Genesis 18:22
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord. The promise to Abraham included -

(1) understanding of God's acts;

(2) that he should become a mighty nation;

(3) that he should be ancestor of the promised Seed;

(4) that he himself should be a blessing to others.

Of these points two at least are not confined to him personally, but belong to all who will. To know what God doeth a man must be taught of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14; cf. Isaiah 7:12). There is a wide difference between seeing an event, or even foreseeing it, and understanding God's lessons therein. To be able in everything to mark the love, and care, and wisdom of God; to walk with him as a child, accepting what he sends not merely as inevitable, but as loving; to learn lessons from all that happens, and through the works of his hands to see our Father's face - this is peace, and this is what the wisdom of this world cannot teach (Matthew 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:20, 21). Again, Abraham was to be not merely the ancestor of a nation, but the father of a spiritual family by influence and example (Matthew 3:9; Galatians 3:7). In this his calling is that of every Christian (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 5:13, 14). Text connects the godly rule of a family with both these blessings. Christianity is not to be a selfish, but a diffusive thing (Matthew 5:15; Matthew 13:83); and the influence must needs begin at home (cf. Numbers 10:29; Acts 1:8), among those whom God has placed with us.

I. THINGS NEEDFUL FOR THIS WORK.

1. Care for his own soul. If that is not cared for a man cannot desire the spiritual good of others. He may desire and try to train his children and household in honesty and prudence; to make them good members of society, successful, respected; and may cultivate all kindly feelings; but not till he realizes eternity will he really aim at training others for eternity. Might say that only one who has found peace can fully perform this work. A man aroused with desire that his family should be saved. But he cannot press the full truth as it is in Jesus.

2. Love for the souls of others. Christians are sometimes so wrapped up in care for their own souls as to have few thoughts for the state of others. Perhaps from a lengthened conflict the mind has been too much turned upon its own state. But this is not the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:24). It is not a close following of him. It tells of a halting in the "work of faith" (2 Corinthians 5:13, 14; cf. Romans 10:1).

3. Desire to advance the kingdom of Christ. When a man has this he sees in every one a soul for which Christ died (cf. John 4:35), and those with whom he is closely connected must chiefly call forth this feeling.

II. THE MANNER OF THE WORK. Family worship; acknowledgment of God as ruling in the household; his will a regulating principle and bond of union. Let this be a reality, not a form. Let the sacrificial work of Christ be ever put forward in instruction and in prayer. Personal example - constantly aiming at a holy life. To pray in the family and yet to be evidently making no effort to live in the spirit of the prayer is to do positive evil; encouraging the belief that God may be worshipped with words, without deeds; and tending to separate religion from daily life. Prayer in private for each member - children, servants, &c.; and watchfulness to deal with each as God shall give opportunity (Proverbs 15:23). Let prayer always accompany such efforts. - M.







Abraham stood yet before the Lord.
The intercession of Abraham is the first prayer that the Bible records; and in its great characteristics, human and spiritual, it is one of the most remark. able. It is the intercession of a good man, a friend of God, for men who, in their wickedness and their defiance of God, had well-nigh approached the utmost possibilities of human evil.

I. A MAN'S PRAISE POWER IS NOT AN ARBITRARY THING; IT IS THE RESULT OF LONG ANTECEDENT SPIRITUAL PROCESSES. It is very significant that it is Abraham and not Lot who is the intercessor for Sodom.

1. Jehovah does not even impart His confidence to Lot; only at the last moment, when all is determined, He mercifully sends His messengers to bring him to a place of safety.

2. Even supposing Lot had been made acquainted with Jehovah's purpose, he would not have been capable of interceding for Sodom as Abraham did. He had not the requisite spiritual qualifications. There was spiritual life in Lot, but it ever leaned to the worldly side of things. There was spiritual life in Abraham, but it leaned to the heavenly side of things.

II. THE PRAYING POWER OF MAN IS CONDITIONED UPON THE CIRCUMSTANCES BY WHICH HE SURROUNDS HIMSELF. Abraham was at Mamre; Lot in Sodom.

III. EVEN WHEN GOD VOUCHSAFES TO VISIT A MAN, MUCH OF HIS SPIRITUAL BLESSING DEPENDS ON HIS CHARACTER AND CIRCUMSTANCES.

IV. IT IS INSTRUCTIVE TO COMPARE THE INTERCESSION OF ABRAHAM WITH THE PLEADINGS OF LOT WHEN THE ANGELS SOUGHT TO DELIVER HIM. The prayer of Abraham is perfect in its humility, when daring in its boldness. The prayer of Lot is troubled, selfish, and self-willed.

V. There is one contrast more, which is very suggestive. THE NARROW, SELFISH, SELF-WILLED PRAYER OF LOT WAS ANSWERED; THE HOLY, CHRIST-LIKE INTERCESSION OF ABRAHAM WAS UNAVAILING. Therefore it is no criterion of a right or wrong prayer, that it does not receive the kind of answer we solicit.

