Gen. xii.; Isa. li. 2; and Acts vii. 2--4.
The Call of Abraham.
Abram was living in the midst of idolatry when he received a call from "the God of glory" to get out from his country, and from his kindred, and father's house, unto a land that He would show him. The "God of glory" drew aside the veil of the future, and revealed to him "the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. xi. 10). This glorious object so filled his vision, so attracted his heart, and so occupied his thoughts, that at once he tears himself from the land of his birth, and willingly goes forth into the world, to be guided and led whither he knew not—in other words, to walk by faith.
When God writes a man's biography, He always gives the failures as well as the perfections—so different from man, who hides the bad side and portrays the good. There was failure at the very outset in Abraham's faith. We must be careful, in reading the record of the failures of God's people, to guard against thinking that, if we were in their position, we would not have done as they did. In the history of their failures, we read the history of our own. Let us not boast.
Instead of Abram leaving his father's house and kindred, we read in Gen. xi. 31, that his father took the lead, and took his son and grandson out of Ur, and dwelt in Haran. Now God did not call Terah or Lot, only Abram (Isa. li. 2). Abram ought to have left them behind, and come out alone. They hindered him from fully obeying God, and walking in the path of separation to which he was called. As long as the old man was alive, he could only get as far as Haran. But Canaan, and not Haran, was the place whither God was leading His servant. He was very comfortable in Haran. It was his half-way house, where he gathered substance and got rich (chap. xii. 15). But he was losing the blessedness of walking in the pathway of obedience, which is ever the path of blessing. The ties of nature came in between his soul and the God of glory, Who had called him. His duty was implicitly and unreservedly to follow Him. God is a jealous God. He had to come in and sever the tie that hindered His servant. He removed Terah. As long as Abram was at Haran, there is no record of a "tent" or an "altar." He could not take his proper place as a "pilgrim" or a "worshipper" as long as he was living in disobedience.
Let us apply all this, beloved friends, to ourselves. We have received a call as well as Abram. His was an earthly one, ours is a heavenly. Read 1 Pet. ii. 9; Heb. iii. 1; 1 Cor. i. 9. I would more especially direct your attention to the Epistle to the Ephesians, where our call is plainly brought before us. Chap. i. 4, "chosen"; ver. 5, "predestinated"; ver. 6, "accepted"; ver. 13, "sealed." Chap. ii. 5; "quickened"; ver. 6, "raised," "seated." Such is our calling, our standing, whether we believe or realize it or not. We are called from darkness to light; from sin to God; from the federal headship of Adam to Christ, the Head of the new creation; from earthly joys and hopes to heavenly; from being citizens of this world to be citizens of heaven and of the household of God. We are called to be a separated (sanctified) people, whose home is not here; consequently, we are to be pilgrims and strangers in a strange land. We are called to be "true worshippers." We are called to walk in the path of faith as "seeing Him Who is invisible." We are called while here to be in the place of testimony for God; that is, witness-bearers of the shame, rejection, and Cross of Jesus, and the love and longsuffering grace of God the Father. What a blessed calling is ours! What a place! What a portion!
But, alas! how few "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called." To tread this path of separation entails too much cross-bearing for many of God's children, who prefer going on smoothly, trying to make the best of both worlds; in other words, they prefer Haran to Canaan, where the old man can be gratified, the borders enlarged, and interests deepened. Comparatively few obey the call of God, and live by faith.
How many hindrances there are in our way, which prevent us taking our proper place, and enjoying our promised blessings! How often the ties of nature come in—a wife, a husband, a child! How often our business, occupation, profession! Some idol is set up, some earthly stream is enjoyed, some gourd is delighted in. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," is a needed but a neglected admonition. How often the Lord has to remove the idol, wither the gourd, dry up the earthly stream, and sever the tie that binds us to earth, and hinders our obedience in taking our proper place in this world, as in the world, but not of it.
What a snare, this "half-way house" is to many of God's dear ones. Expediency is the guiding principle of their lives. "Suffer me first to go and bury my father" is their language. They meet the world half-way, and the world applauds them for their liberality and large-heartedness. They are worldly with the world and religions with Christians. Self-denial is unknown, self-indulgence and self-gratification highly cultivated. There is no testimony for God, either in walk or word. Their children are trained up for the world, with a view to their being well settled for life, and their precious souls are scarcely thought about. There, the flesh is fed, the soul is starved; for what feeds the flesh, starves the soul. There is no communion with God. What a solemn word that is in 1 John i. 6! "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." It does not say we do not know the truth; we know it, but do not do it. If we are living in Haran, we are living in disobedience, and consequently walking in darkness. You may talk about worship and communion, yet know nothing about it. Light and darkness cannot commingle; and if you are walking in worldliness or disobedience, you cannot have communion with God. If you say you have, God says you "lie, and do not the truth." Up, get you from Haran. God wants whole-hearted obedience. "Let the dead bury their dead." "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead." "Come out and be separate." This is your call. Remember, "to obey is better than sacrifice." "Whatsoever He saith unto thee, do it."
