ŇBy faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.Ó Hebrews 11:8.
Concerning holy Abraham, here are more examples than one recorded, and his faith is renowned many ways; more verses are spent of him than of some five others. And the reason is, because his faith was more excellent than any others that followed him. In which regard, he is called the father of the faithful, oftentimes in the New Testament, especially in the epistles to the Romans and Galatians.
The first example of his faith (and the fourth in order of the whole) is of his leaving his own native country, and how at GodŐs commandment he went he knew not whither; only he knew God called him, and therefore he would go; wherein appeared a most worthy faith.
Now concerning this his faith and obedience, the text layeth down two points:
I. The cause or ground thereof; which was GodŐs calling; he was called of God.
II. The fruit, or effect of his faith; he hearkened and obeyed. And this his obedience is amplified by divers particulars:
1. The matter of it; he went out of his country.
2. The end; to take possession of a country, which he should not enjoy of a long time.
3. The manner; he went out, not knowing whither he should go.
I. The first point is the cause or ground of AbrahamŐs faith in this action, and is laid down in the first words:
By faith Abraham, when he was called.
This story is taken out of Genesis 12. The cause of AbrahamŐs faith is GodŐs calling. GodŐs calling is an action of God, whereby He appointeth a man to some certain condition, or state of life, in this world, or after this life. And in this regard, God is compared to a general in the field which assigneth every soldier his standing and duty; so doth God appoint every man his place and duty in the church.
Concerning these callings, let us see 1. the means how He calleth, and 2. the several states whereto he calleth men.
1. For the means or manner, God calleth men two ways: (1) immediately, or (2) by means.
(1). Sometimes immediately by Himself and His own voice; as, the extraordinary prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles in the New. So saith St Paul of himself, he was called to be an apostle, not of men, nor by men, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father (Gal. 1:1).
(2). Sometimes mediately by men directed by Himself, and furnished, or enabled, for that duty; and so were called the ordinary prophets and priests of the Old; and the evangelists, pastors and doctors of the New Testament. The first was extraordinary, this is ordinary; the first is for an unbelieving or misbelieving people; the second is for an ordinary and established church. Now, of these two ways, God called Abraham immediately by Himself from heaven.
2. Secondly, for the estates of life whereunto God calleth men, there are three: (1) general, (2) particular and (3) personal.
(1). GodŐs general calling is, whereby He calleth all men to repentance by the gospel, and so to life eternal. Of this speaks the apostle (Rom. 8:30), Whom God predestinated, them also He called; and also (Rom. 11:29), The calling of God is without repentance. Hereby He calls men in this life to the state of grace, and to the state of glory in heaven; and this is to all.
(2). His particular calling is, when He calleth and assigneth men to some particular estate and duty in family, church or commonwealth; as when a man is called to be a magistrate, minister, master of a family, lawyer, physician etc.
(3). Thirdly, God calleth some men to some private, personal duty, which He designeth not to others, but to be done by them alone. Such a calling had He assigned him that would needs be perfect; Go, sell all that thou hast etc. (Matt. 19:21).
Now the calling of Abraham in this place, is to be referred to this third kind. For it was a private and personal calling to leave his country, his kindred, his lands, his possessions, and to go seek another; and to be the father of the faithful, and to receive the covenant; and this duty belongs to none but who shall personally and by name be called unto it.
Yet all these three callings may concur in one, as here in him. For he was called to be a Christian (for the general) and a governor of a great family (for the particular calling); but that, that is in this place understood, is the extraordinary and personal calling to leave his country. And in it we are to consider three circumstances:
1. Who was called
3. How he was called.
1. For the first, Abraham was called the son of Terah; but neither his father Terah, nor his brother Nahor were called, but Abraham only.
But it may worthily be demanded why God should not call his father and kindred; there can be no other answer but this that the apostle giveth (Rom. 9:18), God hath mercy on whom He will, and withholdeth it from whom he will. He calleth Isaac, and refuseth Ishmael; loveth Jacob, and hateth Esau; taketh Abel, and leaveth Cain; even because He will, and for no other cause that we know. But why then calls He Abraham, and not his kindred? Is not this partiality? I answer, He is tied to none, He might refuse all, therefore the marvel is that He calls any. But why some and not other, why Abraham and not his kindred, no reason can be given; for GodŐs judgments are wonderful. But as that that is impossible with man, is possible with God; so that that is injustice or partiality with man, is justice with God. And it is extreme folly, and intolerable presumption, for us to weigh GodŐs actions in the balance of our shallow reason.
2. For the second; But when was Abraham called? For the time, there are two circumstances worth the observation:
(1). First, Abraham was called to this dignity when he lived in his country with his fathers. So saith Joshua (Josh. 24:2), Thus saith the Lord, Your fathers dwelt beyond the flood in old time, even Terah the father of Abraham, and served other gods. If Abraham was called by God when he was an idolater, then it was apparent he had not purchased GodŐs favour by his works. Where we learn that the whole work of a manŐs salvation is to be ascribed to GodŐs mere mercy; who (as the prophet saith) was found of them that sought Him not (Isa. 65:1). Abraham never dreamed of the true God, nor of any new covenant of grace and salvation, when God called him. And so when Paul was going armed with bloody fury, and his fury armed with commissions and authority against the saints, then God from heaven called him; and of a persecutor, made him the principal instrument of His glory (Acts 9:2ff.). Therefore (to apply this to ourselves) if God have vouchsafed us the same grace, and taken us to be His people, and made a covenant of salvation with us, who in former times had been sinners of the Gentiles; we must learn here to see whence this favour is, and therefore to ascribe nothing to ourselves, but give all the glory unto God.
