Man is by nature both a sinner and ruined—shut out by sin from the presence of God: and man, shut out, could not get back as man. The last Adam brings us back, not in the same way, but in a heavenly one—not to an earthly paradise, but into the very presence of God in heaven. He does not bring back to innocence, but to the “righteousness of God”; for the believer is “made the righteousness of God in him.” This scene in Eden shews out God and man.
There is the natural conscience of man; for he acquired by the fall the knowledge of good and evil. A man steals, and he is conscious he has done wrong. Whether or not God’s law tells him so, his conscience knows it. Look at Satan’s temptation. What was his object? He wanted to make God’s creatures think that God was not so good to them as He might be—that He was keeping back from them something that would be for their good—that He was jealous of their becoming as Himself. The natural heart is always calling God in question for having made it responsible to Himself. Its very nature is to question God’s goodness.
Satan’s great lie was, “Ye shall not die.” It is his constant aim to make men believe that the consequence of sin will not be that which God has said it shall be.
When the woman, had listened to Satan, lust comes in. Once away in heart from God, she must follow her own way. And what are men doing now? Helping one another to make themselves comfortable away from God, and in those very things that they know He hates. Beloved friends, should you like to meet God just as you are? You know you would not. If God should say to you, Come and be judged, you would wish to have it put off. You know you would. And, moreover, you do not like to think about this unreadiness. What did Adam do, and Eve? They hid themselves from God—nay, further, they hid themselves from themselves and from one another; for the covering of the fig-leaves was just to hide the shame of the nakedness which they discovered. And when they were hiding away from God, they were away from the only source of blessing. It was saying, The light has come in, and I must get far from it: just what the conscience of itself does now in the natural man.
Mark the character of the sin. They believed that the devil told the truth, and that God did not. Whatever thoughts they had in their hearts, they acted upon this. And men are still believing the devil’s lie—hoping to get into heaven their own way, when God has said that nothing defiled shall enter in.
He wanted too to make them think that God was not so good to them as he would be—that God was keeping back from them the very best thing they could have. And are not men now looking to Satan for happiness, instead of believing God? Man cannot believe that it is God’s mind to make him happy.
And now, beloved friends, this is not only a history of Adam, but it is a history of man, of yourselves. You may say, I have done very little harm. Well, then, you shall be taken on your own ground. Is it little harm to make God a liar? What had Adam done? He had eaten an apple. Do you say, And what was that? What harm was there in eating an apple? Alas! Adam and Eve cast off God, and that was the harm. Whether it was eating an apple, or killing a man, as afterwards came out in Cain, the principle was the same. It was casting aside God’s authority, and making Him a liar. The root of the evil was there. It had only to bring forth and bud. Suppose I see a plant peeping above the ground. It has but two leaves; but I say, Here is a thistle, cut it up. I do not wait till it is grown to see what it is. And so with sinners. The evil is there, and has only to be developed. A little evil is seen, and there needs only time to manifest all.
Adam hides himself from God. Is there no harm in having so broken with God, as to want to get out of His presence? And it is not God you have harmed (as it is said in Job, “What profit is it to him if thou art righteous?”) so much as it is yourselves. The God of love brings down into man’s conscience the knowledge of the harm he has done to his own soul. One weighty reason why God has given His blessed word is to shew man what he has done to himself before God. It is in love He has given it; for if He were dealing with men in judgment He would have left them under it.
God called to Adam. When God speaks, it awakes the conscience; but this is not necessarily conversion. God speaks to shew man to himself, and bring him back to blessing. Alas! man is afraid of the only place where holiness can be happy. The awakened conscience shews the presence of God. You would not hide yourself from a policeman: and why? Because you know you have not done anything to make you afraid of him. But you would hide yourselves from God if you could: and why? Because you have done that which you knew He hates, that which separates you from Him. Man cannot bear to meet with God.
It is remarkable that the only thing in man as such which one might in a certain sense call good in him—that is, conscience—only drives him away from God. Sin has made man get away from God, and it has forced God to drive out man from His presence. See man’s sad condition—a sinner, ruined, and shut out from God. And there is no way back to God except one, and that is through the Second Man. If Christ comes in by the door into the sheepfold, there is no getting in some other way. He is the door, and whoso enters must come by Him. The flaming sword kept every avenue to the tree of life. There was no possibility of creeping up to it by some unguarded path.
Innocence, once gone, can never be restored. It is the same in common every-day things.
Man cannot get back to God by himself. Everything around us shews that man is out of paradise: toil, and suffering, and sorrow, and sickness, and necessities, and death, tell us of it every day.