(H. Allen.)

I. ABRAHAM'S INTERCESSION WAS THE RESULT OF A DIVINE COMMUNICATION (Genesis 18:17, 18). The Spirit of truth inspires men to pray by showing them things to come. It is asserted by Dr. Finney that there are three ways in which God still makes communications to men: first, by the express promises and predictions of the Bible; second, through the movements of His providence; and third, by His Spirit, instructing us and making intercession for us, because we know not what to pray for as we ought. When we are thus moved to pray, we pray according to the will of God.

II. THE PATRIARCH'S PRAYER WAS GROUNDED ON A CONVICTION OF GOD'S CHANGELESS RECTITUDE (see ver. 25). "It is," as one says, "man beseeching that right may prevail; that it may prevail among men: by destruction, if that must be; by the infusion of a new life, if it is possible. It is man asking that the gracious order of God may be victorious, in such a way as He knows best, over the disorder which His rebellious creatures have striven to establish in His universe. The mercy which is prayed for is not an exception from righteousness, but the fruit of it." Any other prayer must be a mockery and an abomination in the sight of God. Any other prayer is an insinuation that man is a better being than his Maker.

III. ABRAHAM'S PRAYER WAS DEFINITE. He had many flocks and herds, men-servants and women-servants; yet he asked only that the inhabitants of those guilty cities might be spared. His one request he made known in simple, straightforward language, speaking with God as a man talks with his friend. This is the character of most of the prayers recorded in the Bible.

IV. ABRAHAM'S PRAYER CONSTANTLY ENLARGED ITSELF. He asked for more and more: first, that the city should be spared for the sake of fifty righteous men, then for the sake of forty-five, then for forty, for thirty, for twenty, and for ten. There he paused. A whole city would have been spared for the sake of ten righteous men. God tempts His children to ask large blessings. We make too small demands on His mercy and goodness.

V. ABRAHAM'S PRAYER WAS INSPIRED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, The impulse came from above. As the strings of an AEolian harp are breathed upon by the winds of heaven and made to send forth sounds of an almost unearthly sweetness in swelling and dying cadences, so the mute faculties of the human soul are made vocal: unspoken thoughts become articulate in prayers and intercessions, according to the will of God; in supplications and thanksgivings; nay, even in deep sighings and groanings that utter themselves forth with supernatural sweetness and power, expressing the mind of the Spirit and the will of God. (E. B. Mason, D.D.)

I. THE MARVELLOUS CONDESCENSIONS OF GOD.

1. He has friends among men.

2. He reveals to His friends His plans, His hidden purposes.(1) Because God had great things in store for him, He would take Abraham into His cabinet council.(2) Another reason was that Abraham was a wise and faithful parent.

II. GOD TESTS THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN TO SHOW WHETHER OR NOT IT IS RIPE FOR JUDGMENT.

III. THIS NARRATIVE DISCLOSES IMPORTANT TRUTHS CONCERNING, INTERCESSORY PRAYER. The first solemn prayer on record is an intercession, a plea for sparing a wicked city. We see here:

1. The encouragements to intercessory prayer. God made known to Abraham what He was about to do, and thus invited his intercession. He has made known to us the purposes of His government. He has disclosed the issues of sin and holiness. Does He not thus invite us to intercede with Him in behalf of sinful men?

2. We see here the qualifications for intercessory prayer. Power in prayer is in proportion to holiness. The best men are nearest to God, and most powerful in prayer. Faith strengthened his petition. Humility made his approval pleasing to God. Charity enforced his plea. Earnestness characterized his intercession.

3. We see here the grounds for intercessor, y prayer. Abraham did not approach God thoughtlessly, or without good reasons which he was prepared to plead. He urged the value of righteousness. He also urged God's perfect justice as a reason for his petition. God would not destroy the innocent with the guilty. The Almighty is pleased to invite us to urge upon Him reasons for granting our requests, though they are at the beginning perfectly plain to Him. If to these reasons we add also His mercy displayed in the sacrifice of Christ, may not our prayers be irresistible?

IV. WE LEARN THAT THERE ARE LIMITATIONS TO INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Why did not Abraham ask that the judgment be averted from Sodom for the sake of five righteous men? God draws out from him the inanity of his intercessory spirit; and as the suppliant approach up nearer acquaintance with God, he gains a better understanding of the Divine judgments. He is led to a new insight into the condition of Sodom, and the forbearance and justice of God. Abraham appears at first to have been shocked at the destruction with which God threatened Sodom. His justice had not been outraged. His love had not been abused. But intimate communion with God reconciled him to the punishment which God inflicted. The point at which he ceased to plead came sooner than we might have expected. But the failure of his intercession, if he regarded it as a failure, resulted from his ignorance of the depths of sin, and an inadequate conception of the mercy of God. Men are often shocked at God's threatened punishment of the wicked. But the true way to comprehend the meaning of His threats is, not to argue against the justice of God, not to explain away His threatenings, and presume to interpret them in violation of the ordinary laws of language; but go and plead with Him for the lost, and as you approach nearer to Him in the increasing earnestness of petition, you shall gain such clearer insight into His wisdom and mercy as shall content you with His purposes.