And particularly, for every one of us; if God hath been so merciful to any of us, as when we were popish or superstitious with our parents or kindred, to open our eyes and bring us home to His holy truth; or when we weltered in wickedness and sensuality with the profane world, to touch our hearts; and to call us to grace and sanctification; let us often remember and freely acknowledge this His undeserved mercy, and say with the holy prophet, Unto thee belongeth mercy, but unto us open shame (Dan. 9:8,9).
(2). Secondly, for the time when Abraham was called, it was when he was 75 years of age or thereabouts, as is manifest in the story (Gen. 12:4). Therefore we see that God for a long time let him lie in his blindness and idolatry ere He called him. It is more likely that Abraham in the meantime lived civilly, and followed learning and other civil courses; and in that time it is likely he attained to that measure of knowledge in astronomy and other learning, for which he is renowned in old writers. But this was the first time he was called to know and serve the true God in His true service.
Here we learn that though a man perseveres in his sins for a long time, and passes his best years in vanity without repentance, and thereby be in a grievous and fearful estate; yet true believers and penitent men must not therefore judge them castaways. For GodŐs mercy calls a man in his old age, and toucheth the heart when it pleaseth Him. Christ in the parable called some at the eleventh hour (Matt. 20:6), and so God calleth men to grace in their old age. We must therefore spare these sharp and unsavoury censures which some unadvisedly cast upon such men; for charity thinketh not evil (1 Cor. 13:5), where it may think or suppose any possibility of good; but contrariwise pray for them, and hope of their conversions, because we know that at what time soever a sinner repents of his sin, God will forgive him.
And yet for all this, men must not presume to live carelessly in their sins, for that is desperately to tempt God; but must follow the holy counsel of Solomon (Eccl.12:1), to remember their Creator in the days of their youth; and to turn unto God when they have means, lest God take away the means, and with the means His favour from them. Abraham was not called until he was old; but when he was called, he hearkened and obeyed; so must thou when God calls thee by afflictions or by His Word, then answer and obey as Abraham did; or else AbrahamŐs calling in his old age will be little comfort to thee. Thus much for the time.
3. Thirdly, for the manner of his calling, it is laid down in the story of Genesis, to be in an earnest kind of counsel, Go out, saith God, from thy kindred, and from thy fatherŐs house, unto the land that I will shew thee; where it is to be observed, He saith not barely Go, or come forth; but He amplifieth, and urgeth it with many words and circumstances.
If any ask why God did so, when He might have given the commandment in one word; I answer, the reason is that Abraham might have cause more seriously to consider of GodŐs calling, and to imprint it more deeply in his heart; lest at the first brunt he should have obeyed, and afterward have shrunk back. For it was doubtless that this calling was harsh to reason, and that Abraham found many hindrances, and therefore it were dangerous he would have started back after some trial of these difficulties he must pass through, if he had but a bare call and commandment to go. But when God saith to him, Go out of thy native country, let it not stay thee that thou wast born there, nor hinder thee that thy kindred dwells there; but leave all and come with me; forsake all and trust me; follow me into the land that I will shew thee; I take thee from one, but I will give thee another. When God, I say, useth all these, and it may be many more like words to Abraham; it is apparent He would have him furnished with strength and resolution to go through with his calling after he had once made entrance into it.
Out of which practice of God, we learn this instruction; that God would have no man enter upon any calling or duty, with a fearful and faint heart, nor with a doubtful mind; but with a strong and settled resolution to go through with it, and not to relent and repent in the midst. And for this end, God would have all men before they enter, seriously to consider the place or duty they are to undertake; for the Lord had rather a man should refuse at the first, than having entered to look back again; and it is great folly for men, hastily and suddenly, or humorously, to cast themselves upon any calling, and then upon trial and experience of the dangers and difficulties thereof, to be weary, and wish they had never done it. Men in this world are generally wiser in matters of the world; if a man is to build a house, he will not forthwith set upon building such a house as his humour desireth, but will first of all sit down and count the cost, and then his own ability, to see if the one will counterbalance the other, else he never begins it. So saith Christ (the wisdom of God) of the wisdom of this world; and the like also He saith for war, that no prince will fight with his enemy on unequal terms, but will know himself able to sustain the encounter (Luke 14:28,31).
So the calling of a Christian is to profess the gospel of Christ. As the magistrateŐs is to defend it, the ministerŐs to teach it, so all menŐs to profess it. Now it is as impossible to build without cost, or to fight without power of men, as to profess Christ in any calling, either general or particular, without crosses. We must therefore consider first, what our calling and profession will cost us; it is sure to cost us a dangering of our credits and estimation in the world; it may be our goods, our liberties; it may be our lives themselves. Again, what enemies we have to encounter in this spiritual warfare, the devil, death, hell, sin, corruption, and the crafty malice of wicked men; all these we are sure to meet withal. Were it not then folly for a man to undertake this profession, and not to consider thus much beforehand? The want of this is the cause why some put their hands to the plough and after shrink away, and make themselves ridiculous to their enemies, corporal and spiritual.
