE Abram called on the name of the Lord" (chap. xiii. 3, 4). Blessed return!
No fellowship with God; yet God loving, following, watching over, even in Egypt, and bringing back, not by word lovingly received, but by "bit and bridle." Sad, yet blessed, for God will not forsake. "The First and the Last." For so it was when man fell, and so shall it be when we enter into His glory. Our only song, "Worthy is the Lamb. . . . Unto Him who loved us and washed us in His blood . . ." "Grace, grace!"
It is important to notice that God’s erring child had to return to the point of departure before again he could with true heart, "call upon the name of the Lord." Back, back from Egypt, through all that long, weary journey; back to look in the face, through all its consequences, that first sin. Not to the mountain with its altar, but to the "altar which he had made there at the first." Who can help thinking of Bunyan’s "Christian," when, through sinful slumber, he lost his roll? Almost within sight of Palace Beautiful, he had to turn back, retracing every weary step with sad moan and bitter self-reproach; back to the very spot where his sin had its beginnings; there, on his knees, he found his roll. This is ever God’s way with His own. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John i. 9). But confession is no mere lip work, and far less is it a continuance in the condition to which our backsliding has led us. "Return, thou backsliding one, and I will heal . . ." Yes, to the very point where the downward course first began. Jehovah had not changed: "He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself." Return to Him must be return to the place where the backslider left his God. And there, at last, we read again, "Abram called upon the name of the Lord" (verse 4). Were anything needed to prove that all the course with which we have been occupied in the last two papers was one of sin, it were enough, surely, to point out that Abram had to return. I once heard an aged saint say that for ten years, he had "never needed to repent an action or retrace a step." Blessed life of happy, holy fellowship with God! There is, however, another terrible proof in the inspired history of this journey to and sojourn in Egypt. From the moment that Abram leaves his mountain with his second altar, GOD is not once named.
In all those weary journeyings as he draws near to Egypt, in that sinful fellowship with Sarai, and in Egypt itself, with its worldly increase, it is not once recorded that Abram called on the name of the Lord. This is surely an omission terribly significant when God Himself is the recorder. My brothers, what of our lives? Jehovah is writing them in characters which shall be clearly read at the Judgment Seat of Christ. There may be no flagrant transgressions. ‘Is GOD LEFT OUT? How many hours, how many days, are full of happy fellowship with Him, holy worship given to Him, and faithful testimony regarding Him? Is it being written now of you and me by Him who searcheth the heart, "He called upon the name of the Lord?
V.—THE OLD ALTAR.
HOW blessed it is to know that the Father’s heart seeks His children’s worship!---that to our God there is something not only glorifying, but refreshing, in receiving true spirit worship—"worship in spirit and in truth." What a gulf there is between the merely outward nominal thing so called and genuine heart-worship of the Father! A child of God, lying down, so to speak, in the marvellous love of God, and there, in sweet restfulness, rendering humbly and adoringly, the homage of a grateful heart. "The Father seeketh such to worship Him," and is satisfied.
Perhaps at no time is there truer and less formal worship, with less of self mingling in it, than when a repentant wanderer falls at the feet of his Father, and is caught up into the arms that never weary of receiving, and to the heart that never wearies of pouring out its love. What true child of God knows not something of the sorrow and joy of the prodigal’s return? Some of us can recall sad times of backsliding, when we "wearied Him with our sins" (Isa. xliii. 24), and gathered nothing for ourselves but_unhappiness and loss; all the while bearing the reproach within, and conscious of the loving whisper, "Return, O backsliding one, and I will heal thy backsliding" (Hosea xiv. 4), till at last His love again conquered, and we cried, "I will arise and go to my Father." My friends, shall we ever forget, in heaven itself, the wondrous reception, as, falling in the dust of self-abasement and true judgment of our sin, "in the place of the altar which we made at the first" (verse 4), we called upon the name of the Lord—how, without one word of rebuke, the unchanging arms were round us in a moment, and the kiss of GOD sealed our forgiveness, filling our hearts with such a rush of joy that our worship was in a flood of tears? Perhaps thus it was now with Abram; but if so, it was in secret, and God does not give us the record. It is often thus, perhaps always. The first moment of such restoration, with its wondrous sweetness, seems to be kept from all eyes save those of the Father and the restored wanderer. Was it not because of this trust that our risen Lord’s first interview with Peter was in secret? "He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve" (1 Cor. xv. 5). We have said "perhaps," because in the case before us, it may not be so. Abram is emphatically the man of faith, father of believing ones, and his whole path is typical. Here, therefore, we are not to judge of God’s ways by our own experience, but by the written Word. The believing one has indeed returned to his true place, and has found rest beside the first built altar; but as yet there is no declared fellowship on God’s part, no recorded manifestation of God, and no distinct utterance of approval. Why is this? Abram has at last returned, confession of sin has been made (for his very presence in the place of that first altar proves this), and without doubt, there has been at once full and perfect forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John i. 9). Why then, is it not manifested to all? First, because Abrams faith needed trial---first in order and first in importance; for there is nothing more precious than the trial of faith—"much more precious than gold, though it (gold) be tried with fire." Next, for those who watched---angels and principalities and powers, evil and good, the Canaanite and Lot. "CAN TWO WALK TOGETHER EXCEPT THEY BE AGREED?" (Amos iii. 3)
Lot, to the heart of God, is next in importance to Abram; far more so than the angels, who need not to be saved, and more than those who are beyond salvation. Poor Lot may be saved; and by and by, testimony shall be borne to him by one servant of God in the Spirit that he was at last proved "righteous" (2 Peter ii. 7), though he cannot be found in the glorious roll of Hebrews xi. Of him it could only be said that he "vexed his righteous soul," and was at last delivered from the seething sea of wickedness. No mighty work of changing it or saving it, even for a time, from destruction; only vexing himself because of it. Meanwhile with Abram he is out of place. These two cannot get on. SEPARATION—how little it is understood! "We talk so much about it, and, alas! our darkness and blindness oftener leads us to schism. God divides the light from the darkness, that the one may rule and benefit the other. God puts a "redemption" between (Exod. viii. 23, marg.) oftentimes, that the distinction be felt---"a darkness that may be felt"---sin known and deliverance (perhaps) sought; for "God is love." Yea, the very highest separation—that of the high priest, with the golden plate on the mitre---the crown of his forehead—had the characteristic inscription, "Holiness unto the Lord," with the divine interpretation, "that He may bear the iniquities of the holy things of the children of Israel before Jehovah."
Separation unto God as a medium of blessing from God to those from whom we have been separated. Alas, alas! how often the separation is in the wisdom and energy of the flesh to find fault, to stand aside, to exclude, to bite and devour, instead of to love and to enlighten and to comfort with the love and light and comfort" werewith we are comforted of God." By and by, we shall see that Lot is in every way to be benefited by this separation. Meanwhile they cannot get on. It is the newly-restored spiritual man watched by and misunderstood by one who has never known God for himself, only darkly through another. Poor Lot is as yet but a babe in Christ—a carnal Christian (1 Cor. iii. 1). Lot has always depended upon Abram, not on God. "We read not that God had called him out of Haran; and now, in Abram’s return to his true place, we read of him only as "Lot also, which went with Abram" (verse 5).
My brothers, what a lesson is this! Of one man only in the universe of God, do we find that it is safe to be with him. Lot followed Abram! No wonder if at last, he pitched his tent toward Sodom. What a contrast! following the CALL OF GOD and following the example (only) of Abram; leaving Haran, building an altar, worshipping God (in this even copying man), fleeing from the famine, going down into Egypt, watching—perhaps imitating—the sins of the backsliding child of God; Abram, the source of his life, NOT GOD. My brothers, let us look around. This folly is new as it is old. Do we, dare we encourage it? There are Lots all around. Let us drive them from us unto God. If not, God will speedily, in the midst of sad strife and sore division of our followers and their followers, separate at last for mutual good. There be many in the present day that follow only man. Would to God, that all Christians even who are in the place of teachers would study Paul’s progress in the 1st and 2nd Epistles to the Corinthians. In the first epistle, the true servant of God in the power of the Holy Ghost has to rebuke the Corinthian Church, or some of them, for worship of Paul (1 Cor. iii. 5); in the second epistle, he has to assert his authority as the servant of the Lord (2 Cor. x., to end of epistle). In the first epistle, he had to entreat them not to make him or any other man their leader; in the second, he had to "become a fool," in self-assertion, for Christ’s sake and the truth and their benefit—so soon does popularity pass to rejection! Here the need be for separation was twofold. Lot, drawing his religion from Abram only, saw "his nakedness" in Egypt. How different if for himself, he had seen God! Nevertheless, to Abram also it must have been intensely painful, this separation; to know that Lot had looked for God in him, and seen only Abram! In this sad experience, the child of God must have been taught in ever-increasing light the evil of unbelief; and so, while the one was separated unto Sodom, the other would more and more be separated UNTO GOD.
"THICK CLAY" (HAB. II. 6).
We have said the need be for separation was twofold. The second was this, that in the worldly walk of these two men, riches had greatly increased. God has said, "When riches increase, set not thine heart upon them" (Ps. lxii. 10). They have arrived at the testing place, and the test is applied. Both have riches, but one has only Abram, the other HAS God. How can we compare the portions? The test of Abram’s heart attitude towards God brought Lot also into clear light, showing where his heart is set.
CAUSES OF DIVISION.
There was no strife between themselves; they were evidently friendly. Lot, as we have seen, had no direct call from God; but he followed Abram from Haran down to Egypt, and back to the place of the altar, but not TO GOD. There was thus the first element of division, a very common and fruitful one. If both had been "holding the Head" (Col. ii. 19), they would have been in the true unity, and that unity had been maintained; but if Abram was holding the Head, and Lot holding only Abram, there was no true abiding unity. There might be natural love, but, alas! how easily that may change and pass away; or how much may come, as in this case, from earthly circumstances and clashing interests to disturb the union. Thus kindly feelings may continue, while things over which we have no control occur to necessitate separation. How different it all is when each is for himself clinging to God; then there is a bond which in its very nature is everlasting. This is well worthy of our deepest consideration. Church after church, gathering after gathering, is weakened, disturbed, and rent asunder because of the Lots who are in fellowship. They have not known God; they know only Abram---some godly minister, or true, earnest, and devoted child of God. Abram was Lot’s bible, and in Egypt, the page had become blotted. Alas for Lot! his trust in religious man had become weakened, and as earthly goods increased, his chain binding to all that was earthy had become strong. Thus, when the test comes, GOD OR THE WORLD, he chooses Sodom, and is well-nigh overwhelmed in its destruction; at his highest and best, a carnal Christian, trying to serve God and Mammon, barren of good, and only "vexing his righteous soul" with the ungodliness of the Sodomites (2 Peter ii. 7, 8), unable to benefit them, though trying hard—only vexing himself. How could one who was brought back to fellowship with God be in fellowship with such? Abram’s backsliding had taught him more and more his need of God; it had taught Lot that his god was not to be trusted. Thus, when the ordeal came, it found out true faith and false, true religion and false, true worship and walk and the counterfeit. Thus it ever is. But there were more apparent causes of division. "Their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together." And there was a strife between," "and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land" (verses 6 and 7). Their substance and their dependants—who had no interest in God, and only a self-interest either in Abram or in Lot—their substance, the cause of dispute, their herdsmen (not God’s pastors) the strivers, place and power and earthly advantage their only good; and so they grasp, and grudge, and fight, while the Canaanite and the Perizzite—God’s enemies—look on and laugh. God help us! what a dreadful thing it is to be a carnal Christian. No wonder if God calls such "adulteresses" (James iv. 4, see revised version): "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?"
The man whose faith is really in God bears the test. Abram can, and does in practice, say, "Thou art the portion of mine inheritance." To him, God has become increasingly precious since the deep sense of his own weakness had become known through his backsliding. He must have God; without Him, his substance is poor indeed. Thus it is that he can well afford to give Lot his choice of all the land. He is willing to be a loser of all on earth, for he has God. In any case, there must be no strife; that misrepresents his God. Strife over earthly place and earthly substance? Never! I cannot grieve my God—my salvation, my life, my treasure—for anything that earth can render. "Behold, is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right." How beautiful this is—the "carelessness of faith."
Poor Lot! a little while ago and Abram had his heart. Abram was his magnet. Abram is brought nearer God; circumstances and surroundings—the "inevitable," as the world would say—have come in to produce a repellent current, and Lot finds another magnet still further from God.
A LOW LEVEL.
"Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan that it was well watered. . . . Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and they separated. . . . And Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom." Lot lifted up his eyes, yet he saw only Sodom—good, substantial, beautiful; earthly advantage (at the cost of a good man’s society) in the company of the wicked. And he had to lift up his eyes to see this! Alas! how low must have been his standing to be below such a scene as this. Abram, the child of true faith, could say, "Mine eyes are ever towards the Lord." When he lifted up his eyes, he saw GOD. He could look down upon all that Lot looked up to.
My brothers, is it so with us? Are we truly with Jesus on the mount of God? above the din and strife and glitter and attraction of the earth; above its gains and its losses, its praise and its blame; above it socially, politically, religiously? or, in all these, are we looking up to it? GOD OR MAMMON, WHICH?
VI.---FAITH SEES WHAT GOD SAYS.
ABRAM is now once again in a position to listen to the Word of God, and God speaks. With Jehovah there is "a time to speak and a time to be silent." No word to His erring child in Egypt, no word mid the din of human strife, but now the child of God, fully restored and separated from evil, is alone with God once again, and the Lord speaks. How wondrously sweet the words must have seemed to him after the long silence: "Lift up now thine eyes" (verse 14). It is only the old promise reasserted and emphasized, but oh! how new it is, spoken again under new circumstances to one who, since it was first given, had proved utterly unworthy of it and of the love of the great Promiser! How old and yet how new! The old promise, reasserted after all the backsliding, proved the unchanging love of God. Faith does not always want new words and new revelations. Sometimes, perhaps often, we want to know that the old are still true to us, for we change so. Blessed be our God for all His unwearied repeatings to us of the good old truths and promises! We need them so often, and they are so sweet to us in times of recent restoration! There is much more than this, however. If it is the old promise repeated in new circumstances, it is given in a new way. It is given with two commands, both of which are full of sweet teaching to Abram and to us. "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art." This, the first of the two commands taught him, that though Jehovah had not spoken till now—not while the test which separated Lot from Abram was being applied—He had listened. How blessed for the child of faith to learn that in a transaction in which, "that there might be no strife," he had been enabled to yield present advantage, his God had been an onlooker, deeply interested and satisfied! It was not that Abram had thought of reward, but he had thought of God and of God’s glory, and the Lord will reward him secretly and openly. It is as if He had said: "Abram, I have been a silent witness of all this. Lot has lifted up his eyes and has chosen. Lift up now thine eyes from the place where thou art. Thou hast chosen My will and My glory, and I have chosen thine inheritance for thee" (Ps. xlvii. 4). Beloved, let us be sure of it, thus it will be always. "His eyes are upon the righteous." Not the least thing done unto him can go unseen and unrewarded. To Abram the sacrifice was very little, for he could truly say, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance," but to God it was no trifle; it proved that His child was really restored, and that he loved Him and His glory. To Lot also, the sacrifice would have been great. It would have been terrible for him to have lost the pleasant plain of Sodom. To him there was as yet nothing higher. His choice will cost him much and teach him much, though meanwhile, perhaps, he may think Abram foolish "for his pains."
"Look from the place where thou art." How differently things look from different standpoints! As already noted, Lot was so low, that in looking up he could see only the plain of Sodom, all the attractiveness of which was doomed very soon to sink into the depths of perdition. How dreadful, yet how true! is it not so with many? A little while, and He that is coming will come, and will not tarry. What have we got, beloved? Treasure in heaven, or things that are doomed? What are we choosing? God’s glory or worldly advantage? Abram’s standpoint was near to God. From that position he could see whatever God revealed. Oh, my brothers, think of it; what a magnificent range of vision! North, south, east, west, no boundary line. Earth’s horizon comes not here to narrow and deceive, and nature’s eye is changed for faith, and the light of nature for the light of GOD. The poor defiled and bleary eye of nature can see the plain of Sodom. Do it, where God’s sky meets, this is a sharp limit, and there is nothing beyond but a dreamy perhaps; but on this blessed heavenly upland (the heavenlies of Ephesians—in Christ, nigh to God) faith sees in the visions of God all that God points out. And all this, whatsoever I thus look upon, is mine. "All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s" (1 Cor. iii. 22). All ours, and ours forever. Yes, it was a mistake to say that the promise now given to Abram was merely a repetition of the old; it was the old reasserted and made sure forever (verse 15). Truly God’s ways are not as our ways. Man would have dealt so differently! He would insert an addition, it is true, but it would be a conditional clause—"no more backsliding." Jehovah takes advantage of the sad failure to tell His restored child that the only difference He will make in repeating His promise is that the possession is to be made over to him and to his seed forever. This is grace and this is God.
In the second command which the Lord linked with the promise, there is a secret and tender REBUKE: "Arise, walk through the land." This must carry back Abram’s thoughts to the time when he arose from the very presence of the Lord to walk unbidden through the land, and when from his own mountain and altar he went down into Egypt. Had he but waited for this word "Arise," all the failure had been avoided, and he had not vexed the great loving heart of his GOD. It is not well to speculate. The failure, doubtless, was needed to bring out Abram’s need (and ours) and God’s magnificent, unchanging grace. But had it not been, we had sooner reached the fat pasture of Mamre, and sooner dwelt in Hebron. As Abram rose to range, at the Word of God, through all the rich places of his inheritance, there must have been tears of deep, humble repentings flowing from a heart full of gratitude and love. Here we must note a contrast in the ways of God. He rebuked unsaved Pharaoh with "great plagues." He chastened the saved wanderer by withholding from him His Word and the manifestation of His presence. He rebuked him when fully restored, in a tender, secret way, known only to Himself and His own.
How parallel is this word, "Arise and walk through the land," with those gracious yet tenderly rebuking words to restored Peter, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? . . . Feed My sheep." How wonderful are His ways! This is no arbitrary judge, inflicting arbitrary penalties, but He Who is wisdom and love dealing out to each that which He knows will most effectually produce the needed result.
THE PLAIN OF MAMRE, WHICH IS IN HEBRON.
When Abram "removed" from Bethel unbidden, he went to a mountain. Then it was the eye of sense attracted by objects of sense. He was walking "after the sight of his eyes." Now, more fully taught of God, and acting in accordance with the Divine word, his first camping-ground is the plain of Mamre. It may be that in that old time, the eager climbing of the mountain marked pride of possession and over-haste to see and grasp all that God had given. If so, the contrast is beautiful. He has seen the whole range of his inheritance now from a far higher mountain than ever sense had reached. He has looked at it from beside God, and he knows that all this is his forever; yet when Jehovah says "Arise," his first camping-ground is a plain. Yet not any plain. This is one of God’s plains, higher than anything which Lot ever saw, and higher than Abram’s own mountain. God’s plains are higher far than earth’s loftiest peaks. The careful reader of the Word will have noted that the ups of the world are the downs of God, and the world’s downs are God’s ups. The very names of His mountains and plains are also shadowings forth of this important truth. The whole land is God’s, and is a gift to Abram.
It is all glorious, and in this wondrous walk of faith through it at the command of God, Abram shall get to know it in its length and breadth; but now there is no haste ("he that believeth shall not make haste"), and Abram pitched his tent, and "dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron. Why, the land is his and his seed’s forever! NO need for hasty march and sudden seizure. It is all his by the Word of the living God. Bit by bit, patiently, he will see and enjoy his own. Thus, then, he dwelt for a time on his first camping-ground, and built there an altar to the Lord.
On the very frontier, then, of faith’s possessions, we have this plain in Hebron---Mamre: what is this? These words, Mamre and Hebron, what are they to us? Like all God’s precious names of places, persons, and things, there are depths in them. They are seldom, if ever, exhausted by one meaning; frequently they have many meanings, and thus, if one may so speak, we have to go round and round them, viewing them on all sides, to know the rich blessings we have got, in even one part of our great inheritance. Oh! the inexhaustible fulness of God in Christ! "Oh! the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! . . . For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things" (Rom. xi. 33). Truly, "He filleth all in all," and "we are filled full in Him" (Eph. i 23; iii. 19). Mamre means elevation; it means also fat or fruitful; and it means strength. So to speak, then, this is our earliest experiences of what faith finds in Christ. It is a plain, but, as we have seen, God’s plains are elevated far above earth’s mightiest conceptions. Here, then, we find sweetest lowly humility," yet height upon height of loftiest attainment—like all in Christ, a divine paradox—lowliness that the world scorns, heights beyond its comprehension; lowly as the ground on which Jesus meets the sinner, high as the throne of Almighty God above the highest heavens. Here also we have fatness and fruitfulness. This tells of abundance of supply for all our need. At the very outset, we are made to lie down "in the green (lit., ‘fresh-budding’) pasture," and may well sing, "I shall not want." Surely also the fruitful land speaks of our fruit-bearing unto God. Last of all, Mamre means STRENGTH. What a range of country in Jehovah’s Beulah-land does this open to us!
"God is my refuge and strength."
"The Lord is the strength of my life."
"God is the strength of my heart and portion FOREVER."
"In the Lord Jehovah is EVERLASTING STRENGTH."
"Strong in the Lord and in the power of His might."
"Strengthens according to the might of His glory."
But we must not forget that this plain of Mamre is in Hebron. There may be a Mamre not in Hebron. There may be fat pasture ground, fruit-bearing, and strength, only not in Hebron. Then it is not ours. It is not the God-given land. Hebron means union, society, friendship, fellowship. The simple meaning is joining, and it tells the blessed truth that Mamre, in all its shades of moaning, is to be found only in our being joined to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Everything depends on this. I shall not have "fresh-budding pastures" unless He Himself is "making me to lie down" in them (Ps. xxiii. 2). I cannot bear fruit unto God unless, as a branch joined to the true Vine. I cannot know the strength of the Lord unless my "weakness is leaning on His might." The very nourishment of the Body of Christ depends on the "joinings of supply," as each member "holds fast the Head" (Col. ii. 19, Alford).
ALL, all is in Hebron. Need we dwell in friendship, companionship, fellowship? Never let us forget that all this is possible to the believer only in union with God. "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. vi. 17); and where there are two or three, each of whom is thus joined to the Lord, there is the unity of the Spirit maintained. True heavenly society is found alone in HEBRON. Friendship, fellowship, there may be much of it in name, but if it is not in union with God it is a make-believe or a mistake. Brother, let us sing, "The lines have fallen unto ME in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage." Yes, for this Mamre in Hebron is after all but the first camping-ground of faith’s vast possessions. No wonder either, when the Holy Ghost in us and upon us here is but the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the whole possession (Eph. i. 14). Well may we, in simple faith in Jehovah, and in the joy of that mighty Strength in Whom we have our being now, pitch our little tent and build our altar, worship, adore, and praise the LORD OUR GOD.
VII.—"FAITH WORKING BY LOVE." ---GAL. V. 6.
WE have seen the believing one resting in the presence of God, and from this blessed position viewing, at God’s bidding, all the land. We have seen him also begin to obey the command, "Arise, walk through the land"; and we left him on his first camping-ground, the sweet, lowly, yet exalted plain of Mamre, in Hebron---lowly in the presence and companionship of Jehovah, yet so very far above the things of time, and sense, and earth. All that belongs to the child of faith was his, and his to take possession of. Mamre, in Hebron, is now his to be possessed and enjoyed forever and ever.
To the man of faith, this spot of rest is not a place of idleness. It is quite a wonder to find how sadly mistaken, some even of the children of God are as to this. They do not seem to be able to understand that the true rest of faith is consistent with the "fight of faith." They imagine that the man who enjoys quiet restfulness in the love and strength of the Lord, must be a different type of Christian, and passing through a very different experience from the man who, in the din of conflict with the enemy, is proving something of the "victory that overcometh the world" (1 John v. 4); that a Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, could never be also a "beloved Persis, who laboured much in the Lord." Thus we often hear of the contemplative type of Christian and the working type! It is a sad mistake. He who knows most of the rest of faith, and sits oftenest at the feet of Jesus, "hearkening to His Word," is also he who, when the enemy assails, is ever found readiest for the fight, and surest of victory; he who, when the Master calls to service, is certain to be found "abounding in the work of the Lord." The truest faith in God unites in itself enjoyment of the sweetest rest, and, if one may say so, of the hardest toil and the hottest conflict. Is it not all in "Mamre, that is in Hebron"? Yes! Here is no languid, listless, enjoyment of selfish ease. Our blessed Lord never for a moment lost the enjoyment of rest in the Father (except when He was made sin on Calvary’s cross; alas for the awful restlessness of the separation from God then!); and yet, He was the busiest Man that ever dwelt on earth. His motto ever was, "I must be about my Father’s business." By-and-by we, my brothers, shall enter a rest fuller than now we can even fancy; but then "His servants shall serve Him" (Rev. xxii. 3). Martha’s error was not the loving service, but the not having learned the secret of service, at His wish, and in His time, because through His Word. And so it was that of all His loved ones, only Mary knew when to anoint Him to "His burying" "aforehand," and not too late, when the ignorant and sorrowing (no rest in their sorrowful service) women brought their costly spices to an empty grave. Thus it is that "faith worketh." Mamre is the school of genuine activity. So it is also of pure, unselfish love to the poverty-stricken, the captive, and the perishing. How sadly often the second mistake meets us, that sweet restful companionship with God means selfish isolation from our fellow-men. Never! Fellowship with God and rest in God always mean love to our brother. There may be separation, as we have seen, nay, must be, even for Lot’s present good; but let Lot need Abraham, and the man of God is with his poor erring brother in a moment, be the labour, be the danger what it may. Yet one other mistake is corrected by the history before us. Faith’s camping ground is no monastic seclusion in which the Christian remains loftily ignorant of the afiairs of men.