(A. E. Dunning.)

I. THE RIGHT TO UTTER IT PRESUPPOSES A LIFE OF GODLINESS.

II. IT IS SUPPORTED BY THE THOUGHT OF THE DIVINE JUSTICE.

III. IT IS MARKED BY THE SPIRIT OF BOLDNESS.

1. This boldness was based upon the conviction that God would stay judgment upon wicked communities for the sake of the righteous few among them.

2. This boldness was based upon a sense of the Fatherhood of God. Without a sense of this filial relationship with God no man could presume so much.

3. This boldness is tempered by humility. Abraham speaks as one who can hardly realize his right to speak at all (ver. 27). He remembers what he is in the sight of his Creator. Our high privilege does not destroy the reasons for awe and reverence.

IV. WE MUST RECOGNIZE THE FACT THAT IT HAS PROPER LIMITS.

1. The moral limits of the Divine clemency. The long-suffering and forbearance of God may be tempted too far,

2. By a sense of what is due to the Divine honour. The dignity of God's character and government must be upheld.

3. By our recognition of the Divine sovereignty. God rules all things supremely by a righteous will. It is not given to us to adjust the exact proportions of justice and mercy in God's dealings with mankind. To attempt this would be presumption.

4. By the confidence which we ought to have in the Divine character. Abraham felt that he had no need to go further. He had seen enough already of God's favour and willingness to save. Therefore he might hope and trust for the future.

(T. H. Leale.)

I. THE BURDEN OF THE DIVINE ANNOUNCEMENT.

II. THE IMPRESSION WHICH THIS ANNOUNCEMENT MADE ON ABRAHAM'S MIND.

1. There was a natural anxiety about his kinsman, Lot.

2. There was also a fear lest the total destruction of the cities of the plain might prejudice the character of God in the minds of the neighbouring peoples.

III. THE ELEMENTS OF ABRAHAM'S INTERCESSION.

1. It was lonely prayer.

2. It was prolonged prayer.

3. It was very humble prayer.

4. This prayer was based on a belief that God possessed the same moral intuitions as himself.

5. This prayer was persevering.

IV. OBSERVE ONE OF THE GREAT PRINCIPLES IN THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. A whole city had been spared if ten righteous men had been found within its walls. Ungodly men little realize how much they owe to the presence of the children of God in their midst.

(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

I. THIS IS THE ENERGETIC ENERGIZING (LITERAL FOR "EFFECTUAL") PRAYER OF THE RIGHTEOUS (CHRISTIAN) MAN. In ingenuity, in a kind of dialectic skill where logic is spiritualized by devotion, and reasons step by step, it is the mate and type of the cry of the woman out of the coasts of Canaan, "That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked;" and then, carrying the moral argument deeper yet, "and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee." How well this clear-sighted man knew, how much better than some of us "advanced" nineteenth-century Christians know, what kind of a God God is! How vivid the figures! How real the action! How intense the personality! "Anthropomorphism"? Very well: why not? The yearning, aching heart of a mother, of a loving friend, of a true patriot, of a shepherd-king whose descendants, herds and flock lie asleep around him in the pastures every night while he leans on his staff and talks with the Almighty, is not to be frightened by ultra-spiritualism with a Greek polysyllable. The first chapter of St. John ought to exorcise that phantom. What is "the Word made flesh" but anthropomorphism — God in man's form? What faith foresaw and prophecy foretold, the incarnation has made a fact; and thereby prayer becomes what otherwise it could never be — one part in a dialogue, one voice in an antiphon, a conversation between earth and heaven.

II. A CHIEF BLESSEDNESS OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER IS THAT WE CAN USE IT FOR THOSE WHOM WE LOVE AND CARE FOR WHEN WE CAN SERVE THEM IN NO OTHER WAY. Their distance, their very nearness, their unbelief, their pride, their dignity, their resentments, their desperation, may render our other helps — helps of the hand. or tongue, of counsel or cheer or warning — of the most delicate generality or the friendliest sympathy, impossible or futile. We stand by the sufferer, the blind wanderer, the ungrateful child, the hardened sinner, in speechless agony and dismay. The patriarch doubtless felt that to go down into Sodom and preach against sodomy would be waste, or worse. But there is one gracious benefaction which no possible hindrance can stay; one gracious office which cannot lose its grace by opposition, or apathy, or rejection, or scorn; one heavenly charity which we can bestow at our own free will, everywhere, under all outward conditions, in spite of any infirmity or rebuff or discouragement, in health or sickness, by ejaculation or continued entreaty, as long as we live.

III. Notice THE JOINING OF THE TWO BRANCHES OF THE CHRISTIAN LOVE, THE LOVE OF THE BROTHER MAN WITH THE LOVE OF THE FATHER.