And for particular callings, the case even standeth so also. Some men think the calling of a magistrate, a place of honour; and therefore ambitiously plot and desire to raise themselves into authority; never remembering the burden and trouble they are sure to find. Which when they feel to be too heavy for their lazy shoulders to bear with ease, they slowly fall to plain carelessness, and neglect all doing good in their places, and wish they had never bought honour so dear.
So others think the ministry nothing but a place of ease, exemption and preferment. And in these conceits, rush presumptuously and rashly into that holy state, never thinking beforehand of that great charge of souls they are to take, nor of that heavy account they are to make for them; nor of the hatred, and contempt, and extreme disgraces they are sure to find, if they do their duties with conscience. And therefore (when upon experience they find it so to be) they either fall to carnal courses with the world, and neglect their duties (that by these two means they may please the world), or else they continue in their duties with much grief and vexation, wishing they had chosen rather any calling than the ministry; and by either or both, do expose themselves to shame and much rebuke. Whereas, contrariwise, he that beforehand casts his account what it will cost him to be a minister, what he must undertake, what he must lose, what he is sure to find, is so settled and resolved beforehand, as he goeth through all dangers and contempts, with comfort, courage and contentment. Let us therefore all learn by this practice of God, when we think to enter upon any such duty, to reason with ourselves, as God did with Abraham, what we are to forsake, and what we are to meet withal. So shall we not afterwards repent, but go on with much assurance, as Abraham did.
This point I have the more enlarged, because it is of special use in the Christian life.
Thus much of the cause of AbrahamŐs faith, GodŐs calling, and all the circumstances therein.
II. The second point is the excellency and commendation thereof, commended by the fruit and effect. It made him to yield to this calling of God. And this obedience of his faith is spoken of in two ways:
1. It is laid down generally: He obeyed God.
2. It is further commended by divers particulars, which we shall see in their places.
1. Obeyed God.
Here is the obedience of AbrahamŐs faith laid down in one general word: He obeyed; that is, when God called him to leave his country, kindred and friends, he yielded against reason, because God bade him. When God told him He would carry him into another land, he believed it, and left a certain for an uncertain, a possession for an expectation, here was the power and excellency of his faith appearing in this obedience. From hence we learn two instructions:
(1). First, seeing Abraham the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11) and our glory is to be children of faithful Abraham; therefore we must learn, as good children, to follow our father, in framing our lives according to GodŐs calling; when God calleth us to any state of life, then to obey; and when not God, but the world or our own corrupt humours call us, then not to obey. For, to obey the first is the obedience of faith; but to obey the second is the obedience of our corruption. Therefore against this practice of holy Abraham, two sorts of men do offend, and thereby shew themselves children unlike their father Abraham:
(i) First, such men as being called by God to some function or duties, will not obey; for examples we have too many. To some, God saith, Leave thy private care, which is for none but thyself; be a magistrate, and undertake the public care of the commonwealth; but they, as though they were born for themselves, will not employ themselves in public service.
To some, God saith, Leave thy case, and thy care of worldly credit; and undertake the teaching of my people, and care not for the contempt of that calling, for thou mayest save souls; but their carnal credit is more dear unto them than AbrahamŐs kindred is to him; they will not forsake them.
These, and all that do, may make what shew they will; but they are not children of Abraham, seeing they are wanting of his faith; and they are wanting in his faith because they fail in his obedience; they must therefore learn to yield when God calleth, and not to stand upon such base allegations of worldly matters; when Abraham left country and kindred to obey God.
(ii) Secondly, such men as respect not GodŐs calling, but look what the swing of their natures or the course of the wicked world carry them unto, they presently yield and obey, not regarding whether it be GodŐs calling or not. Three sorts of men are most faulty in this kind:
(a) First, such as are content to grow in wealth, either by oppression, as by usury and extortion; or by craft and dissembling, or by any other such indirect course whereby their brother is hurt; looking only at gain but not regarding whence it comes.
(b) Secondly, such as live by dicing, carding, or by plays and interludes, thinking any trade lawful that brings in wealth or that gets money; never caring whether God allows the calling or not.
(c) Thirdly, such as live in no calling, but spend their time in eating, drinking, sleeping and sporting, because they have livings of their own, and lands left by their parents.
All these, and all such like, do obey indeed, but whereunto? Not unto GodŐs calling, for, alas, He never called them to these courses, but hath often recalled them from it; therefore this is the obedience not of faith, but of corruption and of the world, which is a plain disobedience unto God. For, as the wisdom of the flesh or the world is foolishness with God, so obedience to the flesh or to the world is disobedience and rebellion against God.
All such men must know that they are not the children of Abraham, because they are not children of his faith, because they practice not his obedience; for GodŐs calling, and no other rule for our life, must Christian men admit. When He calls, they must obey; and when He calls not, or allows not a course or gaining, or a trade of life (though all the world allow it), we must not follow it; this will honour them and their profession before God. AbrahamŐs faith justified him before God, but his obedience justified his faith; obedience, saith Samuel (1 Sam. 15:22,23), is better than sacrifice; but disobedience is as the sin of witchcraft. Therefore let all Christians prove their faith by their obedience, hanging on GodŐs mouth, and amending on GodŐs calling, for directions of their whole life; and resolve with David (Psa. 119:105), Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path. When kings may not live but by this light of GodŐs calling and GodŐs word; it is shameful presumption for ordinary men to frame their lives by lights of their own making.
