Experience of Abraham

Genesis 11-22
The experiences of the heart occupy a large place in the thoughts of Christians. It is nevertheless important always to judge them by the word of God. These experiences are the expression of the inward state of the heart, and of our relations with others, as well as of the sentiments which our conduct, in these same relations, produces in our hearts and in our consciences.
It is not necessary here to speak of the experience of an unconverted person, although such an one is nevertheless not without experiences. It is true, that he does not know God, but in a certain sense, he enjoys His goodness in nature; his conscience can blame him—he can be weary of sin, and alarmed at the thought of judgment. He can never forget the latter in the enjoyment of his family and society in a life naturally amiable; but he can do no more.
Nevertheless there is a great variety in the experiences of men in whom the Spirit of God is working. This difference arises, on the one hand, from the relations in which we stand to God, and, on the other, from our conduct in the same relations. It is true that God has not put us under the law; nevertheless an awakened conscience is, as regards its relationship to God, either under the law or under grace. The Spirit of God, Who has awakened it, has caused its light to enter, and produces there the feeling of its responsibility. I am under the law as long as I make my acceptance with God to depend on my faithfulness to God, that is, on the fulfillment of my duties. If, on the other hand, the love of God and His work in Christ are, for my conscience, the only and perfect ground of adoption, then am I under grace. The Holy Spirit cannot weaken the responsibility; but He can reveal to me that God has saved my soul, which was lost because my life did not answer this responsibility.
As long as the awakened soul remains under the law, it has sad experiences; it feels that it is guilty according to the law, and that it has no power to keep it. It is well aware that the law is good; but, in spite a all its efforts, it does not attain its object, which is obedience. The experiences of souls in such a state are the experiences of their sin—of their weakness and of the power of sin. Even supposing such a soul should not be as yet altogether brought to despair by the expectation of the just judgment of God, because it experiences in a slight degree the love of God, and because it hopes in the work of Christ, there will not be less uncertainty as to its relations with God, and this gives place to alternations of peace and trouble.
In the latter case, the soul has indeed been drawn by grace; but the conscience has not been purified, and the heart not set at liberty. These experiences are useful, in order to convince us of sin and weakness, and to destroy all confidence in ourselves. It is necessary that we should feel ourselves condemned before God, and that we should know, that henceforth all depends on His unmerited grace.
It is otherwise when our conscience is purged, and we have understood our position before God in Christ. Condemned in the presence of God, we understand that God has loved us, and that He justifies us by the work of His Son; we understand that sin is taken away, and our conscience is made perfect. We have no longer conscience of sins before God, because He Himself has taken them away forever by the blood of Christ, and that blood is always before His eyes, we know that, being united with Christ Who has fully glorified God in that which concerns our sins, we have been made the righteousness of God in Him. So the heart is free to enjoy His love in the presence of God.
Thenceforth we are under grace. Our relations with God depend thenceforth on God's nature, and the righteousness which Christ is become for us. Our relations with God do not depend on what we are before Him as responsible beings. Our experiences henceforth ever return to this; that God is love, that Christ is our righteousness, and that God is our Father. We have communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We enjoy all the privileges of that relation. Nevertheless the use which we make of our privileges affects that enjoyment. These relations remain constantly the same, as well as the perception which we have of them; but the enjoyment of what God is in that relation depends on our conduct in such a position.
The experiences are always founded on my relations with God. Am I sad? It is because the communion with God—communion which answers to my relations to Him—is interrupted. I feel that I do not enjoy the blessed communion to which I have attained, and it is this that causes my sadness; but this does not arise from uncertainty as to the communion itself. The flesh has no relations with God; and the flesh is ever in us. And “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:55And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:5)). By this Spirit we have communion with the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:33That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)); and we are called on to walk in the light, as God Himself is light (1 John 1:77But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)). Our communion with God depends on our walking according to the light, although, when we have lost it, God can visit us by His grace, and restore communion. But God is faithful and does not permit sin in His children. If they do not walk with Him in the light, He will cause them to pass through all the trials and all the conflicts necessary to bring them to the knowledge of themselves, that they may remain in the light, and that their communion may be true and pure.