(Bishop F. D. Hutington.)

Next to being concerned about his own safety, a good man will be anxious that others should be saved. The Bible contains several examples of this benevolent anxiety. Thus Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17), Isaiah (Isaiah 23:4), Lot (2 Peter 2:7, 8), &c., &c. The reasons are clear.

1. A good man cannot forget his own past life.

2. He has now a clear view of the nature and effects of sin.

3. He desires the extension of the kingdom of God. Hence his intercession for Sodom was —

I. MARKED BY GREAT IMPORTUNITY. Importunity an element of successful prayer. Jacob wrestled till the break of day. The blind man (Mark 10:48) cried "so much the more." Our Lord enforced importunity in His teachings (Luke 18:1; see also Luke 11:5; Luke 21:36; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Abraham was importunate. Prayed six times, and obtained six distinct answers.

II. CHARACTERIZED BY WONDERFUL HUMILITY.

1. Did not presume upon the distinguished relation in which he stood to God. Always referred his request to the will and character of God. He prayed because a good man ought to pray; not because being good he deserved to be answered.

2. Acknowledged he was but "dust and ashes" in the presence of God. The Pharisee and the Publican.

III. FILLED WITH LOFTY REGARD FOR THE CHARACTER OF GOD.

1. He assumed that the wicked ought to be punished. Of this he expresses no doubt. Adopts this as the inevitable determination of infinite justice. Yet earnestly desires that the righteous may be spared. Would have men know that the righteous God distinguished between the good and the bad. Would rather the wicked should be mercifully spared than that the righteous should be unrighteously destroyed.

IV. SIGNALIZED BY A WIDE CHARITY. Would fain believe that there were fifty righteous souls even in Sodom (com. with those who thought that nothing good could come out of Nazareth). Still clung to the hope that there might be some, however few, good men in that vile place. Charity hopeth all things. Would sooner believe too much that was good of Sodom than too little.

V. DISTINGUISHED BY PROFOUND ACQUIESCENCE IN THE WILL OF GOD. Was afraid to go beyond that will. "Suffer me to speak," &c. Went as far as he felt that he dared. Found, as he proceeded, that God would be merciful as well as just; even to the worst. Was willing to save many for the sake of a few (see Matthew 13:28, 29). LEARN —

1. TO pity sinners, and hate sin.

2. To prize the righteous. "The salt of the earth."

3. To intercede for one's own house especially (Job 1:5).

(J. C. Gray.)

In this passage there are four great facts which should be borne in mind by Christian thinkers and teachers.

I. That God holds inquest upon the moral condition of cities.

II. That God is accessible to earnest human appeal.

III. That the few can serve the many.

IV. That human prayer falls below Divine resources.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

What do most of us know of the value and meaning of intercession? I speak of intercession in its human aspect. And I begin by asking you to confess that you know but little of it as a part of prayer: that most of us, when we have prayed, as we may, more or less fully and earnestly, for ourselves, have done praying; that, whether we feel much or little interest in prayer for ourselves, we feel less or none in prayer for others not ourselves. And in contrast with this admission, it must have struck all of you how very much of intercession there is in our public services — how much in proportion to the other kind of prayer. I might almost say that of prayer directly for ourselves there is but little in the public worship of our Church, following, in this respect as in others, alike the direction of the inspired Scriptures and the example of more ancient Christian Churches. I fear that this is sometimes felt by us to be a drawback to the spiritual character of our congregational devotions. We should like more about ourselves. Even our Lord's own form of prayer has too little about ourselves for our taste. For "our" and "us" we should read "my" Father, "my" daily bread, "my" trespasses, lead "me," deliver "me." Next in order amongst our intercessions we place the ministers of God's Word and sacraments, and the congregations in which they are appointed to conduct that ministry. Thus far we have thought rather of the work of life, the work of rulers, and the work of pastors, and the work of Christians generally; praying that each and all may do that work effectively, and not forget in doing it that, whatever it be, it is the work of God. But now in the last place we are taught to think of the other half of life — its sufferings. I have briefly spoken to you of some of the topics suitable to intercession. Let me not end without a word or two as to the motives by which we should be drawn to it. And I can suffer none to compete in importance with this, the most obvious of all; that all such prayers have a special assurance of acceptance and success. They are, indeed, even more than other prayers, conformable to the mind of God. They are unselfish prayers. It is the recorded experience of one at least who knew what he thus testified, that he had often proved the value of intercessory prayer in its reaction upon other prayer and upon the heart. Often when he knelt down cold and indifferent, unable to brace himself to strong spiritual effort in his own behalf, he bethought himself of another — a friend or a sister — and prayed earnestly to God not for his own but for what he knew to be another's want. And never did he do so without finding himself in no long time released from darkness and bondage, and able to pour out his whole heart, for himself also, with a fervour and happiness which a few moments before had seemed to be impossible. Let us try this experiment. When we know not how to pray, let us intercede. When the chamber of prayer is fastened within us, let the key of intercession be used to unlock it. I need not say to any one what the effect of intercessory prayer must be in its influence upon our spirit and conduct towards him, or towards those, who have been the subject of it. What a spirit of kindliness, of friendly interest, of concern in their best and truest welfare, must it kindle within us! How shall we watch over them and towards them for good! How anxious shall we be to see good, how fearful of communicating evil! How it pledges us to the recollection of their souls, and lays us under a double responsibility not to counteract our own desires, our own efforts, in their behalf! Finally, I must add that intercession is a Divine work, and that, in practising it, we are sharers with Christ and with the Holy Spirit in that which is at once their chosen office and our one hope. When we pray for another, we are doing that, through Christ's merits, which it is our happiness to think that He is doing for us through His own.