FAITH WATCHING UNTO PRAYER.
From his place of strength and happy fellowship with God, Abraham is a deeply interested observer. There may be nothing to see, perhaps, save what causes sorrow; but he will watch and pray---interceeding even for Sodom to the very last—and when the opportunity offers, he will interfere and strike a blow for God, to the overthrow of oppression and the deliverance of a poor worldly-minded Lot from the consequences of his sin. Abraham cannot say, "He has chosen his position, let him keep it and suffer the consequences"; he cannot say, even of Sodom, to the very last, "Let it alone." Such judgment must be for Jehovah only; the sinner saved by grace will manifest grace till God has shut the door. As our concern is chiefly with Abraham, we cannot dwell on the state of matters which he saw around him. It must suffice to note that everywhere was wickedness, rebellion, war. Sodom was fast ripening to its final doom, and even before that, the kings were to be overtaken with almost universal slaughter. Terrible picture of this slime-pit of an apostate world now; the man of true faith, in fellowship with God, watching sorrowfully the progress to the terrible end, and watching over, though at a distance, the many poor blinded souls who are living in such close friendship with what the Lord has condemned to destruction.
My brother, it is dreadful to think how blind this poor, flesh-loving, world-seeking man, Lot, had become. See what it is to begin with looking at men and things from the low level of human reason and self-advantage. He had lifted up his eyes and beheld the plain of Jordan that it was fair; he had chosen as his portion all the plain of Jordan. He had at first, it is true, only pitched his tent towards. Sodom, but now we read that he dwelt in Sodom (v. 12).
To this world-seeking man, the din and rage of battle, the captivity and danger, might have been a warning of still greater wrath to come; but alas! even now we see how impossible it is to open the eyes of many who are the children of God to the real state of the world and the judgments coming, which the simple souls, who live by faith only, so clearly see. Like Lot, they have chosen their portion, and it is not of God. They do not see its doom written in the Word, and all the sad warnings given in our day by the terrible events almost constantly occurring, excite a passing interest, but change neither their "views" nor their hearts. When "sudden destruction cometh", they shall be saved, yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. iii. 15), but their chosen portion shall be ruined utterly. Meanwhile it is only captivity. From this he is delivered, and all his goods restored; and Abraham is the deliverer. To Lot this must have been deeply humbling. A little while before, he doubtless despised the "folly" of Abraham in so unselfishly permitting him to take his choice of all the land. He took, to outward sense, the best, glad, perhaps, of the strife which had led to his good fortune; and now that he has lost everything, this man of true peace, who would not strive with a brother, cost "him" personally what it might, unhesitatingly fights for his deliverance when he knows that the conflict does not bring dishonour on the Lord. Abraham is not "a peace-at-any- price man." He will have no strife, when, by it, God were dishonoured; he will have no peace, when the ruin of a brother, downtrodden by the enemies of God, may be prevented.
READY UNTO EVERY GOOD WORK.
It is blessed to see how thoroughly prepared for any emergency the man of faith is. There is a sudden call, and the call does not meet him UNPREPARED. His resources for present need are within himself and his own house, because GOD IS HIS PORTION. A man of whom this is true can never be unprepared. He is not to be taken by surprise. He is a man of peace, yet has he trained servants in his own house, and armour wherewith to cover them; and when the crisis comes, he has energy and wisdom to guide the pursuit and order the battle. There is no timidity, and no dubious questionings as to the right and wrong of it; the man is equal to the occasion, and ready for action. In him faith worketh. My brother, I speak not of earthly strife. "We fight not against flesh and blood," but when suddenly we are called to face the force or fraud of Satan, are we found prepared? Are our resources within ourselves, only because WE HAVE GOD, and are in fellowship with Him? We know the armour of God; can we "put it on"? (Ephes. vi. 11--19.) Do we know our trained servants, born in our own house? When we are truly in the mind of God, spirit, soul, and body truly yielded to Him, then by His grace and power, every faculty of the mind and every bodily instrument may be subject to us because we are subject to God. Alas! how many Christians there are whose desires and appetites and feelings control them. Paul lived not thus, "I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection" (1 Cor. ix. 27). It was thus a trained servant, born in his own house.
THE TRUE RULER IS ALWAYS SUBJECT TO GOD.
These things can be only as we are truly subject to God. But let us be sure that, if God is in His loving way ruling over us, we also are able to control our feelings, words, and actions; while, on the other hand, if we know that these things get the better of us, it is idle to say that we are living in subjection to God or in fellowship with God. "He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city" (Prov. xvi. 32; Read also James, chaps. iii. and iv.). This, foremost; for if a man rule not himself, he certainly shall never rule others. Our trained servants born in our house may however, and ought, to include our families. How blessed is the household where, because the head of it is in loving fellowship with God, ever subject to His blessed will, all the others are trained to loving subjection!
This is a large subject, and in our day its consideration is deeply needed. We cannot, however, dwell upon it here. May we not, however, in closing these remarks, well ask whether, when in Christian families, there is want of unity of purpose and endeavour, want of loving mutual helpfulness and fellowship in God’s work; it may not be, first, because of the want of full subjection on the part of the head to God, and next, because of want of loving subjection to him on the part of those who ought to look to him and yield to him as guide?
VIII.---"WHO IS HE THAT OVERCOMETH?"—1 JOHN V. 5.
IN the path of faith, there are many golden opportunities, but we may miss them. When Abram heard of Lot’s captivity, he might have been deeply interested; he might have sorrowed much, made it a matter of frequent prayer, and done nothing. If so, the record, so far as Abram’s life is concerned, had been that of another failure instead of a brilliant victory with its added blessings. Nevertheless, it is just at this point that we so often come short. It is not that we are lacking in sympathy. The need of those around us touches us keenly, and perhaps we cry to God "mightily" on their behalf; but we think not of that part of God’s plan in which he delights to manifest through His believing ones, not His tender compassions merely, but also His power to deliver.
We see thousand-fold misery everywhere. We hear the cry of the oppressed, the groan of the prisoner, the sigh of the weary. It is good to feel deeply and to pray much; but, my brother, I believe that God creates His compassions in you that His power also to succour and deliver may be put forth, not through another, but through you! The soul that feels tenderly, is meant, by God’s grace, to be the brave deliverer of those for whom he feels so much. Let the weakest of us have only faith enough in the might of our God and He will show us wondrous things in this our path of faith. Over and over again has the Lord had to say to us, "Wherefore criest thou unto Me?—FORWARD!" (Exod. xiv. 15).
How many victories and songs of victory might have been ours ere now, and how many might have "risen up to call us blessed" could we have believed that God was as ready to fight and conquer through us as to feel through us. In Abram’s case, the compassion and the energy kept pace together. There was no hesitation. We read in verse 14, that "When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive he armed, &c." It is refreshing, too, to mark the wisdom and energy, the brilliant execution, and the rapid result, yet all so quietly narrated as matters common and of course. One cannot fail to see that the plain unvarnished facts recorded in those three short verses (14-16), had it been the story of a worldling’s victory, would have blazed in the most glowing periods that the historian or poet could furnish. But here we have God giving us the history of one of His own battles. Once we have admitted that it is the finger of God we may adore, but we cannot wonder. As to Abram, there need be no flourish of trumpets in his praise. To him, the calm satisfaction of work done by God through him is enough. To some extent, evil has been destroyed and his poor brother delivered, but was it not God; and what else, then, could be? Whether in going out to the conflict or in coming back victorious, the believing one hides behind God. Only the other week, far away in inland China, a young medical man was dictating his last letter to friends at home. As a student, he had distanced competition and "carried everything before him." Men spake of him as certain to rise and shine in his profession; but God had put a deep tenderness for the millions of China into this man’s heart, and he laid himself and his talents for this work into the hand of God. For a brief period, God used him much, and then called him home to say, "Well done." Some of his last words were, "Tell them, if they speak of me and my work, not to praise the poor instrument, but to give all the glory to God." A true man of faith! He needed not, nor cared he for glowing eulogy or sculptured monument. Had anything been done, it was God. Let the Worker have the praise, He did it. As to the instrument---well, He who uses it knows its worth or unworth for His purposes. That surely is enough. Taken up or laid down, that is enough. Yet, alas for many, "the first shall be last and the last first;" and mid the vast multitude of religious workings, it shall be declared of many as they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, "Verily, I say unto you, they have had their reward." God keep us, my brothers, living or dying, from the fulsome praises of a world-loving Church or a Christ-rejecting world!
THE TWO KINGS.
As Abram returns from this conflict, an encounter of a most wonderful character takes place. Two kings came forth to meet him. The king of Sodom and Melchizedek; the one, as we have already seen, type of dominion and greatness which existed only in the sufferance of God and was soon to be destroyed; the other the well-known type of Jehovah’s true King, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is blessed to mark how full of discernment true faith is. Sodom’s king is first mentioned. Without doubt, he took the first place, coming with pomp and glitter to acknowledge condescendingly that this man of God had laid him under obligation. Abram will deal with him by and by, but faith has seen the true King, and turns first to Melchizedek. HE is a stranger. His name is not given in the list of earth’s present line here, in the narrative, or elsewhere. He has had no part in their leagues, their rebellions, or their battles. He is not ONE of them. Obscure, therefore, and unacknowledged, He is nevertheless to this man of faith in fellowship with the mind of God, THE TRUE KING. Whatever He may be to others, He is Abram’s king, and other kings must stand aside till Abram has yielded Him homage and received His blessing. "Priest of the Most High God, King of righteousness, and King of peace," He stands alone, while all is still unrighteousness; picture of the attitude which even now our blessed Lord still maintains towards "the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them" (Matt. iv. 8). It is the shadowing forth of Christ holding the kingdom in patience, not yet in power. God’s Priest, He is living in God’s presence for Abram and such as Abram. As Jehovah’s representative, He can give Jehovah’s blessing to the believing one, while he cannot yet confer it on the unrighteous world. Then also "He brought forth bread and wine." How blessed and suggestive all this is! The kingdoms of the world, while all was still in unrighteousness, might not be His, but He had bread and wine wherewith to sustain and cheer the true servant. Blessed emblems of our Melchizedek’s position and gifts! Bread and wine too. Can we fail to associate them with His atoning sacrifice, His dying love? "HE brought forth bread and wine." He did not send them. He came and brought all this to the wearied ones in lowly ministry.
Yes! this is God’s King for such as we are—the true kingly character. By and by, He shall be manifested as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Meanwhile, He shall be ours. His love to us in our unworthiness, His humble ministry to our necessities even unto death, that marvellous bringing forth of the Bread and the wine, these have conquered. "For love, because He first loved us" (John iv. 19). This Blessed One still so obscure, still so little acknowledged, is OUR Lord. We gladly own that we are sustained by Him, cheered by Him, our strength, our joy. We accept at His hand the blessing of His God and our God as our highest good. We join with Him in adoring worship of Jehovah—"Blessed be the Most High God who hath delivered, &c."—and we gladly give, not tithes of all merely, but all we have and all we are to be His forever. "Not as the world giveth" (John xiv. 27).
With what wondering unintelligence, the King of Sodom must have stood aside and watched all this; perhaps with proud contempt and mocking scorn, perhaps in angry impatience. In any case, he now again comes forward, and how great the contrast! God’s King had asked nothing; He had given abundantly, and He had received of Abram the lowly offerings of a grateful heart; but He came not in the spirit of Sodom’s king, "Give me—." So great is the presuming pride of unsanctified greatness that the mean little king doubtless thinks the permission granted to Abram, "take the goods to thyself," is magnanimous. Why, as a matter of pure justice, the whole belonged to Abram. He had taken the whole from the enemy, and the spoil was his own. This king had no right to say either "give" or "take."
The reply of the man who believes in God is grand. He had been in blessed fellowship with another king, had marked the difference between the littleness of the world’s greatness and that which bears the stamp of God; His King had blessed him, thus giving approval to the conflict and the victory, and together they had worshipped Jehovah.
