Genesis Chapter Fifteen
God encourages Abram. (1) The Divine promise, Abraham is justified by faith. (2-6) God promises Canaan to Abraham for an inheritance. (7-11) The promise confirmed in a vision. (12-16) The promise confirmed by a sign. (17-21)
Commentary on Genesis 15:1
God assured Abram of safety and happiness; that he should for ever be safe. I am thy shield; or, I am a shield to thee, present with thee, actually caring for thee. The consideration that God himself is, and will be a shield to his people, to secure them from all evils, a shield ready to them, and a shield round about them, should silence all perplexing, tormenting fears.
Commentary on Genesis 15:2-6
Though we must never complain of God, yet we have leave to complain to him; and to state all our grievances. It is ease to a burdened spirit, to open its case to a faithful and compassionate friend. Abram's complaint is, that he had no child; that he was never likely to have any; that the want of a son was so great a trouble to him, that it took away all his comfort. If we suppose that Abram looked no further than outward comfort, this complaint was to be blamed. But if we suppose that Abram herein had reference to the promised Seed, his desire was very commendable. Till we have evidence of our interest in Christ, we should not rest satisfied; what will all avail me, if I go Christless? If we continue instant in prayer, yet pray with humble submission to the Divine will, we shall not seek in vain. God gave Abram an express promise of a son. Christians may believe in God with respect to the common concerns of this life; but the faith by which they are justified, always has respect to the person and work of Christ. Abram believed in God as promising Christ; they believe in him as having raised him from the dead, Romans 4:24. Through faith in his blood they obtain forgiveness of sins.
Commentary on Genesis 15:7-11
Assurance was given to Abram of the land of Canaan for an inheritance. God never promises more than he is able to perform, as men often do. Abram did as God commanded him. He divided the beasts in the midst, according to the ceremony used in confirming covenants, Jeremiah 34:18,19. Having prepared according to God's appointment, he set himself to wait for the sign God might give him. A watch must be kept upon our spiritual sacrifices. When vain thoughts, like these fowls, come down upon our sacrifices, we must drive them away, and seek to attend on God without distraction.
Commentary on Genesis 15:12-16
A deep sleep fell upon Abram; with this sleep a horror of great darkness fell upon him: a sudden change. The children of light do not always walk in the light. Several things were then foretold. 1. The suffering state of Abram's seed for a long time. They shall be strangers. The heirs of heaven are strangers on earth. They shall be servants; but Canaanites serve under a curse, the Hebrews under a blessing. They shall be suffers. Those that are blessed and beloved of God, are often sorely afflicted by wicked men. 2. The judgment of the enemies of Abram's seed. Though God may allow persecutors and oppressors to trample upon his people a great while, he will certainly reckon with them at last. 3. That great event, the deliverance of Abram's seed out of Egypt, is here foretold. 4. Their happy settlement in Canaan. They shall come hither again. The measure of sin fills gradually. Some people's measure of sin fills slowly. The knowledge of future events would seldom add to our comfort. In the most favoured families, and most happy lives, there are so many afflictions, that it is merciful in God to conceal what will befall us and ours.
Commentary on Genesis 15:17-21
The smoking furnace and the burning lamp, probably represented the Israelites' severe trials and joyful deliverance, with their gracious supports in the mean time. It is probable that this furnace and lamp, which passed between the pieces, burned and consumed them, and so completed the sacrifice, and testified God's acceptance of it. So it intimates that God's covenants with man are made by sacrifice, Psalm 50:5. And we may know that he accepts our sacrifices, if he kindles in our souls pious and devout affections. The bounds of the land granted are stated. Several nations, or tribes, are spoken of, that must be cast out to make room for the seed of Abram. In this chapter we perceive in Abram faith struggling against, and triumphing over, unbelief. Wonder not, believers, if you meet with seasons of darkness and distress. But it is not the will of God that you should be cast down: fear not; for all that he was to Abram he will be to you.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Genesis》
 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
After these things — (1.) After that act of generous charity which Abram had done, in rescuing his neighbours, God made him this gracious visit. (2.) After that victory which he had obtained over four kings; lest Abram should be too much elevated with that, God comes to tell him he had better things in store for him.
The word of the Lord came unto Abram — That is, God manifested himself to Abram, in a vision - Which supposeth Abram awake, and some sensible token of the presence of the divine glory, saying, Fear not Abram - Abram might fear lest the four kings he had routed, should rally and fall upon him. No, saith God, fear not: fear not their revenge, nor thy neighbour's envy; I will take care of thee.
I am thy shield — Or, emphatically, I am a shield to thee, present with thee, actually defending thee. The consideration of this, that God himself is, a shield to his people, to secure them from all destructive evils, a shield ready to them, and a shield round about them, should silence all perplexing fears.
And thy exceeding great reward — Not only thy rewarder, but thy reward. God himself is the felicity of holy souls; He is the portion of their inheritance, and their cup.
 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
Behold to me thou hast given no seed — Not only no son, but no seed. If he had had a daughter, from her the promised Messias might have come, who was to be the Seed of the Woman; but he had neither son nor daughter.
 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
And he brought him forth — It seems, early in the morning, and said, look now toward heaven, and tell the stars: so shall thy seed be - 1. So innumerable, for so the stars seem to a common eye. Abram feared he should have no child at all, but God tells him his descendents should be so many as not to be numbered. 2. So illustrious, as the stars of heaven for splendour; for to them pertained the glory, Romans 9:4. Abram's seed according to the flesh were like the dust of the earth, Genesis 13:16, but his spiritual seed are like the stars of heaven.
 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
And he believed in the Lord — That is, believed the truth of that promise which God had now made him, resting upon the power, and faithfulness of him that made it: see how the apostle magnifies this faith of Abram, and makes it a standing example, Romans 4:19-21. He was not weak in faith; he staggered not at the promise: he was strong in faith; he was fully persuaded. The Lord work such a faith in every one of us.
And he counted it to him for righteousness — That is, upon the score of this he was accepted of God, and, by faith he obtained witness that he was righteous, Hebrews 11:4. This is urged in the New Testament to prove, that we are justified by faith without the works of the law, Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6, for Abram was so justified, while he was yet uncircumcised. If Abram, that was so rich in good works, was not justified by them, but by his faith, much less can we. This faith, which was imputed to Abram for righteousness, had newly struggled with unbelief, Genesis 15:2, and coming off, conqueror, it was thus crowned, thus honoured.
 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
I am the lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees — Out of the fire of the Chaldees, so some: that is, from their idolatries; for the Chaldeans worshipped the fire. Or, from their persecutions. The Jewish writers have a tradition, that Abram was cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols, and was miraculously delivered. It is rather a place of that name. Thence God brought him by an effectual call, brought him by a gracious violence; snatched him as a brand out of the burning. Observe how God speaks of it as that which he gloried in.
I am the Lord that brought thee out — He glories in it as an act both of power and grace.
To give thee this land to inherit it — Not only to possess it, but to possess it as an inheritance, which is the surest title. The providence of God hath secret, but gracious designs in all its various dispensations: we cannot conceive the projects of providence, 'till the event shews what it was driving at.
 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? — This did not proceed from distrust of God's power or promise, but he desired this, 1. For the strengthening of his own faith. He believed, Genesis 15:6, but here he prays, Lord help me against my unbelief, Now, he believed, but he desired a sign, to be treasured up against an hour of temptation. 2. For the ratifying of the promise to his posterity, that they also might believe it.
 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
Take me an heifer — Perhaps Abram expected some sign from heaven, but God gives him a sign upon a sacrifice. Those that would receive the assurances of God's favour, must attend instituted ordinances, and expect to meet with God in them. Observe, 1. God appointed that each of the beasts used for his service should be three years old, because then they were at their full growth and strength. God must be served with the best we have. 2. We do not read that God gave Abram particular directions how to manage these, knowing that he was well versed in the custom of sacrifices. 3. Abram took as God appointed him, though as yet he knew not how these things should become a sign to him. He divided the beasts in the midst, according to the ceremony used in continuing covenants, Jeremiah 34:18,19, where it is said, they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts. 4. Abram, having prepared according to God's appointment, set himself to expect what sign God would give him by these.
 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
And when the sun was going down — About the time of the evening oblation. Early in the morning, while the stars were yet to be seen, God had given him orders concerning the sacrifices, Genesis 15:5, and we may suppose it was at least his morning's work to prepare them, and set them in order; which when he had done, he abode by them praying and waiting 'till towards evening.
A deep sleep fell upon Abram — Not a common sleep through weariness or carelessness, but a divine extasy, that being wholly taken off from things sensible, he might be wholly taken up with the contemplation of things spiritual. The doors of the body were locked up, that the soul might be private and retired, and might act the more freely.
And lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him — This was designed to strike an awe upon the spirit of Abram, and to possess him with a holy reverence. Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; God humbles first, and then lifts up.
 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
Thy seed shall be strangers — So they were in Canaan first, Psalms 105:11,12, and afterwards in Egypt: before they were lords of their own land, they were strangers in a strange land. The inconveniences of an unsettled state make a happy settlement the more welcome. Thus the heirs of heaven are first strangers on earth.
And them they shall serve — So they did the Egyptians, Exodus 1:13. See how that which was the doom of the Canaanites, Genesis 9:25, proves the distress of Abram's seed: they are made to serve; but with this difference, the Canaanites serve under a curse, the Hebrews under a blessing.
And they shall afflict them — See Exodus 1:11. Those that are blessed and beloved of God are often afflicted by wicked men. This persecution began with mocking, when Ishmael the son of an Egyptian, persecuted Isaac, Genesis 21:9, and it came at last to murder, the basest of murders, that of their new born children; so that more or less it continued 400 years.
 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
That nation whom they shall serve, even the Egyptians, will I judge — This points at the plagues of Egypt, by which God not only constrained the Egyptians to release Israel, but punished them for all the hardships they had put upon them. The punishing of persecutors is the judging of them; it is a righteous thing with God, and a particular act of justice, to recompense tribulation to those that trouble his people. 3. The deliverance of Abram's seed out of Egypt.
And afterwards shall they come out with great substance — Either after they have been afflicted 400 years, or, after the Egyptians are judged and plagued.
 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
Thou shalt go to thy fathers — At death we go to our fathers, to all our fathers that are gone before us to the state of the dead, to our godly fathers that are gone before us to the state of the blessed. The former helps to take off the terror of death, the latter puts comfort into it.
Thou shalt be buried in a good old age — Perhaps mention is made of his burial here, where the land of Canaan is promised him, because a burying-place was the first possession he had in it. Old age is a blessing, if it be a good old age: theirs may be called a good old age, 1. That are old and healthful, not loaded with such distempers as make them weary of life: 2. That are old and holy, whose hoary head is found in the way of righteousness, old and useful, old and exemplary for godliness, that is indeed a good old age.
 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
They shall come hither again — Hither to the land of Canaan, wherein thou now art. The reason why they must not have the land of promise in possession till the fourth generation, is because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. The righteous God has determined, that they shall not be cut off till they are arrived to such a pitch of wickedness; and therefore till it come to that, the seed of Abram must be kept out of possession.
 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
When the sun was gone down the sign was given — The smoaking furnace signified the affliction of his seed in Egypt: they were there in the furnace of affliction, and labouring in the very fire. They were there in the smoke, their eyes darkened that they could not see to the end of their troubles. 2. The burning lamp speaks comfort in this affliction; and this God shewed Abram at the same time with the smoaking furnace. The lamp notes direction in the smoke; God's word was their lamp, a light shining in a dark place. Perhaps too this burning lamp prefigured the pillar of a cloud and fire which led them out of Egypt. 3. The passing of these between the pieces was the confirming of the covenant God now made with him. It is probable this furnace and lamp, which passed between the pieces, burned and consumed them, and so compleated the sacrifice, and testified God's acceptance of it, as of Gideon's, Judges 6:21, Manoah's, Judges 13:19,20, and Solomon's, 2 Chronicles 7:1. So it intimates, 1. That God's covenants with man are made by sacrifice, Psalms 50:5, by Christ, the great sacrifice. 2. God's acceptance of our spiritual sacrifices is a token for good, and an earnest of farther favours.
 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
In that same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land - He had said before, To thy seed will I give this land, but here he saith, I have given it; that is, 1. I have given the promise, the charter is sealed and delivered, and cannot be disanulled. 2. The possession is as sure in due time, as if it were now actually delivered to them. In David's time and Solomon's their jurisdiction extended to the utmost of these limits, 2 Chronicles 9:26. And it was their own fault that they were not sooner and longer in possession of all these territories. They forfeited their right by their sins, and by their own sloth and cowardice kept themselves out of possession. The present occupants are named, because their number and strength and long prescription, should be no hindrance to the accomplishment of this promise in its season; and to magnify God's love to Abram and his seed, in giving to that one nation the possession of many nations.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Genesis》
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAM.
“I will make my covenant” (verse 2). The covenant had already been given (Gen.15:18), but it is here ratified and enlarged. This covenant was unconditional. It has a threefold fulfillment as to the seed. (1) In Abram, being the father of many nations. “To the Jew, the Moslem, and the Christian alike, the prophet Abraham is a common ancestor. Trace these three forms of belief to their fountain-head, and they meet in the tent of that ancient confessor.” (2) In Christ being the “Son of Abraham” (Matt.1:1), for He was the promised “ seed,” as Paul says in speaking of the promise given by God to Abram, “ He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ” (Gal.3:16). (3) In the believer in Christ, for they who believe in Christ are said to be blessed with believing Abram, and to be his spiritual children. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed” (Gal.3:29).
Notice the six “ I wills.”
The “I will” of Covenant (verse 2).
The “I will” of Fruitfulness (verse6).
The “I will” of Creation (verse 6).
The “I will” of Establishing (verse 7).
The “I will” of Gift (verse 8).
The “I will” of Relationship (verse 8).
── F.E. Marsh《Five Hundred Bible Readings》
"THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM"
1. One of the greatest men in history has to be the patriarch Abraham...
a. Three religions look to him as their spiritual progenitor
(Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
b. Christians view him as "the father of all them that believe" - Ro
2. What is most noteworthy about Abraham was his faith...
a. Paul made reference to his faith time and again - Ro 4:3,9,11,
16-22; Ga 3:7-9
b. James used his example to illustrate saving faith - Ja 2:21-23
3. Both Paul and James make reference to the following OT statement
about Abraham's faith:
"And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for
righteousness." (Gen 15:6; cf. Ro 4:3; Ja 2:23)
[What was it about Abraham's faith that so pleased God? Do we have the
same kind of faith? Let's take a closer look at "The Faith Of
I. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS BASED ON REVELATION
A. GOD REVEALED HIMSELF TO ABRAHAM...
of the Chaldees - Ac 7:2-4; Gen 15:7 Ur
Haranof Mesopotamia- Gen 12:1-4
3. At Shechem in Canann - Gen 12:6-7
4. After Lot moved to
- Gen 13:14-17 Sodom
5. And many times more - cf. Gen 15:1-17; 17:1-27; 18:1-33;
-- By revealing Himself to Abraham, God provided Abraham ample
evidence for him to place his faith and trust in God
B. OUR FAITH MUST BE BASED UPON REVELATION...
1. Not that God reveals Himself to us as He did to Abraham
2. But faith comes through the Word of God - cf. Ro 10:17
a. It contains evidence that we might believe - Jn 20:30-31
b. The more we read, the more God is revealed to us, especially
in the person of His Son Jesus Christ!