There is another character of evil in our souls—and that is a readiness to excuse ourselves. Adam laid the blame on the woman. “The woman whom thou gavest me,” etc. It was as much as saying, Why did you give me this woman? It was your gift caused the sin. He wanted to put it off from himself as a question between God and the woman. It was not untrue, and yet it was as far as possible from the truth. It is the way of our guilty nature to throw upon another the sin in which our own will is concerned. And God judged Adam out of his own mouth. The excuse he makes is the very reason for which God condemns him. “Because thou hast hearkened,” etc. Our excuses are thus our condemnation.
There is not a word of comfort in all that God says to Adam or his wife. It is all sorrow and suffering in prospect—toil and pain. God shews man his sin to convict his conscience, not to make him happy. Grace comes in, and salvation, and therein he can rejoice. But God wants sinners to feel their sins, and not to find any comfort except in Him. He must take them out of themselves for that. If my child has been perverse, do I wish him to be happy about it? No; I want him to feel his naughtiness. I am longing to forgive him, and winning him to forgiveness; but he must feel his sin.
God did not leave these poor condemned sinners without comfort. But it was to the serpent He said, “The seed of the woman shall bruise thy head.” It was a new thing that God was bringing in—a new person and a new way. Christ was the “seed.” Where the sin had come in, the remedy was to be brought out. The blessing should come by the Seed of the woman through whom the curse had entered. This was the perfection of grace. And grace is perfect in another way. If sin has come in, sin must be entirely put away. He who shut man out from heaven has fully provided that which shall shut him in again. To be brought nigh to God through the precious blood of Christ is the place of believing souls. And how is this blessing brought? Because of the grace which is in God. Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.
God must have us see our sin as between Himself and us. We shall be justifying ourselves till we justify God in condemning us. We are then of one mind with God. To see sin as God sees it is repentance. It is “truth in the inward parts.” It is holiness and truth in the heart. And then there is all grace to meet the need that is thus found out. “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” A man judging himself in God’s light, without seeing Christ as the promised Seed of the woman, is almost in despair; but “God commendeth his love to us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” We do not want a good Adam,’but a great God and Saviour. In the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, see all the wrath for sin laid upon another; and that other, who? What the soul wants is pure simple grace to meet it just where it is. If you were driven out of paradise yesterday (it is as though God were ever saying) here is comfort for you. When you learn that you are ungodly and without strength, behold what has been done to bring you back. Are you so content with God’s judgment about you, as to submit to this grace? It is the woman’s seed that must be the hope.
Sin must be perfectly put away. The sinner brought back to God must be spotless. Christ does not enter heaven again till He has accomplished this. “When he had by himself purged our sins, he sat down,” etc. When all was finished, He took the throne of righteousness. It is a more living and mighty truth to my soul, that Christ, as the last Adam, is in the heavenly paradise, than that the first Adam was cast out of the earthly one.
It is through grace, and through grace alone, that we get to know God. If I could present myself at the door of heaven, and seek admittance on the ground of my own righteousness (supposing for a moment it were possible), how should I stand there? For “to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” I might know God as the One who dwelt there, but it would be a cold entrance; I could not know Him as a God of love. What grace is shewn in paying a man his wages for His work?
No, it is my joy to find it all in another, and not in myself. God justifies me when He says, My Son has been given for your soul, and died for sin. We are clothed with Christ—we have put Him on. If I be asked, On what ground do you expect to get into heaven? I say, I am become the righteousness of God. What more could I have or want? If asked what I am in myself, I say, A poor sinner, and this to the very end; but I am now in Him who is the delight of God. True, I do not know Him fully, but He has redeemed me; and I am in Him that is the life. He is in me, and I in Him; and where He is, there I shall in due time be also. Now I want to serve Him better and to shew forth His praise. Perfect power will by-and-by come in, and not a particle of my dust can be left behind. The body is His as well as the soul. Death has been vanquished for it. We are still in the body, and bear it about with us as yet in the bondage of corruption; but Satan’s power is crushed. The serpent’s head is bruised. We have to do with him now, but his power is broken. He has been overcome, for Christ went down under the full power of him that had the power of death; and He came up from it triumphant, for it was not possible He should be holden of it.
We are told, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” We are not to overcome him (that we never could do), but when he meets Christ in me, he cannot stand that, he must flee. “Thou shalt bruise his heel.” The blessed Son of God came down to go through this for us. He said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God”: and that will was our salvation. “By one offering he perfected for ever them that were sanctified”; but then that offering had to be made. See the Lord Jesus Christ coming down from heaven in love, to devote Himself to God for our salvation; and this changes a man’s heart. Jesus drank the cup of wrath for sin, full and to the dregs. He tasted death—was shut out from God’s presence— endured the hiding of His countenance; and all this, that He might bring us back into the presence of God without judgment and without sin, but with everything that could make us happy and blessed for ever. He lived in God’s love; He dwelt with the Father; and He knew well what He was bringing us into, what He was giving us to share. But He knew too what the holiness of God was, and what His wrath was; and therefore He knew what He was delivering us from. How I shall hate sin, if I have seen Christ agonizing for mine upon the cross!