Turning suddenly from such a scene to the King of Sodom, need we wonder at Abram’s reply? Calm, dignified, and courteous he could not but have been, but with what wonder must this earthly prince have heard the words, "I have lifted up my hand to the Lord the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread to a shoe latchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldst say, I have made Abram rich."
Perhaps Sodom’s king had expected bargaining and haggling, when all at once he finds one man in the world counting all that he valued most as the very dust on which he trod. "From a thread to a shoe latchet." What means this? Does Abram value the very crown jewels themselves no higher than a shoe latchet? Doubtless the king had judged of this man of God by what he had seen in Lot. Alas! Lot had chosen Sodom because of its earthly good in spite of its wickedness, but this man had chosen GOD. What teaching there was in all this to the poor wicked king, so soon to be overtaken with terrible destruction. What witness-bearing for God! This man had consulted GOD. This man had been speaking about him and his goods to GOD. This man had bravely reminded him also that his threads and shoe-latchets were the property of God, for He was possessor of heaven and earth. That himself, with every breath he drew, was the creature of His hand, yet living in forgetfulness of and rebellion against Him.
My brothers, this was noble, kingly, Christ-like testimony to God and to His Word. We have found faith leaving the dearest ties of nature even at the Word of God (Chap. xii. 1); seen it taking the lowest place of earthly vantage rather than quarrel with a brother; marked its sweet fellowship with God in Mamre; seen it rise from this at the call of a brother’s need going forth to battle and victory; in the moment of victory, bidding earth’s great one stand aside that it might turn first to God, and owing in that presence God’s priestly King, Melchizedek, as its rightful lord. And now we find it "despising the riches of Egypt," because they were put at his disposal by one who considered them his own, to "give and take," and knew not God.
Step by step, my brothers, this is the path of faith. Think ye it is less the path now for us than for him? I dare to say, No! while the world is still as it is---our God’s authority so little owned and His blessed Melchizedek, our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, so little known or cared for. Oh! my brothers, let not the world say with truthfulness that we bend and lick the dust to it, its pleasures, its glories, its gains, when the honour of our Lord is at stake; let them not have to point to the sons of God and say that we, who profess to believe that the "world lieth in the wicked one," and wait for the Coming One to deliver us from "this present evil age," are grasping as eagerly after its wealth, its honours, and high places as the worldling who knows no higher good.
"Our blessed God and Father, help us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desire, we may live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify UNTO HIMSELF a peculiar people zealous of good works."
IX.---"LO! I AM WITH YOU ALWAY." ---MATT. XXVIII. 20.
ABRAHAM'S interview with the King of Sodom had been watched by God. Perhaps, at the time, Abraham did not think of this; far less did Sodom’s king. Nevertheless, every word was heard by Jehovah. The heart was searched, too; and it may be, as these two men parted—the king in anger and disdain, Abraham in dependence on God—that the Lord marked, what no other eye could see, a thrill of fear in the heart of His child. He had just made many enemies. His bold deliverance of Lot, and his uncompromising testimony for the Lord, had subjected him to open hostility and secret enmity. For a little while, perhaps, his courage failed, but "the Word of the Lord came unto him, saying, ‘Fear not.’ " There is something intensely precious to the child of God in all this. The very fact that at this time the Lord speaks of "reward," just after Abraham’s refusal to take anything ("from a thread to a shoe latchet") from the King of Sodom, proves Jehovah’s presence during the whole of that scene, and proves, besides, that the conduct of Abraham had been "well-pleasing" to Him. Is it so, that our God is always so near? Are we indeed living in His very presence, and is He interested enough to listen to every word, read every motive, and mark every action? Even so; and to His child, longing to give Him joy, there can be no thought more precious. That message in Acts x. 5, 6, is, every time I read or think of it, a draught of new wine to my soul. "Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; he lodgeth with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside." Blessed Lord, it is true, then, Thou "knowest Thine own" (John x. 14); knowest all about them, their lodging place—street, and house, and number? "Thou tellest the stars," and yet the very "hairs of our heads are numbered." Yes, the Lord saw all that took place in that transaction between Abraham and the king, and when they parted, and the world’s potentate is known only afar off, Abraham’s heart is lovingly scanned by the Lord, and the rising fear is seen and checked. "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield." One of the many glimpses is thus given us into the tender carefulness of our Lord for His own. He cannot bear that there should be one needless fear. Did you ever see a mother’s anxiety to chase away fear from her trembling little one? So, here, Jehovah not only will not allow the enemy to harm His own, but He will not permit even the pain of a moment’s fear to weaken and distress. Beloved, He is the same now, this "Word of Jehovah" who came at this time to Abram,—our tender Saviour. The very same kind of thoughtful tenderness is shown by Him towards the ruler of the synagogue (Luke viii. 49, 50). Our blessed Lord was about to restore the child, but that was not enough; for when the message came from the house, "Thy daughter is dead," Jesus immediately, to check the just forming fear, breaks in with the words of comfort, "Fear not: only believe."
"Oh! the joy of knowing Jesus." Not religion, not rite and ceremony and learned theological dogma, not the beautiful and the grand in art or music, not any or all of them together, can do this for you or me; but Jesus can and does—Jesus! the living, loving Person, almighty in His saving power, unchanging in His marvellous love. A thousand enemies, seen and unseen, mighty, malicious, and subtle, may surround us; but He is near---so near that He sees my rising fear, so tender that He cannot bear me to be afraid. "Fear not: I am thy shield." It is not "I will be," but "I am;" His very nature so to be and so to do, at every moment and in all time. It is not "I will defend thee," but "I MYSELF am thy shield;" just as if He had said, "Fear not, Abram: I am putting Myself now and forever between you and all your foes." This is the shield of faith—not our faith; that is so often weak that it makes a poor shield. The shield of faith is GOD HIMSELF. In front, behind, and around, behold GOD is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid." Yea, indeed, what need of fear? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. viii. 31.)
Our God never allows us to suffer loss. For His name’s sake, Abram had refused the world’s favours, but Jehovah’s reward for him is greater than all worlds, and everlasting. "I AM thy shield, and thine exceeding great reward." The Word of God—Jehovah-Jesus, the fulness of the Godhead—Himself to be ours now and ours eternally. "Exceeding great!" Who can reckon it?
My brothers, we have by His grace been brought in some measure to forsake and despise the things of time and sense, that "perish with the using;" the world’s gains and honours have no attraction for us; we have incurred in some measure its malice and hatred, but we have GOD. He has been pleased to make Himself over to us—all He is and all He has—now and forever; my very own! As with the shield, so with the reward; it is not "I will be," but "I am." Would that our poor weak faith could grasp that assertion of Him who cannot lie, and unwaveringly believe it! How poor everything else would seem compared with this of yours and mine! Let us seek moment by moment to believe it; so shall the blessed reality of His presence as our shield and reward make us so fearless that nothing shall dishearten us, and so rich that we shall have need of nothing, and all that the world could give us shall be a trifle to be despised.
"What wilt Thou give me?" "I am thy reward," "What wilt Thou give me?" "My brothers, is it not sad and humbling? Was it that the victory, and the very approval of his God, had wrought some pride in his heart, and he needed failure again to keep him humble? Was it that the words of Jehovah were so startling, and spread before his faith such vast fields, that he could take in only the very little at the time, and the all-fulness of God did not seem so great and real to him as the little "what" his heart coveted? Perhaps both. In any case, the last is true, and so like us! Something from God—something which sense can compass; some feeling to enjoy now, some proof that God is ours; some gift, looking through which we can say God is good to us; something from Him, instead of Himself.
In all this, God is true to Himself and true to Abram. He will give him the little thing asked, and rejoice to give it; for it is but a drop from the mighty ocean of His heart’s love, and ALL is Abram’s. Alas! that we should crave so little and think so much of drop by drop when it comes to us, while His cry is, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." "All things are yours." "What wilt thou that I should do for thee?" And yet, in the presence of Him who thus loves us and has given Himself for us (our shield) and unto us (our exceeding great reward), while we would obediently appropriate ALL and rejoice in Him as ours, we would also acknowledge, with lowly love, that one drop is sweet and very precious, and far beyond what we deserve.
Yes, He gives us. Out of His fulness we have all received, and He is not weary as He patiently gives us the little "whats" we ask; but, oh beloved! for the time when we shall believe it fully, and know the vastness of our possession as we take in the words, "I AM thine exceeding great reward." The Lord help us at the close of this another year to ask more than ever we have asked, and expect it, because He has made Himself over to us an everlasting portion; but the Lord help us also so to believe this that we shall live in constant expectancy of seeing, knowing, and enjoying GOD. "Above what we ask or think" (Eph. iii. 20). Besides all this, the Lord takes advantage of this poor petition (poor, surely, in the light of the wondrous words spoken to Abram), to enlarge his vision and assure him of greater and greater things to be given and done for him. Abram had asked one thing; the Lord assures him that it shall be his, but "He leads him forth abroad." He turns the eye of His believing one heavenward, and bids him range the universe and "tell the stars." Former promises connected him with the earth; this connects him with the heavens—"So shall thy seed be." He had asked a son who might be heir of what God had given him, but Jehovah shows him a wondrous seed, earthly and heavenly, of marvellous multitude and brightest glory, and yet ONE—his Seed, his Son. Truly it needs that God lead us forth abroad; truly it needs that His voice of power bid us look, for here we have the wondrous mystery of the Christ of God, to be seen from no spot but that to which God leads us, and by no unpurged eye—to see Christ, the eternal Son of God and Seed of Abraham; the everlasting Wisdom by whom Jehovah made the worlds, and the Babe, born in the likeness of the flesh of sin and laid in the lowly manger; the "Arm of Jehovah," and the stricken Lamb of God; the Holy One of God, the sinless, and the Sin-bearer; Jehovah’s Fellow, and the crucified Nazarene; the One Who was dead, and is alive forevermore; the humbled God, and the glorified Man; the resurrection Seed, one and yet innumerable; God over all, and poor sinners saved and made one with Him as the Christ of God; the seed of Abraham; His fellows in Heaven’s glory and earth’s fair new creation forever and ever. Mystery of mysteries---the eternal purpose of Jehovah, the CHRIST OF GOD!
It is at this point that the record is given, "He believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness." This is important. Abraham had trusted Jehovah when he left at His bidding his country and kindred, but it is not till this point that righteousness is declared as reckoned to him. His faith in Jehovah has been tested and strengthened, and yet we have but just seen that it had almost failed. It was not, therefore, because of his strong faith, but it was because his faith in the Lord took in, however dimly and afar off, the promise of the SEED. Like every true believing one, he was justified in Christ. No righteousness that God will count to us except through faith in God about the Seed. Should these words meet the eye of any earnest soul striving vainly to reach peace of heart and joy in God by righteousness of his own, let me plead with him to stop. Jehovah reckons righteousness without works. He justifies the ungodly sinner in association with His beloved Son. He has made HIM to be righteousness unto us, and a sinner at the feet of Jesus is righteous in the reckoning of God.
"NOT HAVING MINE OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS" (PHIL. III. 9).
This is wondrously brought out in what immediately follows. Abram’s faith had but now been marked by God, and righteousness reckoned to him, yet the very next record is a cry of unbelief: "Lord God (verse 8), whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" What a plunge into dark unbelief all of a sudden! Well for him and well for us that there was no forfeiture of the reckoned righteousness, as in unbelief. We question over and over again the Word of God, and ask "whereby we shall know that what He says is true. Surely, if any proof were needed that it is not for anything in us that God counts us righteous, this is enough. Surely in himself, Abram is ungodly here. Aye! but God justifies the ungodly "that believeth in Jesus;" and His righteousness endureth forever. The very righteousness of the saints, brightly as they shall shine forth by-and-by, can never be the cause of God justifying them from their ungodliness; but the blessed Seed is, and even the ungodly one associated with Him by simple faith is now and ever reckoned righteous by the righteous Judge.
Unbelief demands a sign, and it is given—the only sign from Genesis to Revelation that has been or ever will be given—the consummation of all the sacrifices, the death and fiery sufferings of our blessed Lord in the time of horror and great darkness. How fully the close of this answer to the unbelieving heart opens up the "vision" (verse 1) of this whole chapter!. This was none other than our Lord Jesus Himself—the Word of God that had come to Abram. In vision, He made known the purposes of Jehovah concerning Himself and the believing one—manifested Himself in glory, but showed also how, on account of sin, He must become the "Sign" of God to unbelieving man, as in the darkness of desertion and the smoking furnace of wrath, He had to bear their sin. Here, and through this only, the covenant could be secured; but, blessed be God, "that same day" (verse 18) over those bloody pieces and that smoky furnace, the covenant is sealed, yea, even at the very point when faith for a time has given way to unbelief, and even Abram had to see that he could be justified only through the PRECIOUS BLOOD. Let us try to think of our blessed Lord, nearly two thousand years before He suffered, unfolding in vision the terrible reality which He had to endure for us, to Abram, as the price of blessing. And this One said, "I AM thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward."
