Demonstrations of Faith
This article is from an address by the highly esteemed T. D. W. Muir who, before his death, served the Lord for many years in the U.S.A. and Canada. May we take fresh courage from his thoughts and learn to trust God more.
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:8-21
We are considering the greatness of Abraham. God had said to him in promise of blessing, “I will make thy name great,” and we found the way in which he became great was the way found in the New Testament, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted. “He that will be great among you, let him be the servant of all.” The way that the world takes to make men great is by exalting them, but God’s way is the opposite. You remember how Hannah, after she had given Samuel to the Lord went away with a song (although you would wonder how she could sing then), and in that song she says, “The Lord bringeth low and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.” The valley of humiliation is the road to greatness.
Nathanel Hawthorne wrote a parody on the Pilgrim’s Progress and called it the Celestial Railway. In the Pilgrim’s Progress you remember the Pilgrim was entertained in the House Beautiful by the Three Graces, and his experience in their company helped him when he got further on his way. He afterwards went through the Valley of Humiliation, and his experiences there were very different from what he had enjoyed in the home of the Three Graces. But in Hawthorne’s story the pilgrim goes by a Railway and he goes through with comfort. One man in the train, who had been reading Bunyan’s book, asked the conductor how long it would be before they reached the Hill Difficulty and the House Beautiful for he had some questions to ask of the Three Graces. The answer was, “Oh, we have improved all that! We have run a tunnel through the Hill Difficulty and used the debris to fill up the Valley of Humiliation, on the other side.” His thought is that, in the modern way of looking at things religious, there is neither difficulty nor humiliation. There is no exercise and no trouble. But this is not God’s way. When God took Abraham from his home He cut him adrift and separated him from all that he had been brought up to. Like Paul, who said, “I have been crucified to the world, and the world has been crucified to me.” The world looks on me as a dead one, and I look at the world as a dead thing. God did that for Abraham. He went out, and never went back again. You remember when he wanted a wife for his son he made his servant swear that he would not take his son down into Mesopotamia, but to go and bring a wife for his son from that land. All this is for our instruction. You cannot go with the world and expect God to bless you. You must break with the world, and find yourself alone with God.
The three men whose names we have in the portion we read — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, bring before us different lessons.
Abraham brings before us the believer, the man of faith, who cuts himself adrift and goes with God. Verse 8 — “By faith.” What do you mean, by faith? Is it a feeling, or do we have a word from God? “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” If I have only a feeling, or if I am following a man, that is not faith but credulity. There are thousands today in Detroit who are followers of men. These people believe men, but the men are deceiving them. Faith has its foundation on the Word of God. Did Abraham have any word from God? He had heard God say, “Get thee out of thy country,” and he went, not knowing whither he went, and that which impelled him was simple faith in God and His word. If at any time he took a retrospect he would come back to this fact, “God said and I obeyed.” That is faith, and that is where Abraham began.
There was another thing. God promised that Abraham would have a seed that would inherit the earth and be a blessing to all the earth. The years passed by and the fulfilment of the promise did not come, but one day God led him out and pointed to the stars of Heaven, and said, “So shall thy seed be.” I was reading in the Epistle to the Romans, and, as I always do, I looked at the Revised Version to see what differences there are between the two Versions, and I noticed that while the Authorized Version says (Rom. 4:19), “He considered not his own body now dead,” the Revised Version puts it the opposite way, “He considered his own body now as good as dead.” He considered his own age, and that of his wife, and the improbability of his ever having a son; he looked at the facts in the face, and looking at them in the face he believed God. Why? Because he believed that God was able. He believed that God was the God of resurrection. What is the greatest miracle in the Bible, greater than the creation of the world? It is that One went into death and came out of death that He might be the Saviour of believers. Everyone that is saved for ever, will forever owe all that he has to that death and resurrection. We believe it and rest our souls in that fact for time and eternity. That was what Abraham believed. He believed that God was able to raise the dead.
