The Declared Purpose and Present Moral Processes: 3. The History of Faith

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When the power of imitation was denied to Satan, the sovereignty of mercy was declared toward Israel. This alone made the difference between Israel and Egypt: no merit or worth in Israel; only grace, and the purposes of grace. “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.” (Rom. 9.15.) Where all are sinners, the sovereignty of mercy chooses its objects. Unless grace be sovereign, none could escape condemnation. God works in saving power from motives found only in Himself. “So it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” This difference of mercy was seen in that night when from every house of Egypt the wail of death was heard, the Israelites were kept in peace. “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that Jehovah doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” (Ex. 11:77But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. (Exodus 11:7).) Again, how manifestly the difference is seen in the last miracle! Israel passed through the Red Sea with Jehovah as their rearguard. The cloud of His presence came between them and their enemies. The cloud was darkness to Egypt, light to Israel. For Israel the power of the Creator-God held up the waters as a wall on each side, and the Canaan shore of the Red Sea was reached under His guidance and protection. To Egyptians the Red Sea was death. It was another solemn night of judgment to be remembered. The king and his army attempted to go through the waters of death, armed against Jehovah. After repeated proofs of His power, and of the impotency of their idols, they dared the mighty God to the conflict. Israel, weak and terrified, might be an easy prey; but God who had called them was there, and He looked through the pillar of fire and of cloud, He troubled the Egyptian host, He took off their chariot-wheels, and the vaunted king and his army, affrighted, were again compelled to own the power of the God of Israel. “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for Jehovah fighteth for them against the Egyptians.” Too late. No sooner is the last Israelite safe on the shore than God withdraws His restraining hand, and the seething waters engulf the Egyptian host. The morning saw their dead bodies on the sea-shore. The glory and the power of the defiant king was destroyed. His gods could not save him. The demons that stood behind their idols, and received homage through them, are vanquished by the judgment of Jehovah. “He hath triumphed gloriously.”
Such were the first tremendous and solemn lessons of God against idolatry. Ought it not to have been sufficient to have banished idolatry from the earth forever? Alas for man no. The very people who had beheld this stupendous intervention of God on their behalf, and His judgment upon the false gods of Egypt and their worshippers, did themselves become the insane votaries of Baal, when another display of Jehovah's supremacy was made. Those who had seen Him executing judgment upon the idols of Egypt provoked Him to jealousy. Though the scene with Elijah and the prophets of Baal be on a smaller scale morally, it is equally grand and magnificent. In a moment the prayer of Jehovah's prophet is answered, and God's fire descends, and offering, wood, stones, water, all are consumed, and the guilty, idolatrous people are constrained to shout, “Jehovah, he is God.” True, the active abettors and agents of Baal's worship were slain; but how largely mercy is here mingled with judgment! At the Red Sea it was judgment for the Egyptians without mercy. God's forbearance had been despised till there was no remedy.
If the chosen people fell into the snare of idolatry, the Gentile nations were also enslaved by it. The form and the visible object of man's worship might vary according to the different condition, physical and intellectual, of the nations, and also influenced by climate and country. But the same demons were there behind; sometimes they hid themselves beneath the form of beasts, or, meeting the evil imagination of man, were shrouded in mental imagery, with which they of old were wont to people Elysium; though, even then, there must be a tangible symbol, for man must see something. The wisdom and cunning of the old serpent did not limit itself to the presenting of images made of gold and silver-this might suffice for the “profanum vulgus,” but for the cultivated and the intellectual, he provided the impersonation of an idea (always evil), and thus, if possible, was relatively nearer the wise and the great than to the vulgar crowd, who only saw the image. In times later than Egyptian, Satan served himself with the religious element of man's nature, by drawing upon his imagination, and the tradition of the giants who lived before the flood, amplified and exaggerated by the devilish and sensual fecundity of the human mind, furnished the material for another kind of idolatry than the stupid worship of the reptiles and river of Egypt. There indeed we see degradation, not surpassed perhaps anywhere; but corruption was as prevalent in the most esthetical systems found in Greece and Rome. Indeed the invariable accompaniments of idolatry are degradation and corruption. When the image alone is seen, the very grossness of the homage paid somewhat hides from view the reality behind it; but when the mental vision is not limited to the figure of gold or silver before the eye, and it rests upon an image of the mind-the intensified reflection of himself, the idolater is so much the more in the presence of Satan, and therefore more under his power. So that in the idolatry of the world we have the seeming paradox of a sham and a delusion, and yet the reality of Satanic power. To worship idols is a terrible delusion, but it is kept up by the power of the devil, and therefore an awful reality.