(2). In the second place out of AbrahamŐs obedience, let us mark: By what means obeyed he? By faith. Learn here the true nature of true faith; it brings forth true obedience wherever it is; and therefore Christian obedience is called the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5). And these two cannot be separated, no more than light from the sun, or heat from fire. For as the sun naturally and necessarily gives light, and the fire heat; no less doth true faith yield true obedience to GodŐs commandments. Which being so, it teacheth us for the use:
(i) First, how our church and doctrine are slandered by the papists who please themselves in saying, We look to be saved by faith alone, and without works. For we teach that though a man be justified without respect to his works, yet no man was ever justified whose faith did not bring forth good and holy works; and we teach that none is heir of AbrahamŐs faith which is not also of his obedience. Therefore God will reward their lying tongue.
(ii) Secondly, this teacheth us that AbrahamŐs faith is rare in these days. Many make profession of AbrahamŐs religion, but it seems they are as far deceived as the Jews were (John 8:39), the Jews would be AbrahamŐs children because they were of his flesh; and men now will be so because they are of his profession; but both are far wide, for we must be children of faithful Abraham. But if we will be like him in faith, we must be like him in obedience also; when God calls us to any duty, we must forsake our own natures, and deny our own affections, and cross our own corruptions, to follow GodŐs calling and to do our duties. So shall we be true children of Abraham, when we are like our father in his best virtues. Thus we see his obedience laid down generally.
2. Particularly, in his obedience there are laid down three points:
(1). The matter.
(2). The end.
(3). The manner,
All which are laid down in the text.
(1). For in the matter of his obedience, it followeth in these words: To go out into a place etc.
The particular matter wherein AbrahamŐs obedience consisted was this; At GodŐs commandment, he went out of his own country into another; for one which he should inherit, he left that which he did inherit.
Here many points of good instruction may be learned:
(i) First, see here the power and strength of true faith; it was a wonderful hard thing for Abraham to do.
(a) For first, he was well stricken in years, 75 years old. Young men delight to be stirring, but men grown in years do love to settle themselves as birds in their nests; and it is grievous unto them to think of removing or taking long journeys.
(b) Secondly, he must leave his own country, where he was bred, born and brought up; which all men generally do love by nature.
(c) Thirdly, he must leave his goods, and lands, and living, which no doubt were great for having lived so long in his native country, and being born as he was, his estate doubtless was very great.
(d) Fourthly, he must leave his acquaintances with which he had lived all his life, yea, his own kindred, and must go live amongst strangers.
These four considerations were so many hindrances to this obedience, and strong temptations to make him to have looked backward; but such is the power of his faith, he is commanded of God, therefore he obeyeth and goeth out.
The use is to teach us what a faith we have. For, if we measure all GodŐs commandments by our natural affections, our faith is but a shadow and hypocrisy; but if we consult not with flesh and blood, but rest and rely on GodŐs Word, and give absolute obedience to His commandments, then our faith is such as AbrahamŐs was.
(ii) In the next place, Some may marvel why the Lord should command him so hard a matter, and lay so strait a commandment upon him as to leave his country and living, which seemed unreasonable; and his kindred, which was unnatural.
I answer, the reason is, not that God delighteth in unreasonable and unnatural courses, or in laying heavy burdens upon his children; but He did it for good and holy ends, such as:
(a) First, to prove Abraham and to see what was in him. As a friend is not tried in ordinary, but in great matters; so it is known who is GodŐs friend in matters of difficulty. Hereby, therefore God maketh the faith and obedience of His servant to shine more gloriously.
(b) Again, to break the corruption of his heart; for our wicked natures love peace, and ease, and welfare, and heartŐs desire; but God will cross those courses, and send us troubles many ways, that so He may pull down the height of our corruptions, and humble us to His own hand.
The use is to teach us to make true use of our afflictions, and of those many hard crosses that must fall upon us in our course of serving God; namely, to know that they are sent from God, not as a hard-hearted or cruel judge, but as a wise and merciful Father, who wisheth our good, and who will so bless unto us the hardest and heaviest crosses that befall us in our lives (if we receive them in patience and faith) that we shall say with David (Psa. 119:71), It is good for us that we have been in trouble; for thereby we have learned to know God and ourselves better.
(iii) Thirdly, whereas Abraham at GodŐs commandment goeth out of his own country into another, we learn that it is not unlawful for a Christian man to go out of his own country and travel into another, and there to abide for some, or for a long time; provided his causes be good and just, as, namely, these which follow:
(a) First, if he have a particular commandment of God, as here Abraham had.
(b) Secondly, if he have a lawful calling of the church or state whereof he is a member; as if he be sent to a general council, or be sent as ambassador; either to stay for a time, or to stay there as legate.
