"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a plane which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."Hebrews 11:8.
One is struck with the practical character of this verse. Abraham was called, and he obeyed. There is no hint of hesitation, parleying, or delay; when he was called to go out, he went out. Would to God thatsuch conduct were usual, yea, universal; for with many of our fellow-men, and I fear with some now present, the call alone is not enough to produce obedience. "Many are called, but few are chosen." The Lord's complaint is "I called and ye refused." Such calls come again and again to many, but they turn a deaf ear to them; they are hearers only, and not doers of the word: and, worse still, some are of the same generation as that which Zechariah spake of when he said, "They pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears that they should not hear." Even among the most attentive hearers how many there are to whom the word comes with small practical result in actual obedience. Here we are in midsummer again, and yet Felix has not found his convenient season. It was about midwinter when he said he should find one, but the chosen day has not arrived. The mother of Sisera thought him long in coming, but what shall we say of this laggard season? We can see that the procrastinator halts, but it were hard to guess how long he will do so. Like the countryman who waited to cross the river when all the water had gone by, he waits till all difficulties are removed, and he is not one whit nearer that imaginary period than he was years ago. Meanwhile, the delayer's case waxes worse and worse, and, if there were difficulties before, they are now far more numerous and severe. The man who waits until he shall find it more easy to bear the yoke of obedience, is like the woodman who found his faggot too heavy for his idle shoulder, and, placing, it upon the ground, gathered more wood and added to the bundle, then tried it, but finding it still an unpleasant load, repeated the experiment of heaping on more, in the vain hope that by-and-by it might be of a shape more suitable for his shoulder. How foolish to go on adding, sin to sin, increasing the hardness of the heart, increasing the distance between the soul and Christ, and all the while fondly dreaming of some enchanted hour in which it will be more easy to yield to the divine call, and part with sin. Is it always going to be so? There are a few weeks and then cometh harvest, will another harvest leave you where you are, and will you again have to say, "The harvest is passed, the summer is ended, and we are not saved"? Shall God's longsuffering mercy only afford you opportunities for multiplying transgressions. Will ye always resist his Spirit? Always put him off with promises to be redeemed to-morrow? For ever and for ever shall the tenderness and mercy of God be thus despised? Our prayer is that God of his grace may give you to imitate the example of Abraham, who, when he was called, obeyed at once.
The sad point about the refusals to obey the call of the gospel is that men are losing a golden opportunity, an opportunity for being numbered amongst the choice spirits of the world, amongst those who shall be blessed among men and women. Abraham had an opportunity, and he had grace to grasp it, and at this day there is not on the beadroll of our race a nobler name than that of "the father of the faithful." He obtained a supreme grandeur of rank among the truly great and good: far higher is he in the esteem of the right-minded than the conqueror blood-red from battle, or the emperor robed in purple. He was an imperial man, head and shoulders above his fellows. His heart was in heaven, the light of God bathed his forehead, and his soul was filled with divine influences, so that he saw the day of the Lord Jesus and was glad. He was blessed of the Lord that made heaven and earth, and was made a blessing to all nations. Some of you will never gain such honor, you will live and die ignoble, because you trifle with Supreme calls, and yet, did you believe in God, did you but live by faith, there would be before you also a course of immortal honor, which would lead you to eternal glory. Instead thereof, however, choosing the way of unbelief, and neglect, and delay, you will, I fear, one day awake to shame and to everlasting contempt, and know, to your eternal confusion, how bright a crown you have lost. I am in hopes that there are some among you who would not be losers of the crown of life; who desire, in fact, above all things, to obtain the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and to them I shall speak, and while I spear; may the Holy Spirit cause every word to fall with power.
To help them, we shall consider, first, what was Abraham's special experience which led to his being what he became? and, secondly, what was there peculiar in Abraham's conduct? and then, thirdly, what was the result of that conduct?
I. WHAT WAS ABRAHAM'S SPECIAL EXPERIENCE, which led to his becoming so remarkable a saint? The secret lies in three things: he had a call, he obeyed it, and he obeyed it because he had faith.