(Dean Vaughan.)

I. THE FRIEND OF GOD CATCHES A GLEAM OF DIVINE PITY AND TENDERNESS. Communion with the very Source of all gentle love has softened his heart, and he yearns over the wicked and fated city. Where else than from his heavenly Friend could he have learned this sympathy? The friend of God must be the friend of men; and if they be wicked, and he sees the frightful doom which they do not see, these make his pity the deeper. Abraham does not contest the justice of the doom. He lives too near his friend not to know that sin must mean death. The effect of friendship with God is not to make men wish that there were no judgments for evil-doers, but to touch their hearts with pity, and to stir them to intercession and to effort for their deliverance.

II. THE FRIEND OF GOD HAS ABSOLUTE TRUST IN THE RECTITUDE OF HIS ACTS. Abraham's remonstrance, if we may call it so, embodies some thoughts about the government of God in the world which should be pondered. His first abrupt question, flung out without any reverential preface, assumes that the character of God requires that the fate of the righteous should be distinguished from that of the wicked. Another assumption in his prayer is that the righteous are sources of blessing and shields for the wicked. Has he there laid hold of a true principle? Certainly; it is indeed the law that "every man shall bear his own burden," but that law is modified by the operation of this other, of which God's providence is full. Many a drop of blessing trickles from the wet fleece to the dry ground. Many a stroke of judgment is carried off harmlessly by the lightning conductor. The truest "saviours of society" are the servants of God. A third principle is embodied in the solemn question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? He is Judge of all the earth, and therefore bound by His very nature, as by His relations to men, to do nothing that cannot be pointed to as inflexibly right. But true as the principle is, it needs to be guarded. Abraham himself is an instance that men's conceptions of right do not completely correspond to the reality. His notion of "right" was, in some particulars, as his life shows, imperfect, rudimentary, and far beneath New Testament ideas. Conscience needs education. The best men's conceptions of what befits Divine justice are relative, progressive; and a shifting standard is no standard. It becomes us to be very cautious before we say to God, "This is the way: walk Thou in it"; or dismiss any doctrine as untrue on the ground of its contradicting our instincts of justice.

III. THE FRIEND OF GOD HAS POWER WITH GOD. "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" The Divine Friend recognizes the obligation of confidence. True friendship is frank, and cannot bear to hide its purposes. On the human side, we are here taught the great truth that God's friends are intercessors, whose voice has a mysterious but most real power with God. If it be true that, in general terms, the righteous are shields and sources of blessing to the unholy, it is still more distinctly true that they have access to God's secret place with petitions for others as well as for themselves. The desires which go up to God, like the vapours exhaled to heaven, fall in refreshing rain on spots far away from that whence they rose. In these days we need to keep fast hold of our belief in the efficacy of prayer for others and for ourselves. God knows Himself and the laws of His government a great deal better than anybody else does; and He has abundantly shown us in His Word, and by many experiences, that breath spent in intercession is not wasted. In these old times, when worship was mainly sacrificial, this wonderful instance of pure intercession meets us, an anticipation of later times. And from thence onwards there has never failed proof to those who will look for it, that God's friends are true priests, and help their brethren by their prayers. Our voices should "rise like a fountain night and day" for men. But there is a secret distrust of the power and a flagrantly plain neglect of the duty of intercession nowadays, which needs sorely the lesson that God "remembered Abraham" and delivered Lot. Luther, in his rough, strong way, says: "If I have a Christian who prays to God for me, I will be of good courage, and be afraid of nothing. If I have one who prays against me, I had rather have the Grand Turk for my enemy."

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Homilist.
I. THE CLOSE INTIMACY WHICH A GOOD MAN MAY HAVE WITH HIS MAKER. Three things indicate Abraham's closeness of intimacy.

1. He knew his Maker's purpose.

2. He felt his Maker's presence.

3. He heard his Maker's voice.

II. THE WONDERFUL INFLUENCE WHICH A GOOD MAN MAY HAVE OVER HIS MAKER. Abraham's prayer was —

1. Definite.

2. Unselfish.

3. Trustful.

4. Humble.

5. Importunate.Lessons:

1. The spiritual blessedness of a good man.

2. The social value of a good man.

(Homilist.)