Well, the moment a poor sinner looks to Jesus by faith as his divine sin-bearer, his sins are all gone—they are put out of God’s sight for ever. And Christ is in heaven. Could He take the sin there? No; His very being in heaven proves it all left behind. The poor sinner gets the fruit of all that He has done, and all that He is—pardoned through His blood, brought nigh to God Himself. Peace has been made through the blood of the cross. And the glorified Man is in heaven, appearing in the presence of God for us—of His Father and our Father, of His God and our God.
It is not only the word of God which lets us know that there is sin and misery ia the world. Man knows very well that iniquity and defilement are in himself, and no one is satisfied with his portion here below because he is ill at ease in his own heart. The word of God shews us much more—how Satan entered the world, and the consequences of sin in our relations with God.
The first thing the old serpent does is to put something between God and us, to put himself between both. The only thing which can render us happy is that there is nothing between God and us, and that God loves us. Satan begins by rendering the soul distrustful of God, and suggests to the woman to wish for a forbidden thing, and to satisfy the wish, hinting that God does not love to gratify us, and would keep some great good from us. The enemy does not direct our mind either to the goodness of God, or to our obeying God. The woman knew well why she ought not to eat of the fruit of that tree, and that death would be the inevitable result. Had not God forbidden and threatened?
God has warned us of the consequences of sin. He had said, “In the day that thou eatest, dying thou shalt die.” But Satan, who ever seeks to deny and lower the truth of God, says to the woman, “Ye shall not surely die … ye shall be as God.” And it is true that the fall has rendered man much more intelligent relative to good and evil; but Satan hid from him that he would be severed from God, and with an evil conscience. Their eyes were opened, it is said; and they knew that they were naked as they looked at themselves.
All that which is near us appears more important and greater than that which is still distant. The forbidden tree being near, and the judgment of God far off, Eve takes of the fruit and eats. So the spirit of falsehood says till this day to men, Ye shall not die; the threatenings of God will not take effect. He conceals the warnings of God; and one does then what Satan and one’s own lusts push one on to do. If a Christian is not vigilant, his conscience will lose its activity, and in place of seeing God he will see his own nakedness.
Man still uses leaves to cover his nakedness. He does his utmost to hide from himself the evil which is there; but when God reveals Himself, it is quite otherwise.
God draws near as if nothing had happened; then what ought to have been a joy for man without sin becomes, because of sin, the source of immense alarm. Adam flees, and seeks to hide from before the eye of God, as if he had succeeded in veiling his nakedness to his own eye. What a horrible thing for man to be thus hiding himself before God!
Adam fears, for conscience is always touched by the presence of God; it takes away every hope of enjoying sin when it penetrates into our conscience. Then one only sees God, who is feared, without our being able to appreciate Him.
The relations of man with God were thenceforward broken, and in a manner irreparable, as to man.
“Who told thee that thou wast naked?” says the Lord. Adam answers by accusing the woman, and God who had given her to him. Dastardliness always comes into the soul with sin. Adam wishes to excuse himself by lies, and to leave the fault and blame between his wife and God. He leaves to God the care of arranging the thing with the woman. Thus a bad conscience fears God too much to confess its sin, yet it knows too well that it has sinned to deny it. If you had full confidence in God, and were perfectly sure that God loves you, you would be very happy. But Satan is here; and his great power consists in producing distrust where there is happiness and intimate relation with God to destroy in our hearts. You trust your own will and your own efforts for your happiness; but, distrusting God, you will not, you cannot, confide to Him the care of this happiness, and leave yourself to His mighty love.
The beginning of sin is the unbelief which doubts God. Thereby in effect Satan began. He persuaded Eve that God had kept something for Himself that the creature might not be too happy and blest.
The woman was wrong in conversing with Satan; she ought not to have listened to a voice which insinuated distrust of God. What Satan did then and always, he persuades every man that God is too good to condemn us because we sin; and man, spite of his sin and his conscience, hopes and persuades himself that he will not be condemned. It is the voice of the old serpent. Now God has shewn by the death of His Son that the wages of sin is death.
Conscience being evil, every effort of the world is to hide from itself its nakedness before God. It would remove from men gross and outward sin, drunkenness, murder, and robbery. It seeks by law, and efforts of philanthropy, individual and co-operative, to blot out the open effects of sin in the world. Such are the aprons of fig-leaves, which remove nothing at all, but serve for the moment to hide from ourselves our nakedness and our misery, to avoid thinking of the justice of the condemnation God has put from the beginning on the sin that dwells in us. Now that sin is between our conscience and God, one wishes at least that there should be something to hide us before Him. With this end in view, man employs what he calls innocent things. Thus the trees were so, but man made use of them to conceal himself from before God. God had given all to man in this world; but man uses it now only to deprive himself of the sight of God, and thus pretends to be innocent in employing these good things after such a sort!