How subtle this power is! Idolatry is the universal sin of the world. No nation is free; no place where Satan, as the god of this world, has not, in some form or other, made himself the object of man's homage; more covertly than openly in most places. But whether the idol be religious forms, or the power, riches, pleasures of the world, or a material image, the effect is the same. Corruption in its varied forms, religious, intellectual, or in a still lower sense, keeps pace with the world's idolatry. And in equally varied forms appear its inseparable accompaniments—degradation and violence.
Such the condition of man. He feels the necessity of having a god, but is so ignorant of the true God, that he makes one for himself. The carpenter, with rule and compass, fashions his god “after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man.” So it is the image of himself that he worships. Having chosen his tree, “he burneth part thereof in the fire, with part thereof he eateth flesh, he roasteth roast, and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire. And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god.” (Isa. 44:12-1712The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint. 13The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house. 14He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. 15Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. 16He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: 17And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god. (Isaiah 44:12‑17).)
What a picture of idolatrous folly! Well it deserved the cutting sarcasm of Elijah, “Cry aloud, for he is a god.” How complete the subjugation of the human mind to the power of Satan! Even if here and there a stronger intellect sees and despises such folly, it is only to become an infidel and deny God altogether. Yet is he an idolater, for, though he does not fall down before a graven image, he does to his own intellect, and is equally the slave of sin. For the cultivated infidel of old time was morally on a level with the superstitious crowd. All fell below the level of the brute in the vileness of their nature. They were given up to vile affections. (Rom. 1)
This was the heathen world. Though paganism be banished from many countries-now called Christendom-yet is idolatry as rampant as when Jupiter was worshipped as father of gods and men, and now infinitely more offensive to God, for it is linked with the name of Christ. Is the worship of the virgin, the elevation of the “host,” the homage paid to saints so called, the reverence for relics, less idolatry than. that of pagan Rome? Is the superstition with which the ignorant visit shrines and believe in apparitions less gross than when heathens visited the shrines and consulted the oracles of old? Is the power and delusion of Satan less real at places visited by crowds of deluded people, than when pagans sought for wisdom at Delphi and other like places Are there not sufficient points of resemblance to prove both the ancient and the modern shrine to be the result of Satanic delusion? Is it not a thousandfold a greater sin and delusion now than before? For now the true Light shines, and men willfully shut their eyes. The pagan oracles were silenced when Christ came, but Satan is reviving them in the lying wonders of the present day. Some may deny them, and attribute all to the cunning of priestcraft. But even so they are believed in by the mass, and the effect upon them is morally the same.
It may be that there is some truth in the reported cures of bodily diseases at these shrines, just as there were undoubtedly some remarkable things said and done at the pagan oracle. But what does this prove? That Satanic power is as real now as then, only infinitely worse now, for the devilish cunning of the old serpent has linked it with the name of Christ. Granted that there may have been cures of physical ailment, they are de facto miracles of lies, and are preparatory to the greater delusion near to come. The complete manifestation of Satan's power is not yet seen. It is coming. A living man will set himself up, and give out that he is God, will set aside all other idolatry, and attract the world's worship to himself, and will put himself in direct antagonism to the Lord, the Christ of God. This will be the climax of the world's iniquity. Then nothing will be restrained; man will then have reached the point aimed at when he began to build the tower of Babel. The cup is full, man is ripe for judgment. It falls, and He whose right it is takes the kingdom. God's enemy has been allowed to do his utmost, that the power and supremacy of the Lord Christ might be made known to all. The extreme limit of sin and rebellion is attained, that sovereign grace in the person of Christ might be seen in crushing the serpent's head, and delivering the human race from worse than Egyptian bondage and degradation. The Lord Jesus will accomplish it, and God in Christ be proclaimed the Savior-God.
