THE FAITH AND OBEDIENCE OF ABRAHAM
A PATTERN TO BELIEVERS.
BY R. GOVETT.
IN Romans 4., the first question treated of is - Was Abraham justified by faith, or by works?
1. "What, therefore, shall we say, that Abraham (1) our father, (2) found, as it regards the flesh? "
was the example to which
In opposition hereto, the Holy Spirit shows that Abraham was justified in the first instance by faith; and that only after that, did he receive justification by works also.
2. "For if Abraham was justified by works,* he has ground of boasting: but he has not before God."
[* Literally, ‘out of works.’ That is, by works springing out of the field of faith. See Greek.]
Therefore, as we are treating of justification before God, he has no ground of boasting.
3. "For what says the Scripture? But Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him unto (the possession of) righteonness."
It is not said - 'Abraham had obeyed all the law, and was justified.' His being pronounced righteous was attributed to his faith: which the law does not accept as righteousness and the way to eternal life. But "The man that doeth them shall live in them." And the end of the verse confirms the same truth. If a bill of twenty shillings is brought me by my baker, and I lay him down a sovereign, the bill is paid, and his receipt is given.
But here we have the opposite principle. "Abraham believed God; and it was imputed to him unto righteousness." So he became righteous before God, and possessed of eternal life.
4. "Now, to him that worketh, the reward* is imputed not by way of grace, but of debt."
[*A reference to the first verse of Genesis 15: "Thy exceeding great reward."]
After the bill is paid, law demands the receipt to be given. It is the baker's duty to own the bill paid.
5. "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is imputed unto (obtaining) righteousness."
Here again we have the twofold difference of statement, one on each side of the sentence. The believer does not obey the law to the law's satisfaction; but God, by the work of His Son Jesus Christ, (1) pardons the sins of the believer; and (2) imputes to him the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which was wrought, in order that he an ungodly man, might be pronounced righteous. The Father makes over to him the perfect work of Another, as his Substitute.
6, 7, 8. "As David also speaketh of the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputeth righteousness without works, (saying): 'Blessed are they whose lawlessnesses are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."
Apostle presents David as a second
witness to the same truth, in a psalm penned
by that king - the thirty-second. For the prophets, as well as the law, testify
to this great truth. And the example of that
king was a very signal one: his
ungodliness was manifested in his great fall. But in his fifty-first
psalm his forgiveness was declared. He asks there, that mercy may blot out his
sin is ever before me." "Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities."
unto me the joy of Thy Salvation." "Deliver me
from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my Salvation; and my
tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness:" 14. Now, God's righteousness, in the sense
of His justice under law, is the sinner's destruction; as we see in the case of the
ungodly world at the time of the Flood, and at the attempt of Pharaoh, the
persecutor, to capture
David, therefore, speaks of himself as being by nature a sinner, but having now the forgiveness of sins. Not ‘Blessed is he who hath, always kept the law, and never sinned,' but, 'Blessed is be, who having often sinned, had been pardoned by God.' "My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He, hath clothed me with the garments of Salvation; He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness: Isaiah 61: 10. The Lord accepts, as the covering of sin, only the blood of Jesus Christ: and not the tears of man.
8. And this imputation given to the believer now by faith, will stand good in the day of judgment also. 11 “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."
Now Paul turns back to Abraham.
9. "This blessedness, then (cometh it), upon the circumcision? or upon the uncircumcision also? For we are saying, that to Abraham faith was imputed unto righteousness."
The Jews would restrict the blessing to the men of law, and of circumcision. But that was not God's mind.
When did Abraham receive righteousness?
10. "How, then, was it reckoned? When he was in circumcision? or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision."
Many misunderstand Peter's sermon in Acts 2. Here he begins the disentangling of the confusion, in the minds of many, in verses 38, 39: "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." On these words are grounded even pleas for infant-sprinkling. Let us note, then, first what our Lord says in John 3.
The believer is first secretly begotten from above by the Holy Spirit (ver. 3) and then born openly out of the water, regarded as the mother.
First comes the spiritual part of regeneration, of which the infant is ignorant; and then the undoing of the difficulty, which, as Nicodemus dares to tell our Lord, makes his doctrine impossible and absurd.
‘How could an adult be born of his mother?’ But what would it profit him if he could? It would 'be only a second birth of flesh out of flesh’. But there is a new generation by the Holy Spirit, as the father; and God provides a new mother, out of whom (the water) an adult can be born, even if his mother were dead. Regeneration comes from the Holy Ghost; the ‘new birth’ out of the water.