When the voice of God awakens conscience, people still wish something to hide them from Him; but this is impossible. God says to Adam, “Where art thou?” There is no means of hiding any longer. If God said so to each of your souls, would it be your joy to be in His presence? God alone is our resource and refuge when we have sinned. It is only God who takes away guile from the heart, for He alone can pardon. Now if you hide yourself from God, where are you for your soul? God had not yet driven Adam from His presence till Adam fled from the presence of God. Conscience tells us that if we have sinned, no leaves or trees can hide us in His presence. If there be a just God, man is wretched in his conscience; he cannot be quiet in sin but solely on condition that there is no God. Every hope of unbelief is that there be no God, or, what comes to the same thing, that He be not just or holy.
Adam wishes to excuse himself, as if he had not lusted himself, as if he had not followed the voice of his wife instead of hearkening to God, as if he was not responsible for having failed himself. Now if there were not lust in us, sin would not be produced. In the midst of all God’s goodness, who has given His Son for poor- sinners, you have no confidence in God, and this is a state of sin. It matters little how it is manifested, it displays ingratitude and distrust. Eve listened and believed Satan, instead of hearing and believing God. This, man ever does; and he hopes for salvation and eternal life though he sins. All the efforts you make to be happy shew that ycu are not happy. Why the arts and pleasures of the world if the world were happy? All that which would have been the effect of God’s presence in your hearts and consciences would stop your pleasure. Therefore if all your pleasures are incompatible with the presence of God, what will they be for you in eternity? Will they carry you to the foot of the throne of the Holy and Just, to shew Him that you have spent many innocent hours far from Him? There are not only disobedience, distrust, falsehood, which are sin: there is worse still—the state of soul which seeks to be light and giddy, far from the presence of God.
Man may withdrawn himself from God’s presence whilst grace lasts j but he will not be able when God shall judge him. Satan will help you, your best friends according to the world will also help you, to withdraw yourself from His presence, to deny and forget it, but that will certainly not go on longer than the time of grace granted to us. Therefore, while it is called to-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts. God knows that you are sinners: He knows the iniquity of Satan, who would make man his prey; but there is an answer to that which Satan knew, and of which man could have no idea: God makes a revelation of grace (v. 15). A promise is not given to those who are incapable of enjoying it. The natural man cannot enjoy what flows from grace, because faith is necessary to that, and confidence in God. The question thenceforward is wholly between the serpent and the second Man. God says nothing to Adam but words which shew the actual consequences of sin; He says to the serpent what He will do. Thenceforth the only hope for lost man is in this promised Seed; and even before he is driven from His presence, God reveals what Jesus will do to destroy the work of Satan.
There is not a single sign of repentance in Adam after his sin. He had shewn the dastardliness, meanness, and fraud of his heart; but God only occupies Himself with His counsels and the answer He has in Himself. He announces the Seed of the woman, whose glory and power are developed throughout all His word.
Now it is no longer an anticipation or promise of grace: Jesus is come. Wretched man thought that God did not wish to give. him something through jealousy of his happiness; but this was the lie of Satan. God, who seemed to refuse a fruit to man innocent, has given His Son to man a sinner. And the heart of man is so perverted that he has no confidence, though God has given His Son. Jesus, instead of fleeing from condemnation, went to meet it; He took on Him the sins of His bride, instead of loading her with fetters. He has by death destroyed him that had the power of death. The effect of the death of Jesus is to inspire us with perfect confidence. The death of Jesus put us in relationship with God, without fear and without difficulty, because it clothes us when we are naked and miserable. There is nothing but grace for us after the judgment which has struck the Son of God.
Is your confidence in God? Do you believe that He gave His Son, that His love did so to save fully poor sinners? This confidence gives peace and obedience, because nothing is more precious than the love of God; and this love makes us prefer obedience and its consequences spite of all the difficulties. May God touch your heart, and give you to render Him glory by receiving all that His love has done for you!
The contents of this chapter are peculiarly important, as unfolding the dispensations of God. In other parts of scripture may be more fully seen what the means were by which the purposes of God should be accomplished, and the great object in which those purposes found their result; but the principles on which the dealings of God hinge are nowhere more clearly produced. It is, in fact, their first exhibition, and therefore (however succinctly) they are definitely and very completely produced and stated;—not in theoretic principles philosophically declared, but in the statement of that on which they all depended, and in the exhibition of which, therefore, they could alone be fitly taught;—that is, in the sovereign acting of God upon the principles in which we were thereby to be instructed.