First, then, he had a call. Now that call came we are not told; whether it reached him through a dream, or by an audible voice from heaven, or by some unmentioned prophet, we cannot tell. Most probably he heard a voice from heaven speaking audibly to him and saying, "Get thee out from thy kindred and from thy father's house." He, too, have had many calls, but perhaps we have said, "If I heard a voice speaking from the sky I would obey it," but the form in which your call has come has been better than that, for Peter in his second epistle tells us that he himself heard a voice out of the excellent glory when he was with our Lord in the holy mount, but he adds, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy" as if the testimony which is written, the light that shineth in a dark place, which beams forth from the word of God, was more sure than even the voice which he heard from heaven. I will show you that it is so; for, if I should hear a voice, how am I to know that it is divine? Might it not, even if it were divine, be suggested to me for many reasons that I was mistaken, that it was most unlikely that God should speak to a man at all, and more unlikely still that he should speak to me? Might not a hundred difficulties and doubts be suggested to lead me to question whether God had spoken to me at all? But the most of you believe the Bible to be inspired by the Spirit of God, and to be the voice of God. Now, in this book you have the call"Come ye out from among them, be ye separate, touch not the unclean thing; and I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters." Do not say that you would accept that call if it were spoken with a voice rather than written; you know that it is not so in daily life. If a man receives a written letter from his father or a friend, does he attach less importance to it than he would have done to a spoken communication? By no means. I reckon that many of you in business are quite content to get written orders for goods, and when you get them you do not require a purchaser to ask you in person, you would just as soon that he should not; in fact, you commonly say that you like to have it in black and white. Is it not so? Well, then, you have your wish, here is the call in black and white; and I do but speak according to common sense when I say that if the Lord's call to you be written in the Bible, and it certainly is, you do not speak truth when you say, "I would listen to it if it were spoken, but I cannot listen to it because it is written." The call as given by the book of inspiration ought to have over your minds a masterly power, and if your hearts were right before God the word spoken in the Scriptures by the Holy Ghost would be at once obeyed.
Moreover, my undecided hearers, you have had other calls beside those from the Book. There have been calls through the living ministry, when the minister has spoken as pointedly to you as if he were a prophet, and you have known that the Lord spake by him, for he has depicted your circumstances, described your condition, and the word has come to you, and you have with astonishment owned that it found you out. The message has also been spoken to you by a mother's tender love and by a father's earnest advice. You have had the call too in the form of sickness and sore trouble. In the silence of the night, when you could not sleep, your conscience has demanded to be heard, the inward strivings of the Holy Ghost have been with you, and loud have been the knocks at your door. Who among us has not known the like? But, alas, the Lord has called and has been refused, he has stretched out his hands and has not been regarded. Is it not so with many of you? You have not been like Samuel who said, "Here am I, for thou didst call me," but like the adder which shutteth her ear to the voice of the charmer. This is not to be done without incurring great guilt and involving the offender in heavy punishment.
Abraham had a call, so have we, but here was the difference, Abraham obeyed. Well doth Paul say, "They have not all obeyed the gospel": for to many the call comes as a common call, and the common call falls on a sealed ear, but to Abraham and to those who by grace have become the children of faithful Abraham, to whom are the blessings of grace, and with whom God has entered into league and covenant, to touch it comes as a special call, a call attended with a sacred power which subdues their wills and secures their obedience. Abraham was prepared for instant obedience to any command from God; his journey was appointed, and he went. He was bidden to leave his country, and he left it; to leave his friends, and he left them all. Gathering together such substance as he had he exiled himself that he might be a sojourner with his God, and took a journey in an age when travelling was infinitely more laborious than now. He knew not the road that he had to take, nor the place to which his journey would conduct him: it was enough for him that the Lord had given him the summons. Like a good soldier, he obeyed his marching orders, asking no questions. Towards God a blind obedience is the truest wisdom, and Abraham felt so, and therefore followed the path that God marked out for him from day to day, feeling that sufficient for the day would be the guidance thereof. Thus Abraham obeyed! Alas, there are some here present, some too to whom we have preached now for years, who have not obeyed. Oh sirs, some of you do not require more knowledge, you need far more to put in practice what you know. Would you wonder if I should grow weary of telling some of you the way of salvation any longer? Do you not yourselves weary of persuading those who will not yield? So far as I have reason to fear that my task is hopeless it becomes a heavy one. Again, and again, and again have I explained the demands of the gospel, and described the blessings of it, and yet I see its demands neglected and its blessings refused. Ah sirs, there will be an end to this ere long, one way or the other, which shall it be? O that you were wise and would yield obedience to the truth! The gospel has about it a divine authority, and is not to be trilled with. Notwithstanding that grace is its main characteristic it has all the authority of a command. Do are not read of those who "stumbled at the word, being disobedient"; surely there must be a command and a duty, or else there could not be disobedience. It is awful work when through disobedience to the command of the gospel it becomes a savor of death unto death instead of life unto life, and instead of a corner-stone it becomes a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Remember, upon whomsoever it shall fall it will grind him to powder. Christ himself has said it, and so it must be. Stay lo of his infinite mercy give us the willing and the obedient mind that we may not pervert the gospel to our own destruction.