I. THE BEING WE WORSHIP.

1. Infinitely great.

2. Incomprehensibly glorious.

3. Transcendently holy.

4. Unboundedly benevolent.

II. THE TRUE CHARACTER OF THE BEST WORSHIPPERS. "Dust and ashes." The terms seem to indicate —

1. Our origin and mortality. Formed of the dust; residents of the dust; travellers to the dust.

2. Our depravity. Dust and ashes. Ashes are only the refuse of what was once more valuable. Now man is fallen, debased, and worthless.

III. IN WORSHIP GOD ALLOWS US TO SPEAK UNTO HIM. Now, we do this —

1. In adoration and praise.

2. In confession of sin.

3. In supplication and prayer.

(1)With reverential fear. "In Thy fear will I worship."

(2)With deep self-abasement.

(3)With resignation to His divine will.

(J. Burns, D. D.)

I. CONTRASTS.

1. Abraham at Mature. Lot in Sodom.

2. The peaceful entertainment in the tent of Mamre. The disturbed hospitality of Sodom.

3. The purity of country life — the corruptions of the city.

4. Abraham's prayer for others — Lot's prayer for himself.

5. Sodom was destroyed — Zoar was saved.

II. THE VALUE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER.

1. TO pray for others a duty.

2. To pray without discouragement.

3. Its value to others.

4. Its value to ourselves. Our religious life will register itself in prayer.

III. THE RELATION OF GOOD MEN TO THE WORLD.

1. They are "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world."

2. Cities and nations attain to true greatness and permanence when they have righteous men in them.

3. With their decline, they decline; and with their extinction they perish. Sodom was safe so long as Lot remained in it.

IV. LESSONS:

1. The unselfishness of a religious life.

2. To live near to God.

3. To make the right use of religious knowledge.

4. To run our prayers along the line of God's character, and to base them upon Divine precepts and promises.

5. That prayers may be denied in their letter, but answered in their spirit.

(Lewis O. Thompson.)

I. THE SUPERINDUCING CIRCUMSTANCES OF ABRAHAM'S INTERCESSION.

1. Abraham's characteristic courtesy.

2. The revelation of Divine purposes.

II. THE ARGUMENT OF ABRAHAM'S INTERCESSION.

1. An appeal to Divine justice.

2. An appeal to Divine compassion.

III. THE REASON OF THE FAILURE OF ABRAHAM'S INTERCESSION.

1. His intense humility, which would not allow him to go beyond a certain limit.

2. His inadequate conception of Divine mercy.

3. His knowledge of the unworthiness of the Sodomites, for whom he pleaded.

4. His spiritual conception of the demerit of sin, and of the perfection of the Divine attribute of justice.Lessons:

1. The possible important consequences of things trifling in themselves: Abraham's courtesy led to the most sublime scene of human intercession on record.

2. The high estimate that God places upon family instruction.

3. God's readiness to answer prayer is greater than the faith of the greatest believer.

4. So long as Abraham interceded, so long Jehovah tarried to listen.

5. There is nothing more acceptable to God than the intercession of His saints.

(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

1. Abraham makes a good use of his previous knowledge. Being made acquainted with the evil coming upon them he stands in the gap, and labours all he can to avert it. They knew nothing: and if they had, no cries, except the shrieks of desperation, would have been heard from them. It is good having such a neighbour as Abraham; and still better to have an Intercessor before the throne who is always heard. The conduct of the patriarch furnishes an example to all who have an interest at the throne of grace, to make use of it in behalf of their poor ungodly countrymen and neighbours.

2. He does not plead that the wicked may be spared for their own sake, or because it would be too severe a proceeding to destroy them; but for the sake of the righteous who might be found amongst them. Had either of the other pleas been advanced, it had been siding with sinners against God, which Abraham would never do. Wickedness shuts the mouth of intercession; or if any should presume to speak, it would be of no account. But how then, it may be asked, did Christ make intercession for transgressors? Not by arraigning the Divine throne, nor by alleging ought in extenuation of human guilt; but by pleading His own obedience unto death!

3. He charitably hopes the best with respect to the number of righteous characters even in Sodom. At the outset of his intercession, he certainly considered it as a possible case, at least, that there might be found in that wicked place fifty righteous: and though in this instance he was sadly mistaken, yet we may hope from hence that in those times there were many more righteous people in the world than those which are recorded in Scripture. The Scriptures do not profess to be a book of life, containing the names of all the faithful; but intimate, on the contrary, that God reserves to Himself a people, who are but little known even by His own servants.

4. God was willing to spare the worst of cities for the sake of a few righteous characters. This truth is as humiliating to the haughty enemies of religion as it is encouraging to its friends, and furnishes an important lesson to civil governments, to beware of undervaluing, and still more of persecuting, and banishing men whose concern it is to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world. Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a remnant of such characters, we might ere now have been as Sodom, and made like unto Gomorrah! If ten righteous had been found in Sodom, it had been spared for their sakes: but alas, there was no such number! God called Abraham to Haran, and when he left that place, mention is made not only of "the substance which he had gathered," but of "the souls which he had gotten." But Lot, who went to Sodom of his own accord, though he also gathered substance, yet not a soul seems to have been won over by his residence in the place to the worship of the true God.