It is true that these trials and conflicts do not affect our relations with God, because these depend on what God is in Christ, according to His graze and righteousness; but the suspension of communion with God, a suspension which puts us outside of the enjoyment of the light, brings us into all kinds of conflicts, and painful and humbling experiences of what our own heart really is. God Himself also employs correction to humble us and break our will. Not only is the actual fall into sin an opportunity for the dealing of God with our souls, but all that is hard and rebellious in our souls also affords an opportunity for it. The consequence of these truths is, that the experiences of a soul that walks with God are far more simple than the experiences of an unfaithful soul; and, nevertheless, the knowledge of God and of the heart of man will be far deeper in the former case. As long as we walk in communion with Him, we walk in the light; and we have in His presence the continual sense of His fatherly lore. Nevertheless this presence acts upon our soul to manifest all that is not in harmony with the light.
The judgment of ourselves takes place in the presence of God, in the sense of His love, and in connection with that love. Sin has the character of everything which is not light; and is judged, not only because sin cannot agree with holiness, but also because it does not agree with the love of God.
With hearts purified by the love of God, and strengthened by communion with Him, the grace which acts thus in us takes the place of sin which has been judged; and thenceforth our walk in the world is the effect of the communion of God in our hearts. We carry God, so to speak, through the world in, our hearts. Filled with His love, and living in the power of the life of Christ, that which Satan offers does not tempt us. Our worldly trials become a motive to obedience and not to sin. The presence of God in our hearts preserves us in our relations with men. Thenceforth we experience proofs of our corruption in the presence of God, and in communion with Him. It is thus we judge sin in ourselves, and sin thus judged does not appear in our walk. But if we do not walk in fellowship with God, if sin is not thus judged, we walk more or less in the world with a rebellious will and lusts unjudged. The action of our self-will makes us uneasy, because we are not satisfied. Are we satisfied? Then God is forgotten. Satan presents temptations which answer to unjudged lusts; then the corruption of the heart manifests itself by a fall and by our relations with Satan, which take the place of our relations with God. Such a knowledge of the corruption of our heart will be never so deep, never so clear, never so true, as that which we shall have obtained in the presence of God by the light itself. We shall know sin by sin, by a bad conscience, instead of knowing it by the light of God Himself. We shall be humbled instead of being humble. The faithfulness of God will restore the soul; but the continued power and growing light of His communion will not be the same. It is true we shall experience His patience and His goodness; but we shall not know God in the same way as when walking faithfully in communion with Him. It is true, God glorifies Himself by His ways with such a soul, because all things concur to His eternal glory; but the knowledge of God grows by communion with Him.
The life of Abraham and that of Jacob come in the way of interesting examples, in support. of what we have been saying. It is true that neither the law, nor the fullness of grace, had been as yet revealed. Nevertheless, as we see in Heb. 11, the principles of the life of faith on the promises of God were in general the same.
“In many things we all offend.” Abraham himself failed in faith on some occasions; but, in general, his life was a walk of faith with God. This is the reason why his experiences are of another nature, far more intimate with God, and more simple, than those of Jacob. His history is short, and not rich in incidents; while the communications of God, to this patriarch are numerous and frequent. In his history there is much about God, and little about man. With one single exception Abraham always remained in the land of promise. He was indeed a stranger and pilgrim, because the Canaanite dwelt there (Gen. 12:66And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. (Genesis 12:6)); but he was in relation with God, and walked before Him.
At first when God had called him, he had not fully answered this call. It is true, he left indeed his country and kindred, but not his father's house, and so, he did not arrive in Canaan. It is true, he had given up a great deal; he had gone from Ur in Chaldea, but he came no farther than Haran and rested there (chap. 11:31, 32). So it is with the heart that has not learned that it belongs entirely to God. It is only in conformity with the call of God that we can enter into the position of the promise. Alter the death of his father Terah, Abraham started at the command of God; and they set out to come into the land of Canaan, and into it they came (chap. 12:5). Here we have the position of the heavenly people. Placed, by the grace and power of God, in a heavenly position, of which Canaan is a figure, they dwell there; they have everything in promise, but nothing as yet in possession. The Lord revealed Himself to Abraham in calling him; He reveals Himself anew to him in the place which he now knew and which he was going to possess: “I will give this land to thy posterity” (ver. 7). Such is in general our confidence in God, that we shall possess really in future that which we know now as strangers.