Thus it is that the scripture continually teaches by realities, for in them God is introduced. No theory can reach God— the human mind is incapable of it—but God acting is always the adequate exhibition of Himself; and thus the object of faith is exhibited in the way in which He is revealed; while at the same time those with whom the history may be conversant present all the characters of man, as subject to God, or in the exercise of that will which requires to be corrected, as being alienated from Him and opposed to Him.
The great point of the chapter is the call of God, and the principles on which it proceeds. The calling of God is a cardinal point in His dispensations. It is identified with grace, and in it there is no repentance; God does not swerve from it. It expressed His purpose, as it is written, “The gifts and calling of God are unrepented of,” Rom. 11:29. Of this there had been heretofore no mention; individuals may have been called (as assuredly every saint had been from Abel downwards), but until this chapter it does not form the subject of the revelation of God.
It is important to consider what subjects the scripture previously presents; they were substantially two—Adam and Noah; creation, and creation secured by government. That Adam was placed at the head of natural creation will be called in question by none. That Noah stood as the representative head of government I learn from the committal of the sword to him, or at least from the revelation of the principle to him, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” There might be repentance in these things, though in gift and calling of God there could be none. He was not declared as the God of Adam, or as the God of Noah; but He was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; “this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations,” Exod. 3:15. Creation, in point of fact (as to its existing estate), was repented of—” God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually; and it repented the Lord that he had made man upon the earth, and it grieved him at his heart; and the Lord said, I will destroy”; and He did destroy, sparing favoured Noah; as it is written, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them,” Gen. 6:5-7. But God’s calling is His purpose, and He hath sworn in His holiness, and He will not repent.
The natural good of creation in the hands of the first man had not only proved fallible and corruptible, but it had failed, and become corrupted; and destructive judgment had been executed upon it by the hand of God, few, that is eight souls, being spared, together with what was with them in the ark, out of all in whose nostrils was the breath of life. To Noah (as I have before said) the principle of government was communicated, in order to restrain evil in its effects; that violence might no more cover the earth, but that in detailed instances the wrath of God might be vindicated against it—life belonging unto Him. Sin, however, in its principle, still remains at work, exhibiting itself in the failing of Noah the saint, and in the recklessness of the disrespectful father of Canaan.
As regards this part of the history previous to Abram (that is, the earth under government), we have the fact recorded of the division of the earth amongst its various nations and families; this we find in Genesis 10, where the fact is stated, the origin of which we find explained only in chapter 11. But first let us consider the fact—the earth was divided (a new and not a necessary circumstance for it as placed under government) into distinct nations, separated by place, language, and (as to the various lower branches), we may add, more immediate origin. Thus, whatever may have been the particular changes since, the earth under government assumed the form which it now bears. Various indeed, in particular parts, might be the interchange, division, or growth of power; but the characteristic state of things continued to be the same, and in fact its great features were indelibly impressed. Indeed not only is this the case, but it is interesting to observe, that if we take the list of nations spoken of as gathered together under the wilful king in the latter day, and under Gog in Ezekiel we shall find ourselves brought back to the same nations, and tongues, and families, which are presented to our view at the outset, as the immediate consequence of the establishment of this principle of government in the hands of Noah, and as formed into actual condition by the sin of Babel. The rest of the intermediate scripture is the history of calling and grace.
To the sin of Babel I would now turn. In the history of Babel we have shewn the sin of man, under the circumstances in which the one family of man was then placed; even in assuming the earth to themselves; in seeking to make a name, lest they should be scattered; a city, which they purposed should be an abiding monument and centre of power, but on which God writes Babel. Until they were scattered abroad, they had one speech, and one tongue, and thus they were practically one family, having a common bond of association. But the lust of ambitious selfishness was at work, and this union was broken to pieces. Hence they were separated and (the earth subsequently being formally divided among them, Genesis 10:25; 11:18), they became, to every intent and purpose, distinct nations. Although its origin was sin, and its character confusion, the reaching out of grace was shewn in the testimony of the day of Pentecost, as extended toward the world, and as contrasted with anything towards the Jews merely; this I remark in passing, but it is not on this that I would now dwell.
But although circumstances were thus altered, the principle of government remained untouched; however it might be exercised, righteously or unrighteously, it was placed in the hand of man, “not bearing the sword in vain,” “the minister of God to execute wrath.” It might be exercised according to its institution, in repressing evil, although merely by power; but even this in the sin of man was not the case; the result is described in Psalm 82.
“God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; He judgeth among the gods.
“How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?
“Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy.
“Deliver the poor and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
“They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
“I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.
“But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
“Arise, O God, judge the earth, for thou shalt inherit all nations.”