-- If we desire to have "The Faith Of Abraham", we must be
receptive to God's revelation of Himself through His Word!
[Next, it important to note that...]
II. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS AN OBEDIENT FAITH
A. BY FAITH, ABRAHAM OBEYED GOD...
1. He left his country - He 11:8
2. He sojourned in a foreign land - He 11:9-10
3. He offered his son Isaac - He 11:17; cf. Ja 2:21-24
-- Abraham's faith was not a dead faith (cf. Ja 2:20,26), but a
dynamic faith expressing itself in obedience!
B. BY FAITH, WE MUST OBEY GOD...
1. For the gospel calls for "obedience to the faith" - cf. Ro 1:5;
2. We must "obey from the heart" the doctrine of Christ - cf. Ro
3. Woe to those who do not "obey the gospel" - cf. 2 Th 1:7-9;
1 Pe 4:17
-- If we desire to have "The Faith Of Abraham", we must have a
faith that "works through love" (cf. Ga 5:6)
[While works are an essential element of a saving faith, it is crucial
to note that it is the faith behind the works that pleases God (and not
the works per se)! Therefore we point out that...]
III. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS A TRUSTING FAITH
A. ABRAHAM TRUSTED IN GOD, NOT HIS WORKS...
1. Return to our text, and note what is said - cf. Gen 15:6
a. Abraham believed in the Lord
b. "It" (his faith) was reckoned or considered for
c. It was Abraham's faith in God that greatly pleased God
2. Paul stresses this point in his epistle to the Romans - cf. Ro
a. Abraham was not justified because of his works
b. Abraham was justified (declared blameless) because of his
-- Though he had a faith that works, he did not trust in his
works; rather in God who justifies the ungodly (cf. Ro 4:5-8)
B. WE MUST TRUST IN JESUS, NOT OUR WORKS...
1. As noted before, we must obey God which involves certain
a. Such as faith, which is a "work" - cf. Jn 6:28,29
b. Even baptism, which is more a work of God than a work of man
- Co 2:12-13
2. But when all is done, we must not put our trust in our
a. As though we somehow earned our salvation
b. For Christ taught us to realize we are still unworthy - cf.
-- It is the faith or trust in Jesus prompting us to obey that
pleases God, not some meritorious value of the work done to
receive God's grace!
[So "The Faith Of Abraham" was an obedient faith that placed its trust
in God who justifies the ungodly. To be "the sons of Abraham", we must
have the same kind of faith. Finally, observe that...]
IV. ABRAHAM'S FAITH WAS A GROWING FAITH
A. ABRAHAM GREW IN FAITH...
1. There were times when his faith was weak
a. He had Sarah his wife tell a half-truth to save his life
- Gen 12:11-20; 20:1-18
b. He questioned God when he and Sarah did not have children
- Gen 15:2-3
c. He showed weak faith in the case of Hagar - Gen 16:1-4
d. He offered an alternative to God when he thought it would be
impossible for he and Sarah to have children - Gen 17:17-18
2. But God was patient with Abraham, and his faith grew
a. He had faith, even against hope, and was able to conceive
- Ro 4:18-22
b. He had faith that God could raise Isaac from the dead, and
so was willing to offer him as commanded - He 11:17-19
-- "The Faith Of Abraham" was not a static faith, but an
ever-growing faith that came through being "a friend of God"
(cf. Ja 2:23)
B. WE MUST GROW IN FAITH...
1. Just as the apostles of Christ did...
a. From men with little faith and easily afraid - Mt 8:25-26;
b. To men of great boldness - Ac 4:13
2. Like the Thessalonians - 2 Th 1:3
a. Their faith was growing exceedingly
b. Our faith needs to grow likewise
-- Our faith will grow, if we are willing to "walk in the steps of
the faith which our father Abraham had" (cf. Ro 4:12)
1. We have seen that "The Faith Of Abraham" was...
a. Based upon revelation
b. An obedient faith
c. A trusting faith
d. A growing faith
2. Why do we need this same kind of faith...?
a. Because "those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham" - Ga 3:7
b. Because "those who are of faith are blessed with believing
Abraham" - Ga 3:9
Indeed, those who have "The Faith Of Abraham" are truly the recipients
of the promise made to Abraham:
"In your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,
because you have obeyed My voice." (Gen 18:18)
Are we walking in the steps of the faith of Abraham, obeying the Word of
God given today through the gospel of Christ, even as he obeyed the
word given to him?
15 Chapter 15
Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward
God the shield of the righteous
THE RIGHTEOUS REQUIRE A SHIELD.
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS GOD IS THEIR SHIELD.
1. He is the shield of their substance.
2. He is the shield of their bodies.
3. He is the shield of their souls.
III. THE PECULIAR EXCELLENCES OF THIS SHIELD.
1. It is omnipotent.
2. It is a perpetual shield.
3. A universal shield.
4. The only shield.
1. Let saints cleave to the Lord, and thus avail themselves of this invaluable shield. Faith and prayer encircle us with God’s protecting and preserving power.
2. Be grateful for it. How we ought to exult in it, and give God constant and hearty thanks for it.
3. How awful is the condition of the sinner. Not only without this shield, but in opposition to God, and exposed to His Divine power and wrath. (J. Burns, D. D.)
An interest in God the most effectual antidote to fear
I. THE PERSON ADDRESSED. Abram.
1. A man of genuine faith.
2. Of importunate prayer.
3. Of cordial hospitality.
4. Of uniform obedience.
II. THE ADMONITORY PROHIBITION URGED.
1. There is a fear of persecution.
2. There is a fear of poverty.
3. There is the fear of pain.
III. THE ENCOURAGING ASSURANCE ANNEXED.
1. God defends the persons of His people.
2. He protects their substance.
3. God is the reward of His people.
From this subject we learn--
1. The security and safety of God’s people. God is their shield; they live in a world of enemies.
2. Their tranquillity and happiness.
3. The fearless confidence with which they should be inspired. What can they fear, while God is their shield and their exceeding great reward? shall they fear tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Sketches of Sermons.)
God the protector of His people
I. CONSIDER THE DOCTRINE OF THE TEXT.
1. God is the defence of His people. He shields them from danger--
2. God is the portion of His people. He gives them Himself.
II. CONSIDER THE INFERENCES DEDUCIBLE FROM THE TEXT.
1. Fear not the enemies which surround you.
2. Fear not the dangers which threaten you.
3. Fear not the toils you may have to undergo.
4. Fear not the sacrifices you may have to make. Let fear be replaced by a confidence coming from God. (J. King.)
Abraham’s shield and reward
I. GOD IS OUR SHIELD. God is your shield, and therefore, you are safe. Christian, what is your fear?
1. There is Satan: and he is a cruel and powerful foe. True; but God is greater than he.
2. There are men: the ungodly and the false, who seek to injure us in mind, character, friendships, position, property. Do not be terrified by your adversaries. Commit your cause and way to God (see Psalms 120:1-7; Psalms 121:1-8.).
3. There are the sorrows and afflictions of life.
II. “AND EXCEEDING GREAT REWARD.” We are called to endure much, and to give up much, for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. We are not promised the compensation of pecuniary wealth, or honour, and praise among men. But God is Himself our reward. This is partly realized here: but is mainly reserved for hereafter.
1. God is our secret solace in this life.
2. He is our eternal reward. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
Jesus the shield
“I am thy shield.” These are the words that Jesus speaks to all His people. No one can do so much for our protection as He can. And so the subject we have now to consider is, Jesus the shield of His people. He is the best shield. We may speak of three reasons why this is the best shield.
I. It is so, in the first place, because it is so LARGE. The shields which the warriors had in old times were not large enough to cover the whole body. If a soldier held up his shield so as to cover his head, he would leave the lower part of his body uncovered. If he tried to protect that part of his body, then he must leave his head uncovered. And even if the shield had been large enough to cover his body from head to foot, still it would only protect him on one side at a time. While he was holding the shield in front of him, he might be wounded from behind. While any part of the body is left unprotected, we never can tell how soon danger and death may come through that very part. We read about a celebrated Grecian warrior in old times, whose name was Achilles. It was said of him that his body was protected all over from head to foot, so that there was no place in which it was possible for him to be wounded except in one of his heels. Now we should think that, under such circumstances, a man would be pretty safe.
And yet the story says that, while engaged in fighting one day, Achilles was wounded by a poisoned arrow in that very place, and died of the wound in his heel. But, when Jesus becomes our shield, He is the best shield, because He can cover us all over. He can protect, at the same time, both head and heart, and hands and feet, and body and soul, and home and family, and all that belongs to us. And when we see how wonderfully Jesus can make use of anything that He pleases, in order to protect the lives, and property, and happiness of His people, we see how well He may say to anyone, as He did to Abraham: “I am thy shield.” In the winter of 1873, there was a terrible explosion of a steam boiler in the city of Pittsburg. A number of persons were killed, and many more wounded. But there was one life preserved in a very singular way, as if on purpose to show how God can make use of anything He pleases, in order to shield His people from harm. This singular circumstance occurred to the wife of one of the men who was working in the mill where the explosion took place. She was in her own house, busy with her usual household duties, when she heard the noise of the explosion. All at once, she felt an unusual desire to pray. In a moment, she fell on her knees and began to pray. While she was thus engaged, a large piece of the boiler which had just exploded, weighing about two hundred pounds, came crashing through the room, and passed directly by the place where her head would have been if she had not been kneeling down in prayer. That prayer saved her life. Surely, He may well be called the best shield, who can protect the lives of His people in such strange ways as this! One winter night, many years ago, the inhabitants of the town of Sleswick, in Denmark, were thrown into great alarm. A hostile army was marching down upon them, and the people were greatly afraid of the soldiers. In a large cottage on the outskirts of the town lived an aged grandmother with her widowed daughter and grandson. This grandmother was a good Christian woman. Before going to bed that night, she prayed earnestly that God would, in the language of an old hymn, “build a wall of defence about them.” Her grandson asked her why she offered a prayer like that, for she certainly could not expect God to do any such thing. She told him she did not mean a real, literal stone wall, but that He would be their shield, and protect them. At midnight, the soldiers were heard coming, tramp, tramp, tramping into the town. They filled most of the houses in the town. But no one came to the widow’s cottage. When the morning dawned, the reason of this was plainly seen. The snow had drifted, and made a wall in front of the widow’s cottage, so that it was almost hidden, and no one could get near it. “There, my son,” said the grandmother, “don’t you see how God has made a wall about us, and shielded us from danger?”