While the Gentile world was sinking deeper and deeper in sin, without hope and without God, given over to a reprobate mind, God, in the midst of a chosen people, was preparing the way for the accomplishment of His own counsel. Long before judgment was executed upon the idols of Egypt, and preliminary to it, He began to form a depositary for the truth of His, unity, which was then lost to the world. Abram was called out from idolatry, and separated from all the families of the earth. He and Isaac and Jacob were called to be pilgrims and wanderers, that their descendants, thus brought up in entire separation from the Gentile, and forbidden to mingle with the nations, might be the conservers of the truth that there is but one God, and His name one. This truth was lost; but man was inexcusable, and the word (Rom. 1) declares it. For the invisible things of God are perceived, being apprehended by the mind through the things that are made, both His eternal power and divinity, so as to render man inexcusable; and according as he did not think good to have God in his knowledge, God gave him up to a reprobate mind. Man willfully shut his eyes to the truth, and in righteous judgment he was blinded; and not only blinded to the truth of one God, but even to the common light, of nature, and became filled with all unrighteousness. He could not be reinstated in his original position, for the gate of Eden was closed, and flaming cherubim barred the way. So we see God begins a new thing, marking out a new way, for the saint. Faith, with a character not seen before, that is, separation from the world, having the promise of all things, the possession of nothing is the first aspect presented in this new way; and by such means the flood of idolatry was to be stemmed. The call of Abram is the first direct step to accomplish this. The previous dealings of God were but introductory. Not only must the knowledge of the one true God be brought back to man, but also the means of relationship between God and man must be made known, and now on a new footing. All the past history made plain, that by failure in righteousness man could not be accepted of God by his works. That link which was given to Adam in Eden was irretrievably broken. Henceforth the link of life between God and man was to be faith.
Before Abram there had been saints-Abel, Enoch, and Noah, who lived by faith. But Abram is called to a peculiar place. The former saints were not separated from their connections, were not manifest pilgrims as Abram was. Even the saints in Israel, when God as Jehovah was acting among them, were not called to such a peculiar place as was Abram. For them the earth was a place of blessing in the possession of it. The promises made to Abraham look chiefly to the earth, and will be fulfilled when Israel regain their land. His faith, in his wanderings and trials, is mainly, if not altogether, characteristic of the saints in the Spirit. He was a wanderer; his tent and his altar went with him. So with the saints now. The tent, that which we need as living in this world; the altar, indicating communion with God, and worship. Not a foot of ground did Abram possess. He had to buy a burial-place for his wife; and this with the consciousness that the land wherein he was a stranger was all his own by right of the gift of God. This is the kind of faith which was new, and it was in the exercise of such faith as this that the knowledge of God, then so utterly lost, was brought again to man. How deep the fall, when God has to begin with the fundamental truth of His own Godhead; but what a blessed way in bringing back the knowledge of God!
So Abraham's faith, in respect of the promises as its object, is the pattern for the faithful Israelite; as a pilgrim, possessing nothing here below, it is the pattern for the saints of the church now. Thus he is called the father of the faithful, whether of the former dispensation or of the present time. He believed God and therefore confided in the promises of God. But he, apart from promise, believed in God-” I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” This founds but goes beyond promises of the earth. It is God giving Himself as the object of faith, not taking away the promise, but Himself as the resting-place for faith. God bound Himself to Abram by promise, Abram was linked to God by faith.
What a wonderful means, and blessed, is faith! what power God has connected with it! Nothing in itself but the expression of weakness and dependence, but joined indissolubly to the word of God, how great its power! “Have faith in God,” it removes mountains. The Lord Jesus said, “All things are possible to faith.” In 1 Cor. 13 it is one of the three cardinal and ever-abiding characteristics of saints; and if we would know its power, its victories over every foe, its endurance in every trial, see God's list of heroes in Heb. 11. One leaves his father's house and his kindred, content to be a stranger and a pilgrim at the call of God. By another the treasures of Egypt are not esteemed, the reproach of Christ being to him greater riches. It makes a poor sinful woman stand alone for the truth of God's judgment against a whole city. In a word, enemies are overcome, torture is endured, world's pleasures despised. What an estimate God puts upon those who have such faith-” Of whom the world is not worthy.” This faith is God's gift, and we can say-not that we could tell it beforehand-that nothing but the principle of faith could bring man, fallen as he is, into living and loving relationship with God. The cross, while meeting all the claims of God in righteousness and holiness against sin, affords the only true and solid basis for faith; for by it God is supremely glorified, and righteous in justifying the ungodly. Through it the believer receives power over the world. As John says, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:55Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:5).)
