What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found?…
We have already seen how the apostle has prepared the way for the great doctrine of justification by faith. He showed in the first two chapters that man has no righteousness of his own, that he could not justify himself, but, on the contrary, that both Jew and Gentile are all under sin. "There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Now, in this fourth chapter, he shows that this great fact - the necessity for justification by faith - has already been recognized by Abraham and David. He is writing to Jews, and he takes the case of two men of God with whose lives they were familiar, and whom they held in high respect. He shows that neither Abraham nor David rested in his own righteousness. They rested entirely in the sovereign grace and mercy of God. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (ver. 3). So David also describes the blessedness of those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered; of the man to whom the Lord doth not impute sin (vers. 6-8). No two cases more appropriate or more telling could the apostle have selected in illustration of man's universal need of a Divine righteousness. Here were two saints of God, the one called the friend of God, the other the sweet singer of Israel, and yet they both rested, not on their own good works, but on the mercy and free grace of God. True, David had grievously sinned against God, but he did not trust for forgiveness to any penances or works of merit which he might have done in atonement for his sin, but solely to the pardoning mercy of the Lord. Abraham's faith, however, is the main subject of the chapter.
I. ITS REASONABLENESS. The subject of faith is not merely an abstract theological question. Abraham's faith, in particular, is not something which concerned Abraham but has no interest for us. We are told in the close of this chapter that "it was not written for his sake alone, that his faith was imputed to him for righteousness; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification" (vers. 23-25). What, then, do we mean by faith? Faith is a strong inward persuasion manifesting itself in outward acts. We could have no better illustration of it than the life of Abraham. "Abraham believed God." His life was a life of faith in God. He trusted God's word, and he took God's way. Here, then, we have a simple definition of what faith means - trusting God's word and taking God's way. Is not this an eminently reasonable course for a human being to take? So Abraham thought. He was a man of experience when we have the first record of God speaking to him. He was seventy-five years old when God's first command reached him - the command to leave his country and his father's house. It would appear as if Abraham had begun before that time to look beyond the seen to the unseen. His spiritual instincts and his reason told him that those idols which the people round him worshipped could not represent the great Creator of the world. He had already a conviction that there was a God - a reasonable conviction based on the evidence of natural laws. He knew something of that almighty Being's power, and wisdom, and immortality, and unchangeableness. And so he reached the conclusion, which became an irresistible conviction, that "what God had promised he was able also to perform" (vers. 18-21). He was "fully persuaded." Upon this Abraham based his faith. For these reasons he trusted God's word and took God's way. Is it not still more reasonable that we should have faith in God? We too have had experience, and not merely our own experience, but the experience of thousands of others from Abraham's day till now, who have trusted God, and found that what he hath promised he is able also to perform. The history of the ages teaches us that heaven and earth may pass away, but that God's words do not pass away; that men will change and die, and mighty empires crumble into dust, but that the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him. It teaches us also this lesson, that God's way is always best, and that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Abraham's faith was a reasonable faith. It is a reasonable thing that we also should trust God's word and take God's way.
II. ITS RESULTS.
1. Abraham's faith led him to unfaltering obedience. It was a strange and apparently a harsh command which God gave to him, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Genesis 12:1). But Abraham did not hesitate. He knew whom he had believed. It was God, the living God, his heavenly Father, who was speaking to him, and he felt he must obey. He knew that God would provide for him; he knew that God would lead him right. How many of us under similar circumstances would show such unhesitating, unfaltering obedience to God's command? How many of us are willing to trust God to take care of us when we are doing his will? Alas! is it not true that we often hesitate to do his will, just because we cannot trust him to take care of us, to bring us safely through the difficulties and to crown our labours with success? But, then, it must be admitted that there is a real, practical difficulty here which sometimes perplexes God's people. Some one may say, "Well, I am quite willing to do God's will, to follow the path of duty, if I could only tell what it was. There are so many cases where I cannot see my way. If I could only hear God speaking to me as he did to Abraham, there would be no difficulty about it." I think the way to meet that difficulty is this. Saturate your mind with the spirit of the gospel, with the teachings of the Word of God, with the spirit of Christ. A Christian is one who has the spirit of Christ. And, while there will be inconsistencies, as a rule we can depend upon the Christian. A remarkable illustration of this was given in Abraham's own case. Before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, the Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Genesis 18:17, 19). God had confidence in Abraham doing what was right, although in one case Abraham acted sinfully and inconsistently. So we can trust the Christian to act in a Christian way. There will be mistakes, inconsistencies, in his life. But there are some things we know he will not do. He will not be among the sabbath-breakers, among the profane, the foul and filthy speakers, among the intemperate, among those who defraud or those who defame their neighbour. And all this we know, because we know him to have the spirit of Christ. We must cultivate this spirit, then, if we would know what the path of duty is.
2. Abraham's faith led him to unflinching self-sacrifice. There are two grand scenes in his life that illustrate this. One was when he gave Lot the permission to choose what portion of the land he would have. Abraham had the right to choose, but he relinquished his own rights in favour of his nephew. The other was when God called on him to offer up as a sacrifice his son Isaac. What a spirit of faith Abraham showed then! He trusted God, and so he took God's way. He had himself said once before, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). And now when God, who gave him his son, asks him to give him back again, his faithful servant is ready to do what God asks. It was enough. The Lord himself had provided a lamb for the burnt offering. But Abraham showed the greatness of his faith by the sacrifice he was ready to make. There is a process in mathematics called the elimination of factors. The factor self had been eliminated from Abraham's character and life. So it will be with the true Christian. The spirit of self-sacrifice is the spirit of Christ, the spirit of Christianity. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." We must be ready to make sacrifice of self for Christ's sake. Such, then, was Abraham's faith. It was a reasonable faith, and a faith that resulted in unfaltering obedience and in unflinching self-sacrifice. He trusted God's word, and he took God's way. That is the way of salvation for every sinner. Such faith is the condition of all righteousness. If we are to please God, if we are to get to heaven, we must take God's way. The manner of Abraham's justification is an encouragement for every sinner, whether Jew or Gentile. If salvation had been by the Law, only those who had the Law, or who kept it, could be saved. But it is "of faith, that it might be of grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the Law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham (ver. 16). The Jews' beast that they were Abraham's seed showed a narrow idea of what the promise was. Abraham was the father of many nations" (vers. 17, 18). Abraham's true spiritual children are those who imitate Abraham's faith. - C.H.I.
Parallel VersesKJV: What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?