So in Acts 2: 38: "Repent" (here is the secret and spiritual part which should come first), and after it comes the "immersion" - the visible part - "in the name of Jesus Christ." Observe, it is no longer on the authority of John the Baptist as a prophet; but 'on the name of the Son of God,' the risen and the ascended. And then would be received also the forgiveness of sins.
The immersion in the Spirit, which was then promised, and received at the hands of the Apostles and others, we have not now.
"For the promise " of Joel,* which gives prominence to the miraculous gifts of prophecy and tongues, "is unto you (Jews), and to your children (in Millennial days), and to all that are afar off" (Gentiles, away from God's land and temple), "even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Accordingly, when Peter was preaching to Cornelius at Cesarea, the Holy Spirit was poured out on those present; they received forgiveness, and the gift of tongues: Acts 10: 44-46. And Peter, "in the name of the Lord, commanded (Greek) that they should be immersed" in water.
[*Acts 2: 17.]
2. "And he (Abraham) received (1) the sign of circumcision, (2) seal of the righteousness of the faith, which he had while uncircumcised: so that he is father of all that believe, while uncircumcised; in order that unto them also may righteousness be imputed."
To Abraham himself, then, circumcision was both (1) a sign and a (2) seal. It was first a (1) sign, that while a believer, he had still evil in his flesh, which he was to put away. It was a gentle rebuke of his taking to himself Hagar, at the call of Sarah, and without counsel asked of God.
(2) It was a seal also on God's part, an abiding mark given of God, with the change in his name, from ‘Abram' to 'Abraham,' in token of his being God's approved man of faith, and of his future inheritance of the land of promise, in resurrection.
To his seed, circumcised at eight days old, circumcision was something quite different. They were devoted by it to obey the whole law, and to gain by their obedience, righteousness: Gals. 5: 1-5.
Under the New Testament the 1 ‘sign' and the 'seal' are separated. (1) The ‘sign' is immersion; the flesh dies in the waters of death, and at once becomes buried with Christ there. Then comes emersion, or the resurrection out of death; as Christ, after His burial, rose out of the tomb. Immersion, then, is the sign of the man of faith dying, with Christ, to earth; and having his inheritance in heaven when Christ returns. But immersion is no seal. It leaves no permanent mark by which any can discern between the baptized and the unbaptized. The seal in Apostles' days was the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit;* a seal, not set upon the flesh, as under law,** but upon the spirit.
[* Eph. 1: 13; 4: 30. ** Gen. 17: 13.]
Believers now are justified and forgiven on the ground of Christ's being "the Lord their Righteousness." Justification is imputed to them in uncircumcision; as it was to Abraham their father.
But there is a further point in the next verse, which introduces difficulty. Abraham is to them, first the pattern of justification by faith, they are next called to imitate Abraham as the pattern of justification by the works, not of law, but of those which spring out of faith.
12. "And father of circumcision (1) to those who are not of the circumcision only, but also (2) to those who walk in the steps of the faith while uncircumcised, of our father Abraham."
Circumcision is to both his Seeds a step to be imitated by them. God approved Abraham, as being after faith, the obedient one. As James says: "Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works, when he offered Isaac, his son, on the altar? Seest thou how faith used to work with his works, and 'by the works was his faith completed? And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith: "But Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him unto righteousness,' and he was called the Friend of God. See ye therefore, that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only :" James 2: 21.
In two directions, then, is Abraham to be imitated. (1) Faith is to come before rite. Rite is not the Holy Spirit, who gives regeneration. Baptismal regeneration is an awful deceit. Justification comes by faith. (2) But faith is not to be alone. God asks for the union of faith and of works in His service. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything (by itself), or uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love:" Gals. 5: 6. But both the Seeds of Abraham fail to walk as did their father.
2. But [many of] Abraham's other Seed of the Gentiles, possessed of faith, are equally imperfect. To them went forth the tidings of Jesus crucified for our sins, and risen again, to be our righteousness. And both Peter and Paul found among them many who welcomed their message, and were by them joined together in the fellowship of faith; in the Assemblies of God, or churches which they raised up.
Then came to them the call for their obedience to God's commands. And here Paul has twice to complain of their failure to accept the lesson of observing ordinances of God in the spirit of faith. Jews follow the command of Peter on the day of Pentecost. "Save yourselves from this crooked generation:" Acts 2: 40. How was that to be done? "They then that gladly received His Word were immersed; and the same day there added to them about 3,000 souls. And these continued steadfastly in the teaching of the Apostles, and in the fellowship in the breaking of the bread,* and in the prayers."