Blessed Jesus! Thou hast indeed been our shield. "Thine open bosom was the ward; it braved the storm for me." Thou art our shield, and all the powers of hell are vanquished. Thou alone shalt be our portion, our exceeding great reward. Help us to appreciate Thee, and, as we pass into another year, and onward to eternity, to "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord" (Phil. iii. 8).
X.—THE PERFECT WALK.
IN the life of true faith God leads on "from strength to strength." Faith begun is steadily increased and often sorely tested. The trial of our faith brings out much of our failure and of God’s unchanging faithfulness. We lose faith in ourselves, but we gain increasing faith in God. In the fire, the dross perishes; but faith, much more precious than even fire-tried gold (for even such gold perishes)—1 Peter i. 7—endures, and shall "be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." How vastly different the world’s path! Lose faith in one’s self! Why, that is utter demoralization! Yes, my unsaved friend, but the difference is this—that, to begin with, you have much higher thoughts of yourself than ever God had of you, and, whether you think so or not, the beginning of all true, eternal progress is to lose faith in yourself and begin to depend on God. Perfection! Alas for the misnomer! How many in this our day, seek it in themselves, and vainly fancy they have found it in increased self-confidence. Nevertheless, God wishes and means to lead us, His believing ones, on to a perfect walk. I am not now speaking of our perfection as to divine nature. This we have by birth. This nature is ours in perfection—as to kind---the moment we are "begotten of God," but the walk of perfection is a progressive thing, and comes of increasing faith in God. God leads on to this by progressive revelations of Himself, as we have seen in Abram’s case.
Here we have God’s sixth revelation of Himself to Abram, and as such, it is intensely significant. Abram’s Saturday night has come—the great turning point in our path of faith to which, at some time or other, we all come. "I have seen an end of all perfection," says the Psalmist (cxix. 96)—an end of all human perfectness, that he might begin to find it in His God. My brother, do you know what it is practically to lose your life of self and find the new source of life, power, and blessing? Has Christ really become to you your very life? "Ye have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. iii. 3). In this sixth revelation of Himself, Jehovah commands a perfect walk: "Walk BEFORE ME, and be thou perfect." In the chapter before this---a chapter full of blessed teaching, but with which we have not at present to deal—Abram tries to realize God’s promises by his own efforts, walking after the opinions and by the advice of Sarai. In this path, there was no fulfilment of the promise—no beginning even of such fulfilment; there was only fleshly effort leading to failure, bitter disappointment, turmoil, and sorrow—a sad type of the weary work-day of mere fleshly energy, however earnest. And yet how many of the Lord's people are continually trying to do this very thing—to bring about a fulfilment of the promises by their own efforts! They know Jesus as their Saviour from wrath, but He has not yet revealed Himself to them as their only true LIFE, the source of all present power for the holy walk which God commands.
Does some weary, burdened Christian read and ponder these words? Let him even now lift up his heart to the Lord; it may be that through what follows, a brighter revealing of Himself may be given by Him Who is our Life, than such has known since the moment of conversion. First, then, it is not what we are, but "I AM THE ALMIGHTY GOD."
Poor Abram! another failure, another disappointment; broken reeds leant upon and piercing; himself to blame, and all to blame. Where shall he turn? At such a moment, he is called to perfection. Yes, but all depends upon GOD. "Not what I am, but what thou art," is not only the sinner’s plea for acceptance, but the believer’s expectation of present power and victory. We have already seen Jehovah as the Shield; here we have the same blessed One revealing Himself as the ALMIGHTY, the ALL—SUFFICIENT. Let us notice the order. He does not give the command first. It is first, "I AM . . ." This is the mistake which many make. They look at the commands first, and hope to prove the sufficiency of Christ by obeying them; more of Christ reached and enjoyed (vain hope) by their earnest efforts to keep His commandments, instead of faith quietly resting on the all-sufficiency of God, and thus, by virtue of this very sufficiency, doing His commandments. "Blessed are they that do His commandments"---not those who try to do. Our God empowers in order that we may do. He does not call upon us to do in order that we may be empowered. The last is flesh under law; the first is God revealing Himself in grace—God in Christ. It is not "Poor paralytic, stretch forth thy hand and thou shalt be whole," but "Behold! I am thy health, therefore stretch forth thy hand."
The standard of walk is the highest possible—perfection. It is a mistake to suppose that our God is contented to see his children failing—trying to do, yet never doing. What is needed is that Himself be manifested to us and through us. We are now called to unlimited confidence in Him, to unbounded expectation; and because He is to us the Almighty, the All-Sufficient One, we are to be perfect. In this light, you see, to expect anything short of perfection is to make little of God. This is the very opposite of perfection in the flesh. It is expecting nothing of self, yet everything of God. It is by no means "See what I can do," but "See what God can do;" and in this light, we repeat, to have a lower standard than perfection—to expect less than this—is to doubt, to dishonour God.
Neither is this, beloved brother, something which God gives to us; it is, on the contrary, what God, moment by moment, is to us. This is not "the clean heart." "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. vii. 18). We are not, it is true, "in the flesh (verse 5), yet the flesh is in us; but the All-Sufficient One commands us to a perfect walk in spite of the flesh, and reveals Himself as the LIFE and POWER for this, moment by moment. "I will take the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh," is a promise to the Israel-nation as a nation, and points to the time when there shall be "holy flesh;" but we, beloved, have been put to death as to the flesh, and made alive together with a risen but unseen Christ—a hidden life. Let us trust Him, never ourselves; but just because "He is (now) made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption," let us expect nothing short of what Jehovah demands. Failing, burdened, downcast brother, "He is able to do exceeding abundantly, above what we ask or think." He is able, He is willing; doubt no more.
In this call to perfection, there is, besides the all-sufficiency of God, another element. This is seen in the command—"WALK BEFORE ME." The being perfect is linked on to this. Oh that we may realize the importance and preciousness of this! My brothers, a tremendous deal of failure—whether it is the individual path we think of, or our united path in testimony as the churches of God—comes of this, that we seek to please men. The question is not, 'What will my God think of this? but, 'What will brethren think'? "Walk before ME, and BE thou perfect." If my great and continuous object be to please God, I may not always please even a brother saint, but at any rate, I shall never please him except "for his good to edification." I am persuaded that this blessed independence of all, save of God Himself, is the only true way to ensure unity of mind and unbroken fellowship with one another. Each believer for himself "holding fast the Head" (Col. ii. 19)---thinking, speaking, acting in the very presence of our loving Father, his only thought "What dost Thou think? what wilt Thou have me do?"—we should each one for himself, know far more of the mind and will and power of God, and together we should know more of the true unity and blessed harmony of the Spirit.
Like every other work of God, this perfection is wonderful, and as different from what is called perfection in the flesh as can be well imagined. The very first manifestation of it in Abraham is not some bold step forward, but—"Abram fell on his face."
Ah! my brother, irreverent familiarity in God’s presence is no part of true perfection. Walking before Him, walking Enoch-like with Him, there will ever be the deepest humility and most loving, reverent worship. I have no sympathy with affectation of humility, as marked sometime in the tone of voice and changed manner whenever God is addressed or spoken about, as if one were not to be himself in the presence of God—a tone and manner for the purpose, just as some have a change of vesture. The Lord keep us from anything "put on." Neither have I sympathy with any who would wish a fellow-believer to subject himself to their authority and dictation in what he has not seen to be the mind of God, and call that humility. We may be true for God against even our brethren, if need be; but if there is anything like the perfect walk, whatever we say and do shall be in the very presence of our God, and as unto Him—with a lowly love—our hearts ever bowed before Him. This is not an attitude of slavish fear; neither is a tremblingly affrighted sense of one’s own unworthiness and weakness. This is felt imperfection, and, as in Daniel’s case, before God can speak, He has to raise up and strengthen (Daniel x.); but here it is self-forgetfulness in the presence of Him who is making Himself to Abram the All-Sufficient One, and Abram is on his face in lowly worship. God does not raise him from this position, but God talked with Abram.
This is fuller intercourse. God had "said," had "spoken," had come in "vision," had "revealed Himself," but now "He talks." Blessed fellowship! He will speak, and encourage Abram to speak, "as a man talks with his friend;" but all the while, He knows the blessedness of that lowly position to His child, so the position is never altered. The greater the nearness, and the sweeter and more abundant the converse, the greater the lowly adoration. In this conversation, God renews all the promises, and for the first time brings in the word "EVERLASTING."
All things between God and this believing one are made known as eternal. He has begun to taste of the everlasting life—life in God Himself—so different from innocent Adam-life, that could fail and be corrupted. The Christ-life is incorruptible and eternal. Abram has begun to know this, and now all things are to be eternal, and all things are to be new. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new, and all things are of God" (2 Cor. v. 17). Thus it is that God gives him the new name (verse 5). By simple faith, he is now seeing all things in the light of God; even things which are not, but of which GOD has spoken. To God they are, and to faith they are. "All things have become new." to such an one, God gives the new name.
At this point also, God gives circumcision to Abraham (verses 9, 10). Now circumcision had depths of meaning in it for us. As we learn from Romans iv. 11, it was God’s seal set upon Abraham’s righteousness, not of works, but through faith in God. Again, here we learn that it was Abraham’s part in the covenant. For Abraham to keep the covenant, He was to be circumcised; and yet, as in Romans, this circumcision was given to him—"He received the sign" (Rom. iv. 11).
Again, in its very nature, it is the complete cutting off from all the old; and yet once more, it is associated with an eighth day, carrying completely out of the old into resurrection and eternity. Here surely is perfection, and in the measure in which our faith can realize all this, shall we know something of the perfect walk. Beloved, let us not forget that this circumcision—this complete separation from all the old—we have "in Christ," "in whom ye were circumcised, with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ" (His death).
This is really ours, then, and ours now. We have not to do anything in order to attain to it. "We were circumcised," and this thorough separation from all the old in Christ, is to be believed in and enjoyed. This is God’s seal to our righteousness. The very flesh that is in us as something of the old, there is circumcision between us and it. We are not in the flesh, but in Christ—on resurrection ground and in eternal life in the presence of the Everlasting Father, and under grace in the midst of everlasting promises, all yea and amen. May the God of all grace grant that we may be enabled in this New Year to live in the enjoyment and power of this "new life," with all its "new things"—things FROM GOD—so shall we be perfect.
XI.---"FROM FAITH TO FAITH."---ROM. I. 17.
GOD’S GOSPEL! the glad tidings which He pours into the opened ear of His believing ones—how grand it is! I firmly believe that the old-new story is like Him of whom it speaks, an unfathomed and unfathomable depth; and our eternity shall be spent in ever-increasing soundings of the "deep things of God." We have found in this typical history of faith that with every fresh revelation of Himself to the man who believes Him, there is corresponding progress and power. And no wonder; for "this is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John xvii. 3); and (verse 2), our own blessed Saviour is the Revealer and Giver. There is something intensely sweet in seeing that it was by this "same Jesus" that Jehovah manifested Himself, and thus gave eternal life with ever increasing abundance to Abraham, and to remember that this Blessed One is now, and in the same way, our life, giving us now, by the Spirit Whom He has sent, to know God. In the divine progress before us, the latest revelations of Jehovah to the believing heart, open to receive the glad news, was as the "All-Sufficient One," and the call along with this revelation was to a perfect walk. It is necessary, clearly to understand God’s ways in all this—His callings and commandments are given only to His living ones. They are not given to produce life. For that purpose, He speaks His Gospel unto us, "I am the All-Sufficient God!" This is the word of increased life, if one may so speak, and, lo! it is the power of God. Therefore, comes along with it the new call and command, "Walk before Me and be thou perfect." As of old, "He spake and it was done," so still, He speaks and there is life—eternal life. He speaks again and again and there is life with increasing abundance. With every fresh revelation of Himself, there are new and enlarging associations. Before, He had spoken of a covenant; now, it is "My covenant" (Genesis xvii.); and (verse 7) this His covenant is revealed to be "everlasting." So, also, the possession before promised is here revealed as an "everlasting possession." Now, also, Abraham is taken into more full and intimate friendship. Over and over again, Jehovah had spoken and manifested Himself to Abraham, but now "the Elohim talked with him." The Triune God entering into converse with this poor worm whose heart Jehovah had inclined to trust Him. Blessed fellow-ship! What wondrous reaches of the divine life are here spread before us—foreshadowings, my fellow-believer, of the blessed time so near at hand when all the redeemed ones shall enter into perfect and unhindered intercourse with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It is very precious to notice that this fuller intercourse is associated with the perfect walk. An Enoch-like walk with God is no silent one. As Jesus, when He drew near to the two sorrowing disciples on their way to Emmaus, drew them lovingly into conversation, and then opened up the Scripture to them till their hearts glowed again with His burning Words, so it is still. To walk with Jesus, is to hear such things as "angels desire to look into." Sorrow is chased away, tears wiped away; interest in the things of the Father is quickened and deepened; power is imparted; hearts are enlarged, made brave and filled with joy; the "little while" is lost in the sense of this eternal life, and the "rugged path" is well-nigh forgotten as we are borne over it from glory to glory. "A little while with Jesus," oh! beloved, why should it be a little while?