Faith not only separates from the world, but connects the believer with glory. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:1, 21Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1‑2).) It entails, may be, a life of privation down here, but it ensures the inheritance above. It leads into continuous conflict with Satan, the world, and the flesh, but it has the crown of victory assured. The conflict here below causes tribulation; not that tribulation which results from failure and unfaithfulness, when grace chastens us for our faults, and we humble ourselves tinder the rod. But the tribulation which faith brings is the first link of the chain which connects us with the glory of God. Nor are there many links, the chain is not long. Tribulation worketh patience, patience worketh experience, and experience, hope. It is remarkable that the word here does not tell us what hope works, but what it does not work, “it maketh not ashamed;” its influence so permeates the life of faith, that all is included in it, for it is the hope of the glory of God. Are we in tribulation through faithfulness to God and His truth? Then have we got hold of the first link of that chain of which the last is riveted to glory, the glory of God. Therefore we rejoice in tribulation, for it connects us with the glory of God. Thus the believer can look upon every foe as a conquered foe, and can clothe himself with victory as with a garment ready-made. Only he must put it on. Faith in Him “who fought the fight alone” wins every battle. Yea, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. Faith teaches even now the victor's song.
And Jesus is not only the Object of faith, He is the Pattern. The Spirit of God has placed before our eyes the worthy deeds of those who stood in the fore-front of the battle-field of faith in old time for our emulation—a great crowd of witnesses to the power of faith. But for us there is but one way of following in the path where they were found, and it is by looking off from them to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith. He is the Author, for if there were no cross, there could be no faith. For faith must have a foundation. The foundation is truly the word of God, but that word is the truth of the cross. Through Him that was nailed to it we receive faith; it is for His sake alone that the Spirit creates faith in our hearts, and sustains it all through our pilgrimage, until our journey ends in being with Him, and then we have Him too as the reward of faith. When we see Him; faith ceases. So He is the Finisher of faith. Loving faith has its own termini in the cross and the coming of the Lord. We only love Him in presence of that wondrous expression of His love which was first in exercise,” We love him because he first loved us;” and then begins the faith that works by love. When we see Him at His coming there is no more room for faith, “for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” (Rom. 8) But it is Jesus Himself that we see, both in the cross and at the coming. He is the Author and Finisher. He is also the Pattern for faith; His whole life here below as man is one perfect teaching of faith. What absolute submission to the will of God! What complete abnegation of His own! He alone had a holy will-He alone had a right to have a will. He was always in accord with His Father-” I do always the things that please him.” (.John 8:2929And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29).) But He would give us a divine example. Even in His agony He said “Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:4242Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42).) Therefore we look away from all others, however bright they may be. In Him we have the perfect Pattern, and nowhere else. Every other failed in one point, if not more. So we have the Lord Jesus, the Author and Finisher, the Pattern and the reward of faith. Jesus, the only absolutely faithful Man, has His reward in that God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name, and to whom all creation is to bow the knee. Grace give to us that we shall be with Him in His glory, and shall behold Him in it.
If this fuller power and glory of faith only came out later, the principle was seen in Abram, as the way in which God could reveal Himself anew to man. With Abram, called out from much that he held dear in this world, we have the intimacies of God, and the details of faith, which are not given in the brief notices of. Abel, Enoch, and Noah. In these three we have the three essentials of true faith given in a word. Abel submitted to God's righteousness, the first step in the path of faith. He bowed to the judgment of God, by his act he confessed his own life forfeited, and brings a lamb as a substitute; “he obtained witness that he was righteous;” and God accepts his offering as of faith. In Enoch it is the walk of faith: he “walked with God.” This is communion. And so Enoch has the best testimony, for God saw that Enoch pleased Him. This is more than being called righteous. The Spirit, in Heb. 11, does not say that Noah had a testimony from God, but he became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. Gen. 6 tells us that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, that he was a just man and perfect in his generations, and walked with God. But Enoch alone had the testimony that be pleased God. To have such testimony from God is astonishing, yet how precious! There was but one other Man that had direct testimony from God that He pleased Him. Ah, but that other Man was God, and the voice from heaven did not only say Jesus pleased God, but, “in whom I am well pleased"-pleased to the utmost. In this, as in all else, Jesus must have the preeminence. All saints when in glory will have the consciousness of God's delight in them, but Enoch had this testimony before his translation, while yet a man here below.