[* The true reading.]
To Abraham's faith were joined observance of the ordinances commanded, in the spirit of faith. And wonders were wrought, houses and land sold, and distribution made of the money to the needy.
1. But Paul has to say to the Romans about the ordinance after faith -
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were immersed into
Jesus Christ, were immersed into His death?" Yet had he said when writing to them, at the opening of his epistle: "To ALL that be in
2. So has he to say to Galatian Christians
"For ye all are sons of God by means of the faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were immersed into Christ put on Christ." Gals. 2: 26, 27.
And no others did!
They gave God faith, but not the obedience to His commands after faith.
Abraham, after the command of circumcision was given, obeyed the same day; both actively; and, in his own person, passively. With this [obedience after faith] came new promises of God.
Again came from Jehovah the command to sacrifice Isaac.
again, the next day started Abraham with his son to obey the command. Isaac was just about to be slain, when the
Angel of God stopped the blow. Upon that
conjunction of obedience with faith descended
the oath of God, never to be
retracted. Twice Jehovah
celebrates this great act. "By myself have I
sworn, saith Jehovah, that because thou host done this thing, and hast
not withheld thy son, thy only son, - That in blessing I will bless
thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy Seed (1) as the stars of the heaven,
(the Assembly of God), and (2) as the sand which is upon the seashore (the
sons of his flesh, - "many nations"). (3) And thy Seed
[Christ: here are all the three Seeds] shall
possess the gate of his enemies." (On this point I am not clear, whether it is
Let us look again at these most important verses.
11. "And he (Abraham) received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised; so that he is (1) father of all who believe while uncircumcised; in order that to them also righteousness should be imputed:"
12. “And (2) father of circumcision, to (1) those (who are) not of the circumcision only, but (2) also to those who walk in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham (which he had), while uncircumcised."
So then Abraham's uncircumcised Seed, are justified by faith, as Abraham their father was.
But the two innumerable Seeds of Abraham, (1) the circumcised and (2) the uncircumcised, are in some points in opposition to him.
1. The uncircumcised Seed are already justified by faith, as we have said. But Abraham is to be to them "the father of circumcision." They are to walk in his obedience of faith, when God gives to them ritual commands, or commands of any kind. For faith, as in Abraham's case, is to come before rite. To that they generally would agree, in word.
2. But they have, in fact, shut out the second lesson to be taught them by him. For they are almost universally observing a tradition, which makes void the Word o God, Matt. 15: 9. They do not observe the call to be immersed after faith. Abraham, some fourteen years after his justification by faith, was signed and sealed by the rite of circumcision.
They would say, ‘We are baptized already; for we were sprinkled as infants; and that is baptism.'
And so they in spirit go back to rite be re faith; as Abraham's infant male children were circumcised under law. And multitudes trust, that they are right with God, and are Christians, because they have received baptism without faith. Many even go on to suppose that rite produces faith: a lesson certainly not to be learned from the history of Abraham our pattern.
11. Again, Abraham's circumcised Seed, or the Jews, hold the sign and seal of circumcision, are the slaves of law, and keep in many points its ritual, while they have no faith. They have the outside of Abraham's faith, but they are spiritually dead: and need to be "cleansed from dead works to serve the living God." They refuse faith in Jesus Christ slain, risen, and ascended; and own not the Holy Spirit who came down at Pentecost to bear witness to the work of Jesus accomplished, and to testify to the immersion in water, as the sign of coming out from the “crooked generation:" Acts 2.
The sealing of the Spirit, or the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost promised by Peter, to those who in repentance and faith received Jesus' command of immersion in water, we have not; for we have no apostles to communicate them by laying on of hands: Acts 2: 38, 39. The promise of Joel, cited by Peter, assures to the Jews when believers, and to their posterity after them, these gifts: ver. 17. For awhile also this promise would include Gentiles, called out from being aliens and afar off, to partake of these endowments: verses 18-39.
1. So Jews under law give to God obedience in externals, while destitute of faith. And this pleases Him not. They have no righteousness by law.
2. And believing Gentiles yield to Christ, faith in His death, resurrection, and ascension, while they will not obey the rite which testifies these three essentials of the Christian faith. Thus neither of these two great bodies really copies the example of Abraham, (1) as the man of faith, (2) and of the obedience of faith, when the Lord is pleased to issue His commands.
God, after justification by faith, expects the walk in the steps of Abraham's faith. And now that Christ is come, bringing righteousness by His work, circumcision is no longer a step of faith; but, as Paul warns us, is a step of deadly unbelief: a going back to law, and severing from Christ and Salvation, a binding one's self to obtain righteousness by law: Gals. 5: 1-5.