The substance of the talk is God Himself. He knows that no other theme satisfies those whom He has made partakers of eternal life. The passing things of time fail to satisfy the true child of God. Philosophy for the reasoner, poetry for the poet, eternity for the eternal. God; His purposes and plans, his Words and works. To comfort and gladden His own, Jesus had to speak to them about Himself. Nothing less will do; nothing more is needed. Over and over again we turn away sick at heart from all else; but in such converse, we find our enjoyment; here we find ourselves at home. We may veil our faces, we may bow ourselves in lowly adoring worship as He talks with us; but we are none the less at home in His presence and fellowship. My brothers, this was what Paul had begun to know when he counted all that had at one time been so important to him but "dung," that more and more he might win Christ. Oh! my poor unsaved friends, if ye could but taste something of this. Alas! your eye hath not seen, your ear hath not heard, there hath not entered your heart the things which God hath prepared for those that love Him, but He hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit (1 Cor. ii. 9, 10). To know anything of this, you must first receive the life which is capable of seeing, hearing, and enjoying GOD. And this simply means that you must receive Jesus. "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life," for "this life is in the Son" (1 John v. 11, 12).
In verse 22 (Genesis xvii.), we read the remarkable words, "He left off talking with Him, and God went up from Abraham." The 17th and 18th verses tell us the reason of this sad change. It was simply this; that Abraham had, in his heart, dared to doubt the power of God. The Almighty, the All-Sufficient had for a moment become to poor Abraham’s mind, not able to do something which He had promised—not sufficient for something which the unbelieving common sense of Abraham deemed impossible. But had he not reached perfection? No; and in the answer may be seen the difference between true perfection—to which God does call His own—and man’s unscriptural dream of perfection in himself. Abraham had indeed been called to "be perfect," but, as we have already seen, his only resource for the power to be, was God Himself, and he had to lay hold of this power by TRUSTING God. His perfect walk must needs depend therefore on his perfect and continuous trust. All our past experience of God is valueless if we have not a present God, and if we are not now trusting Him. Abraham’s faith, in all that God was to be to him, failed; therefore, for present power and enjoyment, the resources were cut off. For the moment he failed to take in God, there was no perfection. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." "Apart from Me, ye can do nothing." It was not that God had changed; the resources had not failed, and never were to fail. "Shall our unfaithfulness make void the faithfulness of God? God forbid!" Blessed be God! Never. "I change; He changeth not." Neither had the interruption of communion with God altered in one iota, His purposes or promises. The eternal covenant was unalterable, in spite of the failure—the everlasting possession was secure—the new name even remained the same, for God had said, "Thy name shall no more be called Abram, but Abraham;" and when the sad failure to trust Him is recorded it is "Abraham" who fell on his face and laughed." "The gifts and callings of God are without repentance" (Rom. xi. 29). Nothing of all this was altered, but Abraham’s walk was changed, and his fellowship with God was interrupted. The Triune Jehovah was distrusted and grieved, and there could be no present fellowship. "He left off talking with him, and the Elohim went up from Abraham."
It must be noted here that the further on we are in the divine life, the more outstanding and aggravated is failure sure to be. "Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Shall a child be born unto him that is the son of an hundred years, and shall Sarah, the daughter of ninety years, bear?" (marg.) (Son and daughter of time and circumstance, not of God.) "And Abraham said unto God, 'O that Ishmael might live before Thee.' "
But a little while ago, under the gladsome light of the fresh revelation, "I am the All-Sufficient God," Abraham had fallen on his face, and a time of precious intercourse with God followed; but now in his unbelief, the form of worship and the heart are disjoined; the form is kept up, but deep down in the heart is the laugh of incredulity and the whisper of unbelief. Yet even in that heart-whisper with the lying outward formalism, he dares to claim for Sarah even the new name ("Shall Sarah—"). Shall not God see how foolish and ignorant is unbelief? There was the outward form. of deep, reverent, lowly love with the laugh of the atheist, and the "Yea, hath God said?" of the devil.
My brothers, I fear that there is oftentimes the profession of perfection and its outward appearances coupled with all this secret unbelief and failure. Oh! let us be honest. "Walk before Me." The very meaning of that word was forgotten. Posture and outward form, profession and appearance, are nothing to our God if the heart is not right before Him. Let us be as true as possible to old traditions and sacred forms—let that hallowed rite and ceremony and formulary and mode of worship be faultless as ever; let the words be ever so beautiful, the very crystallized forms which the living Holy Ghost at one time uttered---but let the Holy Ghost be grieved by unbelief, THE LIFE IS ABSENT, and God ceases to have fellowship; He leaves off to talk with us, and for the time being, goes away. What a paradox is the child of God in this body of humiliation! Faith struggling with unbelief, light with darkness, divine and eternal life with corruption.
In the very prayer which Abraham at this time uttered, we hear at one and the same time the expression of his heart's unbelief, and a great cry of a little faith. It is as if he had said, "Lord, I don’t believe that Thou canst give me a son by Sarah, but I do believe that thou canst do all that Thou hast promised through Ishmael. Oh! Lord, let Ishmael live before Thee." My brother, does it seem foolish, and ignorant, and impious? Alas! we dare not judge him. "Thou that judgest, doest the same things." How often have we as individuals, and as churches, failed to believe in His mighty power and gracious promise, when there was no sign given, and at the same time clung to our own works, hoping in them and pleading with God to own and prosper them.
HOW GOOD OUR GOD IS!
Though He cannot continue to hold fellowship with unbelief—cannot for His own sake or ours---nevertheless, He abideth faithful. He reiterates that which Abraham has deemed impossible; He will not, He cannot change. Faith may grasp it and enjoy the light, or unbelief may doubt and sink into darkness, but above the earth-born cloud, the sun will shine, and Abraham shall yet see that "God abideth faithful."
Aye, more still, God has graciously seen, in the midst of all this abominable outward formalism---so different from what the heart was really feeling—a grain of reality; He has heard in the unbelieving cry, "Let Ishmael live before Thee," a faint expression of trust in Him, and this even He will grant. He will in His own good time put all the unbelief to shame, and prove what He promised; but this, too, He will grant; for it is in much weakness, the heart-cry of His own. How good is our God!
Beloved, sometimes our very prayers are heard and answered, and yet no sweet abiding fellowship with God be realized. If so, even if for a moment, we are satisfied, our blessed Lord is grieved, for true fellowship is as sweet to Him as to us. A desire granted is one thing; heart to heart communing is another. "Lord, help our unbelief."
XII.---"RETURN O LORD"---PSALM XC. 13.
UNBROKEN fellowship with God will be Heaven’s highest enjoyment. To worship and serve Him were truly blessed; but, were this all, it would come short of God’s intention for us, and the desire of His own heart would not be fulfilled. In the past eternity, when the Son was daily the delight of the Father, looking forward to creation as it yet shall be, "His delights were with the sons of men" (Prov. viii. 31). For a very little while in Eden, He could walk with Adam; but, alas! how soon did unbelief make fellowship impossible. How sweet it must have been to the heart of our blessed Lord, amid the sad wreck of all things which He had at one time pronounced very good, to find in Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, faith enough to them into fellowship with Himself.
In this sense, it is that Abraham is called "my friend" by Jehovah (Isa. xli. 8, James 23), and into this blessed relationship, we, who now believe in Him are brought (John xv. 15). To His friends, He makes known all that Himself has known of the Father. Blessed fellowship! the highest and sweetest to which faith can lead us. He can be worshipped and served by angels; but oh! wonder of wonders, it is only to men redeemed by His Own blood and made sons of God, that He can open up all His heart and reveal all His thoughts. To know that like John, I am permitted to lay my poor unworthy head on His very breast and to listen as He opens up the very "deep things of God," and to be sure that He listens as I tell Him out of all my poverty and need, is to me the nearest to Heaven’s joy I have as yet known. We have seen how in Abraham’s case this fellowship was interrupted. As God talked with him and told him of things to come, he laughed in his heart and doubted God.
UNBELIEF BROKE THE FELLOWSHIP.
Thus it is still. Our God cannot reveal Himself where He is not trusted. Faith in God empowers us to do great things; but, sweeter still, faith in God brings us into such sweet, heart to heart fellowship, that both He and we are satisfied. Unbelief renders us weak as other men; but, sadder still, unbelief separates us from present heart intercourse with God, and deprives our Lord of His highest joy in us (John xv. 11). We need not wonder if Abraham is now unsatisfied. At the close of chapter xvii., we are told that immediately after God left off talking with Abraham and went up from him, Abraham hastened to obey God in the rite of circumcision; and in chapter xviii., we find him "sitting at the door of the tent in the heat of the day."
He had not apostatized from God; he did not even linger in his obedience to a command that was humbling and painful to the flesh; he had only doubted the Word of God in one particular. In obedient service, he was particular to the very letter of the command, but when he had done all, he sat down sorrowing and unsatisfied. The clear scorching sun in the heat of the day could not drive him into his tent. There was a big trouble in his heart that made this man regardless of sunstroke. "As the hart pants after the brooks of water, his soul was thirsting for God." My brothers, are we not too often satisfied without the sense of true heart to heart companionship with God? We speak and sing of unbroken fellowship—how much of it do we enjoy? How much do we miss it when it is interrupted? Oh! for more longing after God. "That I may know Him."
It is blessed to see in all this, how the very sin of Abraham is made the means of drawing out this heart-craving after God. But for his unbelief, and the consequent withdrawal of God, we had not seen Abraham sitting with uplifted eye at the tent door in the heat of the day. The Christless multitudes have oftentimes made merry over the sins of the saints; but they have never seen how God in His marvellous grace makes use of those very falls to humble His own and draw out their hearts more fully after Himself. When a soul is made to thirst thus after God, he has not long to wait.
It is the Lord’s way to "pour water on him that is thirsty." Jehovah can no more do without the loving companionship of His redeemed ones than they can do without Him. It is often said that "the Lord can do without us." In one sense it is true; in another, and higher sense, it is not true. His love won’t let Him. There was a great cry of "Must" in the heart of God when the Father and Son parted, that our blessed Lord might be made sin for us. There was the absolute necessity of love laid upon the Son of God when He left the bosom of the Father to seek the poor lost sheep. He could not, They could not, do without us. And now that we have been redeemed and led in some measure to trust and know Him, He longs for our love and companionship far more than we as yet do for His. Nevertheless, in this as in all beside, He abounds in His grace towards us "in all wisdom and prudence" (Eph. i. 8). Thus it is that grace must draw out our hearts after Him before He satisfies us. Thus it is that Abraham’s unbelief and ours must interrupt true fellowship; and thus it is that ere loving companionship can be restored, it must be manifested that our hearts really long for Him, and so we have to sit in sorrowing yet eagerly expectant outlook for His return. How suddenly often in such circumstances communion is restored. "The Lord appeared to him as he sat, . . . and lo! three men stood by him."
"It was but a little and I found Him Whom my soul loveth" (Song iii. 4). It was sudden but not unexpected. At once the longing heart recognized its Lord; Abraham did not need to be told which of the three was Jehovah. Beloved, is it not true that although as yet we see Him not, the loving heart recognizes in a moment His presence. A sudden gleam of truth after a time of darkness, a sudden holy restfulness stealing over the soul in a time of trouble, and we say, "It is the Lord." By and by, as suddenly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall find Him not with other two, but with many thousands standing by us, and we shall not need to be told which is He. "We shall see Him as He is." It may be that "the moment" shall come to some of us as we are wearily longing for His presence, when He has withdrawn because of our unbelief. "Watch."
How His presence alters everything. A moment before, Abraham is wearily sitting in his longing sorrow, and all the tent-life is stilled, for it is the heat of the day; but now, He has come, and everywhere there is a scene of joyous activity. It is a true revival. The old man of a hundred years no more fears to "run" in the blaze of an eastern sun, now that his Lord has come, than he did to sit in it, when his heart was longing for the return. Every word paints the joy and the activity of the scene. "He ran to meet them;" "He hastened into the tent;" "Make ready quickly;" "He ran to the herd;" "The young man hastened to dress it."
