Abraham the Believer
G. B. Fyfe, London
THE SECOND CHARACTER in this series of sketches presents a distinct contrast to the first one - Adam. While very little is recounted of Adam and his experiences, a great deal is placed on record concerning Abraham's life and relationships.
Abraham is the second of the seven key men who mark out the course and development of the inspired narrative in Genesis. He occupies, in common with Adam and Noah, the position of headship. Adam was head of the original race of mankind; Noah of the new race which emerged after the flood had cleared a corrupt humanity from the earth. Abraham later became head of a chosen family of that race.
Abraham was conspicuous for his faith, without which it is impossible to please God. A detailed consideration of his biography is, of course, immensely instructive, but in the restricted space at our disposal it is possible only to touch on some of the salient features of his life. We will, therefore, condense our remarks into three fundamental features of his career:
1. His Call
2. His Character
3. His Course
1. His Call
To Abraham, apparently an idolater of Ur, Joshua 24. 2, the God of glory appeared, and that wondrous revelation changed everything for him. God in His electing grace called Abraham, and to that call he responded, abandoning his paganism to embark on a life of faith and fellowship with God. The call was clear, and its implications unmistakable. Old things had to be surrendered, new things had to be sought. For Abraham it involved the renunciation of country, of home and of family even, for the acquisition of the unnamed land of God's choice and the unknown city of God's construction. Herein lies the germ of a doctrine that today is much ignored among Christians, and yet it is so heavily underscored in God's Word, namely, the truth of separation from this present world system in all its forms, to be set apart exclusively for God. Abraham was obedient to the call, and demonstrated his faith by venturing forth in search of the, as yet, undefined land of divine appointment. Irrational, would be the verdict of the godless world on the undertaking - but not so to the man whose future had been lighted and lustered by the glory of God. May we be delivered today from the danger of rationalism which can so subtly seep in among us, supplanting a clear and uncompromising faith in God. However unrealistic and illogical our actions may appear in the eyes of men, it is well to remind ourselves that the wisdom of God is foolishness to men; and the converse is also true, that the vaunted wisdom of the world is utter foolishness to God.
The inspired commentary in Galatians 3 makes it clear that the call of Abraham embodied the message of the Gospel, 'The just shall live by faith'. A principle which relates equally to our time as it did to Abraham's day.
2. His Character
Having considered the call of Abraham we now contemplate his character. In this regard two symbols stand out repeatedly in the narrative, symbols which vividly express the relativities to heaven and to earth of this notable man. His character was moulded in accordance with these relationships. Abraham was sharply distinguished from the Canaanites as the man of the altar and the tent. Together these objects proclaim the basic characteristics of the patriarch. The altar linked him up with God and with the realm of the invisible, and it constituted him a worshipper. The tent, on the other hand, declared his detachment from earth and marked him out as a pilgrim. Nor is it without significance that the site of the altar took priority over the pitch for die tent. In other words, God's glory was of prime importance; his own requirements a secondary consideration. Unless this order regularly obtains with us, our lives will soon become spiritually maladjusted. The altar, too, was of solid construction and of enduring quality, whereas the tent was portable and provisional - a temporary expedient in the life of the sojourner until the permanence of the city was reached.
The name by which the Canaanites called Abraham is a further indication of his pilgrim character. He was known as 'the Hebrew' which may be translated 'the man from the other side' - the one who had crossed over the deep and rapid Euphrates. Thus ought the world to recognize the Christian, as one whose citizenship is in heaven. We do not really belong here. In the office or the factory, and perhaps even in our homes we may be accounted as a misfit, an outsider. Yet in the nature of things this is inevitable, for what 'other-worldly' persons ought we to be in all holy behaviour and godliness.
Like Abraham we are characteristically men and women 'from the other side' - pilgrims and strangers, not here to get on in the world, but to pass through it! - yet all the while in vital communication with heaven.
3. His Course
We trace finally the course of this remarkable man who was not only styled 'the Hebrew' but called also 'the friend of God'. He had many striking qualities, but the predominating one was surely his great faith in God. In this respect he-stands as the representative figure of the believer. Over his chequered life could be written in shining letters - 'he believed God'. His course is punctuated by peaks of faith ever rising in altitude until the summit is mounted at Moriah. His life was a steady progression of trials and triumphs. Each trial called for a fresh and more intense exercise of faith, and produced its corresponding triumph in a fuller revelation of God.
But Abraham's path of faith did not ascend without deflection to its zenith. Downwards it plunged at times when his trust in God collapsed, and a temporary breakdown occurred. For Satan sometimes launches a surprise attack against our strongest points. Indeed, an attitude of self-confidence can render us vulnerable to him, so that in an unguarded moment we may succumb where normally we would have succeeded. Moses, Elijah, Peter and other outstanding Bible heroes were also taken completely unawares by the same shock tactics of the devil. Paul warns us against self-confidence in his first letter to the Corinthians: 'Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall'. Howbeit, when Abraham fell he was given strength to rise again and to renew his fellowship with God, and who amongst us has not on many occasions tasted the sweetness of the experience of restoration!
In summary then, Abraham was essentially a man with a supreme faith in his God, the type and father of all believers. His faith expressed itself in obedience to the will of God. Our faith likewise must demonstrate itself in our walk and works. So then, as we read the fascinating life story of this great man, do we not sense the atmosphere of calm dignity and impressive serenity which surrounds his person. It could scarcely be otherwise with the one whom the God of glory called His friend!
Therefore as we reflect upon these things, may they inspire and impel us to follow more closely the trail of faithful Abraham, as we journey onwards through this desert scene towards our heavenly inheritance.