By; J. G. Bellet

 

In earlier parts of the book of Genesis, I have already traced two distinct histories — that of the antediluvian saints, or the times from Adam to Enoch; and that of Noah and of those who followed him, down to the scattering of the nations.

The first of these histories occupies Gen. 1 – 5, the second, Gen. 6 – 11.

In the chapter which follows — Gen. 12 — the story of Abraham begins, and is continued down to Gen. 25. This forms the third portion or section of the book of Genesis, and presents to us a new era in the ways of God. And in all this, I am sure, there is beautiful moral order, and an unfolding of the dispensational wisdom of God. For in these things the heavens and the earth are made, by turns, to take up the wondrous tale of that wisdom, and to rehearse divine mysteries — such mysteries as, “in the fulness of time,” will be accomplished, when, as we know, He shall gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth. Eph. 1: 10.

Adam in innocency was a man of the earth. He had to enjoy it, knowing it all as his, but knowing nothing as his beside. But when he was sent out of Eden, he became a stranger in the earth. He received no commission to improve or furnish it. He had simply to till the ground for a living, and the translation of Enoch tells us, that the destiny and inheritance of that earliest household of God was heavenly.*

*The family of Cain was the contradiction of this, in those antediluvian days. They tilled the ground for something more than livelihood. Their tillage led to the culture and advancement of the world as a system of gain and pleasure. And thus were the two families distinguished — the one was formed by faith, or by obedience to the revelation of God; the other by the despite of it, as the world is to this day.

In Noah, however, in process of time. the purpose of God is different. Noah is a man of the earth again. He leaves the ark in a character very different from that in which Adam had left the garden. Noah left the ark under commission to keep the world in order, as judge and ruler. It was not strangership on it, but citizenship in it, and government of it, that was now again the divine thought. But a second apostasy was witnessed in the midst of Noah’s descendants. In process of time, they affected independency in the earth, casting off the fear of God, and seeking to do for themselves without Him, as Adam had (seeking to be as God) in the garden of old.

Abraham, upon all this, finds grace in the eyes of the Lord. He is called out from this apostate scene; and, as we might expect, from this alternate telling of heavenly and earthly mysteries, after Noah the man of the earth, Abraham is called to be a heavenly man.

The Lord said to him, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.” This was the character of the call of Abraham. It was not a call from moral pollution, or from idolatry or the like; it was a call from the associations of nature and of the earth. There were idols to be left, I doubt not. See Joshua 24: 2, 3. But it was not the leaving of them that constituted the nature of the call. Yet Abraham, touching the earth, was to be like Adam outside the garden. He leaves Ur of the Chaldees, as Adam left Eden. He received no commission to cultivate the land of Canaan for the Lord, or to conquer and govern the people there. The arrangements of the world were left just as they were. Abraham had nothing to say to the nations through which he passed on his way to Canaan; and when he reached that land, he found the Canaanite there, and there he left him as he found him.

Government had been set up in Noah, and nations had been organized; as natural relationships had been instituted at the beginning, or in Adam. But Abraham is called from all this. God Himself is received by faith; and the things of nature which Adam might have conveyed to him, or the things of government which Noah might have secured to him, are left behind.*

*In their day, Abraham’s seed, or the nation of Israel, are again an earthly people; and they exhibit the very opposite of all this. They smite the nations of Canaan; and instead of being called from kindred and country, they are called to all such things; men, women, children, and even cattle (for not a hoof was to be left behind), journeyed from Egypt to Canaan — from a land of strangers to their own inheritance.

In our patriarch, then, we see the election and the call of God. He was of the corrupt, departed family of man, without a single claim on God. But sovereign grace (in the virtue of which all the redeemed, according to eternal counsel, stand) had made him its object; and under such grace he is, in due time, manifested as a chosen one, and is called of God to be a heavenly stranger in the world. Scripture speaks of him as the father of all them that believe. Rom. 4. We may, therefore, expect to find the life of faith exhibited in him; and so we do find it, as this little book designs to show.

But in this “life of faith” we do not merely look for the principle of dependence on God, or of confidence in Him, though that may be the thought immediately suggested by such words. It signifies much more. It is a life of large and various energies; for according to God, or Scripture, faith is that principle in the soul which not only trusts Him and believes Him; it is also that which apprehends His way, acts in concert with His principles and purposes, receives His promises, enjoys His favour, does His bidding, looks for His kingdom, in His strength gains victories, and by Hs light walks in light; and thus it is ever, though variously, exhibiting a life according to Him, or formed by communion with Him.

All this is strongly marked for our observation.

Heb. 11 shows us all this — the life of faith in its vast diversity of exercise and action. Accordingly, we shall find, in the life of Abraham, occasions where confidence in God was the virtue exercised; occasions, too, where strength was put forth and conflict endured; and again, where surrender of rights and submission to wrongs were the virtues. And the life of faith is beautiful in its variety; for this variety is but the changeful glowing of the same mind, the mind of Christ, in the saint.