II. This is the best shield, because it is so SAFE. In old times, when a soldier was engaged in fighting, if his enemy raised his sword to strike, he would lift up his shield to turn aside the blow. And so, when an arrow was shot at him, or a spear thrust at him, he would try to ward them off with his shield. But, if his shield were made of paper, or pasteboard, or light wood, or tin, or even if it were covered with a thin sheet of brass or iron, it would not be safe. A heavy blow from a sword, or spear, or arrow, would go through it. And so, since the invention of gunpowder, shields are not used any more, because they cannot be made light enough for a soldier to carry, and yet solid enough to prevent a rifle ball from going through. Indeed, it is impossible to make a shield now of any kind that cannot be penetrated. Why, even when we cover the sides of our ships of war with plates of solid iron, four and five inches thick, they are not safe: they are not impenetrable. A cannon-ball can be sent with such force as to go crashing through them. But, when Jesus becomes our shield, we are entirely safe. Pie is a shield that nothing can penetrate, or get through (see Isaiah 54:17; Psalms 91:4). A minister, whose name was Stewart, was appointed to preach in a wild, mountainous part of Ireland, in which were many Roman Catholics. Some of these men were very bitter in their feelings towards the Protestants. One night, this good minister was preaching in the house of a farmer, when a very violent Romanist, who was present, interrupted him several times. After the meeting broke up, with a dreadful oath he swore he would kill the minister before he crossed the mountain the next day, as he understood he was going over in the morning to preach in another place. In the morning, the minister rose early to get a good start on his journey. The farmer’s wife begged him not to go, on account of the man who had threatened to kill hire. He said: “No, I must go. The Lord is my shield, and He can take care of me.” After lifting up his heart in prayer, he started. He had passed over the top of the mountain, and was descending on the other side, when he saw two men standing in the road. As he came near them, they seemed to be much excited. “What’s the matter, my friends?” he asked. They pointed to a man who was lying by the side of the road, and said, “About fifteen minutes before you appeared in sight, that man came to this place. We were digging turf in the field. We saw him stagger and fall. We ran to his assistance; but when we came up to him he was dead.” The minister looked at him, and said: “Last night that man swore a dreadful oath that he would kill me before I crossed this mountain. Poor fellow! he had come here, I suppose, to carry out his oath.” “Well,” said the men, “he will kill no one now.” This good minister trusted to the best shield, and we see how safe it kept him. Many years ago, a gentleman in England, who lived in the country, kept a fine, large mastiff dog, whose name was Hero. He was chained up during the day, but let loose at night to guard the place. It happened once that several sheep belonging to a neighbouring farm had been killed on different nights. The owner of them charged Hero with being the cause of their death. One night another sheep was killed and it was plain that Hero had killed it. Under these circumstances, the gentleman felt that, sorry as he was to part with his dog, he could not keep him any longer. So he said to his servant, in the presence of the dog: “John, get a piece of stout rope and hang Hero behind the barn where he can’t be seen from the house.” Strange as it may seem, the dog must have understood what was said; for he rose at once, leaped over a stone fence, ran off, and disappeared from that neighbourhood. Seven years afterwards, this gentleman had some business in the north of England, on the borders of Scotland. At the close of a winter’s day, he put up for the night at an inn by the wayside. He dismounted, and went to the stable to see that his horse was properly taken care of. Here he was followed by a large mastiff dog, who tried in various ways to engage his attention. When he sat down in the hall, the dog came and sat by his side. He began to think there was something strange in the dog’s manner. He patted him on the head, and spoke kindly to him. Encouraged by this, the dog put his paw on the gentleman’s knee, and looked up earnestly into his face, as much as to say: “Don’t you know me?” After looking at the dog for awhile, he exclaimed: “Why, Hero, is this you?” Then the poor creature danced, and capered about, and licked his old master’s hands, and tried in every way to show how glad he was to see him once more. After this, the dog remained by his side. On going to bed at night, Hero followed him to his room. When he was about to undress, the dog seized the skirt of his coat, and drew his master towards the door of a closet that opened into that room. The door was fastened, but, after a great deal of trouble, he contrived to get it open, when, to his surprise and horror, he found the dead body of a murdered man there. He saw in a moment what sort of a place he was in, and what he might expect that night. He made preparations to defend himself as well as he could. He had a pair of double-barreled pistols with him, and he saw that they were loaded, and primed, and ready for use. Then he fastened his door, and piled up all that was movable in the room against the door. Then he sat down to wait for the murderers, for he was sure they would come. Towards midnight, he heard steps in the entry. Then the handle of his door was tried. Finding it fastened, they knocked. “Who’s there?” he asked. “Open the door,” was the answer. “What do you want?” “We want to come in.” “You can’t come in.” “We must come in.” “Then get in the best way you can, and I’ll shoot the first man that enters.” They sent for an axe to break through the door. While waiting for the axe, the gentleman heard a carriage drive by. He opened the window and called for help. The carriage stopped. Four men jumped out of it. By their help, the gentleman was relieved from his danger. The men who kept the house were caught and tried. It was found that they had killed a number of persons in that way. Some of them were hung and the rest put in prison. Of course Hero was taken back to his old home, and treated as such a faithful creature deserved to be. And when he died, his master had him buried, and a monument erected over him which told of his faithfulness. And surely the God who can protect His people in such strange ways may well say: “I am thy shield.” Ill. This is the best shield, because it is so READY. In the days when shields were used, a soldier was not able to keep his shield all the time in a position to defend himself. But it is different with the best shield. Jesus, our shield, has an arm that is never weary. By day and by night, at home and abroad, He is our shield; and He is always ready to protect and keep us. There is a story told of William, Prince of Orange, known as William the Silent, which illustrates this part of our subject very well. He lived about three hundred years ago. He was the governor of Holland. That is a little country, but its people have always been very brave. Philip II, who was then King of Spain, was one of the most powerful kings in the world at that time. He was trying to conquer Holland, and to make the Dutch, who lived there, give up their Protestant religion and become Roman Catholics. He sent an army into this country to conquer it; but, led on by their noble Prince, the Dutch people struggled like heroes for their liberty and their religion. When the King of Spain found that he could not conquer the Prince of Orange in battle, he tried to get rid of him in another way. He offered a large sum of money to anyone who would kill him. There are always bad men to be found who will do as wicked a thing as this for money. Some Spanish soldiers, who wanted to get this reward, made up their minds to try to kill the prince. One dark night, they managed to pass by the sentinels, and were going directly towards the tent in which the prince was sleeping. They were near the tent. Their daggers were drawn. They were treading very cautiously, so as not to be heard. But the prince had a faithful little dog, that always slept at the foot of his master’s bed. He heard the tread of the murderers, although they were coming so carefully. He jumped up and began to bark. This wakened his master. He sprang up in bed, seized his pistol, and cried: “Halt! who comes there?” When the murderers found that the prince was awake, they turned and fled. And thus that little dog saved his master’s life. The prince was asleep, and could not protect himself. But He who says, “I am thy shield,” was there to protect him. He is the best shield, because He is always ready. A dear little English boy, named Bennie, lay sleeping in the shady verandah of his Indian home. The nurse who had been trusted with him had neglected her charge, and left him while he was asleep. A great fierce tiger, prowling in search of prey, finding the village very quiet, had ventured in among the dwellings. The English gentlemen were all absent; the natives were in the rice fields, and the ladies were taking their rest during the heat of the day. The tiger crept noiselessly past the quiet house, until he saw the sleeping child. Then, with one bound, he sprang upon him, grasped the flowing white robe of the child in his teeth, and darted off with it to his native jungle. Having secured his prize, he laid it down; and, as the kitten often plays with a captive mouse before devouring it, so the tiger began sporting with the child. He walked round and round him; laid first one paw and then another gently on his plump little limbs, and looked into the boy’s beautiful face, as if his savage heart was almost melted by its sweetness. There was a brave little heart in Bennie, for he did not seem to be at all alarmed by his strange companion. He was well-used to Nero, the large black house dog; the ponies were his chief favourites; and he felt inclined to look on the tiger as if he were only Nero’s brother. And when the tiger glared at him with his great fiery eyeballs, or when the sight of his dreadful teeth made his heart beat for a moment, he only returned the gaze, saying in baby language: “I’m not afraid of you, for I’ve got a father! You can’t hurt Bennie--Bennie’s got a mamma!” Oh, if we could only have the same trust in our heavenly Father, how well it would be for us! All this time, while her darling boy was in such dreadful danger, his mother was sleeping. The faithless nurse returned by-and-by, to find the child gone. In her fright, she flew from house to house in search of him. But the Eye that never sleeps was watching that dear child. The best shield was stretched over him. An aged native had heard the tiger give a low, peculiar growl, from which he knew that he had seized some prey. Taking his gun, he followed in his trail till he came near him. Then he hid himself carefully behind the bushes. He saw the terrible creature playing with the child, and dreaded every moment to see him tear it to pieces. He watched his opportunity to fire, fearful lest the ball intended for the tiger should hit the child. The proper moment came. He took his aim, and fired. The tiger leaped, gave a howl of pain, ran a few steps, and fell dead by the side of the now frightened child. It was He who said, “I am thy shield,” who watched over and protected that little one in such an hour of fearful danger. This is the best shield, for three reasons.
In the first, because it is so large; in the second, because it is so safe; and in the third place, because it is so ready. Let us be sure that we make Jesus our friend. Then, wherever we go and wherever we stay, we shall be safe, because we shall have this best shield for our protection. Remember that Jesus has said, “I am thy shield.” (R. Newton, D. D.)
The terribleness of God the good man’s security
When the good man sees God wasting the mountains and the hills, and drying up the rivers, he does not say, “I must worship Him, or He will destroy me”; he says, “The beneficent side of that power is all mine; because of that power I am safe; the very lightning is my guardian, and in the whirlwind I hear a pledge of benediction.” The good man is delivered from the fear of power; power has become to him an assurance of rest; he says, “My Father has infinite resources of judgment, and every one of them is to my trusting heart a signal of unsearchable riches of mercy.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
God our shield
There are two main things that man needs in this world: he needs protection and the fulfilment of his desires and labours, a negative and a positive, a shield and a reward, something to protect him while in the battle, something to reward him when it is over. This promise is silently keyed to the note of struggle as underlying life, the conception of life that the wise have always taken. Life is not mere continuance or development; it is not a harmony, but a struggle. It continues, it develops, it may reach a harmony, but these are not now its main aspects. It is this element of struggle that separates us from other creations. A tree grows, a brute develops what was lodged within it; but man chooses, and choice by its nature involves struggle. It is through choice and its conflicts that man makes his world, himself, and his destiny; for in the last analysis character is choice ultimated. The animals live on in their vast variety and generations without changing the surface of the earth, or varying the sequences wrought into their being; but man transforms the earth, and works out for himself diverse histories and destinies. It is this nobler view of man, as choosing and struggling, that makes it needful he should have protection in the world. If he were only an animal he might be left to nature, for nature is adequate to the needs of all within her category; but transcending, and therefore lacking full adjustment to nature, he needs care and help beyond what she can render, He finds himself here set to do battle, life based and turning on struggle; but nature offers him no shield fit to protect him, nor can nature reward him when the struggle is over. She has no gifts that he much cares for, she can weave no crown that endures, and her hand is too short to reach his brow. There is a better philosophy back here in the beginnings of history, the beginnings also of true, full life. Abram is the first man who had a full religious equipment. He had open relations to God; he had gained the secret of worship; he had a clear sense of duty, and a governing principle, namely, faith or trust in God. It starts out of and is based on this promise of God to be his shield and reward. His sense of God put his life before him in all its terrible reality; it is not going to be an easy matter to live it. Mighty covenants are to be made; how shall he have strength to keep them? He is to become the head of a separate nation; how can he endure the isolation necessary to the beginning? He is to undergo heavy trials and disappointments; how shall he bear them? He is promised a country for his own, but he is to wander a citizen of the desert all his days, and die in a land not yet possessed; how can he still believe with a faith that mounts up to righteousness? Only through this heralding promise: “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” When you are in trouble I will protect you. When you fail of earthly rewards I will be your reward. But Abram’s life, in its essential features, was not exceptional. I do not know that it was harder to live than yours or mine. I do not know that his duties were more imperative, his doubts more perplexing, his disappointments and checks severer than those encountered by us all today. He needed and we need two things to carry us through, protection and fulfilment of desires, shield and reward. Let us now look at the first of these two things with something more of detail.
1. We need protection against the forces of nature. In certain aspects nature is kind to us and helps us; she strives to repair any injury she may do to us; she is often submissive and serves us with docility. But in other respects she is cruel and unsparing, and her general aspect is that of a power over us rather than under us. I confess that I should be filled with an unspeakable dread if I were forced to feel that I was wholly shut up in nature. We are constantly brought face to face with its overpowering and destroying forces, and we find them relentless. We may outwit or outmaster them up to a certain point, but beyond that we are swept helpless along their fixed and fatal current. But how does God become a shield against them? Only by the assurance that we belong to Himself rather than to nature. When that assurance is received, I put myself into His larger order; I join the stronger power and link myself to its fortunes. It makes a great difference practically, which side we take. If the material world includes me, then I have no shield against its relentless forces, its less than brute indiscrimination, its sure finiteness or impersonal and shifting continuance. Then I am no more than one of its grains of dust, and must at last meet the fate of a grain of dust. But if spirit has an existence of its own, if there is a spiritual order with God at its head and with freedom for its method, then I belong to that order, there is my destiny, there is my daily life. My faith in that order and its Head is my shield when the forces of nature assault me and its finiteness threatens to destroy me.
2. We need a shield against the inevitable evils of existence. Sooner or later there comes a time to every one of us when we are made to feel not only that we at weaker than nature, but that there is an element of real or apparent evil in our lore There dawns on us a sense of mortality peculiarly real. The tables are turned with us. Heretofore life, the world, the body--all have been for us; now they are against us, they are failing us; the shadow of our doom begins to creep upon us. How real this experience is every thoughtful person of years well knows. It has in it, I verily believes more bitterness than death itself. It is the secret of the sadness of age. And there is every reason why this experience should be sad. It is necessarily so until we can meet it with some larger truth and fact. Along with this decadence of powers comes a greater evil--an apprehension of finiteness. In our years of wholeness and strength there is no such apprehension. Life carries with it a mighty affirmation of continuance, but when life weakens it begins to doubt itself. But the idea of coming to an end is intolerable; it does not suit our nature or feelings; it throws us into confusion; we become a puzzle to ourselves; we cannot get our life into any order or find for it any sufficient motive or end, and so it turns into a horrible jest, unless we can ground ourselves on some other conception. But the sense of finiteness presses on us with increasing force; it seems to outmaster the infinite, and even to assert its mastery in the process at work within us. It is here that we need a shield to interpose against the horrible suggestions of this last battle of life. And it is just here that God offers Himself as such a shield--God Himself in all the personality of His being--the I Am--Existence. The name itself is an argument; existence is in question, and here is Existence itself saying to a mortal man, “I am your shield.” Between ourselves longing for life, and this devouring sense of finiteness, stands God--a shield. “I made you,” He says, “but you shall not perish because I put you into a perishing body. Because I made you you cannot perish. Because I am the ever-living God you shall live also.”
3. God is a shield against the calamities of life. It is rarely that one gets far on in life without seeing many times when it is too hard to be borne. For vast multitudes life is unutterably sad and bitter, for many others it is dull and insipid, for others one long disappointment, for none is it its own reward. It will always wear this aspect to the sensitive and the thoughtful unless some other element or power is brought in. Man cannot well face life without some shield between. He may fight ever so bravely, but the spears of life will be too many and too sharp for him. And no shield will thoroughly defend him but God. The lowest, by its very condition, demands the highest; the weakest calls out for the strongest--none but the strongest can succour the weakest; the saddest can be comforted only by the most blessed; the finite can get deliverance from its binding and torturing condition only in the eternal one.
4. God is a shield against ourselves. It is, in a certain sense, true of us all that we are our own worst enemies. It is the last and worst result of selfishness that it leaves one alone with self, out of all external relations, sealed up within self-built enclosures. A very fair and seemly life may end in this way. If self be the central thought, it ends in nothing but self, and when this comes about we find that self is a poor companion. One of the main uses of God, so to speak, is to give us another consciousness than that of self--a God consciousness. It was this that Christ made the world’s salvation, not breaking the Roman yoke, not instituting a new government or a new religion, not revealing any formal law or secret of material prosperity, or any theory of education or reform, but simply making plain a fact, assuring the world that God is, and that He is the Father, and breathing a consciousness of it into men, opening it up to the world’s view, and writing it upon its heart as in letters of His own blood; thus He brought in a God consciousness, in place of a world consciousness and a self-consciousness, this only, but who shall measure its redeeming power! And there is no more gracious, shield-like interposing of God than when He comes in between us and self as a delivering presence. It is the joy of friendship that we are conscious of our friend, and that he draws us away from ourselves. It is the joy of the home that each one is conscious of the other; home life reaches its perfection when parents and children not only love, but pass on to the highest form of love--a steady and all-informing consciousness of one another. It shadows forth the largest form of the truth, God dwelling, not amongst but in men, a shield against themselves. (T. T. Munger.)
How few duly consider the tremendous dangers to which they are exposed by sin! Flight there is none, for God is everywhere. Resistance there is none, for God has all power. Self is ruin, because self is sin; and sin the cause of the ire. But against all this righteous anger, there is a shield most righteously provided in Christ Jesus. But God’s abhorrence of evil is not our only adversary. There is the evil one, red with the blood of myriads of our race. He lays an ambush at every turn. Now a shower of darts pelts pitilessly. Now the weight of incessant batterings descends. Now a sudden arrow flies swiftly in the dark; and suddenly we fall, ere danger is suspected. He never slumbers, never is weary, never relents, never abandons hope. He deals his blows alike at childhood’s weakness, youth’s inexperience, manhood’s strength, and the totterings of age. He watches to ensnare the morning thought. He departs not with the shades of night. By his legions he is everywhere, at all times. He enters the palace, the hut, the fortress, the camp, the fleet. He infests every chamber of every dwelling, every pew of every sanctuary. He is busy with the busy. He hurries about with the active. He sits by each bed of sickness, and whispers into each dying ear. As the spirit quits the tenement of clay, he still draws his bow with unrelenting rage. And where can we find this shelter, but in Jesus? He interposes the might of His intercession: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” His prayers are our victory. Jesus shields us, too, by giving the shield of faith. He is the author and finisher of this grace. Against this all the fiery darts of the wicked are powerless. They touch it, only to be quenched. The sprinkling of His blood is also an impregnable security. Satan sees this and trembles. It is mail which he cannot pierce. This is the one experience of the Church of the firstborn. They are all sorely pressed, but they are more than conquerors, for they overcome by the blood of the Lamb. Thus the evil one touches not the shielded ones of Jesus. The pleasures, too, the luxuries, the honours of high station beat down their countless victims. None can withstand them in human strength. And none can be vanquished, who have the Lord for their breastplate. Moses was tried by their most seductive craft. He might have sat next to the king in royal state. But he “endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” And being dead, he tells us, how to drive back this wily troop of fascinations. Man’s frown and persecution’s threat give deadly wounds. All this fury affrighted Daniel and the captive youths. The tyrant’s wrath, the burning fiery furnace, the den of raging beasts gaped menacingly on them. But they fled to the Lord. He was their Shield, and they were unharmed in spirit, and in body. Moreover, the Zion-ward path is in the face of batteries, from which hosts of cares and anxieties pour down their envenomed darts. “This God is our God forever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death.” The soul is surely cased in peace, when it is folded in the arms of Jesus. (Dean Law.)