(c) Thirdly, if it be for the safety of his life in a good cause. So Moses (Exod. 2:14,15) fled into the land of Midian, and there stayed when Pharoah sought for his life. And Christ Himself fled with Joseph and His mother into Egypt, from the fury of Herod (Matt. 1). The like may be said for them that, to preserve their liberty, they fly from the cruelty of their creditors who will not take reasonable and honest satisfaction of a surety for another man, or of a child for the fatherŐs debts; but in no case for them who travel in purpose to defeat their creditors, or thereby to deliver themselves from payment of their due debts, being able to pay. Of both these we have example in David and his followers. David himself was fain to fly for his life from SaulŐs unjust cruelty, and therefore went to dwell amongst the Philistines (1 Sam. 27:1), and (1 Sam. 22:2) there came to David such as were in trouble and in debt, and these were with him in his travail and persecutions. Now doubtless, had they been ungodly men (who had not cared how they came into debt, nor how they paid it), David would never had been their prince; as the text saith he was.
(d) Fourthly, if it be for the maintenance of pure religion, and keeping a good conscience. This hath ChristŐs warranty (Matt. 10:23), When they persecute you in one city, fly to another. For this cause, many of our forefathers, in the former age, were fain to fly into Germany, Switzerland and to Geneva. And for these causes, divers of other nations do repair to this nation, and are here entertained.
(e) Fifthly, if it be for the getting, or increasing of any good learning, and lawful knowledge, especially divine knowledge for matter of religion. Thus the Queen of Sheba went out of the utmost part of Africa, to Jerusalem in Asia, to see and hear Solomon (1 Kin. 10), and for that cause she is highly commended by Christ Himself (Matt. 12:42). Thus may young men travel for learning or the tongues, especially such as intend thereby to fit themselves for public service, so it be with safety of religion, and security of conscience.
(f) Sixthly, if it be for the practice of a manŐs lawful calling, as for traffic; and thus merchants may, and do, lawfully travel in all nations, and have their factors there resident; provided they lose not their souls, to gain for their bodies; their travelling is allowed by Christ in the parable where He saith, The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant man that seeketh goodly pearls (Matt. 13:45).
(g) Seventhly, if it be to receive and take possession of any goods or lands lawfully bequeathed or fallen unto a man in another nation, as sometime it doth. This seems to be allowed by Christ in the parable, where He saith, A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and so to come again (Luke 19:12).
In a word; if it be upon any good and sufficient cause, allowable in good reason, and not contrary to any part of GodŐs Word. But as for such as leave their countries and travel into another:
Either upon levity, to see strange sights and fashions; or being malefactors, fly from their due punishment; or being in debt, go away to deceive their creditors; or being vain-glorious, to make themselves known; or being at enmity, to fight combats or to kill their enemy;
All these, and all such like, can have no comfort in their travels; for they send themselves, God sent them not; they are out of GodŐs protection, because they go without His warrant. And as many of them as go away to escape the hand of the magistrate, let them be assured, they shall not escape the hand of God.
(iv) In the fourth place, here is a comfort for all such as are banished from their own native countries, for God and His gospelŐs sake. For, here, Abraham, the prince of patriarchs, was a banished man, and lived in a strange country the greater part of all his life. Let such men therefore take patiently what God layeth upon them; for it is not their misery or mishap alone, but hath been common to GodŐs children in all ages. Again, Christ Himself pronounceth them blessed, who suffer persecution for righteousness sake; for though they be exiles from their own kingdom, or tossed up and down the kingdoms of the earth, yet theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10).
(v) Lastly, though this commandment was personally directed to Abraham, and concerns not us as it did him; yet it hath his force and use even to us. For, though we are not to go out of our country, and leave our livings and habitations; yet we must do that that is proportionable thereunto. That which is commanded to SolomonŐs wife is to all Christians; Hearken, O daughter, and consider, incline thine ear, forget thine own kindred, and thy fatherŐs house; so shall the king take pleasure in thy beauty (Psa. 45:10,11). This wife of Solomon is the soul of every Christian, the spouse of Christ, the true Solomon, who by nature is daughter to heathen Pharoah, that is, to sin, corruption and wrath; but being married to Christ, must forget her own kindred and fatherŐs house, that is, their own nature and natural affections, and carnal desires; and then shall Christ our king, and spiritual husband, take pleasure in us and rejoice to do us good. And this is the chief travelling of all, and most acceptable to God, when a man goeth out of himself, and denieth his own desires to obey God and to serve Jesus Christ.
Thus we see the matter of his obedience. Now followeth the end.
(2). Which he should after receive for inheritance.
The second particular in his obedience is the end, why he went out of his own country, to inherit another, that is, the land of Canaan, called elsewhere the Land of Promise, because God promised it unto him, and to his seed. Now, Abraham at GodŐs commandment, went out of his own native country into this place, to inherit it, and to take possession of it.
But it may be objected, He inherited it not; yea, furthermore, Stephen saith (Acts 7:5), God brought him in, but gave him no inheritance in it, no, not the breadth of a foot.
I answer, though Abraham did not inherit it personally himself, yet he may be said to inherit it two ways:
(i) Sacramentally, or mystically.
(ii) In his posterity.
(i) First, sacramentally thus: the land of Canaan is to be understood, not only as a country of Asia, fruitful and fertile, and plentiful of all good things, wherein the only visible church was confined till ChristŐs coming. But further, as a type of the heavenly Canaan, where the triumphant church reigns in glory with God. And this Abraham did in his own person inherit it; for he was translated from this world, after his death, into the glory of heaven. And in that respect, the glory of heaven is rather called the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16), than of any other of the patriarchs, both for the excellency of his faith, and also for that the promise of inheriting the land of Canaan was first of all (personally) made to him; which because he enjoyed it not, he was recompensed with the fruition of the true Canaan.