Note that God does not say, “He that believed is saved,” for that would make us go back always to a date on which we believed. It is true of course that there was a time when we first believed. But God says, “He that believeth.” A believer is a man who, by the very habit of his spiritual life, daily believes in God. Just as a child when it gets life, must renew its life daily by nourishment in food and drink, so is it in regard to our life. We began with believing, but it goes on day by day.
The second great trial of Abraham’s life was when he had to put that son on the altar, when he was about twenty-five years of age, if the chronology we have is correct. Oh, those years of planning and arranging for Isaac to do for him and make him worthy of the place God had given him; those years in which he had made known to Isaac all that was before him. Now the order comes like a thunder-clap; but he obeys by faith. By faith he left the land of his fathers; by faith he got a son in spite of nature; and now by faith he offers up that son. This test did not come upon him the first day after he believed, but years after when his faith had grown. Faith is like a child at its birth; life is there but the child is so weak. You take it by the hand, and the little hand is limp; but you come back in a few years and you find a strong lusty boy, and later still you have a man, able to reason and speak what he knows. The progress you notice is great, but it was little by little that it grew strong. Abraham was a believer at the first, and he grew; and so with us. When we first believed we were so weak. Our faith was like touching the hem of His garment — an act that required no strength; so little and so weak, and so easy. But there is growth and development after test and test, until the crowning test, as in Abraham’s case. When Abraham was climbing up that hill, he said, “I know that God is able to give me back Isaac, back again even from the dead.” How do we know this? He said to the young men that accompanied him on the journey, “Abide ye here with the ass and I and the lad will go yonder and worship and come again to you.” And so he kept the faith and went on forward, step by step, knowing that God would give Isaac back again even if his body was reduced to ashes.
And now let us look at Isaac. He also was an heir with Abraham of the same promises, and he dwelt in a tent as his father did. Isaac also brings before us the believer, but he is the type of a believer as a son in a family. He was the son of Abraham. Isaac is brought before us in the Scriptures as a son, and we are sons. Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in His name.” Faith makes us sons. Like Abraham we believe in the God of resurrection.
But how much exercise of faith do we see in Isaac? Isaac was a quiet sort of man. He dwelt in a tent, but he did not always live in Mamre. You remember he went down to the land of the Philistines to dwell, but he could not settle down there. The child of God has trouble in settling down. As in Isaac’s case, there is always someone filling up the wells. But he got back at last to Bearsheba, the well of the oath, and he lived there to the day of his death. When God writes his history in the New Testament, He does not have much to say, except that he blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. You remember that in the obtaining of the blessing there was the crookedness manifested by Jacob. In spite of that Isaac seems to have grasped the fact that it was God’s mind, and that is all that God notes in the Book of Hebrews.
And what about Jacob? God put him in the line of faith. God leaves many names of great men out of this history. The name of Solomon it not even mentioned. When He puts in Jacob’s record here, what does He mention? Does He speak of Jacob’s wonderful dream, or of the time when he overcame Esau,
or when he prevailed with the Angel? None of these, rather, “When he was a-dying he blessed both the sons of Joseph, leaning on the top of his staff.” Now we read Genesis 32:10. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant, for with my staff I passed over this Jordan and now I am become two bands.” He began with a staff, the pilgrim’s utensil, that which is of great importance to a pilgrim; and when he returned to the land he could look on two great bands of camels, and cattle, and servants, and children. Now when he comes to bless the two sons of Joseph he crosses his hands, putting the right hand on the head of the younger and the left on the head of the elder. This is the only thing that God picks out to speak of Jacob.
Now there is another 11th of Hebrews being written. Shall we be even mentioned in it? There were many Old Testament men left out of the Book of Hebrews, and the only thing that God finds to speak of in Isaac and Jacob is the last acts of dying men. But there Jacob gets back to his pilgrim way, leaning on the head of his staff.
We are walking through a scene that is at its best a wilderness. It seems other than that many a time, but it is in God’s sight only a wilderness, and may we have God’s help to see it so.