This view gives us the easy reconciliation between the teaching of Paul, and of James, respecting Eternal Life and the [millennial] Kingdom. 1. Paul speaks to the men of law of 'justification (first) by faith,' as was Abraham: Gen. 15: 6. But after they believe, they are to live by a "faith that worketh by love:" Gals. 5: 6. In the opening of the Epistle to the Galatians, he is astonished at their leaving grace for law; and describes them as "bewitched:" Gals. 3. They were about, if they put themselves under law, to lie under the curse; from which, with sore travail and endurance, Jesus had rescued them. They were wholly forsaking Abraham's pattern-justification.
But, toward the close of the Epistle, he is as strenuous in his demands of the WORKS, that spring out of the good soil of faith. If they lived according to the works of the flesh, which are not difficult to be distinguished [Gals. 5: 19-21], he says: "I tell you beforehand, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom, of God," 21 (Gals. 6: 7, 8), the Millennial Kingdom of the thousand years, to be enjoyed by the Saviour as the King of kings; by Abraham, and by those who follow His pattern: Matt. 8: 11.
11. James, in his Epistle, speaks strong words to those who have indeed faith, but an ‘idle’* and 'dead' faith. "Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is idle?" "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." "As the body without the Spirit - [or ‘spirit’ meaning the animating spirit, (Luke 8: 55)] - is dead, so faith without works is dead also:" James 2: 17, 20, 26.
[* The true reading.]
And he cites Abraham as the pattern-man, whose faith attained even to the obedience of offering up Isaac. 21. That was no dead work of law, but a living fruit of lively faith. 23. In the day to come the reward is to be meted out, not to a faith which trusts to be accepted because it says it has faith; but "according to works." "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then shall He reward each according to his work:" Matt. 16: 27; 1 Cor. 3: 13; 2 Cor. 5: 10; 1 Cor. 6: 9, 10, &c. Idle faith, after the Millennial Day, will get Eternal Life, as the gift; after losing the Kingdom, the reward.
13. "For not by law was the promise (made) to Abraham, or (2) to His Seed (which is Christ) * that he is the heir of the world; but by the righteousness of faith."
[* Gal. 3: 16.]
Where is this promise made? In the covenant of faith: Gen. 15. In the fourth verse God promises Abraham a Single Heir. This was Isaac, who was the type of Christ.
the next verse, Jehovah promises to
Abraham a Seed, innumerable as the stars of the heaven. The next verse tells us, that Abraham
"believed " this
double promise; and it was imputed to him unto
righteousness." What says the next verse? "I am Jehovah,
who brought thee out of
But the heavens and the earth together make up "the world." And Paul, by inspiration, gives us the word "world" as declaring the mind of God in His promise to Abraham. Mark also the words that precede it - "to GIVE THEE." Then Abraham's inheritance was by faith. But Abraham wished to be assured, to "know that I shall inherit it? " This indicates to us why so many, not obedient ones, are doubtful about God's promises.
[ * See Hebrew.]
The Most High at once called him to obey.
“Take Me an heifer of three years old (representing Christ, His Single Heir, as made man), and a goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old [representing - the one, probably Abraham's seed (1) of the Jews, and (2) the other, [sons by Keturah]; and a turtle-dove and a young pigeon" (representing his heavenly Seed, the one as (1) sprung from the Jews, and the other (2) from the Gentiles).
10. "And he took unto him all these." Observe, how that which was to be taken, for God, is, in the next verse, taken for Abraham. Here is the obedience of faith, that combination which is so pleasing to the Most High. "And he divided them in the midst, and laid each piece, one against another" [that the furnace and torch might pass between them].
"But the birds divided he not." Why so? Is it not because Christ so earnestly desires that the Seed of the heavens should not be divided, but be one? "That they may be one, as we are” John 17. Then the world will know (at last that Jehovah sent His Son) "and thou hast loved them, as thou hast loved ME " verse 23.
Thus this scene instructs us of the security of the inheritance to Abraham, and to his three Seeds, (1) to Christ, (2) to the Assembly of God, (3) and to the Jews.
11. "When the birds of prey* came down on the carcases Abraham drove them away:" Gen. 15.
[* Whence the Greek; ‘an eagle.’]
He would not allow the spirits of evil to rend and pollute the sacrifices belonging to God and to himself. What a contrast to the scene, - when, at Christ's return, the birds of prey are invited to devour his foes! Rev. 19.