“And Abram built there an altar to the LORD, Who had appeared to him” (ver. 7). He serves God and enjoys communion with Him. Thence he goes into another place and there pitches his tent; he builds anew an altar to the LORD, and calls on the name of Jehovah (ver. 8). He is a pilgrim in the land of promise; and that is his entire history. We dwell in the heavenly places, we enjoy them by faith; and we have communion with God Who brought us thither. Abraham's tent and altar in this place give a character to his whole history, and all the experiences of faith consist in that.
His unbelief brings him into Egypt (ver. 10-20). There he had no altar. An Egyptian servant-maid becomes afterward the occasion of his fall, and a source of trouble to him. She is, as we learn in Gal. 4:24, 2524Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. (Galatians 4:24‑25), a type of the law; for the law and the flesh are always in relationship with each other. The grace of God brings Abraham back; but he does not regain an altar till he has returned to the place where he first pitched his tent, and to the altar which he had built before: there he has communion afresh with God (chap. 13:3, 4).
The promises of God are the portion of Abraham. He lets Lot take what he pleases: Is not the whole land before thee? Depart from me, I pray thee. If thou choosest the lefts I will take the right; and if thou take the right, I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the whole plain of Jordan, which; before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, was watered throughout until one comes to Zoar, like the garden of the Lord, and like the land of Egypt. And Lot chose for himself the whole plain of Jordan” (ver. 9-11). Lot is the type of a worldly believer. He takes that which for the moment appears the better part, and chooses the place over which the judgment of God is suspended. Abraham had given up everything according to the flesh, and God shows him the whole extent of the promise. He gives him a visible proof of that which He has given him; and confirms it to him forever (ver. 14-18). Lot, the worldly believer, is overcome by the princes of the world. Abraham delivers him. With the servants of his house he overcomes the power of the enemy (chap. 14:1-21). He will receive nothing of the world. He says to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted up my hand to the LORD, the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth, saying, Surely I will take nothing of all that belongeth to thee, from a thread to a shoe-latchet, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abraham rich” (ver. 22-23).
Afterward God reveals Himself to Abraham as his buckler and great reward. He promises him a posterity at a time when his body was now dead. Justified by faith, he receives the confirmation of the promises of God, who binds Himself by a sacrifice, type of the sacrifice of Christ. Then the inheritance is shown him in its details (chap. 15.).
Following the counsels of the flesh, Abraham desires for a moment the fulfillment of the promise by the law; that is to say, by Hagar. But thus he only learns that it is impossible that the child of the law should inherit with the child of promise (chap. 16.).
Then God reveals Himself anew as God Almighty. He tells him he shall be the father of many nations, and that God will be his God forever (chap. 17:1-14). The posterity according to the promise is promised again (chap. 17:15-19).
After that, God once more visits Abraham, and gives him positive promises respecting the approaching birth of his son (chap. 18:9-15). He looks upon him as His friend, saying, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am, going to do?” (Chap. 17). He communicates to him His thoughts concerning the world, and Abraham converses with Him in perfect peace and intimacy. He prays for those who had forgotten the Lord (chap. 18: 23-33). It was necessary that Abraham should again experience, in the case of Ishmael, that the law produces sadness and anguish; and at the court of Abimelech he learned to know, that, when unbelief is in action, it only produces troubles and sorrows. But God, in His faithfulness, watches over him, as well as over the mother of the posterity.
Abraham then has learned by a fall that neither the law nor the promise are of any avail for the flesh. Nevertheless, in general, his peculiar experiences consisted in pilgrimage and adoration all the time he continued in the promised land. We have now remarked that his life is characterized by a tent and an altar. The whole experience, the whole life, of the faithful Abraham, consists almost entirely of worship, intercession, and revelations from God; so that he learned to comprehend these latter with increasing clearness and accuracy. He passed his time in the place to which God had called him. The revelations of God were for him, rich, sweet, and admirable; his knowledge of God intimate and deep; his personal experiences happy and simple; for he walked with God, Who had revealed Himself to him in grace.