But I reminded you that the main point concerning Abraham was this, he obeyed the call because he believed God. Faith was the secret reason of his conflict. We read of certain persons that "the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it," and again we read that" some when they had heard did provoke." But in Abraham's case there was neither misbelief nor provocation, he believed God with a childlike faith. His faith, I suppose, lay in the following items:When the Lord spoke he believed that it was the living God who addressed him. Believing that God spoke, he judged him worthy of his earnest heed; and he felt that it was imperative union him to do as he was bidden. This settled, he desired nothing more to influence his course: he felt that the will of God must be right, and that his highest wisdom was to yield to it. Though he did not know where he was to go, he was certain that his God knew, and though he could hardly comprehend the reward promised to him, he was sure that the bounteous God never mocked his servants with deceitful gifts. He did not know the land of Canaan, but he was sure if it was a country chosen by God as a peculiar gift to his called servant, it must be no ordinary land. He left all such matters with his heavenly Friend, being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform. What a mighty sway faith has over a man, and how greatly it strengthens him. Faith was to the patriarch his authority for starting upon his strange journey, an authority which enabled him to defy alike the worldly wisdom which advises, and the worldly folly which scoffs. Perhaps they said to him, "Why wilt thou leave thy kinsfolk, Abraham?" but he replied, "God bids me." That was for him a sufficient warrant; he wanted no further argument. This also became to him the guide of his steps. If any said, "But, strange old man, how canst thou journey when thou knowest not the way?" He replied, "I go whither the Lord bids me. Faith found in God, chart, compass, and pole star, all in one. The word of the Lord also became the nourishment for his journey. If any said, "How wilt thou be supplied, Abraham, in those wild lands, where wilt thou find thy daily bread?" he replied, "God bids me go: it is not possible that he should desert me. He can spread a table in the wilderness, or make me lice upon the word which cometh out of his mouth, if bread should fail." Probably these suggestions of trial may never have occurred to Abraham, but if they did, his faith swept them aside from his path as so many cobwebs. Perhaps some even dared to say, "But whither goest thou? There is no such country, it is an enthusiast's dream,a land which floweth with milk and honey, where wilt thou find it? O, greybeard, thou art in thy dotage, seventy years and five have bewildered thee." But he replied, "I shall find it, for the Lord has given it to me and leads me to it." He believed God, and took firm hold, and therefore he endured as seeing him that is invisible.
See, then, dear friends, what we must have if we are to be numbered with the seed of Abraham,we must have faith in God and a consequent obedience to his commands. Have we obtained these gifts of the Spirit? I hope that many of us have the living faith which Folks by love, and if so we shall rejoice in the will of the Lord, let it be what it may; if we know anything to be right we shall delight to do it but as for doubtful or sinful deeds we renounce them. For us henceforth our leader is the Lord alone. But is it so with all of you? Let the personal question go round and cause great searching of heart, for I fear that in many instances precious faith is absent. Many have heard, but they have not believed; the sound of the gospel has entered into their ears, but its inner sense and sacred power have not been felt in their hearts. Remember that "without faith it is impossible to please God," so that you are displeasing to the Lord. How long shall it be so? How long shall unbelief lodge within you and grieve the Holy Spirit? May the Lord convince you, yea, at this moment, may be lead you to decision, and enable you henceforth to live by faith. It may be now or never with you. God grant it may be now!