14. "For if the men of law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect:" Rom. 4.
have here the sad consequences of such a principle. Circumcision is not now, as it was in
Abraham's case, a step of faith. In
consequence of the first coming of grace under Christ, circumcision, which is
of law, is set aside for baptism. Circumcision, as it is of Moses, is God's sign
set on the flesh, as bound by the powers of Nature to obey
every command. And flesh cannot win righteousness,
or inheritance by obedience. On
the contrary, it breaks up by disobedience an inheritance,
even when already possessed; as we see in
15. "Because the law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression."
God's plan to glorify Himself, and to show the creature his inability to stand when left to himself, is to use the principle of faith; and of promise. Law, applied to Christ the Perfect One, brought out perfection only. But law applied to man possessed of the lusts of fallen flesh, is at once condemned; before ever those lusts openly turn him aside. Law, therefore, with its stern commands, is the principle used by the Most High to teach the proud transgressor what evils dwell in him; and how unable he is to work out for himself a righteousness of obedience.
16. "Therefore it (inheritance) is of faith, that it might be by grace; so that the promise might be secure to all the Seed; not (1) to that only of the law, but (2) to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all."
Therefore God fixed on the principle of faith, as the only secure foundation of inheritance: faith which receives as true the [whole] testimony of the Most High.
The whole of the argument at this point turns on the two chapters, Genesis 15. and Genesis 17. Genesis 15. is the chapter of faith; specially of the faith of Abraham. Genesis 17. gives us to see in the patriarch, the combination in him with which the Lord was pleased - (1) of faith in the promise, and then (2) of obedience to the commands, which exercised faith, and led it to perfection: James 2: 21, 22.
But the two chapters of Genesis are so interlaced, yet so divided, that the seizing on the points of agreement, and of disagreement in the argument here, is only to be learned by light divine.
1. Abraham is justified by faith, and not by law as is evident from Genesis 15: 6.
Also the inheritance of the world is by faith
as the Lord says in 15: 7, "I am Jehovah thy
God who brought thee out from
[* Here the Hebrew word is taken in its widest sense.]
If I understand aright, the divisions of chapter 15., which follow, the foundations of the inheritance of Abraham, are two; (1) SACRIFICE, and (2) PROPHECY.
The sacrifices are offered to God; and are laid under death. Neither Abraham nor the men of law can inherit the earth while they are lying under death in Hades. Nor does Christ, who is away from earth in heaven, inherit the land promised in Genesis 15. But He is coming to take earth as the "kingdom of the Son of Man:" Matt. 13: 41, 42.
This is the force of the Saviour's argument with the Sadducees, who denied resurrection. They adduced the case of the woman who had seven husbands. To which of them in the resurrection should the woman belong? Matt. 22.
29. "Jesus answered and said unto them, 'Ye err, (1) not knowing the Scriptures, (2) nor the power of God." (1) The Scriptures affirm to us the counsels which God has decreed. (2) The power of God will certainly bring to pass these promises, however long they may be delayed; or even though those promises suppose the reconstruction of the dead bodies of men.
30. "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels of God in heaven."
Here we must be careful, lest we stumble. It appears to me that some of the patriarchs, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, will be included in this word. And certainly [some of] those who are members of Christ under the Gospel are included; whether they be alive when the Saviour comes down to us; or whether they are called out of the tomb to meet Him: 1 Thess. 4.
the description of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, the great centre of
the new heavens and earth, we find indications of some of the tribes of Israel
as dwelling in the city; or at least as "entering
through the gates into the city:" Rev.
21. On each of the gates is the
name of a tribe of
circumcision is no longer a step of faith is shown most strikingly in this,
that the Jews no longer argue with the Gentiles to make them obey circumcision.
But the sons of Ishmael, led by Mahomet,
no prophet of
To Ishmael (in Genesis 17.) God, at the prayer of Abraham in his behalf, promised to make him a great nation; while he did not give him the spiritual life for which Abraham asked. He adds, "But my covenant will I establish with Isaac."
Let us now consider the next paragraph of Genesis 15., which describes the history of Abraham's own life up to death, and the prophetic view of the twelve tribes.
12. "And when the sun was going down a deep sleep fell upon Abraham: and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him."
respects Abraham's death, which would take place some time before the captivity
13. "And He (Jehovah) said unto Abraham, ‘Know of a surety that thy seed (plural) shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years’."
14. "And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and after that they shall come out with great substance."
subject fills Exodus: while God Himself directed the Israelites, no longer
slaves, to ask (not 'borrow') of the condemned
Egyptians some of the dues of their service in
15. “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age."
is Abraham's death, and his being committed to the tomb at
16. "But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full."