The judges of the earth had all gone incorrigibly wrong— they neither heard, nor yet understood. God was obliged, therefore, to take the matter into His own hands; He was obliged to arise and to judge the earth. Thus is shewn the failure of power in the hands of man from another part of scripture, as is also shewn in Daniel 7, etc.
We have thus brought before us in Genesis, up to chapter 12, creation, and then its failure and its judgment; next we have government of the renewed earth introduced for its peace, in consequence of evil having been proved in man. Man’s pride, rebellion, and self-sufficiency, are shewn: together with a judgment, which did not alter the principle of the dispensation (for had it been otherwise, evil would have been without check), which was to continue until God should take it into His own hands, but which exhibited how man failed under it, in its common form; how under the consequent judgment it assumed the form of distinct nationality; and how the lust of personal ambition and power, or of obtaining a great name, was associated with the divinely sanctioned principle of government, and thus came into existence the beginning of kingdoms; however unrighteously this principle was exercised, it still continued to be unalterably recognized of God. Here were all the principles drawn out, and the scene was closed.
The circumstances might vary, but there was no change in the principle till God takes the matter into His own hands. Countries and kindreds were now formed; and inasmuch as they were separated one from another by the spirit of intelligible association, so much the more were they united in stronger personal and local interests; selfishness became national, and adverse interests became (not simply personal) but those of countries, and peoples, and tongues.
But into the midst of all this there was a new principle introduced. The calling of God—a principle and a power which, while leaving these untouched, acted paramount to them all—to natural relationship, and to formed associations.
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.” Here is distinctly shewn the calling of the “father of the faithful.” Country and kindred were recognized as existing; how they were formed in creation, and under government (as established in Noah), and the subsequent circumstances, we have already seen.
They were now left just as they were. They were not meddled with. In fact, in their own place (though corrupted), and as having instamped upon them that they had been God’s ordinances, they were both distinctly maintained. There is not to this day any abrogation of them, nor indeed ever will be in principle, though they will be transferred to Christ, and under Christ they will be unto righteousness and blessing. “A king shall reign in righteousness,” and although the queen and Jewish partner of His glory shall be taught to forget her father’s house (being called through grace, not descent), yet the offspring of the remnant shall be blessed with them; instead of the fathers shall be the children. However, therefore, evil may have overrun them, both government and relationship, home, etc., are principles in no way rejected, nor could they be abstractedly. But the calling of God acts paramountly to them, or else there could be no other principle, and the prevailing of man’s evil in them would be left unremedied.
But in the wisdom of God, the corrupted state of things was no longer judged or acted upon, but the witness of better things was introduced; had they been judged, then must have been the end in utter destruction, or the premature assumption of all into the hands of Supreme power. Yet even that by which evil was to be suppressed, that is, government, being corrupted, was now become the instrument of evil. Hence entirely new hopes could alone be introduced, and not merely a present amendment, for that must have come to the same end; but new principles, not destroying the sanctioned and appointed instruments of God, for such destruction would have proved, not so much the evil of man, the creature, but the evil and foolishness of the Creator’s appointment. This appointment was left just where it was, to be judged in due time upon the maintainers of it. But in grace another principle was introduced—the leaving in self-sacrifice all these things for better hopes. The existing ties of country and kindred are recognized, but in the call of God there is set up a paramount claim:—“The Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.”
We have then, in the calling of God, the assertion of a paramount claim on God’s part upon an individual in grace, leaving everything out of which he was called without further change; only calling him out of it. This is one very strong, distinct, and new principle, not previously revealed, consequent upon, and acting in, an especial and paramount way, in reference to the existing relationships, which had arisen out of what was previously ordered and appointed. No declaration of blessings or principles to men where they were, but the calling of them out thence, and thus a personal calling is what we find. The principle further established in it mere personal obedience, upon the ground of this call, to individual responsible action. “God had said to Abraham, Get thee out.” Here on the word of God the individual responsibility of obedience attached. It necessarily and avowedly involved the breaking of subsisting relationships in person, as to his own interest in them, but without affecting them, as they stood in themselves, in the least. He was to leave his country, and his kindred, and his father’s house. They might still continue just what they were before (they might, or they might not): this was a question of Providence; obedience to the words and calling of God was the only point in grace to Abram, the only point to be considered by him. The word of God led the way in the direction which was given, and gave the promise to him as that which should encourage him in acting. “Into a land that I will shew thee”; this was the certain hope of certain faith, by which a man is made entirely a stranger where he was before at home. It was indeed merely a promise, but it was a promise which involved not only the certainty of God, but also the guidance of God unto the thing promised— “to a land that I will shew thee.”