God a shield
Luther was once asked, “Where would you find safety if the Elector of Saxony were to desert you?” He replied, “Under the shield of heaven.” God has engaged to preserve His loving, trusting, and obedient people “from all evil”; therefore, as we abide under His protection, we may be “safe from fear of evil.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?” A good man once had a poisoned cup given him to drink; but the cup fell, its contents were spilled, and the wicked design was frustrated. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”
The shield of providence
What a shield God is to His people, and how effectually He can preserve us from all enemies, evils or dangers. When Protestant Holland was almost conquered by Spain, in answer to prayer, God caused the Romish foe to be driven back by the flooding of the country. Lady Huntingdon accepted an invitation to Brussels in 1786, where it was represented she might do much good. On her journey to London she was, however, so detained, that she received letters from the Continent warning her that on her arrival it was intended to put her to death as a heretic and a successful opponent of Romish ignorance and superstition. The Popish nobleman who had invited her dropped down dead on the very day her ladyship had started for London. She ever regarded her delay, etc., as a gracious interposition of Providence in her behalf. And thy exceeding great reward:--
How God is His people’s great reward
I. THAT NOTHING BESIDES GOD CAN BE THE SAINTS’ REWARD.
1. Nothing on earth can be their reward. The glistering of the world dazzles men’s eyes; but, like the apples of Sodom, it doth not so much delight as delude.
2. Heaven itself is not a saint’s reward: “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” (Psalms 73:25).
II. HOW IS GOD HIS PEOPLE’S REWARD? In bestowing Himself upon them. The great blessing of the covenant is, “I am thy God.” But how doth God give Himself to His people? Is not His essence incommunicable? True, the saints cannot partake of God’s very essence; the riches of the Deity are too great to be received in specie. But the saints shall have all in God, that may be for their comfort: they shall partake so much of God’s likeness, His love, His influence, and irradiations of His glory (1 John 3:2; John 17:26; John 17:22), as doth astonish and fill the vessels of mercy, that they run over with joy.
III. HOW GOD COMES TO BE HIS PEOPLE’S REWARD. Through Jesus Christ; His blood, being “the blood of God,” hath merited this glorious reward for Acts 20:28).
IV. WHEREIN THE EXCEEDING GREATNESS OF THIS REWARD CONSISTS.
1. God is “a satisfying reward.” “I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1): the word for Almighty signifies “Him that hath sufficiency.” God is a whole ocean of blessedness; which while the soul is bathing in, it cries out in a Divine ecstasy, “I have enough.” Here is fulness, but no surfeit: “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psalms 17:15).
2. God is “a suitable reward.” The soul, being spiritual, must have something homogeneal and suitable to make it happy; and that is God. Light is not more suitable to the eye, nor melody to the ear, than God is to the soul.
3. God is “a pleasant reward.” He is the quintessence of delight, all beauty and love. To be feeding upon the thoughts of God is delicious: “My meditation of Him shall be sweet (Psalms 104:34).
4. God is “a transcendent reward.” The painter,” going” to take the picture of Helena, not being able to draw her beauty to the life, drew her face covered with a veil. So, when we speak of God’s excellences, we must draw a veil. He is so super eminent a reward, as that we cannot set Him forth in all His regency and magnificence.
5. God is “an infinite reward.” And being infinite, these two things follow:
6. God is “an honourable reward.” Honour is the height of men’s ambition. Alas! worldly honour is but a “pleasing fancy.” Honour hath oft a speedy burial: but to enjoy God is the head of honour.
7. God is “an everlasting reward.” Mortality is the disgrace of all earthly things. They are in their fruition surfeiting, and in their duration dying; they are like the metal that glass is made of, which, when it shines brightest, is nearest melting: but God is an eternal reward. Eternity cannot be measured by years, jubilees, ages, nor the most slow motion of the eighth sphere. Eternity makes glory weighty: “This God is our God forever and ever” Psalms 48:14).
1. Hence it is evident, that it is lawful to look to the future reward. God is our reward; is it not lawful to look to Him?
2. If God be such an exceeding great reward, then it is Hot in vain to engage in His service.
3. See the egregious folly of such as refuse God. “Israel would none of Psalms 81:11). Is it usual to refuse rewards?
4. If God be such an immense reward, then see how little cause the saints have to fear death. Are men afraid to receive rewards? There is no way to live but by dying.
1. Believe this reward. Look not upon it as a platonic idea or fancy. Sensualists question this reward, because they do not see it: they may as well question the verity of their souls, because, being spirits, they cannot be seen. Where should our faith rest, but upon a Divine testimony?
2. If God be such an exceeding great reward, let us endeavour that He may be our reward. “God, even our own God, shall bless us” (Psalms 67:6). He who can pronounce this Shibboleth, “my God,” is the happiest man alive.
3. Live every day in the contemplation of this reward. Be in the altitudes. Think what God hath “prepared for them that love Him!” O that our thoughts could ascend!
4. This may content God’s people: though they have but little oil in the cruse, and their estates are almost boiled away to nothing, their great reward is yet to come. Though your pension be but small, your portion is large. If God be yours by deed of gift, this may rock your hearts quiet.
5. If God be so great a reward, let such as have an interest in Him be cheerful. God loves a sanguine complexion: cheerfulness credits religion.
6. If God be an exceeding great reward, let such as have hope in Him long for possession. Though it should not be irksome to us to stay here to do service, yet we should have a holy “longing” till the portion comes into our hand. This is a temper becoming a Christian--content to live, desirous to Philippians 1:23-25).
7. Let such as have God for their exceeding great reward, be living organs of God’s praise. “Thou art my God, and I will praise Thee” (Psalms 118:28).
CONSOLATION. Will God Himself be His people’s reward? This may be as bezoar stone, to revive and comfort them.
1. In cases of losses. They have lost their livings and promotions for conscience’ sake! but as long as God lives, their reward is not lost Hebrews 10:34).
2. It is comfort in case of persecution. The saints’ reward will abundantly compensate all their sufferings. TERROR TO THE WICKED. Here is a Gorgon’s head to affright them. They shall have a reward, but vastly different from the godly. All the plagues in the Bible are their reward: “Destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity” (Proverbs 10:29). God is their rewarder, but not their reward. “The wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23). They who did the devil’s work, will tremble to receive their wages. (T. Watson, M. A.)
God the reward of His people
Dionysius caused musicians to play before him, and promised them a good reward. When they came for their reward, he told them they had already had it in their hopes of it. God does not disappoint His servants. Christ says, “My reward is with Me.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
To me Thou hast given no seed
God had given Abram everything but a child, and therefore it
seemed to him that all this flow of God’s love was running into a pool where it
could only stand still.
And Abram told God his fear in plain words. How true it is that we can say things in the dark that we dare not say in the light! For a long time Abram wanted to say this, but the light was too strong: he knew he would stammer and blush in the daytime, so he hid the fear in his heart. But now it is evening tide! The shadows are about, and the stars are coming! O sweet eventide, what words we have spoken in its dewy quietness--words that would have been out of place in the glare of open day. How the voice has become low, and the heart has told what was deepest and tenderest, sending it out as a dove that would find another soul to rest in! It was so that Abram talked to God in the vision that came at star time. He said, “I have no child; all my goods are in the hands of a steward, a true enough servant, but still not a son; what is to become of all these tokens of Thy love?” and whilst he was talking the stars came out more and more, all of them--millions of silvery eyes, throng upon throng, glowing overhead, sparkling over the distant hills, glittering in the east, throbbing like hearts on the western horizon, the singing Pleiades, the mighty Arcturus and his sons, Venus and Mars, and the Milky Way (names unknown then), there they were, angels talking in light, servants watching the King’s city. It was in that the Lord said to Abram, “Look up”; and Abram looked; and God said, “Count them”; and Abram said, “My Lord, who can count that host?” And the Lord said, “So shall thy seed be.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven,
and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So
shall thy seed be.
And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness
These two verses lie close together on one page of the Bible. They are part of a brief event in one human life. Yet, as we read them, they seem to separate from each other, and to stand very far apart. The fifth verse is altogether of the past. It shows us the tent of the patriarch gleaming white in the clear starlight of the Eastern night. We learn with Abraham to look up and believe and be at rest. The sixth verse suggests thoughts of the nearer present. From the hour when St. Paul first cited this fact of Abraham’s faith and his justification by faith, this verse has been taken out of the older story and bedded in our modern controversies.
I. In these verses lies the union of two things that God has joined together and that man is ever trying to separate--LIFE AND LIGHT. God revealed Himself to us, not by words that told of a Father, but by a life that showed a Father; not by a treatise on Fatherhood, but by the manifestation of a Son. And so He ever joins the light of precept with the life of practice.
II. We read that Abraham believed God--NOT THEN FOR THE FIRST TIME, NOT THEN ONLY. He had heard God’s voice before, and at its bidding had gone out to be an exile and pilgrim all his days. His faith was no intellectual assent to a demonstrated proposition; it was the trust of the heart in the voice of God. It was the belief, not that solves difficulties, but that rises above them.
III. WHY WAS ABRAHAM’S FAITH COUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS? Because, as all sin lies folded in one thought of distrust, so in one thought of trust lies all possible righteousness--its patience, its hope, its heroism, its endurance, its saintliness; and therefore He who sees the end from the beginning reckons it as righteousness. In the faith of Abraham lay all the righteous endurance, all the active service, of his believing life. This simple trust of Abraham made the practical motive power of his life, as it should make that of ours. (Bp. Magee.)
God’s covenant and Abram’s faith
I. WHAT WAS THE COVENANT, AND TO WHOM WAS IT REALLY MADE?
1. As we commonly use the term it means an agreement between two equal parties who bind themselves to do, or not to do, certain things. In the realm of Redemption it cannot be so, because God and man are not equals and cannot make mutual agreements. God’s covenant begins and ends with Himself. It comes to us only through His mercy and grace. The power to fulfil its conditions, on man’s part, comes through the same grace received into the heart by faith.
2. To whom was this promise made? “To Abraham and his seed, which is Christ.”
II. WHAT WAS, AND IS, ACCEPTABLE FAITH? We see at a glance that the covenant asked almost nothing of its recipient as he left his home and entered Canaan. He had done nothing, that we can see, which would in the least entitle him to hear so “large a promise, so divine.” To be sure, we read that he would bring up his children well, but this hardly constitutes a valid reason why he should be selected to become heir of the world and the father of the faithful. We have the exact announcement here: “He believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” It need not have been counted, if it had been real and intrinsic righteousness. It would have stood out in its own merits. In a word, it was the obedience of faith--the obedience springing out of, and kept alive by, faith. So far as sight went, there was nothing to justify his acceptance of the amazing promise that his seed should be as the dust and the stars for number, and that he should be the father of a nation which should fill and bless the earth. And although Christ is fully revealed to us, the steps from the life of nature into that of grace are essentially steps into an uncertainty. Only by faith do we know what we shall find when we accept salvation. We make a venture. We put the foot out for a step, and the only confidence we have that we shall not fall is the confidence of faith. Like Abraham we are called to go out into a country that shall be showed us after we have started for it. And how often must we leave kindred and friends behind us, like Christian in the dream of John Bunyan, and set our faces away from all that charms us, and cry aloud: “Life! life!” nor tarry in all the plain? (E. N. Packard.)
The covenant with Abram
I. GOD’S REST GIFT TO MAN IS HIMSELF (Genesis 15:1). Hitherto God had promised to confer blessings upon Abram. Not till now had He promised to bestow Himself. Abram knew that God was better than His gifts. If He would confer Himself, no good can be lacking. So, taking God at His word, Abram’s struggling faith comes to victory.
II. GOD GRANTS TO THE RELIEVING SOUL FREE INTERCOURSE WITH HIMSELF. As yet, whenever God had spoken, Abram had kept silence. Now his lips are opened.
III. GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO MAN IN A WAY ADAPTED TO HIS PRESENT NEED. Abram had said, “Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit the land?” God heeded this request, and gave him a token adapted to his age and country. That was four thousand years ago, and in a barbarous age. To expect now such, or any sensuous phenomenon at the meeting place of God and man, would be to roll back the stream of time and expect the nineteenth century after Christ to be as gross in its spiritual conceptions as the nineteenth century before him. Still, the fact that God regarded Abram’s request, and in a manner suited to His comprehension condescended to bind Himself by covenant to His promises of grace, is a lesson of perpetual hope. God’s ear is never closed to His children’s cry.
IV. GOD’S REVELATIONS TO MAN ARE PROGRESSIVE. There are seven or eight recorded instances of God’s communing with Abram (see Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 21:13; Genesis 21:15; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 21:22.). As God dealt with Abram He deals with us. The blessing faith asks for and receives today is the type of a richer one tomorrow. To Abram, childless, wandering in a strange land, the highest imagined good was a son and a home. These God promised. But how much greater the blessing when it was revealed that God in him was to reknit the broken bond between Himself and a fallen race, and through his seed to provide a Saviour for an apostate world! Faith, wherever it enters, makes the soul expansive. Today it wants and obtains; and by that very obtaining its wants are heightened still, and these when gratified yet more enlarge the soul, and urge it on to ask and expect yet ampler blessings. Nor is there ever fear that man’s increased capacity or desire will exceed God’s ability to grant. The depths of His power and love are unfathomable.
V. THE CHANNEL THROUGH WHICH GOD’S BLESSINGS FLOW TO MAN IS FAITH. Notice the process by which Abram’s faith resulted, Hot only in an imputed, but also in an actual righteousness. He hears the call of God, and comes to the decisive act of trusting Him. He then rises to the successive steps of walking with God, covenanting with Him, communing and interceding with Him, and at length withholding from Him nothing which he regards most dear. From this example of Abram several lessons respecting faith are taught. We learn that--
1. The sinner’s first duty is to believe what God has spoken. Had Abram disbelieved God, every act born of that disbelief would have been an act of sin. The only right thing he could do was to believe God and accept His proffered favour. So is it now To have confidence in God, to repose in Him, to fall into the arms of His promised grace, is the only first right act a sinner can perform. Hence the Scriptures emphasize the truth that salvation comes from believing.