We have now come to the last scene of Genesis 15., the deed of gift to Christ, the Heir of Abraham, and of the land of promise.
17. "And it came to pass that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a furnace of smoke and a torch of flame passed between those pieces."*
[* See Hebrew.]
This covenant is the one which Paul expounds for us in Galatians 3: 15-29.
The going down of the sun, and the consequent darkness, I take to be the death of Him who is the Light of the World. His departure has brought darkness and confusion; His return alone can bring, judgment, order, reward, and the Thousand Years' Kingdom of the Son of God, and of those chosen by Him. But before the [millennial] kingdom of glory come the trials of the way.
ceremonies of the covenant-making are intended, I believe, to show the truth of
the Great Principle laid down by Jehovah in
came "the furnace of smoke." Of that Moses
could say, "The Lord hath taken you forth out of
the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a
people of inheritance, as ye are this day:" Dent. 4: 20. And Solomon could say of
Two descriptions are given (in verses 18 to 21) of the land as secured to Christ before law came in.
The territory disposed of "Unto thy
Seed [which is Christ] have I given this land;
have imagined, that the ‘Wady El Arish' is 'the
3. There is in verses
19-21 a second view, giving the nations of the country thus defined. Ten nations are named. They are divided into
three, three, four. And they seem to be
enumerated, beginning, from the Euphrates down to the
Abraham, then, is the man of faith in God's promises: he sees something of the foretold trials of the way; of the Great Redeemer who is to spring from him, and of the inheritance made over to Him on earth. And now, in the new trial of Abraham the believer, the proposal of unbelief comes from Sarah.
The flesh prevails not. She feels it in her own case. But may not the promise of miracle be furthered by one younger than herself?
May not one out of that land help the family of faith? Sarah has a slave, an Egyptian, whose name is Hagar. May she not be helpful in bringing in the promise of God?
Abraham chose aright, and Lot wrongly, when the question related to the present enjoyment of the land of promise. But at Sarah's call Abraham takes the Egyptian: and at once peace and quiet leave the family. Abraham gives up to his wife the right of ruling. The Egyptian flees.
But God's eye is on the whole affair. An angel addresses the fugitive slave as 'the slave of Sarah.' She is to go back and submit.
That yielded, her Seed should be innumerable. Her child should be a son, whose name is given of God - ‘Ishmael.' The Most High has marked Sarah’s injustice, as well as Hagar's pride.
But Hagar's son's entrance into the world would not be for its profit. He would make an independent nation, standing apart from the former ones; but in spite of all he would hold his own. Hagar returns to Sarah, and the son is born to Abraham.
We have now therefore come to Genesis 17., or the covenant of circumcision. On this to enlarge would lead us too far away.
1. In it Abraham alone is justified by faith. He was obedient to the command, and to him it was the sign and seal of the righteousness of faith.
2. His seed under it were of the law and of the flesh; whether they were adult males, or new-born males. They were without faith, and condemned as sinners, imprisoned under law, till grace should come. Jews in Paul's day, and Moslems in this day, were, and are, thrusting Christians under law and circumcision and severing them from Christ, righteousness, and life: Gals. 5: 1-5.
3. Hence Paul's stern warning against Gentiles taking the step. Circumcision was no longer the step of faith; but was a testimony, that "the Lord our Righteousness" has not come, and so it is the ground of perdition.
4. How, then, does Genesis 17. apply to believers now? Abraham is to be our pattern regarding it. God sent the new sign and seal of righteousness. The sign is the reception by believers of immersion into Christ, and of putting Him on. "For ye are all sons of God by means of the faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have to put on the new righteousness of Jesus Christ.”
In Abraham's day circumcision was at once both sign and seal. In Paul's day, the seal was the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, bestowed, after immersion in water, on the men of faith.* But now there are no apostles, who, by laying on of hands, can give this seal. This, I think, is all which is necessary to be observed, in view of Paul's argument on Genesis 17.
[* 2 Cor. 1: 22; Eph. 1: 13; 4: 30; Acts 2: 38, 39, 40; 8: 15-21.]
The Holy Spirit next (in Romans 4: 13-15) treats of the eternal inheritance, which belongs to the justified,13-15. "For not by law was the promise to Abraham, or to his Seed, that he should be the heir of the world; but by the righteousness of faith. For if the men of law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of no effect. For law worketh wrath; for where there is no law, neither is there transgression."
So then God has adopted faith and grace, as the foundations of the eternal inheritance of the saved.