(A. Fuller.)

I. THE CERTAIN DESTRUCTION OF THE WICKED; which some people say they cannot believe, because out of harmony with their notions of the character of God. God is determined on the destruction of the cities of the plain, and all their inhabitants; and He gives these reasons (ver. 20) — "The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is very grievous," or heavy. Observe —

1. The cry was very great. A cry of blood, like that of Abel's from the ground, for vengeance against the murderer (Genesis 4:10). Murder, no doubt, was rife in Sodom; and He who had demanded blood for blood, could not overlook it. A cry of proud defiance against God, as represented in Ezekiel 16:49, 50; and that God knows too well what is due to Himself to disregard. A cry of oppression, injustice, and wrong. The cry of defrauded labourers, which the Apostle James says, "enters into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:4). A cry of cupidity, drunkenness, and revelry, such as went up to Jehovah from those whom He had called to be His people, and to whom "He looked for judgment, but beheld oppression; for righteousness, but beheld a cry" (Isaiah 5:7). And shall we not add, a cry from the vexed spirit of righteous Lot — a cry of filial supplication mingling its music, so agreeable to the ears of a loving Father, with the hoarse discord of angry passions and self-inflicted woes? Doubtless that cry from Lot brought down the Omnipotent avenger; and the accumulated cry from the multitude "which no man could number," of His blood-bought people, who have complained to Him of their treatment from a Satan-ruled world, in every generation since, shall at last bring Him down again, to teach the persecutors that they have persecuted not them but Him (Acts 9:4).

2. Their sin was very grievous, or heavy. Like a black cloud, gathering increased density from accumulated vapours of human wickedness until it becomes so charged with rain, thunder, lightning, and tempest, that it must at length empty itself upon the devoted earth over which it lowers. Thus sin cannot be suffered to press upon God's creation for ever — sooner or later it shall be removed, and all who have their life in it must perish.

3. The signal destruction of Sodom and her kindred cities was resolved on. God is a Sovereign Judge and Ruler. To Him vengeance belongs. "He can create and He destroy." "To Me," says God, "belongeth vengeance and recompense" (Deuteronomy 32:35); and His people are taught to address Him in that character (see Psalm 94:1); and shall we say that "God is unrighteous who taketh vengeance"? (Romans 3:5). The sinner, in fighting against God, is labouring for his own destruction.

II. THE CERTAIN SALVATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS.

1. If this means those whom God shall find naturally righteous, when He comes to take account of such as shall be saved, then the whole human race must be excluded from its benefits, for never since the day of Adam's fall, was there a man, woman, or child on the earth whom God would or could admit to be righteous in themselves

2. No inspired writer, either of the Old or New Testament, has failed to describe man as a sinner, and far from righteousness.

3. And yet have God's righteous ones, in every generation, had a place and a mission in the earth. God speaks of them as actually existing human beings. The Bible is full of their history, position, character, proceedings, and prospects.

III. THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD TOWARDS THE WICKED, FOR THE SAKE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, Under this head we are called upon to consider —

1. That God has a people whom He calls peculiarly His own, mingled among the mass of dead, ignorant, and ungodly human beings composing what is called the world; just as righteous Lot was placed in Sodom, in the city, but not of it, residing in the midst of its depraved inhabitants, yet not identified with their wicked ways or deeds of darkness, "but rather reproving them." We have a perfect illustration of the external mingling, yet spiritual separation, that exists between Christ's redeemed ones and the subjects of Satan's rule in this world, in the parable of the tares and wheat, supplied by our Lord for the instruction and consolation of His people in their present state. And in referring to the value of intercessory prayer for our beloved country at such a time as this. Abraham pleaded for Lot. He remembered him when God announced to him the overthrow of Sodom, where Lot dwelt.Observe:

1. Lot was dear to the heart of Abraham. He called him his brother (Genesis 13:8; Genesis 14:14); and he probably thought there would have been found at least ten righteous persons in his household, for whose sake Sodom would be spared. Thus our Divine Mediator loves those whom "He is not ashamed to call His brethren " (Hebrews 2:11), and claims for their sake the suspension of Almighty judgment pronounced against an apostate world.

2. Lot had accompanied Abraham out of the land of idolatry into the land of promise. He was, therefore, identified with him in his pilgrimage state, and this formed a link between them, which, notwithstanding their present local separation, rendered them objects of tenderest interest to each other. Thus Jesus included in Himself, on the cross, and at the sepulchre, all that the Father had given to Him. They were crucified with Him, and they are risen with Him (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:12). Thus they are one with Him, and He is one with them.

