For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law…
I. THE POSITION WHICH ABRAHAM ATTAINED.
1. He was made by God "the heir of the world." We must look upon the patriarch —
(1) As the natural head of the nation.
(2) As the federal head of a peculiar people, for all believers are styled the children of Abraham. "They which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
2. It is necessary to keep these distinct, otherwise we shall confound the blessings peculiar to Israel with blessings peculiar to Christians.
(1) There are certain "blessings" of a substantial nature, every one of which became secured by charter to the house of Israel. Do we not find Scripture portraying the beauty, the glory, and the fertility of that land which God was to give to His people? Do we not find promises of temporal protection — all of which are bestowed upon the natural children of Abraham?
(2) Now ask whether this presents to us the blessings peculiar to the spiritual people? Where have we in the Word of God assurances that prosperity and worldly distinction are to belong to them? That they may belong to their condition is possible, but that they are not a necessary part of their present condition is very certain. A man may be a Lazarus in rags, lying at the rich man's gate, and he may be a child of God. But the blessings that God has prepared for the spiritual progeny of Abraham are those that, like so many stars in the firmament, are found to be studded in the rich constellations of this Epistle.
3. Both these sets of blessings were dependent upon Jesus; for Abraham was not the heir of the world absolutely; he was the figurative heir, the representative and the type of a greater One, whom God appointed Head of all things. The truth is this, that the world in its bankruptcy is to be reinstated by Christ and Christ alone. He is not only the world's grand Trustee, He is the world's mighty Heir. Everything has come into His hands; all power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth; and, therefore, as we have seen these double blessings, so we say that there is a double touchstone with regard to them.
(1) Christ was the Touchstone to Israel. Its fortunes hung trembling in the balance when the Lord Jesus Christ came, and who can question that if Israel had received the long-expected One with open arms Israel would have been the chief among the nations still? But it was a stumbling stone, and they stumbled at it and missed the pathway to happiness, to glory, and to continued national blessedness, simply by the rejection of Christ. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not;...your house is left unto you desolate."(2) The same touchstone tells upon a believer still. Everything turns upon this: will you or will you not have Christ?
II. HOW IT WAS HE BECAME POSSESSED OF IT.
1. It was impossible for him to attain it by law, for between Abraham and the giving of the law there was a long lapse of four hundred and thirty years. If the agency was not in existence the position could not be attributable to it. And even if the law had been in existence, Abraham by the law even then could not have become possessed of the position, because the condition of the law is faultless obedience, and Abraham was not faultless. Abraham could not have claimed his position by virtue of a law which he never could keep.
2. But there is another process by which men look for spiritual advantage, viz., through ordinances. You shall find men at the present day who will tell you that baptism is an ordinance of justification. Now circumcision is the correlative of baptism, and yet we find the apostle here laying particular stress on this, that Abraham's position was not dependent on his circumcision because the circumcision came subsequent to his gaining the position.
3. And then when we pass from the negative to the positive and ask ourselves how it was that he obtained it, the answer is, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." It is this that makes the simplicity of salvation! Whether in times patriarchal, Jewish, or Christian man has no other resort; and an appeal to the mercy of God through Christ Jesus is after all but putting into exercise that process whereby" being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Parallel VersesKJV: For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.