16. "For this cause it is of faith, that it might be by grace; so that the promise is sure to all the seed; not (1) to that which is of the law alone; but to that (2) also which is of the faith of Abraham: who is the father of us all."*
[* Abraham is the father of all the saved. (1) First, as the man of faith, righteousness, and justification. (2) Secondly, as the pattern of obedience after faith to the commands of God. (3) Thirdly, in regard of the certainty of the eternal inheritance.]
For Abraham has two innumerable Seeds; (1) that of his flesh –[ Israel in the flesh with their Messiah during the millennium] - whose heritage is the earth; (2) that of his faith, [and obedience] which is inheritor of the heaven[s] [and earth, after resurrection: “equal unto the angels” (Luke 20: 35, R.V.), and therefore able to rule in both spheres of the coming kingdom of Messiah].
17. "As it is written, 'I have mode thee father of many nations.'"
How was that true?
"In view of the God whom Abraham believed, (1) who giveth life to the dead; and (2) calleth the things that be not as though they were."
God had fixed His plan, and here announces it. Jehovah has but to determine on anything and it must come to pass, however great the difficulties which oppose it. Two views of God's Almightiness are here given.
1. "He giveth life to the dead."
And this, in Abraham's history after his circumcision, appeared in two ways.
1. God revivified the bodies of Abraham and Sarah: so that Abraham's long-promised single heir appeared, after hope from the powers of the flesh had long vanished. Isaac was born and named; and 'before him Ishmael and Hagar (his mother) were cast out’. Then speedily Sarah died.
2. But after Sarah's death Abraham married Keturah, and by her had some seven or eight sons (Gen. xxv. 1). Also by the concubines he had an unknown number. For he lived some seventy years after Sarah's death. Then he died, and was buried, as foretold (Gen. xv.). Here then was seen God's power to revivify before death.
11. "And calleth the things that be not as if they were". This is, no doubt, the other aspect of the matter. When Abraham had no son whom God could own, as of the promise, He speaks of the certainty of Abraham's fatherhood of many nations, because of His Almighty power. "I have made thee father."
And so it came to pass, before Abraham died. Next we have a view of the man of faith under these new circumstances.
18 "Who against hope believed in hope, so that he became father of many nations;* as it was said, 'So shall be thy seed.’”
[* Here it seems that "many nations" is to be taken in the sense of many individual Gentiles, raised from the dead.]
Here the apostle has quoted two of Jehovah's words: (1) one from Genesis 17: 5: or from the covenant of circumcision, and (2) one from Genesis 15: 5: or from, (2) the covenant of faith. And the last spoken of is put first. They are cited, I believe, to assure us of the immutable certainty of the heritage of the two Seeds; whether of the earth, or of the heaven. God has spoken; He will accomplish all His Word. There shall be the assembly of the Seed of Abraham as the stars of heaven, in the coming day of Jesus' return. John beheld it. "After these things I saw, and behold a Great Multitude, whom none could number, out of every nation, and tribe, and people, and tongue, standing [in resurrection-bodies] in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands,* and they are shouting with loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God, who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb."
[* It is the time of the heavenly feast of tabernacles; Lev. 23: 40. The fruit of the earth is gathered to the garner on high. Nehemiah’s keeping the feast on earth under the law, was but a poor thing compared with this: Nehem. 8: 14-18.]
Who are these? "These are the comers out of the Great Tribulation" [which has lasted, not 400 years alone, but all the Days of the Church], "and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."*
[* Far inferior to this was the Assembly at Horeb of the men of Abraham’s flesh, and the washing there: Ex. 19: 10, 11, 14.]
"Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple [as none but risen men can do]. And He that sitteth on the throne shall pitch tent over them.* "They shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun smite them, nor any burning [Num. 11: 1-3]. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to life's fountains of waters [Rev. 22: 1]; and God shall wipe all tears from their eyes:" Rev. 7: 9-17.
19. "And being not weak in faith, he regarded not his own body now dead, when he was somewhere about a hundred years old, nor the deadness of Sarah's womb."
In these words we are introduced to the chief difficulty facing the promise of God; or Isaac's birth of Abraham and Sarah. The promise of Abraham's fatherhood of many nations, accomplished after Sarah's death, was not so great as this. The counterpart of this view of Abraham's faith we have in Hebrews 11: 11, 12. "By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and that when beyond the season of life; since she judged Him faithful who promised. Therefore sprang there even from one, and him dead, as many as (1) the stars of the heaven for multitude; and as (2) the sand that is by the seashore is innumerable."