3. But the tie between Abraham and Lot had been drawn still closer by the devoted affection exhibited by the former in rescuing his kinsman from the hands of the spoiler. Sodom had been attacked by the confederate kings, taken, and pillaged. Lot and his family were carried away captives, and his property fell into the hands of the conquerors. Abraham pursued the captors, and at great risk to himself succeeded in delivering the objects of his fraternal interest, and all that belonged to them, out of their hands. Our Divine Champion has done more than this. He has sacrificed His precious life to redeem His beloved ones from eternal captivity, and their inheritance from the confiscation of Almighty justice. The link cannot be more close or inseparable that binds them to their Deliverer and their Head.

4. Abraham obtained all that he desired — not impunity for the guilty citizens of Sodom, but safety for righteous Lot. The Lord was merciful to him (Genesis 19:16). "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me; for they are Thine," and ascribe their salvation from present and eternal evil to the principle of unconditioned grace embodied in that prayer; while feeling satisfied that, as regards God's dealing with nations or individual members of the human family, merely as such, "the Judge of all the earth will do right" (Genesis 18:25).

(S. A. Walker, M. A.)

No scene in English history is more familiar to us from our childhood than that of Queen Philippa kneeling at the feet of Edward III. to plead for the lives of the six burgesses of Calais, who had brought the keys of the city to the conqueror, barefooted and with halters round their necks, ready, by their own deaths, to save the town from the sword. It is chiefly by contrast that this scene illustrates the wonderful narrative now before us; but there is one point of resemblance upon which I wish to lay stress. We may well contrast the cruel ferocity of King Edward, as he cries, "Call the headsman! Cut off their heads!" — sending to death venerable citizens whose only fault was that they had too bravely defended their hearths and homes — with the mingled justice and mercy of God, devoting to well-merited destruction the foulest city on earth, and yet first going down to see (ver. 21), and even willing to spare it if ten good men could be found there. We may contrast Queen Philippa's petition that six willing martyrs might be spared, with Abraham's petition that fifty — nay, ten — righteous lives might avail to save thousands of the ungodly. But the point of resemblance is this — that the queen's intercession was accepted because she was the queen, and was dear to her fierce husband, and that Abraham's was accepted because he was in a peculiar sense the friend of God. The petitioner in each case had access to the throne, and could draw near to Him that sat on it.

(E. Stock.)

The tone of Abraham's intercession may teach us how familiar the intercourse with the heavenly Friend may be. The boldest words from a loving heart, jealous of God's honour, are not irreverent in His eyes. This prayer is abrupt, almost rough. It sounds like remonstrance quite as much as prayer. Abraham appeals to God to take care of his name and honour, as if he had said, If Thou doest this, what will the world say of Thee, but that Thou art unmerciful? But the grand confidence in God's character, the eager desire that it should be vindicated before the world, the dread that the least film should veil the silvery whiteness or the golden lustre of His name, the sensitiveness for His honour, — these are the effects of communion with Him; and for these God accepts the bold prayer, as truer reverence than is found in many more guarded and lowly sounding words. Many conventional proprieties of worship may be broken just because the worship is real. "The frequent sputter shows that the soul's depths boil in earnest." We may learn, too, that the most loving familiarity never forgets the fathomless gulf between God and it. Abraham does not forget that he is "dust and ashes"; he knows that he is venturing much in speaking to God. His pertinacious prayers have a recurring burden of lowly recognition of his place. Twice he heralds them with "I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord"; twice with "Oh let not the Lord be angry." Perfect love casts out fear and deepens reverence. We may come with free hearts, from which every weight of trembling and every cloud of doubt has been lifted. But the less the dread, the lower we shall bow before the loftiness which we love. We do not pray aright until we tell God everything. The boldness which we as Christians ought to have, means literally a frank speaking out of all that is in our hearts. Such "boldness and access with confidence" will often make short work of so-called seemly reverence, but it will never transgress by so much as a hair's-breadth the limits of lowly, trustful love.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Abraham's persistency may teach us a lesson. If one might so say, he hangs on God's skirt like a burr. Each petition granted only encourages him to another. Six times he pleads, and God waits till he has done before He goes away; He cannot leave His friend till that friend has said all his say. What a contrast the fiery fervour and unwearying pertinacity of Abraham's prayers make to the stiff formalism of the intercessions one is familiar with! The former are like the successive pulses of a volcano driving a hot lava stream before it; the latter, like the slow flow of a glacier, cold and sluggish. Is any part of our public or private worship more hopelessly formal than our prayers for others? This picture from the old world may well shame our languid petitions, and stir us up to a holy boldness and insistence in prayer.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

It was the poet's vain and groundless conceit of Hector, that so long as he lived Troy could not be destroyed, terming him the immovable and inexpugnable pillar of Troy. But well it may be said of a faithful man that he is a mighty stay and strength, a main defender and upholder of the place where he liveth; for whose sake, for whose presence and prayers, out of the Lord's abundant kindness to all His, even the wicked are often within the shadow of God's protection, and spared.

(J. Spencer.)

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