But again. We are not to understand that we get nothing else than this light and power of faith in the believer or saint. Perfectness in this variety of the life of faith is not to be found save in Him who is set before us as “the Author and Finisher of faith,” and whose way, from beginning to end, and in every incident of it, was the great exemplar of this life in full unsullied brightness. Still, however, the life of Abraham, or of David, or of Joseph, or of Paul, is to be called the life of faith; for it was the life of those in whom that principle was, though betraying again and again, and that too in different ways, the pravity of nature, the workings of unbelief, and the counsels of a heart prone to converse with flesh and blood, and to take the way of a revolted world.

This life of faith our Abraham entered upon with beautiful simplicity and earnestness. “He went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan he came.” He went out, not knowing whither he went. He took God for his security and his portion; and, as another has said, “it is in this that the Spirit of God rests, as characteristic of his approved faith; for, by separation from the world, on the ground of implicit confidence in God, he lost everything, and got nothing but the word of God.”

We do not like such conditions. The heart resents them; but the renewed mind approves them, and justifies God in them. The sufferings of Christ are first, and then the glories. 1 Peter 1: 11. Job was nearer his good thing in God, when he lay in ashes amid the potsherds, than when he was happy in his nest. Israel did not descend Mount Lebanon, and enter Canaan after a fruitful journey, through a land of cities and villages, and corn and wine, and rivers and vineyards; but they paced it slowly, through one desert after another. And so Abraham was called out from all, to go he knew not whither; but this he knew, that it was God who had called him. And this was faith’s beginning. “He went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan he came.”

He came, however, rather to sojourn than to dwell there. He moves from place to place, and in every place it is but a tent he pitches. He had been told by the God of glory, that the land should be shown him. He should have it in his seed for ever, but in his own person he was but to see it. And, accordingly, we find him surveying it carefully, but not occupying any of it. For this was the right answer of such a promise. He looked on the land, because the promise was that it should be shown him. He went first to Sichem and to the plain of Moreh; from thence, southward, to the neighbourhood of Bethel and Ai. But he was a man of the tent, and of the tent only, wherever he went. The Canaanite was then in the land, and he was the occupier of the soil; and Abraham did not dispute with him for a foot’s breadth of it. He surveyed it, and had such possession of it as faith and hope imparted; but he sought no personal, present inheritance there. The promise lived in his heart, and the promise was his measure as well as his joy. Gen. 12.

Quickly, however, another man in our Abraham is before us; for, like all of us, beloved, he was a man of nature, as he was a man of God; and there is none perfect in the life of faith, as we said before, but the Master Himself. Famine touches the land into which the call of God had brought him. A strange surprise this may well be thought to have been. But faith would have been equal to it. Faith in Paul was equal to a like surprise. Called into Macedonia by the voice of God, a prison awaited him. But Paul stands the shock, though Abraham falls before it. Paul and his companion sing hymns in the prison in Macedonia; but Abraham practises a lie, seeking help from the famine of Canaan in another land, of which his call under the God of glory had made no mention whatever.

Such things have been, and still are, found among the saints. There are “Little Faith” and “Great Heart” among the elect, as well as flesh and spirit — nature and the new mind in each of them. But this we may know: that if nature rule us, nature will expose us. Even the man of the earth, Pharaoh of Egypt, puts Abraham to shame; and his journey, instead of being onward in the witness of his tent and in the joy of his altar, was that of a wearied foot, because it was that of a rebuking heart. He has to “do his first works,” to retrace his steps, and regain his standing — sorrowful works at all times. He has to leave “by-path meadow” for the King’s highway again, betaking himself back from Egypt to the place between Ai and Bethel, where he had raised his altar at the first.

What say we to this, beloved? The flocks got in Egypt accompany him home. The glitter of the gold and the silver — the offerings of a land that lay beyond where the God of glory had called him — adorn and set off his return. All this is so indeed. But what say we to all this? again I ask. Is the bleating and the lowing of such flocks and herds in our ears like the soft music of an approving conscience? or this glittering wealth like the brightness of the divine presence which was now lost to Abraham? I am bold to answer for Abraham, though I may not for myself, that his spirit knew the difference. The wearied heart was but feebly relieved by all that he brought with him from the land of Egypt, or out of the house of Pharaoh. Sure I am of this. It could not but be so with such a man. “He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul,” must have been his experience; and his action in the scene which immediately succeeds, as I judge, tells us something of this.

Lot, his younger brother, or his brother’s son, who had come with him out of Ur into Canaan, now becomes the occasion of trial to Abraham, as the famine had lately been. But faith in Abraham triumphs, I may say, to admiration. The very style in which he gives this trial its answer seems to say, that he will return fourfold to the life of faith for that which nature had so lately, as it were, taken away from it. The herdmen of the two brothers, the elder and the younger, cannot feed their flocks together. They must separate. This was the occasion of trial which had now arisen. But “let Lot choose,” is Abraham’s language. In a fine sense, he will act on the divine oracle, “the elder shall serve the younger.” Lot may choose, and leave Abraham what portion he please. The well-watered plains may be his; Abraham can trust the Lord of the country, though he lose them. He may have to dig wells instead of findingthem; but it is better to dig for them in the strength of God, than to find them in the way of covetousness; better, as it were, to wait for them in Canaan, than to go after them again down to Egypt. Gen. 13.

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