II. This brings me to the second part of our subject, WHAT WAS THERE PECULIAR IN ABRAHAM'S CONDUCT? for whatever there was essential in his conduct there must be the same in us, if we are to be true children of the father of the faithful. The points of peculiarity in Abraham's case seem to me to have been five.
The first was this, that he was willing to be separated from his kindred. It is a hard task to a man of loving soul to put long leagues of distance between himself and those he loves, and to become a banished man. Yet in order to salvation, brethren, we must be separated from this untoward generation. Not that we have to take our journey into a far country, or to forsake our kindredperhaps it would be an easier task to walk with God if we could do sobut our calling is to be separate from sinners, and yet to live among them: to be a stranger and a pilgrim in their cities and homes. We must be separate in character from those with whom we may be called to grind at the same mill, or sleep in the same bed; and this I warrant you is by no means an easier task than that which fell to the patriarch's lot. If believers could form a secluded settlement where no tempters could intrude, they would perhaps find the separated life far more easy, though I am not very sure about it, for all experiments in that direction have golden down. There is, however, for us no "garden walled around," no "island of saints," no Utopia; we sojourn among those whose ungodly lives cause us frequent grief, and the Lord Jesus meant it to be so, for be said, "Behold I send you forth as sheep among wolves." Come, now, my hearer, are you willing to be one of the separated? I mean thisDare you begin to think for yourself? You have let your grandmother's religion come to you with the old arm chair and the antique china, as heirlooms of the family, and you go to a certain place of worship because your family have always attended there. You have a sort of hereditary religion in the same way as you have a display of family plate; pretty battered it is, no doubt, and rather light in weight by this time, but still you cling to it. Now, young man, dare you think for yourself? Or do you put out your thinking to be done for you, like your washing? I believe it to be one of the essentials of a Christian man, that he should have the courage to use his own mental faculties, and search the Bible for himself; for God has not committed our religious life to the guidance of the brain in our neighbour's head, but he has bestowed on each of us a conscience, and an understanding which he expects us to use. Do your own thinking, my friend, on such a business as this. Now, if the grace of God helps you rightly to think for yourself, you will judge very differently from your ungodly friends; your views and theirs will differ, your motives will differ, the objects of your pursuit will differ. There are some things which are quite customary with them which you will not endure. You will soon become a speckled bird among them. The Jews in all time have been very different from all other nations, and although other races have become permanently united, the Jewish people have always been a family by themselves. Though now residing in the midst of all nations, it is still true "the people shall dwell alone, they shall not be reckoned among the nations." In all the cities of Europe there are reattains of the "Jews' quarter," and we in London had our "Old Jewry," the Jews being evermore a peculiar people. We Christians are to be equally distinct, not in meats, and drinks, and garments, and holy days, but as to spirituality of mind and holiness of life. We are to be strangers and foreigners in the land wherein we sojourn. For we are not resident traders in this Vanity Fair, we pass through it because it lies in our way home, but we are ill at ease in it. In no tent of all the fair can we rest. O traders in this hubbub of trifles, we have small esteem for your great bargains and tempting cheats; we are not buyers in the Roman row nor in the French row, we would give all that we have to leave your polluted streets, and be no more annoyed by Beelzebub, the lord of the fair. Our journey is towards the celestial city, and when the sons of earth cry to us, "What do ye buy?" we answer, "We buy the truth." O young man, can you take up in the warehouse the position of being a Christian though there is no other believer in the louse? Come, good woman, dare you serve the Lord, though husband and children ridicule you? Man of business, dare you do the right thing in business, and play the Christian, though around you the various methods of trading render it hard for you to be unflinchingly honest? This singularity is demanded of every believer in Jesus. You cannot be blessed with Abraham unless like him you come out, and stand forth as true men.
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