Let us turn more to the detail of this calling of God; we have seen already that its grand distinguishing feature was separation from the world. “The Lord had said to Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.” This was the substance of the present character of the calling, as acting upon a nationalized world; and thus was brought forward the specific character of the church.
There was involved then in it the immediate favour of God, not in present comfort, but in personal calling. The personal revelation of Himself to Abram, as it were, identified him with Himself and with His purpose, and with the blessing of an appointed inheritance. This calling, however special and personal, however distinguishing in favour, necessarily involved obedience. The call of blessing to Abraham was a call to get out of his country unto a land which God would shew to him, and thus it necessarily involved obedience. Whatever the power which acted on his mind might be, obedience was the result; for in the very terms of the call it was manifest— no obedience, no blessing. He was (to use the words of scripture) “sanctified unto obedience,” for there was nothing else now given but the command, “Go out”— “the Lord had said.” It was not to gratify the present selfishness of Abram’s nature, saying, “this is thy country,” but it was “Get thee out of thy country” —to go where? “to a land that I will shew thee.” It implied, therefore, implicit confidence in God for faithfulness, power, and love. Taking Him for the security and the portion (as the scriptures reveal it), he went out, not knowing whither he went. It is on this that the Spirit of God so specially rests as characteristic of his approved faith. By separation from the world, on the ground of implicit confidence in God, he lost everything, and got nothing but the word of God, sealed of course to his soul (for his faith rested in it) by the power of the Spirit of God. The God of glory had appeared to him in the matter, and God would shew to him the land. So Abram departed.
Here then is the pattern and character of the church, and also of the individual believer; they are called of God in faith out of all that into which the world and nature have been formed (and while not meddling with these things, or disowning them in their place, but recognizing in them God’s ordering hand, and moreover the sin of man): trusting in a promise not at once fulfilled, but taking God, and God alone, as the security, the warrant, and the guide; it is faithfulness, as being assured of the present loss of all things, and the present gain of nothing; it is a walking by faith, and not by sight, not only as regards present things relinquished, but also as to things hoped for—things to come— “for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” But they are sufficiently assured of God; and in Him, and knowing Him, or rather being known of Him, they are ready to give up all for His word. Thus it was not the reward that was taken as the portion, but God, the promiser of the reward, and therefore it was faith. The object was as simple as the security. “They went forth to go to the land of Canaan”; the result was as certain as He who called was sure; “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came.” Such is the history and the character of the church of God in its calling. Called out by God into separation from the world, which it leaves just where it was to go into a land of promise—a land which God will shew it—it walks by faith, and not by sight, going forth to go thither, and thither surely coming, according to the calling and power of God.
A darker picture now remains—the actual practical conduct and condition. There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down into Egypt. This was not confidence in God, who had brought him thither, nor was the land of Egypt the land of Canaan, as was afterwards well proved.
And here I would remark, what will, I believe, simplify the use of many types, and be found (at least I have so found it) that men who are types represent the energy of faith, the spiritual energy of the church, under the circumstances in which the type represents it, or perhaps its failure therein; and that females who are presented to us as types represent the state and condition of the church.
Abram may act in faith in going out, and he may act in want of faith in denying his wife; Sarah is the New Covenant, Hagar the Old, a freewoman and a bondwoman: one, more or less, presenting the acting of the Spirit of Christ, the Gibbor, the bridegroom; the other, the estate or condition in the dispensation, whether clothed with the sun or in the wilderness, in bondage or in freedom. And thus it is that they may vary; thus David, or Ahaz, or Manasseh, would be very differently presented as a type of any individual: but respecting the church or Jewish economy typified by a woman, it was all one (as being the possessor of the throne of David), because the economy, or condition of the church in which they so acted, was all one. I state this merely to illustrate what I mean; the woman is the state in which the dispensation is; the man is the conduct of faith in it.
Here then we have Abram and Sarai introduced; and afterwards the actual conduct of the church, and not the calling, is the thing brought before us.
Present circumstances were distressing in that land into which the promise of God had called him. It was still a land of promise; the Canaanite was then in the land. Ahram felt the famine to be grievous, but we find no reference to God, no recurrence to Him, no directions from Him, no exercise of faith; there was no previous direction for this. The fact is all we have—Abram went down into Egypt. Alas! too true. But was the God of Abram near? He had not inquired this, but was acting on his own prudence and reasoning. Fear of the Egyptians came upon him as he drew near their land. If there was not famine for the saint, there was the denial of the blessing and indissoluble bond which subsisted between the church and its bridegroom, represented in faith by those who stood in that relation before God. He came into the regions of the prince of this world for his own comfort to satisfy his present need, not of faith in God. The consequence was, the immediate denial of the holy separation from the world and union with Christ which belonged to the church: she was his sister, not his wife; true, perhaps, in one sense, but deadly in its actual character as to the faith of God’s elect. She was very fair to look upon, for indeed God had set His beauty upon her as His daughter, the object of His love, as of Himself, as well as being the spouse of Christ the Son; she was commended in the world. The faith of the church had denied and disowned its unalterable affiance to Christ. The church was taken into the world’s house, the house of the prince of this world; and the prince of this world entreated Abram well for her sake.