2. The foundation of faith is God’s promise. God had told Abram what He would do. Abram’s faith consisted in believing that God would do just as He had said.
3. Obedience is an essential element in faith. Because Abram believed God he obeyed Him. “It is,” says Selden, “an unhappy division that is made between faith and works. Though in my interest I may divide them, just as in the candle I know there is both light and heat, yet put out the candle and they are both gone; one remains not without the other. So is it betwixt faith and works.”
4. Faith is the soul’s simplest act, and also its mightiest energy. To Abram, weak and sinful, what so simple as to trust, like a little child, in his heavenly Father? Yet thus he became mightier than a conqueror.
5. Faith’s highest conquests are not at first. (P. B. Davis.)
God’s covenant with Abram
I. ABRAM HAD EXPOSED HIMSELF TO DANGEROUS REPRISALS BY HIS VICTORY OVER THE CONFEDERATE EASTERN RAIDERS. In the reaction following the excitement of battle, dread and despondency seem to have shadowed his soul. Therefore the assurance with which this chapter opens came to him. It was new, and came in a new form. He is cast into a state of spiritual ecstasy, and a mighty “word” sounds, audible to his inward ear. The form which it takes--“I am thy shield”--suggests the thought that God shapes His revelation according to the moment’s need. The unwarlike Abram might well dread the return of the marauders in force, to avenge their defeat. Therefore God speaks to his fears and present want. Abram had just exercised singular generosity in absolutely refusing to enrich himself from the spoil. God reveals Himself as his “exceeding great reward.” He gives Himself as recompense for all sacrifices.
II. MAKE THE TRIUMPHANT FAITH WHICH SPRINGS TO MEET THE DIVINE PROMISE. The first effect of that great assurance is to deepen Abram’s consciousness of the strange contradiction to it apparently given by his childlessness. It is not distrust that answers the promise with a question, but it is eagerness to accept the assurance and ingenuous utterance of difficulties in the hope of their removal. God is too wise a Father not to know the difference between the tones of confidence and unbelief, however alike they may soured; and He is too patient to be angry if we cannot take in all His promise at once. He breaks it into bits not too large for our lips, as He does hove. The frequent reiterations of the same promises in Abram’s life are not vain. They are a specimen of the unwearied repetition of our lessons, “Here a little, there a little,” which our teacher gives his slow scholars. So, once more, Abram gets the promise of posterity in still more glorious form. Before, it was likened to the dust of the earth; now it is as the innumerable stars shining in the clear eastern heaven. As he gazes up into the solemn depths, the immensity and peace of the steadfast sky seems to help him to rise above the narrow limits and changefulness of earth, and a great trust floods his soul. Belief as credence is mainly an affair of the head, but belief as trust is the act of the will and the affections. The object of faith is set in sunlight clearness by these words--the first in which Scripture speaks of faith. Abram leaved on “the Lord.” It was not the promise, but the promiser, that was truly the object of Abram’s trust.
III. MARK THE FULL-ORBED GOSPEL TRUTH AS TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH WHICH IS IMBEDDED IN THIS RECORD OF EARLY REVELATION. “He counted it to him for righteousness.” A geologist would be astonished if he came on remains in some of the primary strata which indicated the existence, in these remote epochs, of species supposed to be of much more recent date. So here we are startled at finding the peculiarly New Testament teaching away hack in this dim distance. No wonder that Paul fastened on this verse, which so remarkably breaks the flow of the narrative, as proof that his great principle of justification by faith was really the one only law by which, in all ages, men had found acceptance with God. Long before law or circumcision, faith had been counted for righteousness. The whole Mosaic system was a parenthesis; and even in it, whoever had been accepted had been so because of his trust, not because of his works. The whole of the subsequent Divine dealings with Israel rested on this act of faith, and on the relation to God into which, through it, Abram entered. He was not a perfectly righteous man, as some passages of his life show; but he rose here to the height of loving and yearning trust in God, and God took that trust in lieu of perfect conformity to His will.
IV. CONSIDER THE COVENANT WHICH IS THE CONSEQUENCE OF ABRAM’S FAITH, AND THE PROOF OF HIS ACCEPTANCE. It is important to observe that the whole remainder of this chapter is regarded by the writer as the result of Abram’s believing God. The way in which Genesis 15:7 and the rest are bolted on, as it were, to Genesis 15:6, clearly shows this. The nearer lesson from this fact is that all the Old Testament revelation from this point onward, rests on the foundation of faith. The further lesson, for all times, is that faith is ever rewarded by more intimate and loving manifestations of God’s friendship, and by fuller disclosures of His purposes. The covenant is not only God’s binding Himself anew by solemn acts to fulfil His promises already made, but it is His entering into far sweeter and nearer alliance with Abram than even He had hitherto had. That name, “the friend of God,” by which he is still known over all the Muhammadan world, contains the very essence of the covenant. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The covenant with Abram
I. ABRAM’S APPREHENSION AND GOD’S ASSURANCE.
1. The Divine words, “Fear not,” suggest that Abram was now filled with apprehension.
2. There was strong ground for such apprehension.
3. In this opportune moment of apprehension, God’s gracious voice of assurance was heard in vision by Abram.
(a) As his “shield,” an all-sufficient protection.
(b) As his “exceeding great reward,” better than all spoils of war or earthly good.
(c) A present help in every time of need is our covenant God.
II. ABRAM’S QUESTIONING AND GOD’S ANSWER.
1. This question was natural.
2. This question was timely.
3. It has been quaintly said: “The pious complaint of human weakness before God must be distinguished from impious murmurs against God.”
4. God’s answer.
III. ABRAM’S FAITH AND GOD’S ATTESTATION.
1. This act of faith seems to have risen to a sublimer height, and to have been more spiritually appropriating, than any previous act had been.
2. God’s special attestation of this act of faith is peculiarly significant Romans 4:18-25).
3. The solemn ratifying rite.
4. Abram’s deep sleep, and accompanying revelation from God. Lessons:
1. The assurance of God’s grace should quiet all our fears, and give abiding strength to our faith in His promises.
2. Let us imitate Abram’s sublime faith when (Romans 4:20).
3. Unbelief dishonours God; faith glorifies Him. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The covenant with Abram
I. ABRAM QUESTIONING. He never doubted God. But his faith was tried. His question in Genesis 15:2 is a prayer for more light, as afterwards, in Genesis 15:8, he asks for some token from God to assure him.
II. ABRAM BELIEVING. He believed that nothing was impossible with God, and that God’s promise must be true. This faith, then, was simply trusting God’s word.
III. ABRAM ASSURED. Abram watched. Abram waited. Then deep sleep fell on him. God’s time often comes when His servant’s weakness is most felt.
1. God unveils to Abram a glimpse of the future.
2. God allows Abram to see a symbol of the Divine Presence. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
1. God’s infinite condescension. Will God in very deed become a contracting party with man? Shall only the breadth of a sacrifice separate the Most High God from a sinful creature such as even Abraham was? And yet so it was.
2. Let us see here again a type and emblem of the greater covenant between the Father and the Son, the covenant of grace.
3. And we ought, in fine, to enter into covenant, as Abraham did, with God. In every act of firm belief in God and Christ there is implied the idea of covenant obligation. We bind ourselves to be God’s forever; and He promises, not to us by ourselves (as is supposed in a personal covenant), but to us as in Christ, all those blessings, present and future, which are implied in Him. (G. Gilfillan.)
The word “count” used in two senses
At the last general election some millions of votes had to be counted. And the proceedings on that occasion illustrated the fact that the verb “to count” is used in two senses. The clerk counts the voting papers he takes out of the ballot box; but presently he comes to one which has been filled up by the voter irregularly, and, throwing it aside, he exclaims, “That will not count,” or “I can’t count that.” He does not mean that there is any physical difficulty in adding that one vote to the number he has arrived at. He means that it must not be reckoned. The same distinction may be seen in the Bible. When David says of God’s precious thoughts, “If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand” (Psalms 139:18), the word “count” is used in the ordinary sense of numbering; and the same Hebrew word is sometimes translated “number,” as in David’s “numbering” of the people. But when the Psalmist complains, “We are counted as sheep for the slaughter” Psalms 44:22), he means not “numbered,” but “regarded,” or “reckoned”; and the Hebrew word used is elsewhere rendered “reckoned,” or “imputed,” as in Psalms 32:2, “Unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” So also in the Greek of the New Testament; and teachers should particularly note, in studying this lesson, that in the Authorised Version of Romans
4. the words “count” (which occurs twice), “reckon” (which occurs three times), and “impute” (which occurs six times), all stand for one Greek word, which is used eleven times in that chapter, and always means “count” in the second sense. In the Revised Version this is put right, and in no chapter is the revision more valuable. It renders the word by “reckon” in every case, and every reader feels the immensely increased strength of St. Paul’s argument. Now these two senses of the word “count” both appear in Genesis 15:1-21, in the fifth and sixth verses. (In the fifth verse the English words “tell” and “numbered” are the same in the Hebrew, and are, of course, equivalent to “count” and “counted”). And in both cases the use of the expression is very significant. (E. Stock.)
Faith takes the righteous character of its object
Just as the hand of a dyer that has been working with crimson will be crimson just as the hand that has been holding fragrant perfumes will be perfumed; so my faith, which is only the hand by which I lay hold on precious things, will take the tincture and fragrance of what it grasps. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Faith in Christ our Righteousness
Like as, in winter, we no sooner go from the fire but we are cold, nor out of light but we enter into darkness, even so we no sooner be parted from Jesus Christ, who is our Righteousness and our Life, but straight we are in sin and death; forasmuch as He is our Life that quickeneth us, the Sun that giveth us light, and the Fire that warmeth, comforteth, and refresheth all His members. (J. Spencer.)
He believed in God
For the first time is that sacred emotion recorded which forms the centre of religion; which confides in things promised but unseen; which conquers every doubt by reliance and resignation; which discovers, through the mists of the present, the sunshine of the future; and which recognizes in the discordant strife of the world the traces of the eternal mind that leads it to an unceasing harmony. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
And He counted it to him for righteousness
1. From this confessedly weighty sentence we learn, implicitly, that Abram had no righteousness. And here the universal fact of man’s depravity comes out into incidental notice as a thing usually taken for granted in the words of God.
2. Righteousness is here imputed to Abram. Hence mercy and grace are extended to him; mercy taking effect in the pardon of his sin, and grace in bestowing the rewards of righteousness.
3. That in him which is counted for righteousness is faith in Jehovah promising mercy. In the absence of righteousness this is the only thing in the sinner that can be counted for righteousness.
The rationale of faith in God
I. FAITH IN GOD SUPPOSES A DIVINE REVELATION.
1. We must have a revelation of a personal God.
2. That revelation must exhibit God in loving relations to man.
II. THE ACT OF FAITH RESTS UPON A DIVINE PROMISE.
1. Faith is the present realization of some good which we hope for.
2. Without a Divine promise, faith becomes mere adventure.
III. THERE ARE DIFFICULTIES IN FAITH WHICH GOD IS READY TO MEET.
1. Such difficulties are part of our trial in this present state.
2. Such difficulties need not overtask our faith.
IV. FAITH IN GOD IS MAN’S ONLY RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. Man has no righteousness of and from himself.
2. Man cannot attain righteousness by obedience to the works of the law.
3. Man can only possess righteousness by the gracious act of God. (T. H.Leale.)
The firmness of Abraham’s faith -
I. GOD SPOKE TO ABRAHAM ABOUT HIS FEAR.
II. GOD SPOKE TO ABRAHAM ABOUT HIS CHILDLESSNESS.
III. ABRAHAM BELIEVED BEFORE HE UNDERWENT THE JEWISH RITE OF CIRCUMCISION.
IV. ABRAHAM BELIEVED IN FACE OF STRONG NATURAL IMPROBABILITIES.
V. HIS FAITH WAS DESTINED TO BE SEVERELY TRIED.
VI. HIS FAITH WAS COUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
Justification by faith illustrated by Abram’s righteousness
I. How was ABRAM JUSTIFIED?
1. He was not justified by his works.
2. This justification came to Abram not by obedience to the ceremonial law, any more that by conformity to the moral law.
3. The faith which justified Abram was still an imperfect faith, although it perfectly justified him.
4. So far, then, all is clear: Abram was not justified by works, nor by ceremonies, nor partly by works and partly by faith, nor by the perfection of his faith--he is counted righteous simply because of his faith in the Divine promise. I must confess that, looking more closely into it, this text is too deep for me, and therefore I decline, at this present moment, to enter into the controversy which rages around it; but one thing is clear to me, that if faith be, as we are told, counted to us for righteousness, it is not because faith in itself has merit which may make it a fitting substitute for a perfect obedience to the law of God, nor can it be viewed as a substitute for such obedience. For all good acts are a duty: to trust God is our duty, and he that hath believed to his utmost hath done no more than it was his duty to have done. He who should believe without imperfection, if this were possible, would even then have only given to God a part of the obedience due; and if he should have failed in love, or reverence, or aught beside, his faith, as a virtue and a work, could not stand him in any stead. In fact, according to the great principle of the New Testament, even faith, as a work, does not justify the soul. We are not saved by works at all or in any sense, but alone by grace, and the way in which faith saves us is not by itself as a work, but in some other way directly opposite thereto.
II. Let us pass on to consider THE PROMISE UPON WHICH HIS FAITH RELIED when Abram was justified.
1. Abram’s faith, like ours, rested upon a promise received direct from God.” This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed by.” Had this promise been spoken by any other, it would have been a subject of ridicule to the patriarch; but, taking it as from the lip of God, he accepts it, and relies upon it. Now, if you and I have true faith, we accept the promise, “He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved,” as being altogether Divine.
2. Abram’s faith was faith in a promise concerning the seed. He saw Christ by the eye of faith, and then he saw the multitude that should believe in Him, the seed of the father of the faithful. The faith which justifies the soul concerns itself about Christ, and not concerning mere abstract truths.
3. Abram had faith in a promise which it seemed impossible could ever be fulfilled. The faith which justifies us must be of the same kind. It seems impossible that I should ever be saved; I cannot save myself; I see absolute death written upon the best hopes that spring of my holiest resolutions; “In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing”; but yet for all this I believe that through the life of Jesus I shall live, and inherit the promised blessing.
4. This justifying faith was faith which dealt with a wonderful promise, vast and sublime. I do not hear him saying, “It is too good to be true.” No; God hath said it--and nothing is too good for God to do. The greater the grace of the promise, the more likely it is to have come from Him, for good and perfect gifts come from the Father of Lights. Canst thou believe that heaven is thine, with all its ecstasies of joy, eternity with its infinity of bliss, God with all His attributes of glory? Oh! this is the faith that justifies, far-reaching, wide-grasping faith, that diminishes not the word of promise, but accepts it as it stands.