From hence, we learn a notable doctrine; that God in performing of His promises, giveth not oftentimes the very particular thing promised, but something equivalent, or proportionable to it, or else better. Thus in the fifth commandment, obedient children are promised by God long life, as a reward for honouring their parents. Now, when He takes them away in their best age, as he did Josiah (2 Kin. 22:20), He giveth them eternal life; which is not only proportionable, but far exceeding the thing promised. So here He promiseth Abraham the land of Canaan, but when it comes to the performance, he gives him a better, even the true Canaan, the kingdom of heaven.
The use hereof is to teach us wisdom for the true discerning of GodŐs merciful performing of His promises; for He performeth them not always one way unto His children; sometimes He giveth the particular thing promised, as unto the children of Israel, their deliverance out of Egypt; unto Hezekiah, the restoring of his health and such like. Sometimes He giveth not it, but something which shall be as good, or better unto His children; as when they are in some great danger and crave deliverance, or in some necessity and have promise of supply; God oftentimes delivereth them not, but gives them patience, and feeling of His favour in such sort, as is many degrees more comfortable unto them. And herein God heareth their prayers, and performeth His promise to them, to their full contentment.
(ii) Secondly, Abraham inherited Canaan in his posterity. For though God promised it to himself when he was 75 years old (Gen 12:4), and to him and to his seed (Gen. 17:7), yet neither he nor his immediate seed enjoyed it, but his posterity the Israelits 430 years after the promise, as St Paul proveth (Gal. 3:17). And so Abraham inherited it in his posterity, which is a part of him; and they inherited it many hundred years, even until the coming of Christ.
(a) As before we learned that God in the performance of His promises, giveth not always the thing promised; so here let us learn that He doth not always perform them to the same parties, and yet most truly performeth them. If therefore God doth not to ourselves, nor in our times accomplish His promises or prophecies, we must not be impatient, but wait in patience. For as the prophet saith, The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the last it shall speak and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; it shall surely come, and shall not stay (Hab. 2:3). To this end David also most divinely saith (Psa. 97:11), Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. See, light and joy belongs unto them; but how? It is sown, that is, in hope and expectation, and not always in fruition. Therefore as the husbandman casts his seed into the earth, and is content to stay almost a full year without it, or any profit of it, and yet is patient all that while, because he is sure it will come, and bring increase with it; so must we wait patiently on the Lord, and know that whatsoever He hath promised, we, or ours after us, shall be sure to enjoy it. And though we do not, what great matter is it if our children do? Or we know that oftentimes the father soweth and dieth ere the harvest, and so the son reapeth. So for GodŐs great and gracious promises, which are sown unto the fathers; if themselves do not, their children are sure to reap the comfortable harvest of performance. And thus we see how Abraham inherited the land of Canaan, which is called the land of Promise, because it was so long, and so often promised to so many great patriarchs.
(b) In the second place it is to be observed, when God promised this unto Abraham; even then when the land of Canaan was possessed by many might kings; so that it may be here further doubted how Abraham could take any comfort in this promise, seeing it was at that day held by almost 40 kings greater and less, as we may see in Joshua chapters 10 to 12. And further, the people were many and strong; the cities were well-walled and full of huge giants (Num. 13:28,29). Yet for all this, he not only believeth and obeyeth; but as God promised, so he went to it, and took possession, and died in this faith, that God would perform His promise, and that his posterity should inherit it all, as afterward indeed they did, even from Moses to Christ. If it be asked how this could be; the answer is, that Abraham knew that God was King of Kings, and had the world and kingdoms of the world in His hand and disposition; and therefore assured himself that He could bring to pass what he had promised, and make good His word, notwithstanding all such impediments to the contrary. And as he believed, it came to pass; his posterity came to it, entered as conquerors upon this gift of God; and by the power of God, so amazed all these kings and their people, as some submitted, as the Gibeonites; and they that did not were all slain, and their countries conquered, as we may read at large in the book of Joshua; all the stories whereof are briefly comprehended by David in few words, where he saith, We have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, how thou O Lord, drove out the heathen with thy hand, and planted them in; how thou destroyed the people, and made them grow (Psa. 44:1,2).
Out of which we learn two instructions:
(a) First, that the change of states, and alteration of kingdoms or commonwealths, are in GodŐs hand; and that He can turn them one way or other, as it pleaseth Him. To this purpose, saith David, in the fore-named psalm, They inherited not the land by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but thy right hand and thy arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou didst favour them.
This must teach us to pray earnestly, in our daily prayers, for the good estate of this kingdom wherein we live; and of that worthy prince and queen under whose government we have been so long, and so liberally blessed. For the welfare and prosperity, the certainty and security of it and her, is not in our policy, might, munition, ships; nor in the strength of our navy, nor in the power of our armour, nor in the chivalry of our people, nor in the wisdom of our counsel (though for all these we are a people honoured of our friends, and feared of our enemies); but in the mighty hand of our God, who (as David saith) beareth rule over the kingdoms of the earth, and giveth them to whomsoever he will (Dan. 4:32).