He who had denied the bond, and given up that which was essential in their connection, obtained thereby plenty and ease at the hand of the prince of this world; “he had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels.” But was this comfort to him? Was it satisfaction (if he had any truth of heart) for the circumstances in which he was placed? And if we turn from the mere beggarly circumstances of the type to the blessed and indissoluble union between our blessed Lord Christ and the church, how does it picture the shamefulness, the baseness, the want of faithfulness, in unbelieving believers, in surrendering this charge of God, this deposit of faith! How must every camel, every servant, every ox, as it passed before his eyes, with the stamp of Pharaoh’s kindness upon it, have smitten Abram’s heart with the thought, “But where is my wife, I have sold my wife for this!” Did he not know that she was so? Had his feeble falsehood to others dimmed his own thoughts and feelings? Had he forgotten in his love of sheep, and oxen, etc., that the wife given him of the Lord was sold for their sake? Could he persuade himself that she was his sister, and might be Pharaoh’s wife, and not his?
Where was his trust in God? where the integrity of his way? Bitter was that time to Abram, or sad the forgetfulness of an unrighteous heart. The lie must have lain heavy on his heart, but he must receive his sheep and the oxen; cutting as it might be, he had involved himself in the circumstances, he stood upon his own declaration that she was his sister. Had Abram intended this? No! it was an unlooked-for circumstance; it was unbelief, which continually produces in judgment the evil which it seeks to avoid. The sons of men would build a tower lest they should be scattered abroad, and the Lord scattered them because they built it. Abram, fearing lest Pharaoh should take his wife, says she is his sister (as if God would not preserve him), and therefore Pharaoh takes her into his house. But it was the first step that was wrong—Abram went down into Egypt. He went down without God out of the land of faith and promise, and he could not expect (for God could not bless unbelief, though He might judge sin that acted in it unrighteously) to meet God there; his heart knew Him not in power there; and as he must act on something, he acts on his own resources prudently; but as he had departed from faith in God, so was faithfulness in the position of his wife with her true husband departed from: and he was blessed in the world (yea, and by the prince of this world) for his unfaithfulness.
If Satan gets the church, in its state and condition, into his own house (however mercifully God may preserve it), he will bless the faithless instruments of the betrayal with the things of the world. Such, then, is the history (not of the calling, but) of the practical conduct of the church: not of the calling of God, which we saw in its sure infallibility before, together with Sarai and all he had, but of the acting of men in the place to which they are called—in their departure from it, not acting in faith; and such are the results. The end is not that Abram is honoured, but that the Lord vindicates Himself in plaguing Pharaoh and his house with great plagues, because of Sarai Abram’s wife. He asserts and maintains the title, and judges and will judge the world for thus taking another man’s wife. The church is the King’s daughter, and is taken in the lust of its own dominion by the world. And this the Lord would, and was entitled to, visit. But still the sin was Abram’s, his blessings all this while were curses. And it is worthy of remark, that it was an Egyptian handmaid that typified the fleshly covenant of bondage: the world always genders unto bondage, for it is ever opposed to the Spirit of God; and whenever, therefore, the world comes in, it merely produces, and in result is identified with, bondage (where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty). For the world in its results is developed by bringing an expectation and an endeavour to procure the inheritance by a covenant of works. Such has been the actual fact in the church, and will be, because the Spirit is opposed to the world; and, that being grieved and absent, the other takes its place, with the indulgence of lusts, resting on works, and union with the world. But while this was an ultimate result, I would now rest merely upon the picture which is actually presented to us in this chapter, of the cause, character, and consequence of the working of the spirit of unbelief in the church, called out indeed, but looked at as in the hands of man. In the early part of the chapter we have its calling of God, and its results as well as character. The latter part shews its conduct in man, the shame, worldly comfort, unbelief, and sorrow; but also the merciful interposition of that God, who, when we have wearied Him with our sins, acts and delivers for His own name’s sake, and vindicates, in righteous dealing toward the world, what the unrighteousness of man had plunged unfaithfully into its power.
I feel that I have very feebly drawn out what is here presented to our view; but if I have drawn the attention of the children of God to the application of the plain typical principles here set before us (as applied to the history of the church of God in this brief account, as that of the world had previously been given), so as to lead them by the Spirit to judge from the Lord, and not from anything else, whether the world or expediency, I shall be content; and I pray the Lord to bless it.