5. Once more, Abram showed faith in the promise as made to himself. Out of his own bowels a seed should come, and it was in him and in his seed that the whole world should be blessed. I can believe all the promises in regard to other people. I find faith in regard to my dear friend to be a very easy matter, but oh! when it comes to close grips, and to laying hold for yourself, here is the difficulty.
III. In the third place, let us notice THE ATTENDANTS OF ABRAM’S JUSTIFICATION.
1. With your Bibles open, kindly observe that, after it is written his faith was counted to him for righteousness, it is recorded that the Lord said to him, “I am Jehovah that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.” When the soul is graciously enabled to perceive its complete justification by faith, then it more distinctly discerns its calling. Now, the believer perceives his privileged separation, and discerns why he was convinced of sin, why he was led away from self-righteousness and the pleasures of this world, to live the life of faith; now he sees his high calling and the prize of it, and from the one blessing of justification he argues the blessedness of all the inheritance to which he is called.
2. Abram, after being justified by faith, was led more distinctly to behold the power of sacrifice. By God’s command he killed three bullocks, three goats, three sheep, with turtle doves and pigeons, being all the creatures ordained for sacrifice.
3. Perhaps even more important was the next lesson which Abram had to learn. He was led to behold the covenant. I suppose that these pieces of the bullock, the lamb, the ram, and the goat, were so placed that Abram stood in the midst with a part on this side and a part on that. So he stood as a worshipper all through the day, and towards nightfall, when a horror of great darkness came over him, he fell into a deep sleep. Who would not feel a horror passing over him as he sees the great sacrifice for sin, and sees himself involved therein? Can God forget a covenant with such sanctions? Can such a federal bond so solemnly sealed be ever broken? Impossible. Man is sometimes faithful to his oath, but God is always so; and when that oath is confirmed for the strengthening of our faith by the blood of the Only-begotten, to doubt is treason and blasphemy. God help us, being justified, to have faith in the covenant which is sealed and ratified with blood.
4. Immediately after, God made to Abram (and here the analogy still holds) a discovery, that all the blessing that was promised, though it was surely his, would not come without an interval of trouble. You are a justified man, but you are not freed from trouble. Your sins were laid on Christ, but you still have Christ’s cross to carry. The Lord has exempted you from the curse, but He has not exempted you from the chastisement. Learn that you enter on the children’s discipline on the very day in which you enter upon their accepted condition.
5. To close the whole, the Lord gave to Abram an assurance of ultimate success. He would bring his seed into the promised land, and the people who had oppressed them He would judge. So let it come as a sweet revelation to every believing man this morning, that at the end he shall triumph, and that those evils which now oppress him shall be cast beneath his feet. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith counted for righteousness
The expression “counted for righteousness” does not signify, “considered as a righteous act”; but it means, “accepted for righteousness.” Righteousness, such as would satisfy God’s holy law, he had not; but faith he had: and God takes this faith as a substitute for righteousness, and reckons it to him as righteousness.
1. This faith was an entire surrender of himself to God, and renouncing of his own will and wisdom.
2. It was an implicit confidence in the Divine faithfulness and veracity.
3. It looked to God’s promise; and that promise contained, in germ, the whole doctrine of the gospel.
4. This faith showed itself in holy obedience.
I. WE ARE BY NATURE, AND IN OURSELVES, UNRIGHTEOUS.
II. WE ARE NOT ABLE TO SAVE OURSELVES BY WORKS.
III. TO BE MADE RIGHTEOUS MEANS TO BE SET PERFECTLY RIGHT WITH GOD’S LAW.
IV. THIS CAN BE DONE FOR US ONLY BY FAITH. In other words, our salvation must be of grace; it must be accomplished for us by God; and we must acquiesce in His method, and surrender ourselves to His power.
V. FAITH, IN RESTING UPON GOD’S WORD, RESTS UPON A STATEMENT, A DOCTRINE, AND A PROMISE. The statement is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died, rose again, and now sitteth at God’s right hand. The doctrine is that His death was an express and all-sufficient atonement for our sins; so that God now, looking at it, can be just and the justifier of the ungodly. The promise is that all sin shall be remitted, and all righteousness imputed to him who truly repents and shelters in the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
VI. YET FAITH HAS A PRACTICAL RESULT. He who thus believes is saved. He is inspired with love to God; he is renewed in the Divine likeness, and made a partaker of the Holy Ghost; and therefore he must delight to keep God’s commandments and do His will. Application:
1. To the ungodly. Seek justification, and so flee from the wrath to come.
2. To those seeking to be righteous. Will you study God’s method of righteousness, which is by faith, and at once fall in with it?
3. To believers. Cultivate more faith, and rest confident of never perishing, but having eternal life. Beware of relapsing into the spirit of merit mongering and legalism. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
Abraham’s faith counted for righteousness
To establish the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, it is not necessary to maintain that the faith of Abram means Christ in whom he believed. Nor can this be maintained; for it is manifestly the same thing, in the account of the Apostle Paul, as believing, which is very distinct from the object believed in. The truth appears to be this: It is faith, or believing, that is counted for righteousness; not, however, as a righteous act, or on account of any inherent virtue contained in it, but in respect of Christ, on whose righteousness it terminates. That we may form a clear idea, both of the text and the doctrine, let the following particulars be considered:--
1. Though Abram believed God when he left Ur of the Chaldees, yet his faith in that instance is not mentioned in connection with his justification; nor does the apostle, either in his Epistle to the Romans or in that to the Galatians, argue that doctrine from it, or hold it up as an example of justifying faith. I do not mean to suggest that Abram was then in an unjustified state; but that the instance of his faith which was thought proper by the Holy Spirit to be selected as the model for believing for justification, was not this, nor any other of the kind; but those only in which there was an immediate respect had to the person of the Messiah. “By Him, all that believe (that is, in Him) are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.” It is through faith in His blood that they obtain remission of sins--He is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.
2. This distinction, so clearly perceivable both in the Old and New Testament, sufficiently decides in what sense faith is considered as justifying. Whatever other properties the magnet may possess, it is as pointing invariably to the north that it guides the mariner: so whatever other properties faith may possess, it is as pointing to Christ, and bringing us into union with Him, that it justifies.
3. The phrase, “counted it for righteousness,” does not mean that God thought it to be what it was, which would have been merely an act of injustice; but His graciously reckoning it what in itself it was not; viz., a ground for the bestowment of covenant blessings.
4. Though faith is not our justifying righteousness, yet it is a necessary concomitant, and mean of justification; and being the grace which above all others honours Christ, it is that which above all others God delights to honour. Hence it is that justification is ascribed to it, rather than to the righteousness of Christ without it. Our Saviour might have said to Bartimeus, “Go thy way, I have made thee whole.” This would have been truth, but not the whole of truth which it was His design to convey. The necessity of faith in order to healing would not have appeared from this mode of speaking, nor had any honour been done, or encouragement been given to it: but by His saying, “Go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole,” each of these ideas is conveyed, Christ would omit mentioning His own honour, and knowing that faith having an immediate respect to Him, amply provided for it. (A. Fuller.)
Power of faith
He who walks by sight only, walks in a blind alley. He who does not know the freedom and joy of reverent, loving speculation, wastes his life in the gloomy cell of the mouldiest of prisons. Even in matters that are not distinctly religious, faith will be found to be the inspiration and strength of the most useful life. It is faith that does the great work in the world. It is faith that sends men in search of unknown coasts. It is faith that re-trims the lamp of inquiry, when sight is weary of the flame. It is faith that unfastens the cable and gives men the liberty of the seas. It is faith that inspires the greatest works in civilization. So we cannot get rid of religion unless we first get rid of faith, and when we get rid of faith we give up our birthright and go into slavery forever. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Firm religious belief
Sir Humphrey Davy used to remark, “I envy not quality of the mind or intellect in others; nor genius, power, wit, or fancy; but if I could choose what would be most delightful, and, I believe, most useful to me, I should prefer a firm religious belief to every other blessing; for it makes life a discipline of goodness; creates new hopes when all hopes vanish; and throws over the decay, the destruction of existence, the most gorgeous of all lights; awakens life even in death, and from corruption and decay calls up beauty and divinity; makes an instrument of torture and of shame the ladder of ascent to paradise; and, far above all combinations of earthly hopes, calls up the most delightful visions and plains and amaranths, the gardens of the blest, the security of everlasting joys, where the sensualist and the sceptic view only gloom, decay, annihilation, and despair.
This is the first time the word “believed” occurs in the Bible. How wonderful this chapter is in the matter of first uses of words! It seems to be a chapter of beginnings! Believed--what a history opens in this one word! The moment Abram believed, he was truly born again. We may see here some of the great meanings of the word. Paul says of Abram that “against hope he believed in hope,” and “that he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.” Here, then, we may study the word at the fountain head. “Believed” means supported, sustained, strengthened; Abram nourished and nurtured himself in God; Abram hid his life and his future in this promise, as a child might hide or nestle in a mother’s breast. That is faith. He took the promise as a fulfilment; the word was to him a fact. Thus he was called out of himself, out of his own trust, out of his own resources, and his life was fostered upon God--he by-lived, lived-by, believed, God! It was surely a perilous moment. Appearances were against the promise. Doubt might well have said, How can this thing be? But Abram “staggered not.” God’s love was set before him like an open door, and Abram went in and became a child at home. Henceforward the stars had new meanings to him, as, long before, the rainbow had to Noah. Abram drew himself upward by the stars. Every night they spoke to him of his posterity and his greatness. They were henceforward not stars only but promises, and oaths, and blessings. Thus dust is turned into flesh; bread into sacramental food; and stars become revelations and prophecies. This act of believing in the Lord was accounted unto Abram for righteousness. From the first, God has always made much of faith. In no instance has it been treated as a mere matter of course, but rather as a precious thing that called for approbation and blessing. Faith was counted unto Abram for character; it added something positive to his being; he became more than merely harmless; he became noble, dignified, righteous. To believe, is not simply to assent; it is to take the thing promised as if it were actually given; and this action on the part of man is followed by an exactly corresponding action on the part of God, for he takes the faith as righteousness, the act of belief as an act of piety, a mental act as a positive heroism. What Abram did, we ourselves have to do. He rested on the word of God; he did not wait until the child was born, and then say, “Now I believe”; that would not have been faith, it would have been sight. It is thus that I must believe God; I must throw my whole soul upon Him, and drive all doubt, all fear, from my heart, and take the promise as a fact. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And he believed in the Lord
Scarcely any event of the Old Testament is more frequently celebrated than this, and made the subject of more lengthy comment. Abraham believed God; and it was counted unto him for righteousness. It is a story as beautiful as it is blessed, if we can but tell it as it should be told. Let us listen, longing that Abraham’s faith may be ours. “After these things the word of the Lord came upon Abram in a vision, saying”--So it ever begins. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Do not let us begin to think of Abraham’s advantage in the vision. We have the Word of God as he never had it, or could have it. Above all, we have the Word made flesh, the Only-Begotten, full of truth and grace. A thousand precious promises ever wait to welcome us, and pledge to us the blessing of our God. And it is from the Word that faith springs. “Fear not, Abram.” Abram was fearing and fretting. And well he might. “I am thy shield, come in under My presence, I will screen thee, and I will be thy portion, thy reward exceeding great.” Thus God draws His mournful child to Himself that He may comfort him. I am. What God is, is our blessedness. To know Him is rest; to know Him is to rejoice. “And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless?” Give thee indeed, Abraham! Surely thou art forgetting how much He has given thee. Has He not given thee already more than enough? Wealth does but leave me poor indeed; lands and fame yield no comfort if He be not mine! O blessed longing, O holy discontent, to find no rest, no satisfaction, except in Christ! No complaint is so welcome to our God as that which comes from a longing for Christ. Then comes the promise of a son distinct and assured. And not spoken only, but God led him forth and bade him look into the heavens. “And Abraham believed in the Lord.” Unbelief has plenty of ground for the sole of its foot, and might very well have said: My Lord, that is impossible. Unbelief might have whispered again: “I do not see hew it can be?” Unbelief makes much of that: “I do not see how it can be.” But what of that? Are there not ten thousand things which I have not sense enough to understand, but which I am glad to be sure of for all that! Of all follies the supreme folly is unbelief. Abraham listened, and God spake. Abraham looked, and all about him was the pledge and measure of this promise: “And Abraham believed in the Lord.” If God had said it should be, why of course it must be--must be. There is no room for doubt. For thee and me there is a vision brighter than that Syrian sky and the glory of the heavens. We see Jesus. To be like Him--is our high colling and the glorious promise of God. What shall we say? Shall we look at ourselves, at our failings, at our folly? Shall we go through the list of our hindrances and difficulties? Shall we begin to argue about the possibility of it all? Or shall we boldly take hold of the Almighty power of God and rest in the assurance of the word that cannot be broken? “The servant shall be as his Lord.” See further. The impossibility was God’s possibility. The relation of Abraham to the Messiah was not of nature, but by a new creation, a resurrection. So then for us here is the great secret of the blessed life: It is an utter and absolute surrender of ourselves to God for the fulfilment of His purposes; and then an abiding confidence in Him that He will assuredly fulfil the word “wherein He hath caused us to hope.” (M. G.Pearse.)
Look now toward heaven
You may be hemmed in on every side; but you are not hemmed in overhead. If you cannot see a great way before you, or on either hand, you can see far enough straight up. When you question what God can do, look above, and see what God has done. This looking at obstacles, fixing our eyes on the hills or the bogs, on the lions or the bad men in our pathway, is discouraging business. It makes us believe that there is no way out of our difficulties. But to look up into the clear sky, and to see the moon and the stars in their marvellous beauty, inspires us to the feeling that there are no difficulties out of which their Maker cannot find the way for us. What is it that has discouraged you? Is it your empty purse; or the business outlook of the times; or the rumours of impending war; or the misdoing or the lack of your wayward boy; or the suspicious looks of those who used to trust you; or the sense of your own poor health; or a fresh conviction of your lack of mental power? Whatever it is that has made you anxious, “look now toward heaven”: there is nothing discouraging in that direction. If the Lord who made the heavens, and keeps the moon and the stars in their places, has given you a promise, you may be sure that He can make that promise good. (H. C. Trumbull.)