The birth of Isaac, the one heir of Abraham, was, indeed, the most wonderful of all in the Old Testament. But that in the New Testament, foretold by Isaiah, is more wonderful still. "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name 'Immanuel,"' which translated is "God with us." "Thou shalt call His name 'Jesus:' for HE shall save His people from their sins."
Great was the faith of Isaac, the son of Abraham, laid unresistingly on the altar: and great the oath of God, on which rests the faith of Abraham and ours.
But greater the glory of the Saviour, the sinless sacrifice, the Only Begotten of the Father; the Firstborn from among the dead.
It is to these calls of God on Abraham's faith that we are to refer what follows.
20. "But at the promise of God he staggered not in unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that whatever He promised He is able also to perform."
Part of what God promised Abraham was fulfilled by his revivification of body before death. But he was, as testified by Genesis 15., to die, and "be buried in a good old age."
There is, therefore, yet wanting the raising of Abraham's body from the, tomb. Until [the time of] the resurrection none of the patriarchs can enjoy the promised land. Scripture knows nothing of the ascending to heaven, and to the enjoyment of the Presence of God, while man is a spirit [i e., a disembodied soul] 'unclothed' by death. The Saviour teaches that Abraham is still in Hades; as well as the rich man and Lazarus. "In Hades the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom:" Luke 16: 23. The Saviour Himself, at His death, went to Hades; but His glory was, that while David's spirit [soul] is left there, His was not; but was raised from among the dead the third day: Acts 2: 27-31. And only "when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory."' Only then shall go forth the word of triumph, 'O, Death, where is thy sting? O, Hadees, where is thy victory?' 1 Cor. 15: 51, 55.
But the faith of Abraham embraced all the difficulties of God's promises, whether in the past, or still in the future.
22. "Wherefore also it was imputed to him unto righteousness."
Abraham's justifying faith abode to the close. And the two immutable transactions, in which it was “impossible for God to lie" [the (1) covenant of Genesis 15. ratified to him and to Christ; and the (2) oath over Isaac offered on the altar], “we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us:" Heb. 6: 18.
And now a word on the connexion of the inheritance here spoken of with the eternal state of things given at the close of the Apocalypse.
the end we have all nations and kings gathered together to fight against the Lord
Jesus. He puts them down by the sword: Rev. 19: 15. The devil is seized, and his power over the
nations is taken away for a thousand years: 20: 3.
Christ reigns over them. After the millennium Satan is loosed, and
gathers together the nations most distant from
comes the judgment of the Great White Throne. The Book of Life holds the names of God's
elect. Those there written are partakers
of eternal life. In chapter 21.
we have the new heavens and earth. The
centre of these is the New Jerusalem, the
who are the priests and kings that dwell evermore in the New Tabernacle, the
At the end of the chapter and the beginning of the next we have the nations rescued from the old earth. The New Jerusalem is their metropolis: they dwell in the 'country' outside it; and go up from time to time to worship at the New Jerusalem, as did the twelve tribes of Israel go up to the Jerusalem of earth: 21. The New Jerusalem is the city of light, and they are guided to it thereby. "The nations shall travel by its light:" verse 26. They bring presents in order to be admitted within its walls: verse 26. In return for this, they are fed awhile by the citizens on the fruits of the tree of life and the river of life. They carry back with them leaves of the tree of life: 22: 2.
Then we have the relative portion of the citizens, the servants of the Throne of God: 22: 3-5. They see the face of God continually, and reign over the nations "for ever and ever."
Of God and of Christ it is written: "The Lord God Almighty is the temple of the city; and the Lamb:" verse 22. "The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine for it: for the glory of God enlightened it, and its lamp is the Lamb:" verse 23. He is seated on the throne of His Father. And out of the Throne of God and of the Lamb proceeds the river of the water of life: 22: 1. There is the new and eternal Eden, the Paradise of God.
We return to Romans 4: 23-25.
23-25. "Now, it was not written for his sake alone (Abraham's), that it (righteousness) was imputed to him; but for our sakes also, to whom it is about to be imputed; if we believe on Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."
But if He were the Son of God, and perfect, why should He die? and the bitter death of betrayal, too?
"Who was given up because of our transgressions; and was raised up because of our justification."
Here, then, comes in the second justification yet to be, provided for in the word of David - "Blessed the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" in the great and public day to come, when, in resurrection bodies, we enter on our inheritance, at His justification pronounced over us.
The Lord accomplish it speedily!
NOTE. It is the disembodied soul of man that descends into Hades, not his spirit; the animating spirit returns to God at the time of death.