Ha! my cold-hearted, pharisaic brother, you don’t like enthusiasm in religious work; you can’t bear excitement. Shall I tell you why? Because the Almighty God is a long way off, and your worship and service is in a spiritual Iceland. Had you ever known real heart companionship with Him as your very friend; had an unbelieving act of yours grieved Him, and sent away for a little while your dearest Friend; had you sat longing for restored fellowship, as you never longed for anything else; and had He suddenly come to your very side and given you one other opportunity of showing your love to Him, you might better have understood this busy scene of enthusiastic work for the Lord, and many another like it. It is a very picture of all real work for Christ.
Abraham’s heart has been much exercised about his unbelief, and he is longing for the Lord. I think I can hear the heart cry, "Lord, only come back and give me an opportunity of doing something, however little, for Thee." All at once the prayer is answered, and Abraham knows why his Lord has come; he knows the Lord’s mind—knows just what the Lord would have him do, "For therefore art thou come." Nevertheless, he asks permission; he must get the Master's Word, "At Thy Word we will. . ." When that Word is given, he goes right into the work, and draws, with loving haste, all around him into it. He knows just what will feast the Lord’s heart, and soon he will stand by and see the satisfaction of His Lord. Mark also in this happy work the order, and united action, and happy haste of all. Even in the very presence of Jehovah, Abraham may have to lead the others and give the needed directions, for it is he who knows what the Lord’s mind is; but they all with one heart are doing the work in the presence of the Lord and unto Him, and they know all of them that the feast is for Him. I cannot help thinking that some of the Lord’s people have a good deal to learn from this in Gospel and other work for Christ. The Lord gives us true wisdom and true subjection to those really "over us in the Lord," even when we are deeply sensible of His own presence. Their guidance and word would not be worth a straw at any other time, for it is His presence that brings about and keeps up true work for Him.
Did He need the water, and the flour, and the tender calf? Ah! there was a deeper need; He needed to let that loving, longing heart of His true child find a channel to show its love; He "must needs" come to let Abraham do something for Him. It is sweet to serve our blessed Lord, but it is still sweeter to know that in many ways, He gives us opportunities of serving Him, just to let us show our love in doing it unto Him. Is it not true that His own sick, and sorrowing, and perishing ones could be reached by Him without us? Would that we could rid ourselves of the mere sense of duty, or, worse still, of the self-conceited feeling that we have been doing some great thing in these blessed privileges of service, and get to feel simply that the Lord gives us to do it unto Him.
When our Lord had received these free-will gifts at the hand of Abraham, He renewed the promise which had been doubted. This was very gracious. We sometimes hear it said that "lost opportunities never return? This is not always true in the ways of God. Those familiar with His ways, as revealed in Scripture, know how often, in His tender grace, the reverse of this is true. Here He has not only returned to commune with His friend, but gives again the opportunity of trusting Him in the very thing in which Abraham had failed to trust before. Thus, in a very loving way, the faith is again tried and strengthened. This time there is no failure; his faith rises to the trial, and comes forth as gold; but there is a sad echo of the old sin from the door of the tent. I cannot help thinking that the question which the Lord immediately put to Abraham (not to Sarah)—"Wherefore did Sarah laugh?"—was meant to keep him humble in this sweet hour of service and victory. Was not Sarah’s laugh the outcome of his own former unbelief? Sarah’s unbelief may be discovered by the omniscient eye of the Great Searcher standing by, and exposed steadily to the light even when she vainly tries to hide it by a lie. But Abraham cannot afford to judge her; "He had done the same thing" (Rom. ii. 1). Is it not true, my brothers, that sometimes, when, by the grace of our God, we know something of blessed fellowship with Him and something of the victory that overcometh, we become sadly conscious of the reflections of our own past failures and sins in the lives of those dear to us? And the question seems to come straight from God to us rather than to them, "Wherefore is it so?" Thus are we taught humility towards God, and kindly forbearance towards others.
It is the truly spiritual only, who can restore others from failure, and he, in the spirit of, meekness—considering himself (Gal. vi. 1). By and by, when the promise has been fulfilled, Abraham, by the very name he gives to the child, perpetuates the memory of his own sinful unbelief and God’s faithfulness in spite of all—ISAAC. The laugh of unbelief is turned into the joyous laughter of a grateful heart, but the old laugh is not forgotten. Even in heaven itself, when our God has forgotten, we shall not forget, and the remembrance of our own unworthiness in the midst of all the promises fulfilled shall enhance our gratitude and joy, and shall teach us better than even here, the meaning of those wondrous words, "THE GRACE OF GOD."
XIII.---"THE SERVANT KNOWETH NOT WHAT HIS LORD DOETH; BUT I HAVE CALLED YOU FRIENDS."—JOHN XV. 15.
ABRAHAM had taken the place of a servant, and had rejoiced to be permitted to serve. Doubtless, as he sat mourning at the door of the tent in the heat of the day over the unbelief that had broken the sweet and wondrous fellowship with his God, there was a cry in his heart akin to that of the repentant prodigal, "Make me as one of thy hired servants." If the Lord would but return and show that He had forgiven him, Abraham would be content with the lowest place of service. We have seen the Lord answering this desire and accepting of this loving service, but He does far more than this. His believing ones can never be treated by Him as mere servants. Blessed be His name, we are His servants, and shall be forever and ever. "His servants shall serve Him" (Rev. xxii. 3). My brothers, we could not be happy, our cup of glory would not be full, were we not permitted eternally to serve Him. We love Him even already far too much not to wish to do something for Him who has done so much for us. Every true Christian's heart gladly beats Amen to the words---
"I can work like any slave
For love of Him who died for me,"
It is worthy of notice that the word "servant" in Rev. xxii. is "bond-servant." And is it not so? The believing one that knows something of the marvellous love of God in Christ has become truly heart and soul the bond-servant of Jesus, and can with intensity of love call Him "Master" (despot). Nothing enslaves like true love. "He has bound me to Him." Ah! how different this from the forced service of the unsaved religionist who is trying hard to "make his peace with God." The one is indeed an awful slavery of sorrow and pain and unrest, a truly Satanic slavery; the other may seem as hard and full of toil and pain to the onlooker, but as seen by God and known to the heart of the "bond-servant," it is labour, however hard, that he would not be without, it is pain, however severe, that he glories to bear. The one is despairing effort to get, the other is entire devotedness because we have already received, and love the Giver.
To such, heaven would be no heaven were not that precious promise to find still more complete fulfilment, "His servants shall serve Him." Nevertheless, His words are true, "I have not called you servants." It is the love prompting the service which He appreciates, and He will ever go before us in love. It is sweet to be sure of this. When by-and-by, my heart shall love Him as it ought—shall glow with constant unchanging love, not knowing one moment’s coldness—even then, His love will still be a thousand times better than mine. Thus it is that while He accepts a real bond-service from His loving ones, He gives us the place of truest and closest friendship. Thus it is that He cannot part company with Abraham at this time without lifting him up, as it were, from the place of servitude into that of manifested friendship.
"SHALL I HIDE FROM ABRAHAM THE THING WHICH I DO?"
It is a mark of peculiar confidence when one shows us his secret intentions, and opens up to us the purposes which he is about to execute. In doing so, he plainly says he "knows" and can trust us. When anyone not only thus confides in us, but speaks out that confidence to others, he gives us truly an exalted place. Thus it is that Jehovah now exalts this man of faith. His failures have been many and sad; but through the grace and patient love of Jehovah; the faith that honours God has been tested, disciplined, and strengthened, till now the Lord can trust him with His secret purposes, and confess him as worthy of such trust before the angels that accompany Him.
"I know him." Blessed testimony! When one thinks that it comes from the mouth of Jehovah, the Eternal, All-Seeing, and Ever-Present, and that it was spoken to the holy angels of a poor saved sinner, one can only wonder, adore, and rejoice. Thus it is that even now the humblest believer walking in the path of faith in God, however lowly his sphere in the circles of earth, is known in Heaven. The Lord knows him, and tells out to the very angels that He can trust him (Rev. iii. 5). It is a thought not more sweet than true, that we are thus known above; not that we shall be by-and-by—then "we shall know as we are known"—but now, in this present time of imperfection and surrounding evil, our very names are familiar "as household words" to the shining ones above. Our blessed Lord and Saviour speaks of His own to the Father and to the holy angels. When Gabriel was sent to Daniel, his salutation was, "O man greatly beloved." He knew him by name, and as one greatly favoured in the home above. When another angel carried the message to Cornelius to send for Peter, he could give him the very minutest directions where and how to find him—his name, the town, the house, the street, as well as the name and occupation of his entertainer. My brother, my sister, your home may be a palace, and your name be great on earth, but if you are not one of those "little ones who believe on Jesus," if your path is not the path of humble faith in God, you are known by Him only as "afar off" (Ps. cxxxviii. 6, 7); and our blessed Lord may soon have to say, if ye continue in unbelief, "Depart from ME, I never knew you (Matt. vii. 23). Even now, much as you are glorified on earth, be it in the path of wealth or position, intellect or worldly accomplishment, the least of all that wondrous angel company round THE THRONE, before two of whom at the empty tomb of our Lord the strength of Roman soldiery trembled and became as dead men, never heard anything about you.
Blessed be God, the poorest and most insignificant saint on earth is well known in heaven. My brother, my sister, your home may be poor enough, your friends few enough, your name unknown; the very worshippers of the church or chapel to which you belong may not recognize you, may be ignorant of your name even; but the very number of your door is known in the courts of glory. We must not forget, however, that even true believers are NOT EQUALLY HONOURED.
We have not in these papers to do with Lot, and do not mean to enter upon the terrible story of the following chapter. It is well, however, to remember that he was a believer in God, and testified to as righteous (2 Peter ii. 7); but the Lord did not reveal to him "that thing which He was doing." There was no opening up to him in companionship with his Lord the awful doom of Sodom; and at the very last moment he had to be rescued by angelic power—"saved, yet so as by fire."
This is an intensely solemn truth, connected as it is, not with ultimate salvation, but with the present enlightening and saving power of the truth as revealed to saints by the spirit of God. We know that the truth of God is expressed in His Word in such a way that a direct revelation needs to be given to the hearts of believers by the Spirit of God ere they truly and spiritually discern the mind of God. We also know that many who must be regarded as having a measure of faith in Christ are, nevertheless, terribly ignorant of much precious, and in these days, needed, truth, and are in sad danger from every wind of human doctrine. Why is this? God must have some good reason for withholding the revelation of Himself and His purposes from such. I solemnly believe that it is because of that abounding worldly conformity against which the Lord’s people are so earnestly warned in the Word of God. As we learn from Peter and Jude, Sodom was a type of this present evil world. Pleasing as it was to outward sense when Lot chose it as his portion, it lay far from God—so far that when the terrible cry of its sin reached heaven, the Lord had to go down to see whether the cry had been truly heard—whether things were altogether as that cry betokened. And Lot was there. The one man was walking in the light and in fellowship with his God; the other was dwelling in Sodom, in comparative darkness as to the mind of God. Jehovah could hide nothing from Abraham; He could reveal nothing to Lot. It is blessed to know that all saints have one and the same standing IN CHRIST before God, and that because of the precious, precious BLOOD, all who believe in Jesus have final salvation and eternal life secured to them; but it is doubly sad that so many thus secured, and at such tremendous cost, should in these days of ours, be so unspiritual in their whole tone of mind, behaviour, and associations that they do not know and will not believe that the END OF THE AGE is well-nigh come, and that the judgments of God are soon to be poured forth upon this wicked and untoward generation. And yet it is meet that it should be so. "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and reasoning ones, and hast revealed them unto babes." It is noteworthy that this very thanksgiving, as recorded in Matt. xi. 25, is in connection with our Lord’s announcement of impending judgment. It is of importance to notice the effect of this revelation on the child of God.