Seeing therefore the King of heaven is the giver and establisher, the remover and changer, of kingdoms of the earth; let us assure ourselves that the prayers of Elisha are the horses and chariots of Israel (2 Kin. 13:14). And surely if Elisha for his prayer was acknowledged by the king himself, to be his father; then doubtless the godly ministers, and such other in our church as pray daily for the peace of our Jerusalem, are worthy to be accounted good children of our church, and worthy members of our state.
(b) Secondly, here we learn what is the ruin of kingdoms, and overthrow of estates; namely, sin and ungodliness. This is most apparent in the present example. For, why did God take this land from the Canaanites, and give it to Abraham and his seed? The stories of the Old Testament answer: Nothing but sin. In Deuteronomy, Moses chargeth the Israelites that they do not after the abominations of the heathen Canaanites; For, saith he, because of their abominable sins, God did cast them out before you (Deut. 18:9,12). And why did God not give it instantly to Abraham to inherit after the promise? Even because the wickedness of these Amorites was not then full (Gen. 15:16), that is, their sins were not then ripe. For we must know that, though God be the absolute and sovereign Lord of all kingdoms, and may dispose them as He will; yet He rather exerciseth His justice than His power; and never overturneth any state but upon cause of their apparent sinfulness. Nor can the Amorites or Canaanites plead herein any hard measure; for the same God dealt afterwards in the same justice with His own people, giving the kingdom of Judah to the Chaldeans, and Israel to the Assyrians; and the cause is laid down most memorably In 2 Kings 17:11-19: When the Israelites sinned against the Lord their God, and walked after the fashions of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before them; and did secretly things that were wicked, and made images, and served idols; and though God warned them by His prophets, yet would they not obey, but hardened their necks, and so finally left all the commandments of God; then the Lord was exceeding wrath with Israel, and cast them also out of His sight. Thus sin is able to overturn kingdoms, be they Canaanites, Israelites, or whosoever.
Let this teach us all to look to our lives, and make conscience of all sin; especially great, and capital, and crying sins; for the sins of a people are worms and cankers, eating out the life and strength of a commonwealth. And let our state and government learn here to look to the reformation of our people, especially for great sins. For open profaneness, or uncleanness, or oppressions, or injustice, or extortions, or cruelties, and exactions; all these, or any of these sins, reigning in a state, are able to overturn the best established kingdom on the earth, and will at last (do power and policy what they can) make the land spew out her inhabitants; and in the meantime (let the wily wits of men judge as they list) it will prove true, that the sinful and profane man is the worst, and the godly and conscionable man the best friend to a state, and best subject in a kingdom.
Thus much for the second point in AbrahamŐs obedience; namely, the end of it.
(3). The third and last point is the manner of his obedience; which followeth in these words:
And he went out, not knowing whither he went.
The manner of this his leaving his country, in manŐs reason would seem strange; nay, the world will condemn it for plain foolishness, for a man to leave a certainty for an uncertainty. But it may be here doubted how the apostle can here say that he knew not whither he went; seeing that these words are not in the story of the Old Testament. Doth not that practice allow tradition besides Scripture?
(i) I answer first, We refuse no traditions which are agreeable to the Scripture and analogy of faith; but such as are agreeable to one of these, we receive them, though not as Scripture.
(ii) Secondly, if the apostles in the New Testament do add anything in the story which is not in the Old (as St Paul does the names of the sorcerers in Egypt, Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. 3:8)), that circumstance by them so added is to be holden as Scripture and no tradition, because they having the same Spirit of God which the writers of the Old Testament had, have inserted it into the body of Scripture; even as the three sentences of the heathen poets alleged by St Paul (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Tit. 1:12) have now a divine truth in them, which they had not before.
But yet will some say, The apostles had these things from the Old Testament by tradition; seeing they were not written. I answer, we may safely grant it, and yet our cause loseth nothing, though it may be they had them by inspiration, and not by tradition, that being as likely, or much more than the other.
(iii) Thirdly, but for this particular, I answer, that the apostle had the words, or at least the matter, out of the story of Genesis. For thus go the words: God said to Abraham, Go out of thy country &c., into the land that I will shew thee. He named none to him, but told him He would shew him one. So then, Abraham went out at GodŐs appointment; and God knew, but he knew not whither he went; he knew well the land he left, but he knew not the land he should have.
But it may be again objected that this is not true; for it appears (Gen. 12:5) that Abraham with Sarah his wife, and all their substance, departed to go into the land of Canaan, and to the land of Canaan they came; therefore he knew whither he went; namely to that land.
I answer, It is true he went out with purpose and assurance, to inherit a land promised him by God, but not named to him. And whereas it is there said, He went out to go into the land of Canaan, that is spoken in respect of the performance when he was come thither, not of the first promise made him at his departure; or of the time when Moses wrote it, nor of the time when God spake it to Abraham. And that he knew not what land God did mean until he came thither, is plain (Gen. 15:6,7) where it is said that, when Abraham had passed through all the country, and was come into Canaan, then God appeared to him and said, This land will I give unto thy seed. But till then God never named it unto him; and therefore we read before that he believed and obeyed upon the general promise; but now when God did particularly specify and shew what land, he then shewed his thankfulness to God, and did there build an altar unto the God that had appeared unto him.