So shall thy seed be
That the Lord assumed any visible form is not likely, and it would lessen the sweetness, solitude, and sublimity of the incident. No! Abraham stands there alone, like a grey granite rock glimmering in the light of stars. Behind him are his tents, where every eye is closed in slumber. Around stretches the wide solitary plain, with the hills of Hebron in the distance. Above is the illimitable firmament, not, as in this climate, spotted here and there with patches and streaks, and points of splendour, but hanging down like a roof of solid and compacted gold; the points, and streaks, and patches being those of the darkness, and serving to relieve the intensity, and to measure the depth of the surrounding glory. In the clear air of the Eastern night, the breeze of midnight blowing and increasing the transparency, as well as the coolness of the atmosphere, the stars look myriads and millions, the Pleiades appear, not as to us, “a nest of fireflies tangled in a silver braid,” but a hundred distinct particles of glowing light; Orion seems not to us a giant half seen through wisps of mist, but like Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image in the plain of Dura, blazing equally from every limb; constellations unknown to, or dimly seen in our latitudes, here sparkle like gems of various colours, red, blue, purple, and green; and although only a section of the Great Bear looms above the northern horizon, the southern man is not conscious of the mutilation, and sees instead--oh! rapturous object to the Christian heart, although Abraham is not yet aware of the import of the solemn symbol--the Cross of the South, with its unequal and tremulous, but beautiful angles, appearing like a tree of glory on the remotest verge of the horizon. And while Abraham is gazing at this mass of heavenly splendour, and vainly trying to number its bright atoms, there comes a whisper from above the stars, which, as it passes along, hushes the breeze of night, the voice of distant streams, and the roar of wandering lions, and pierces the very core of his heart--“So shall thy seed be. There are their numbers already registered in the book of heaven.” (G. Gilfillan.)
Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
The confirmation of faith
I. FAITH IS CONFIRMED BY THE REMEMBRANCE OF GOD’S PAST DEALINGS.
1. We should call to mind what God is.
2. We should consider the steps by which we have arrived at what we are already.
3. We should keep that purpose of God before us, in reference to which we first exercised our faith.
II. FAITH IS CONFIRMED BY COVENANT.
1. It was a token and pledge of God’s promises, not a concession to unbelief.
2. It was a covenant made by sacrifice.
3. It was a covenant which was so ordered as to give a further exercise to faith.
III. FAITH IS CONFIRMED BY A FURTHER DISCOVERY OF THE DIVINE WILL.
1. This discovery was preceded by a revelation of the awful majesty of God.
2. The future was unfolded.
IV. FAITH IS CONFIRMED BY THE DISPLAY OF THE DIVINE GLORY.
1. The Divine glory in the overthrow of evil.
2. The Divine glory in salvation.
V. FAITH IS CONFIRMED BY THE PROSPECT OF A PEACEFUL DEATH AND OF REUNION WITH THE SPIRITS OF THE JUST.
1. This prospect renders the life of the believer independent of the earthly fortunes of the Church.
2. This prospect deprives the grave of its terrors. (T. H. Leale.)
Watching with God
I. WATCHING BY THE SACRIFICE.
II. THE HORROR OF A GREAT DARKNESS.
III. THE RATIFICATION OF THE COVENANT. (T. H. Leale.)
The first stage of the covenant
I. HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF SPIRITUAL CONFLICT AND GLOOM.
1. We feel our littleness and ignorance, in contrast with the greatness and glory of Almighty God.
2. We are deeply sensible of our guiltiness and impurity. See the cases of Job (42) and Isaiah (6).
3. We are full of fear about the future. This may refer both to this life, and to the next. It may wax into a most vehement dread and horror.
4. Sometimes there is an abnormal state of the physical system. The senses are benumbed, surrounding things are indistinct and hazy; we find it hard to realize our own existence, we are dreamy and beclouded in our sensations; but spiritual and eternal things are appallingly near. The soul’s sensibilities are in a state of high and extreme tension.
II. WE ARE TAUGHT THE MANNER OF GOD’S HOLDING INTERCOURSE WITH US.
1. He is sovereign in its manner: fixing His own seasons, and the objects of His gracious visitations.
2. He comes by promise: all free on His part.
3. He comes by sacrifice. This He has provided Himself.
4. He comes with mingled majesty and mercy. There is the light of His holiness softened by the gentle covering, and screen, and cloud of His clemency and condescending grace.
5. He comes with an oath. What marvellous condescension!
III. A LESSON OF PATIENCE AND WATCHFULNESS ON OUR PART. We are not to hurry our great transactions with God: but wait His times in patient reverence and awe.
IV. THE GRANDEUR OF GOD’S PROMISES. What an inheritance is promised to us: spiritual, heavenly, Divine. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
The Cross of Christ: its blessings and its trials
I. THE DIVINE PROOF OF THE FULFILMENT OF GOD’S PROMISES. The divided heifer, etc. Christ’s broken body the Divine proof.
II. CHASTENED HOPES. God has to close the avenues of nature to reveal the purposes of grace. And the hopes are chastened--a “horror of great darkness” and servitude for four hundred years: here is the dark background, and it is in every picture of earthly hopes. But the end is victory--judgment on every foe and great substance. We are in the tunnel now, but we are fast emerging into the glorious sunny landscape.
III. THE CROSS OF CHRIST AND ITS BLESSINGS. We look now at the nature of that sacrifice Abram had been told to prepare, and his connection with it. In it we behold the Cross of Christ, and the believer’s connection with it. First of all we see it is a covenant, and made by God with Abram--“In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” And the promise passes over into a fact. The Lord does not now say “I will give,” but “I have given” (Genesis 15:18). The “same day”--thus are the Cross, the covenant, and the believer all bound up together. And mark the three things--the “pieces,” the “smoking furnace,” and the “burning lamp.” The “pieces” represent the suffering Jesus. The “smoking furnace”--our portion in Him, the sufferings and trials of the Cross. The “burning lamp”--God’s light and promises and blessings in the midst of it all. Every believer is between those “pieces,” hid in the wounded side of Jesus. Every believer there knows it is a “smoking furnace,” a place of suffering and trial. Every believer too has his “burning lamp” there--the light of God’s presence and His joys. And observe, it “passed between those pieces.” This mingling of the joy and the sorrow is not abiding; it is “passing.” The “smoking furnace” will soon be over, and issue in everlasting joy. The “burning lamp” is quickly passing, and we shall soon enter into the glorious sunshine. Are you between those pieces--bearing Christ’s Cross--looking to that which is the spring and source of all your mercies? (F. Whitefield, M. A.)
Jehovah’s covenant with Abram
Here we notice--
1. The reason of the covenant (Genesis 15:8). It was made in response to a request on Abram’s part for some visible sign or token which might prove helpful to his faith.
2. The signs of the covenant. These were such as to appeal to Abram’s outward vision.
3. The blessings of the covenant. These were
III. A REVELATION REGARDING ABRAM’S POSTERITY (Genesis 15:12-16). LESSONS:
2. God is better than His gifts. The best portion any soul can win is to know and love and possess in the indestructible communion of love, Him who is the possessor of earth and heaven.
3. Verse 6 is one of the most important texts of the Old Testament Scriptures, inasmuch as it is a clear testimony to the exclusive efficacy of faith without works as the instrument of the sinner’s justification.
4. Although the privileges and blessings of the gospel covenant all come from God, and are to be traced to His good pleasure alone, it belongs to man to fulfil the conditions and perform the obligations which the reception of covenant benefits involves.
5. The faith which was imputed to Abram for righteousness formed that impressive personal character which made him “the friend of God,” and which at length enabled him even to offer up his only son Isaac in obedience to the Divine command (James 2:21-23). (C. Jordan, M. A.)
When the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away
Abram and the ravenous birds
MENTION SOME OF THOSE WELL-KNOWN INTRUDERS WHICH ARE PERPETUALLY MOLESTING OUR PEACE AND DISTURBING OUR SERVICE.
1. Wicked thoughts--the sons of Satan.
2. Worldly thoughts, which spring from the force of habit.
3. Anxious thoughts, the fruits of our unbelief.
4. Annoying thoughts, the offspring of our vanity.
5. Ecclesiastical anxieties. Church business, or Church differences.
II. DISTRACTING CARES MUST BE CHASED AWAY.
1. For your own sake. No human brain can bear the perpetual toil of business, except it knows how to pause and oil the machinery by turning the mind in some other direction.
2. You will find, if you are able to take a perfect rest, by driving away these evil thoughts when you are worshipping God, that you will do your work during the other days of the week far better. It was an old Popish folly to try and tell what kind of weather there would be by the weather on Sunday--“If it rain before mess; rain all the week more or less.” Now, we do not believe that literally; but we do believe it in a spiritual sense. If you have a bad Sabbath day, you will have a bad week; but if you have a good day of rest, you will find it good with your souls the whole week long; not that you will be without trouble all the week, that would not be good for you, but you shall never be without grace during the week; nor if you have peace on the Sunday shall you be without peace on the Monday.
3. And then let me remind you, in the next place, that the character of this day demands that you should get rid of these thoughts. Now, it is inconsistent with such a day--the day of light--for us to be in darkness. It is inconsistent with the day of resurrection for us to be raking in this grave of the world. It is inconsistent with this day of descent of the Spirit for us to be thinking of carnal things, and forgetting the things which are above.
4. The indulging of vain or anxious thoughts, when we are engaged in the worship of God, must be striven against, because it must be grievous to the Holy Spirit. How can we expect that we shall have His presence and His assistance if we give Him not our hearts?
5. These thoughts and cares must be driven away, for if you do not strive against them they will increase and multiply. This is a growing habit. The force of habit is like the velocity of a falling stone, it increases in ever multiplying proportions. If I have indulged one unbelieving thought, there has always been another to follow it; if I have allowed some little disturbance in the congregation to cast me down, and distract my thoughts, there has been another, and another, and another, till I have been in the pitiable condition of a minister who has been half afraid of his congregation.
III. I am now to show you HOW TO DO IT.
1. And we begin by saying, first of all, set your heart upon it; for when the soul is set upon a thing, then it is likely to accomplish it. Go up to God’s house, saying, “I must give up my soul to eternal matters today, and I will.”
2. But when you have this done, remember next--let the preparation of your heart before coming to the sacrifice assist you when you shall be there. We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted. But, we add, men ought not to hear without preparation.
3. But, this done, above all, cry to the Spirit of God for help to make your spirit rest.
4. Then, when you have thus done, and you come up to the house of God, still seek to continue in the same frame of mind, remembering in whose immediate presence you are. A Spartan youth was holding the censer at a sacrifice, when Alexander was offering a victim. It chanced that while he held the censer a hot coal fell upon his hand. The youth stood still, and never flinched, lest by any utterance or cry the sacrifice should be disturbed; for he said he was in the presence of Alexander, and he would not have the sacrifice interrupted for him; and he bore the pain of the burning coal. Let us remember that Spartan youth, adding to what he said, “We are in the presence of the Almighty God.” Then, if there be something which annoys us, let us bear it unflinchingly, for we stand before Him for whom it is blessed to suffer, and who will surely reward them that seek Him in spirit and in truth.
5. Another means I will give you. Take care that your faith be in active exercise, or else you cannot chase away those thoughts. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Be still, and know that He is God.
6. Take care also that thou attend a ministry which draws thee from earth, for there are some dead ministries which make the Sabbath day more intolerable than any of the other days of the week. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Driving away the vultures from the sacrifice
I. First, with regard to THE GREAT SACRIFICE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. This has been, and always will be, the great object of attack by the enemies of God.
1. Note well that the sacrifice which Abram guarded was of Divine ordination. So with the sacrifice of Christ.
2. Next, we see a further reason for guarding the sacrifice in the fact that it is of most solemn import. A covenant. We cannot let the vultures tear this sacrifice, for it is to us the token of the covenant; and if there be no covenant of grace, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain, and we are still under the curse of the broken law. If ye are still out of covenant with God, what hope, what safety, what peace, what joy is there for you?
3. And, next, we must guard this sacrifice, because there God most fully displays His grace.
4. We will do this all the more because this is the chief point of attack. Every doctrine of revelation has been assailed, but the order of battle passed by the black prince at this hour runs as follows: “Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the crucified King of Israel.” If they carry the bastion of substitution, if they can throw down the great truth of atonement, then all the rest will go as a matter of course. The cross taken away, indeed, there is nothing left worth defending. Therefore let us gather up our strength, that we may vigorously chase the vultures from the altar of the living God.
5. “How are we to do it?” says one. Well, we can all of us help in this struggle.
II. But now let us apply this example of Abram to ourselves in the matter of THE GRATEFUL SACRIFICE OF OUR LIVES. It is our reasonable service, that we present ourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God by our Lord Jesus Christ, and we must guard our consecration against the temptations which will assail it. I am addressing many of you who feel that you have entered into covenant with God by Jesus Christ. “What sort of vultures will there be?” says one. Well, there will come doubts as to eternal things. There will be questions about your own wisdom in giving yourself up to God. I hope you have been strangers to such birds of prey, but some of us have not been: doubts as to whether there be a God to serve; doubts as to whether there be a heaven, an eternal future, a blessed reward; doubts as to whether it is well to give up this world for the next, or not, Drive them away! They may come in other forms, such as dreams of ambition, the cares of life, temptations to sin, idleness, etc. In whatever guise they come, drive them away.
III. GUARD ALL THE SACRIFICES OF YOUR DEVOTION. When the fowls come down upon your sacrifices of prayer, and praise, and meditation, drive them away. A little boy, who was accustomed to spend a time every day in prayer, went up into a hayloft, and when he climbed into the hayloft, he always pulled the ladder up after him. Someone asked him why he did so. He answered, “As there is no door, I pull up the ladder.” Oh, that we could always in some way cut the connection between our soul and the intruding things which lurk below! There is a story told of me and of some person, I never knew who it was, who desired to see me on a Saturday night, when I had shut myself up to make ready for the Sabbath. He was very great and important, and so the maid came to say that someone desired to see me. I bade her say that it was my rule to see no one at that time. Then he was more important and impressive still, and said, “Tell Mr. Spurgeon that a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ desires to see him immediately.” The frightened servant brought the message; but the sender gained little by it, for my answer was, “Tell him I am busy with his Master, and cannot see servants now.” Sometimes you must use strong measures. Did not our Lord tell His messengers, on one occasion, to salute no man by the way? Courtesy must give place to devotion. It is incumbent on you that you should be alone with your Lord, and if intruders force an entrance, they must be sent about their business. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The disturbers of worship
I. THE OFFERING OF THE CHRISTIAN WORSHIPPER.
II. IT IS OFTEN DISTURBED AND INTERRUPTED.
1. Unbelieving thoughts.
2. Evil passions.
3. Worldly thoughts.
4. Satanic influence.
III. THE REMEDIES AGAINST THESE DIFFICULTIES AND INTERRUPTIONS.
1. A devotional preparation.
2. A firm hold on the truth.
3. Earnestness in the service.
4. Unshaken confidence in the aid of the Holy Spirit. (J. G. Hewlett, D. D.)
Wandering thoughts removed from the sacrifice by warm affections
If we would prevent wandering thoughts, we should seek warm affections. Flies will not so readily light on a boiling pot on the fire, as when it stands cold in the window, Nor will vain thoughts so easily light on thy sacrifice, when burning on the altar of a fervent heart, as when offered up with a cold, dull spirit. (W. Gurnall.)
The sacrifice hindered by vain thoughts
I have heard of some men who were called walking libraries, because they carried all that they read in their memories wherever they went. And have we not too many walking shops, barns, warehouses, etc., that is, persons who carry this lumber to bed and board, church and closet? How can such pray with a united heart, who have so many sharers in their thoughts? (W. Gurnall.)