So then in Abel, Enoch, and Noah there are what characterize three distinct epochs of the ways of God with man. Abel offered blood, and, doing it in faith, God said he was righteous. This characterized the saints under the law, who by faith offered up the sacrifices prescribed in the Mosaic ritual. Enoch, having the testimony of his acceptableness, and being translated, tells of the higher place and better hope of saints now. To have the witness of the Spirit that we are children of God, to have the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, Abba, Father, and to wait for the Son from heaven, was not, nor was possible to be, the condition of saints before Christ came, nor can it be after His coming. There can be no waiting for the Son in the future dispensation, for the coming of the Son is expressive of one act, which cannot be repeated. These privileges are conferred upon the church by His grace. God is pleased with the church as being the special result of His work of grace. It is the pearl of great price, for which the merchantman sold all he had to secure it. Nothing more expresses God's pleasure-I do not say in each individual member, for alas failure in walk marks us, but in the church as a whole. Noah, heir of the righteousness which is by faith, marks the position of millennial saints; for he entered upon a new earth, purged by the deluge from the corruption of the antediluvian race: type of those who are brought through the judgment when the Son of man appears in the clouds of heaven, of Israel; who will enter into the inheritance of their land, given of God, when the waters of rebellion shall have gone off the face of the earth. To Noah, when he came out of the ark, the earth was as an inheritance. God establishes him as the ruler of all, and makes a new grant of it to him, in terms more extended than to Adam; and because sin had caused that even the beast might shed man's blood, the word is given, “at the hand of every beast will I require it.” So, not only of man, but of beast, God would have satisfaction. Why? Because blood was become a precious thing, and that in view of the precious blood of Christ, infinite in its preciousness and worth. Blood was to make atonement, therefore blood is a sacred tiling; it was not to be eaten with the flesh, but, as it were, poured out before God.” (Gen. 6:20-7:720Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. 21And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them. 22Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. 1And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. 2Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. 3Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. 4For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. 5And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him. 6And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth. 7And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood. (Genesis 6:20‑7:7).)
Noah was the first man to whom authority over his fellows was given. The sword was put by God into his hand. Men now deride the “divine right” of kings. But the right and authority to govern is the gift of God, and does not depend upon the use made of it. What use did Pilate make of his power, when he condemned the Lord Jesus to be crucified, saying, while condemning, that He was a man in whom he found no fault? Yet did the Lord say that Pilate's power was given from above. (John 19:1111Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. (John 19:11).) Men deceive themselves in saying the source of authority is with them. It never was-it never will be. “Vox populi” may be trumpeted forth as sovereign. It is Satan's means to deny the prerogative of God, and vain foolish man falls easily into the snare. “Vox Dei,” they say, is but the cunning of priestcraft. When God ceases to appoint rulers, Satan will. He will give his power to the beast. Democracy in essence is from beneath; it is Satan's opposition to the appointment of God. Its most strenuous advocates are found in the ranks of infidelity.
Moreover, in these three saints who lived before the flood, in the way in which the Spirit of God speaks of their faith, we see that which marks the individual saint of the church now. For in Abel's there is reconciliation; in Enoch, communion; and in Noah, righteousness-that is, practical righteousness-and given in the right order. A sinner must be reconciled to God before he can have communion, and there can be no acceptable righteousness which has not communion with God as its spring. The very order of the things which God tells of is full of instruction.
In Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we have the detail of life, where are given, not only the victories of faith, but also the failures of the believer. God teaches us as much by their failures as by their victories. The importance and value of faith are seen in each as that which alone keeps us in the right way, and makes us acceptable. Absolutely, it is only grace, which flows in such deep streams through the cross, which puts us in this position; morally, it is, and must be, by faith, and a faith which must be operative in all the circumstances of life. So when God separated a family for Himself, He gave daily lessons in the power and endurance of faith. Besides this, there are doubtless typical teachings in the different circumstances and events of their lives. Yet we may say that one object (not the only one), before the mind of God in the whole history of these patriarchs, was to show the need of faith as the moral process by which man was to be brought into a righteous and holy place of obedience and worship-a place which leaves to God all the work of bringing us there, and at the same time keeping us as intelligent creatures in the place of responsibility. In a word, the place is where God is known as a Savior-God, and man as an intelligent worshipper.