As soon as Abram is freed from his clog, he proceeds on his way to the land God promised him. Lot accompanies him. Abram followed God. Lot followed Abram. Lot is a type of a large number of Christians, who follow the leading, not of God, but of some eminent man. Lot walked by sight. How often have we seen Christians of this type leave a certain position because others had done it! They acted on no leading of God, on no principle of truth. What was the consequence? They were always unstable while trying to follow, and at last went back to their old position. Lot was a source of weakness to Abram as long as he was with him. Soon the path got too narrow for him, and the man of sight had to separate from the man of faith.
At last Abram arrives in Canaan, where at once he assumes the proper character of one called by the God of glory. He erects his tent, and builds his altar; in other words, he takes his place as a pilgrim having no earthly possession, as shown forth by the tent, and as a "true worshipper," as declared by the "altar."
Here we have the first record of the trial of his faith in the path of obedience. It must ever be so. God will test the quality of our faith; that the trial of our faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. i. 7). There was a famine in the land. It was a trying moment for the man of faith. Starvation for himself, his people, his cattle, staring him in the face. "Go down to Egypt, where you will have plenty," says unbelief. His faith yields. He goes down. Mark the words, "goes down." Satan conquers. Expediency is adopted, in order to avoid consequences conjured up by Satan, but which God would never have allowed to come upon him, for He Who brought His servant safely to Canaan, would surely have kept him there. His faith needed purging, so God permitted him to go.
How many Christians there are who can trust God for salvation, but not for their daily bread? To leave the place that God has called us to, viz., separation from the world, is "to go down into Egypt." Better far, to suffer in Canaan than to be at ease in Egypt. Often, alas! how often, is the path of separation relinquished by the people of God for a little ease, a little influence, a little money!
In Canaan, Abram had God, his tent, and his altar. God could not go with His servant "down into Egypt." His altar was given up. When a soul goes down from God, there can be no communion, no worship. There is no tent either. In Egypt, he must do as the Egyptians did. Some gorgeous palace was his home while there. He was quite at home. God forgotten, communion forsaken, strangership given up; he now lives at ease under the smile of Egypt's monarch and people. He makes his wife tell a lie and deceive the king, who heaps favours and riches on him for her sake. He accepts the presents, becomes a debtor to the king, and becomes rich at the expense of moral integrity. How sad is all this! How low has the man of faith gone down! What a triumph to the enemy! He fears starvation in God's Canaan, and goes down to Satan's Egypt. He fears death in Egypt, and lies and deceives. He falls not alone. He drags his wife, Lot, and all his people, down with him. When a child of God falls, he falls not alone. There is no testimony for God in Egypt. A fearful crime was about to be perpetrated, the result of Abram's deception, when God graciously comes in and rescues His children. He uses Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to rebuke His erring child, and to bring him to his senses. How humbling!
I would like to ask you, dear believer, where are you? Are you living in Haran—the halfway-house; or are you "gone down" into Egypt—the world; or are you in your proper place—Canaan, living a life of separation from the world? How sad to see God's people living in the world as the world lives, bearing no testimony for God! How dishonouring to God it is. "The friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James iv. 4). No communion with God can you hold. No joy, no peace can you enjoy. No glory, no honour can you bring to the blessed name of Jesus. Down among the dead you lie, a debtor to the world, conformed to its maxims, its principles, its dress. "Be not conformed to the world," is the divine injunction.
May the Lord enable you, worldly Christian, to do as Abram did. He went up out of Egypt (Gen. xiii. 1), and had to go back to where he started from—where his tent and his altar were at the beginning. It was all lost time while in Egypt. There was no "redeeming the time" there. And so will you have to go back to where you started from, and nothing short of this will do for God.
"Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there." This is the place of the "altar" and "tent." To this position, God has called us. It is the place of entire separation from the world. It is the place of blessing. There "I will bless thee," says God. The flesh will strive there; but the soul will grow. Outside the world, we can raise our voice in testimony, and be made a blessing. "Bethel" means the house of God. It is the Father's house where we can enjoy uninterrupted communion with Himself, sit down with Him at His table, and feed on "angels' food"—the "bread of heaven." "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the delight (margin) of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple." Surely God's delight is Jesus. He has called us to share with Him His delight in Jesus. This is fellowship with the Father. May the Lord enable us to have this one desire filling our souls, and that we may continually seek after it, and then go out into the world, that we may show forth the virtues (1 Pet. ii. 9, margin) of Jesus, Who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.
Willow Park, Dublin.