An horror of great darkness fell upon him
Abram’s horror in the night
Abram’s condition here may be looked upon in two aspects.
1. As indicating the chequered experience of the good.
2. As suggesting solemn facts in man’s existence.
I. MAN HAS A SOUL.
II. MAN’S SOUL IS IN A FALLEN CONDITION.
III. MAN’S SOUL, THOUGH IN A FALLEN CONDITION, IS STILL ACCESSIBLE TO ITS MAKER. In His communication now to Abram, God must have impressed the patriarch with four things concerning Himself.
1. His infinite intelligence.
2. His righteous control.
3. His special regard for His people.
4. That he, individually, should be taken care of. (Homilist.)
Watching and visions
What was the meaning of that vision of fire?
I. IT INDICATED THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFERINGS.
II. The furnace may be taken also as referring to PURIFICATION, and the lamp to DIVINE LIGHT AND GUIDANCE.
1. Significant of the Divine treatment of the descendants of Abraham.
2. Illustrating the course of the spiritual descendants of Abraham--the true Israel--the Christian Church.
3. The life and work of Christ were shadowed forth in that “smoking furnace and burning lamp.” Abraham “rejoiced to see Christ’s day.”
4. An illustration of the character of the life of individual believers. In life, trial and joy must be intermingled. (F. Hastings.)
I. WHAT ABRAM HEARD.
1. The word of the Lord. Revelation, commandment
2. Mode of communication. In a vision. The word of the Lord needs now no vision. How little of the word of the Lord Abram had. But here was a word addressed to him personally.
3. Time. Immediately after the record of Abraham’s courage, etc.
4. Subject of the communication.
II. WHAT ABRAM DID.
1. He believed God. Some men need much evidence and argument before they give mental assent to the word they hear. Abram had little evidence. God spoke, and Abram believed.
2. He prepared the animals and birds (see Jeremiah 34:18-20). Thepassing between the divided parts of sacrificial offerings, the most solemn confirmation of words and covenants (see especially Hebrews 6:13-17).
3. He watched and guarded the victims thus dedicated. Would not suffer unclean birds to alight near them. The profound reverence with which he regarded this act and command of God. His faith thoroughly practical.
4. He slept. It was in a vision he had heard the word, now in a vision he should behold its solemn ratification. Did not sleep until he had discharged his duty.
III. WHAT ABRAM SAW. A horror of great darkness had fallen upon him. The hour, the work the circumstances, filled him with awe. He expected he hardly knew what. The profound darkness would make the light that appeared more visible.
1. He saw a lamp of fire. The sacred symbol of the Divine presence. The Shekinah.
2. He saw the fire pass between the victims. He knew no more solemn confirmation of words than this. God in His infinite condescension adopted the method of ratifying His word, which Abram, adopting to confirm his own promise, would have regarded as a most solemn oath.
3. This solemn assurance was combined with the repetition of the promise not only as previously given, but with detail and enlargement (15-21). Learn--
I. To regard with thankfulness this record of the Divine word which has come to us.
II. Christ is the true and final sin offering. The Divine presence was in that sacrifice.
III. God was in Christ, as the lamp was among these victims. And speaking merciful words of promise and pardon to us.
IV. Christ Jesus is the Word of God. Henceforth we hear no man, save Jesus only. (J. C. Gray.)
For the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full
Why the wicked are spared for a season
This passage, taken in connection with its attending circumstances, teaches us the following important truth: GOD WAITS UNTIL SINNERS NAVE FILLED UP A CERTAIN MEASURE OF INIQUITY, BEFORE HE EXECUTES THE SENTENCE BY WHICH THEY ARE DOOMED TO DESTRUCTION but when this measure is full, execution certainly and immediately follows.
1. That God is under no obligation to suspend the destruction of sinners until the measure of their iniquity is full, or even to suspend it for a single hour. The life of every sinner is already forfeited.
2. That when we say, God waits until sinners have filled up a certain measure of iniquity before He destroys them, we do not mean that He waits upon all, till they have filled up the same measure. In other words, we do not mean that all sinners are equal in sinfulness and guilt at the hour of their death. To assert this would be contrary to fact and daily observation.
3. That every impenitent sinner is constantly filling up the measure of his iniquity; and thus constantly ripening for destruction. This is evident from the fact, that all the feelings, thoughts, words and actions, of the impenitent, are sinful.
4. Though the measure of every impenitent sinner’s iniquity is constantly filling up; it falls much more rapidly in some cases, and at some seasons, than at others.
II. TO PROVE THE ASSERTION, WHICH WAS DRAWN FROM OUR TEXT.
1. The truth of this assertion may be proved from other passages of Scripture. St. Paul informs us that the conduct of the Jews tended to fill up their sins alway; for, he adds, wrath has come upon them to the uttermost. By the mouth of the prophet Joel, God says, Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe, for their wickedness is great. And, using the same figure, St. John informs us that he saw an angel seated on a cloud, having in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple of God, and said to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle and reap, for the time is come for thee to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle, and gathered the vintage of the earth, and cast it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. The same truths appear to be taught by the parable of the barren fig tree.
2. The truth of the remark under consideration is further proved by the history of God’s dealings with sinful nations and individuals.
III. TO MAKE SOME IMPROVEMENT OF THE SUBJECT.
1. From this subject you may learn, my impenitent hearers, why God spares sinners long after their lives are forfeited, and why He spares you. It is because the measure of your iniquity is not yet full.
2. From this subject, my hearers, you may learn the indispensable necessity of an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ. You are constantly adding to your sins, to diminish them is beyond your power. Yet you must cease to commit new sins, and those which you have already committed must be blotted out, or you will perish forever. Christ alone can enable you to do either. His blood cleanses from all sin; He is able to cast all your iniquities into the depths of the sea; and He can renovate your hearts, and render you holy, so that you shall no longer treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.
3. There is an important sense in which many of the preceding remarks are applicable to Christians. Those of you who have been such for any considerable time, have often, when contemplating your sins, and especially when in a religious declension, been ready to conclude that God would visit you with some severe temporal affliction, as a mark of His displeasure. But instead of this, you have found Him returning to you in mercy, healing your backslidings, and putting the song of salvation into your mouths. Having often found this to be the case, you may begin to conclude that it will always be so, and thus you may be insensibly led to become careless and slothful, to think lightly of sin, and not to guard against the first symptoms of declension. But if so, God will, in a terrible manner, convince you of your mistake and make you to know experimentally that it is an evil and bitter thing to forsake Him. (E. Payson, D. D.)
Behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces
The furnace and the lamp
In this whole striking and impressive narrative there are teachings of the utmost interest and value; and I would fain extract alike from the sacrifice, the furnace, and the lamp, guiding light and strengthening cheer for Abraham’s spiritual seed today.
1. Note, first, that Abram’s long and lonely hours of watching came to an end at last, and that patient waiting upon God obtained its due reward. You, too, may find that your offering of ardent prayer, or self-sacrificing deed of service or of suffering, may seem for long unanswered and in vain. Yet, though the vision tarry long, still wait for it; the day may slowly die, the night may gather round before the gladdening light shall come, but it shall come, and turn the darkness back again to dawn.
2. Note, further, that from every offering to God--the song of praise, the fervent prayer, the submissive will, the good deeds, or the consecrated life--we need to drive, with watchful hand and eye, the vultures of evilthoughts and selfish aims and worldly motives and Satanic temptations away. Now, as then, man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and still the unclean spirits which haunt and harass the Christian, even at his devotions as well as otherwise, are scared off just as they circle round for a final swoop, and wing their baffled flight away!
3. Note, further, that the mysterious furnace and the supernatural lamp were seen in direct connection with the chosen sacrifice. They moved to and fro upon the altar and among the consecrated offerings, and were seen nowhere else. Now, see how this applies to the seed of Abraham, the Israelitish race. They were a chosen people, selected and set apart out of all the tribes of men to be, in a sense, absolutely singular--God’s own people. This choice on God’s part, and this consecration on theirs, was symbolized and ratified by altar sacrifices and the fire from heaven. Their consecration to God brought the furnace of purification and the lamp of illumination, in order to fit them for the high and glorious destiny to which they were called. In the life and death of Jesus Christ, too, Abram’s glorious seed, the vision was fulfilled. How clearly we can see the “smoking furnace” in the sore affliction through which He passed! Yet, ever amid all, through the whole of His sharp pilgrimage, He had ever the light and the comfort, the cheer and the guidance, of the “burning lamp.” By His conscious sinlessness, His secret mountain intercourse with God, by the baptism of the Brooding Dove, by the Father’s voice and presence, by saintly messengers from heaven, by perpetual gift of gracious power, the “burning lamp” of light and love moved along through all His life of sacrifice, up the hill of Calvary, through the sepulchre, and from Mount Olivet up to the hills of God! The patriarch’s vision is fulfilled, too, in the history and experience of the Church of God, the true Israel, the spiritual seed of Abraham. The Church of Christ, the guild and family of true believers throughout all the world, is also, like Abram’s sacrifice, the elect of God. It is a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, elect, precious. By holy dedication the Church lays itself on the altar of its Lord, and offers perpetual sacrifice through the blood of the Atoning Lamb; and God says of it, “I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Here, again, we see how consecration is linked with purification and illumination--here, again, the Chosen Sacrifice is subjected to the smoking furnaceand burning lamp. The smoke of the one and the gleam of the other can be traced all along the line of the Church’s march. You can see the reek of the furnace in the rage of Herod, in the cruelty of Domitian, in the savagery of Nero, the passion of the English Mary, the atrocities of papal Rome. You can catch the reflection of the furnace glow in the sword of Mahomet, the rocks of Madagascar, the dungeons of Naples, the stakes of Smithfield, and the Inquisition of Spain. In some form or other, today, the “smoking furnace” moves through the pilgrim and militant Church of Christ. But, as with Israel of old, as with Jesus, the Church’s Head, so the Church itself has never been without the glow of the “burning lamp.” God’s Church has never lost the light of truth, never been robbed of the divinely-kindled lamp of Love! I want to extract one more lesson for personal application. The singular vision of Abram is equally fulfilled in the life and lot of every Christian believer. Like Abram’s offered victims, the Christian, too, is the chosen and consecrated possession of the Lord. He hath presented himself a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and in return, “the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself.” And here, again, in the individual, consecration is attended by purification and illumination. The living sacrifice goes hand in hand with the smoking furnace and the burning lamp. In the Christian life the smoking furnace is full often seen and felt. The path of suffering, test, and trial must be trodden by every child of God. This Christian must carry along a painful bodily ailment. That one must go mourning because of an absent face, a silent voice, a vacant chair. Another must struggle, baffled and perplexed with temporal and financial cares, half worsted in the fight. And still another weeps over a blighted hope, a thankless child, or an unfaithful friend. Everywhere, and with everyone, the smoking furnace moves in and out along the consecrated life. But still, in the Christian’s lot the “burning lamp” holds precious and abiding place. The word of promise, grace, and guidance is with him all the way. The “candle of the Lord” burns in his heart; the lamp of eternal truth and love burns with a quenchless fire, casts a guiding light on his heavenward path, sweeps away the mists even from death’s deep river, expels the shadows from the very grave, and is reflected by the jasper walls that gleam on the hills of God! Is Abram afraid of the smoking furnace? In the light of the burning lamp he reads, “Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward.” Does Paul’s thorn rankle so deep that he pleads thrice with tears and sighs to be delivered? The burning lamp flings the promise on the smoke cloud--“My grace is sufficient for thee,” and at once the apostle “glories in his infirmities and praises God in the fire!” So with thee, O Christian! In thy trials thou shalt have triumphs, in thy sorrows thou shalt have solace. For thy trouble thou shalt have double; in tribulation shall come compensation, and always and ever the smoking furnace shall be held in check by the gleam of the burning lamp! Do you ask in doubtful wonder why a consecrated life should be so closely linked with affliction? I answer that the furnace is the purifying agent making the sanctification perfect and the sacrifice more precious and complete. The furnace, too, endows the consecrated soul with the properties of steel, gives the tempered hardness and solidity of character which enables the Christian to fulfil the Apostolic counsel--“Quit you like men; be strong!” That was the end of Israel’s sore distresses. “Behold I have refined thee,” says Jehovah--“I have chosen thee out of the furnace of affliction.” Even of Jesus it is said that He learned obedience by the things that He suffered, and that by suffering He was made perfect as the Captain of our salvation. Take heart, then, O thou follower of the Captain. If that is the way the Master trod, should not the servant tread it still? Make thy sacrifice thorough, willing, constant, and entire. (J. J. Wray.)
Ratification of a covenant by a burning lamp
In illustration of this very ancient mode of ratifying a covenant, Roberts says--“It is an interesting fact that the burning lamp or tire is still used in the East in confirmation of a covenant. Should a person in the evening make a solemn promise to perform something for another, and should the latter doubt his word, the former will say, pointing to the flame of the lamp, ‘That is the witness.’ On occasions of greater importance, when two or more join in a covenant, should the fidelity of any be questioned, they will say, ‘ We invoke the lamp of the temple.’ When an agreement of this kind is broken, it will be said, ‘Who would have thought this, for the lamp of the temple was invoked’?”
The Lord made a covenant with Abram
The time of saints’ sacrifice amidst their troubles may be the season of God’s making covenant with them.
2. Not only promise but covenant hath God made to His Church for their consolation.
3. Word and sign, promise and pledge, make up God’s covenant.
4. God’s promise of good to come is as sure as if done already.
5. Lower mercies God may give as tokens of greater blessings--this land.
6. The Church hath had its place and portion designed in this world, for being here (Genesis 15:18).
7. God’s bounds to His Church were large under the law, much more under the gospel. The ends of the earth now (Genesis 15:19).
8. All peoples shall be driven out to make room for the Church of God. Multitudes can be no hindrance of making good God’s covenant to them (Genesis 15:20-21). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The river of Egypt
As the traveller pursues his weary way from Egypt to Palestine, he crosses the broad channel of a river, bounded still by its well-marked banks, but destitute of water. When the rivers of Judah flowed with water, this was the southern boundary of the country, dividing it from the land of Ham, and hence it is often alluded to as the “River of Egypt.” On one side is a parched desert of sand, spotted here and there with little verdant patches, where a few bushes of palm trees grow, and flowers show their smiling faces to the scorching rays of the sun that pour down as if from a glowing furnace; but, in general, dreary, waste, and bare, with nothing to relieve the eye, almost blinded by the glare of the white sand, but occasional heaps of stones, that tell of ruin and desolation. Here and there the flat sands are covered with an incrustation of fine salt, the very symbol of barrenness. The wild ass, whose “house” God has “made the wilderness, and the barren land (Hebrews, the salt places) his dwellings,” here ranges, far from the haunts of men, “searching after every green thing.” On the eastern side of this ancient channel the country changes. Low sand hills running in ranges parallel to the shore of the Mediterranean for a while struggle for supremacy with the verdure of grassy slopes. (P. H.Gosse.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》