Ah! beloved, it is a terribly solemn thing to know that the judgment of God on an ungodly world is near at hand. If our hearts have in any true measure been exercised with all that is taught in the Word of God about it, we shall never be able to think of it without, as it were, an instinctive drawing nearer to Him who is our only Refuge. We shall want renewed consciousness of His unchanging love and careful protection. We want at such times to be surer than ever that "He is covering us with His feathers," and that we are safely "under the shadow of His wings" (Ps. xci. 4). There are some who draw back when they hear of coming judgment. They will have nothing to do with a GOD OF JUDGMENT. Alas! such have never looked in the light of God at SIN, never understood truly the AWFUL SCENE AT GOLGOTHA, never really believed in the unspeakable value set by God on the BLOOD OF HIS SON, never for a moment believed in the awful guilt of trampling that blood under foot—the crime of neglecting THE GREAT SALVATION." The terrible tidings had yet another effect on Abraham. They filled him with compassion for the poor doomed city, and thus he entered into a new field of fellowship with the Lord. As he drew near, he touched the great tender heart of Him of Whom it is so often recorded, "He had compassion." And thus Abraham became an INTERCESSOR. True intercession is only another kind of fellowship with Him who is the great Intercessor. It is well to realize this when we are led to plead for others. The tender pity and the earnest longings and the fervent prayers, what are these but the feeblest expressions of His Own mighty compassions? That blessed One had gone far beyond Abraham in His compassion for Sodom, and it is beyond conception terrible, to know that, in spite of the tender pity of a God who could die for the sinner, though He could not clear the guilty, Sodom went its own course and met its doom.
Let us not forget that the Spirit of God has said, "I exhort that prayers and intercessions be made for all men" (1 Tim. ii. 1). Our blessed Lord longs for our companionship in this thing also. Every fresh point of fellowship with Him is sweet to Him and blessed to us.
My brothers, one word more. If our God has indeed revealed to us "the things that are coming on the earth," and if we are in any measure in fellowship with our Lord’s heart in this knowledge, there must and will be tender compassion, and much prayer and earnest work; and this will increase as we see the day approaching. It has been cast upon us as a reproach that we who believe in the near coming of our Lord, and subsequent judgment of the ungodly, are unfeeling in heart and slack of hand in efforts to win the lost ones. I thank God that this is untrue of all such as are truly and spiritually enlightened on these points. If at any time we can think even of such things, not to say or speak of them, without feeling for the perishing, and without anxious desire to do all we can to warn them, it is because we are out of heart-fellowship with God.
God keep us, my brothers, from mere head knowledge of such dread realities. May we see in Abraham the true attitude of Spirit enlightened hearts. Above all, in the power of such revelation, may we draw near and keep near our Lord.
XIV.—CONCLUSION---THE FIERY TRIAL.---GENESIS XXII.
"GOD did tempt Abraham." Why? It was only a little while ago that He had "confessed his name before the angels," and said, "I know Abraham." What need to prove him now? It was just because the Lord did know him. He knew this man’s faith—knew just what it could stand, and brought it forth, "precious faith," tried in the fire, to His own glory and Abraham’s great joy.
The tried ones, "in heaviness through manifold temptations," often mistake God’s purposes, and are ready to say, with Job, "He hath kindled His wrath against me, and counted me as an enemy;" while, all the time, it is just because He has counted them "friends," and is proving before angels and devils, that through His marvellous grace, they can trust Him in the furnace. To our blessed Lord, there are few things more precious than faith that can bear proving. When He was on earth, the way in which His heart seemed to leap for joy over "a find " of such faith in the dust heap of this wretched world of unbelief was wonderful. "Verily, I tell you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
Thus it was in Abraham’s day; thus in the days of His flesh; and thus it is now—He rejoices to find it. As in the case of the woman of Tyre, when His eye detects a precious grain of such faith in God, He draws it out, tries it just as hard as He knows it can bear, and then holds it out to the wondering gaze of all around, and exultingly cries, "O woman, great is thy faith!" He has found a golden bit of divine workmanship in the heart of a poor sinner—something of His Father’s, in the midst of all the ruin that sin has wrought.
This is one "wherefore" at least, dear suffering child of God, for your trial. We shall see that there are others; but let not the enemy, however sorely you are being "tempted" of the Lord, deprive you of this bit of brightness. In His blessed temptations, there is no shade of evil. When there is real evil in a temptation, it is not of God (James i. 13). "Only trust Him." You may not be able to say in the trial, "I shall come forth as gold" (Job xxiii. 10), for in Job’s affliction, there was a great deal too much of "I" till he was brought to "see God" and "abhor himself" (chap. xlii. 5, 6); but you can say, "He knows," and you can believe that "He will perfect that which concerneth you." "Blessed is he that endureth temptation." But Abraham was ready for the trial.
I do not mean to say that he knew what was coming, or that he knew that anything in the shape of trial was coming. On the contrary, from what we read in the close of the preceding chapter, there had been a long period of ordinary, uneventful, and probably restful life. Some of the dear people of God seem always on the outlook for trials. They anticipate them, and consequently live very unhappy lives, and are very far from ready to meet real trials. Such a life is a fearful distrust of a loving God. We cannot possibly be happy in God; cannot quietly trust Him, or gladly worship Him, if we think of Him as always on the watch for opportunities to grieve and pain us. We could not cry with a "Hallelujah!" of such an one, "This God is our God forever and ever!"
Abraham was ready for the trial in a very different sense. The call was sudden, and the kind of trial unexpected. The sorrow must have been very great—the greatest, I doubt not, which he had ever been called to meet—but it found him ready. "Behold, I." "What is it, Lord? I am at Thy disposal." The path of faith had been tried over and over again, and increasingly, through all circumstances and experiences; the knowledge of this Blessed One who had "apprehended" him, called him, and was leading him ever up to Himself, was growing clearer and brighter. Like Paul, he could say, "I know Him whom I have trusted" (2 Tim. i. 12). Through many precious proofs of God’s faithfulness, he had been led to increased trust. He had been brought into the HABIT of trusting Jesus. That was all; but it was enough. Now the Lord would show to principalities and powers in the heavenlies, this man’s faith. Beloved, this was the "why" of this great temptation. God knew that His child was ready. He will not deal differently with you. "Fear no evil;" there is none in thy Lord’s dealings. If a great sorrow should seem to spring up before you, it is because He has been leading you up to it, because He knows that you can trust Him with it and in it. He has given the faith to meet the trial, else the trial were not permitted. Be sure of this. And He is with you in it. "Fear not when thou passest through the waters, I am with thee" (Isaiah xliii. 2).
I cannot help thinking that Satan had something to do with this trial of faith. Perhaps he always has, for he is ever the adversary. The otherwise almost unnecessary way in which the Lord, in making the demand on Abraham of the sacrifice, seems to dwell on what must touch his feelings to the very quick, suggests this. "Take now thy son, thine only, Isaac, whom thou lovest." It is as if that hateful, malicious, unfeeling spirit were standing by, and the Lord had said, "Yes, Satan, I will make it as hard as ever I can, as hard as your devilish heart admires; but the faith of this poor tried worm of a man shall conquer thee and sting thee to the quick, for he trusts the living God. To thee shall be the confusion and the shame; to him the glory and honour, and the crown of life." Who knows that it is not always thus? Thus it may well be that in every case where true faith in God is tried, Satan, demanding it, has his answer. The very thorn in the flesh, my brother—the little burdensome continued care that seems to give you no respite for a moment—what is it doing after all but calling out your faith in God moment by moment? It is a "messenger from Satan," but it is "given you," and the gift can be only from the pierced hand of Him Who loves you (2 Cor. xii. 7). Your trust, whether in the little worries or the great trial, answers Satan and glorifies God.
Some time ago we saw (chapter xviii.) how readily, quickly, and joyously Abraham made ready for and served the Lord. Now Satan says: "Ask him to give You his son. He was ready enough to fetch the calf, tender and good (verse 7); let him know that You want his son; see whether this man of faith will ‘run’ then." And the wondrous answer is given, not with joy—for "no temptation for the moment is joyous, but grievous" (1 Peter i. 6, and Hebrews xii. 11)—but with the same ready haste. There is no questioning with God about it, and no delay; no taking counsel with others either, no seeking advice, no conferring with flesh and blood. "He rose early in the morning." What a night of sorrow it must have been! but in the early morn, this sublimely awful hasting to obey! To the eyes of angels there must be something grander in a scene like this in the spiritual being of a man of faith than in all the wonders of created matter. Yet thus it is that even now "they learn through the Church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. iii. 10). What had Abraham to sustain him in this terrible trial? Just what you and I have, believer, in all our times and circumstances—God and His Word. For God had said, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." The Lord would keep His Word, and Abraham "staggered not" in unbelief. It was a stunning blow, but faith met it. He reckoned that God was able to raise his only—his Isaac—the laughter of his heart—from the dead. The "how" and the "when" came not into the reckoning. True faith brings God in; and Jehovah is the "I AM," not the "I will be" merely. It is a present God, with all that He is, in a present "now," that faith deals with, whether that "now" be full of sunshine or sorrow. Behold! God is my salvation.
There is not space, and it is not necessary that we consider all the wonderful details of this trial; nor have we to do at present with Isaac’s share in it as the type of the precious Son of God in the wondrous death and resurrection. It is rather into thoughts of the two Fathers that Abraham’s present path leads us. For it is a marvellous truth that God the Father was in all this, leading this man into the very closest fellowship with Himself that it was possible for anyone to hold. Who does not see that in this temptation, the Almighty God is showing us His own sufferings as the Father of that "well beloved" Who was in "His bosom," and "daily His delight"---His own Isaac, rejoicing always in His presence (Prov. viii. 30)? Who cannot see in all this, the great throb of pain at the Father’s own heart? Sceptics may sneer, and cold-hearted theology, all logic and no love, may try to balance the attributes of the Deity so carefully that suffering in God becomes an impossibility. Such do not know the Father, and have not seen Him. From the depths of my soul, I believe that it cost "my Father and His Father" a thousand-fold more of pain and grief to deliver up His beloved to the awful sufferings of Golgotha, than this terrible trial cost Abraham; and I believe that just because of this, the very trial of faith now demanded was to God Himself such a foretaste of that dread hour to come, that His great, loving, compassionate heart was beating throb to throb with the heart of Abraham as it could not otherwise have done. Throughout all eternity, perhaps, this man Abraham will thus be known as the friend whom the Father honoured to take into fellowship with Him in His sufferings in giving up His well-beloved. And yet, is it not more or less the path of true faith? Are we not permitted more or less to enter into this blessed fellowship?—Abraham, it may be, foremost, but what multitudes beside!
Dear tried, suffering, surrendering ones, how familiar in one aspect or another is this trial in the life of thousands of God’s own to-day! Weeping eyes may even now read these lines, whose Isaac has been yielded, or to whom the call to trust God with their darlings has only just gone forth. It may be a darling infant, or a loving, faithful wife; it may be the true heart and strong arm, with all life’s prospects depending on it, of a husband. Oh! what may it not be? It is the heart’s only Isaac, whom thou lovest. It may not be by death—not always. There are many ways in which such surrender in trustful sorrow meets us; but let it be as God wills, one thing we may be sure of, we have not only His Own presence and support, but His fullest compassion—fuller than the fullest of any earthly friend. Dear bereaved one, dear surrendering one, He is only leading you into higher, fuller fellowship with Himself in His Own sufferings. "Truly (here) your fellowship is with the Father." It is important to notice that the very name of the mount on which Abraham was called to offer up Isaac tells of this wondrous fellowship. Mount Moriah is "Jehovah's Bitterness," and was it not the very place where our Lord was crucified? My sorrowing, suffering brother, He will not call you to any sacrifice but in the place thus shown to us. To the true child of faith, our Father has always so arranged that the place of our sufferings shall be the mount of His Own bitterness. Is it not sweet to look at all our sorrows in the light of Calvary?
Here we are heart to heart with God. Here we see everything in a light in which it can be seen nowhere else—the true light in which to view all things. This is, indeed, the mount of the Lord; and to-day, as much as then, "it shall be seen." What "it"? Your "it," my brother; every "it." Jehovah Himself is seen here as He can be seen nowhere else; and the poor sinner who has got a glimpse of God through the Cross of His Son on Calvary has seen God in heaven’s purest light. In this high sanctuary, where the suffering Jehovah is seen sacrificing His all in His love for fallen worms, we may in measure now, and by-and-by, shall very fully, read all the mysteries of God. This is God’s loftiest mount. In the highest heavens, in the midst of the throne, is still seen a "Lamb standing as if slain" (Rev. v. 6); and if one see not this, he shall see nothing else. Here alone we see God, and God’s true providings for us now and eternally. All apart from this is the "outer darkness." Here also Jehovah gives His fullest blessing, confirming and perpetuating it by the oath (Heb. vi. 13-18). No wonder! "He that spared not His Own Son, but gave Him up to the death for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?" "Who shall separate us from the love of God?" (Rom. viii. 32, 35).
Take me to the mount of Jehovah’s bitterness; show me clearly the love of God in the gift of His Son for me—for ME—and I shall wonder at nothing. He may load me unceasingly with blessing upon blessing; He may pour upon me earth’s fulness and heaven’s glory; I shall bless His name, but never wonder, for "He gave up His Son for me." The God that could love the worthless sinner with love like that, cannot mean anything save unhindered, unchanging, eternal blessing. "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen."
"Footsteps of Truth" 1883-84