Thus it is clear that Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went. Which being so, it appears that Abraham did that which the world would call plain foolishness. To leave known friends for unknown, certain living for uncertain, is a simple course in manŐs reason; at least (the world will say) he might first have demanded of God what land that was which he should have, before he left that which he had; but Abraham makes no such questions, moves no such doubts; but believeth and obeyeth, and goeth out of his certain dwelling (at GodŐs calling), though he knew not where to lodge at night.
This practice of faithful Abraham hath profitable use:
(i) First, here we learn, that though GodŐs commandments seem foolish, and unreasonable, yet we must obey them. Christ saith, If a man will ever come in the ckingdom of heaven, he must be born again (John 3:3). St Paul saith, If any man among you seem to be wise, let him be a fool that he may be wise (1 Cor. 3:18). Christ saith, If any man will be my disciple, he must deny himself and follow me (Luke 9:23).
But how can these commandments be believed or done? How can reason believe them? How can nature do them? So disputed the woman of Samaria with Christ (John 4:11), when Christ told her He would give her of the water of life, she replied, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; whence then hast thou that water of life? Thus we object and reason against God with carnal objections, and weigh GodŐs commandments in the balance of reason; thus God and His commandments are much abused by us. And this is the cause we hear and read GodŐs word, and profit not by it, because we ponder it in our reason, and allow nor follow it no further than it agreeth with our natural affections. As a man that will needs stand under a penthouse hath no water falling on him, though it should rain never so precious water from heaven; so when the water of life, out of the word of God, should drop upon our souls, to comfort our consciences, and to wash away our sins; we have our devices out of wit, and distinctions out of reason, as penthouses to keep it from us, that it slides away, and never hath any work in us. But contrariwise, we must remember Abraham the father of our faith; and when we hear GodŐs word, we must with him captivate our reason, and subdue our affections to it; measure them by GodŐs word, and not it by them; and what we cannot yield to in the obedience of reason, we must obey with the obedience of faith; and so shall GodŐs word have a gracious and powerful work in us.
(ii) Secondly, here we must learn that though we see no profit come by obeying GodŐs commandments, yet we must obey them. For what profit could Abraham see in leaving a certain living for an uncertain? Yet he obeyed and went, upon the bare word of God, building upon it, that God being his guide, he could not go astray. So must we follow God sincerely, and do His commandments, though no profit seem to come thereby. But some will say, Shall godly men be led like blindfold fools? Shall they refuse all means of help, by wit and policy? This is the way to make them ridiculous, and asses for the wicked world to ride upon.
I answer, Let godly men use all their wit, and look with all their eyes, in their actions with men of this world. But in the obedience of GodŐs commandments, let them do as Abraham did: follow GodŐs calling, though it seem to be to no end.
In obedience to God we must do as blind men do, who follow their guides, though it be through woods and rocks, hills or dales, or dangerous places; regarding nothing, fearing nothing; only following and trusting to their guides, who have eyes for them, though they have none for themselves. So must we follow GodŐs calling, and yield absolute obedience to His commandments, fearing nothing but trusting to the faithfulness of his power, and assuredly believing that He being our blessed guide, we shall not be misled; thus to do is true faith.
But alas, how contrary is the practice of the world. Men deal with God, as we do with loose chapmen [pedlars], whom we will not trust without a good pawn [pledge/security]. So we will not obey GodŐs commandments longer than His religion serves our turn; nor will we trust and follow God without the pawns and profits of pleasure. Nay, we do worse; most men esteem of God no better, nor use Him any better than they do thieves in their houses. If a man come into our house that is given to stealing, we trust him as long as he is in our sight; but if he be out of our sight, we think ever he is stealing. So if men see the means of GodŐs providence, they will take His Word, and trust it; but else God must excuse them, they may not trust Him further than they see Him. And if the commandments of God sound to their content, and tend to their profit, they will obey them; but if not, they will cast them behind their back; at least they will make a pause at the matter, and take their own time. And if GodŐs ways seem pleasant and profitable, they will walk in them; or else they will leave them, and walk in their own.
And hence is it that men in distresses run to wizards and wise men; others deal fraudulently and deceitfully; others work on the Sabbath day; and thus by indirect and unlawful dealing, they labour to enrich themselves, and to bring their purposes to pass. And why all this? But because GodŐs commandments do not sound to their purpose, nor tend to their profit, and therefore they will not obey them.
If these men had been in AbrahamŐs case, they would never had gone out, not knowing whither to go; but they would have argued the matter with God, and have thought it good wisdom to pause well, before they leave a certainty for an uncertainty. But contrariwise, Abraham thought it foolishness to reason with God, and therefore performed absolute obedience; and for this cause, he and his faith are renowned to this day, namely 3,000 years after him, and shall be to the worldŐs end.
This was the obedience of faith; and this to do, is to be true subjects of GodŐs kingdom. If the king calls a man from his own living, to come to himself and to the court; who will not leave what he hath of his own, and trust his word? So who will not leave his own wisdom, and rely on the promise and the Word of God; and obey His commandments, though there seem at the first no profit can come thereby. Thus shall we be sure, both to have sufficient for this world, and shall also be true children of faithful Abraham.
Hitherto of the first example of AbrahamŐs faith.