I am not looking only at the faith, nor at the failures of the patriarchs, nor at them as types and illustrations of things afterward fully revealed, but at this fact also, that God was preparing a place and a people where to record His name-in His wisdom a necessary preparation, so that when judgment was executed upon the idols of Egypt, there might be a people ready to bear witness to it, and to preserve the truth of His unity and Godhead-” to whom were committed the oracles of God.”
There are seven periods, or phases, clearly distinct in the history of this wonderful people of Israel, each one a step in the moral process necessary to fit them for their destined place in the counsels of God. Just as there was a material process from the “beginning,” till man was made, so there is a moral process with this people, that they may be fitted for the high honor of having Jesus, the Messiah, as their King. They are to be a kingdom of priests-all their children taught of God. This was proposed to them first on the ground of legal obedience, but they failed, and lost everything. It was God's purpose, however, that they should be such; and grace in sovereign power comes in to make them what they could never attain to on the ground of responsibility. In God's wisdom a moral process was needed to teach them what they were, and to display the patience and power of grace.
The first period may be called the family period, as distinguished from their existence as a nation; this is from the call of Abram to the going into Egypt. Second, from this point to the establishment of kingly rule in David, a period when the high priest was the first man in the nation-Moses baying had a place peculiar as their leader through the wilderness-who had to do immediately with God as King. Third, the time of the kings who had the place of being the representatives of the nation before God, closing with the carrying away to Babylon. Fourth, thence onward to the birth of Christ. Fifth, the brief period of His life here. Sixth, their present dispersion. The seventh (yet future) is the time of millennial glory. To these distinct periods there are features peculiar to each, most of them distinguished by their condition as a nation, and their position before God, and the lessons He was teaching in each. But the family lesson, the domestic training, comes first-God's rights in the family circle. These are as important as His authority over conscience and individual action. Alas! God's authority in family matters is too often unremembered by saints now. Christian parents are responsible to keep their children, even while unconverted, according to God's order of what a Christian household should be. In the household of Abraham there is much more of godly order than in that of Jacob. In them we see the exercise of faith, and consequent blessing, or the lack of faith, and the sure rebuke and chastening.
As a family, the patriarchs were wonderfully and graciously preserved separate from the surrounding people. And in perfect accordance with a family character are God's dealings with them, and the manner of His communications. What can show this more than the visit of the three men on the eve of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Jehovah appeared unto them (Gen. 18:11And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; (Genesis 18:1)); but he saw three men. Not at first did Abraham recognize the presence of Jehovah. When the two angels had left, to execute God's judgment upon the guilty cities (Gen. 19:11And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; (Genesis 19:1)), then Abraham was conscious of being in the presence of Jehovah. But mark the familiar, yet holy, communing: “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” How expressive is this of intimacy! And in Abraham's intercession for the righteous (if any) in Sodom, he takes the place of a suppliant. Nowhere is there a brighter instance of power and patient grace waiting upon the pleadings of faith. If Abraham be familiar in his pleadings, it is the familiarity of lowly and holy confidence in God. The manner of his intercession shows how God condescended to talk with Abraham. If intimacy was less with Isaac and Jacob, condescension was not. By frequent intercourse God maintained in them the knowledge that He was the Almighty God. It was His way of separation from idolatry, but it was by a moral process, and not by a simple fiat of His will.
These are the first lessons, the early trainings of Israel. It tells the only way the nation can be really blessed, and which will be when each family shall walk in the path of faith trodden by the father of the race. We may in New Testament light learn other and deeper truths; but in the intercourse with God, and in the obedient unquestioning faith of Abraham, there is the foreshadowing of Israel's future, to which God was looking while training the patriarchs in the ways of faith. When that future is come, all will know Jehovah. The commonest things, “pots and pans,” will be holy, and the bells of the horses will bear the inscription, “Holiness to Jehovah.”
The very failures of the patriarchs were utilized by God to make them, and all who read the record with discerning eyes, feel the necessity and the blessings of faith. Nothing below is suitable to a life of faith save the pilgrim character; that is, now that the world is known in its true character, which was not fully known until the Lord Jesus had come, and been rejected.
Thus Abraham is presented as a pattern to believers now, and held up as such both by Paul and James, that is, by the Holy Spirit. On the one side is his trust and confidence; on the other, the results in works, fruit of faith.