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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 2 out of 12

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as well as the gradualness of God's working. Not till 'forty days'--a
round number--after the land appeared, did He do anything. He
waited quietly till the path was plain. Eager impatience does not
become those who trust in God. It is not said that the raven was
sent out to see if the waters were abated. No purpose is named, nor
is it said that it returned at all. 'To and fro' may mean over the
waste of waters, not back and forward to and from the ark. The
raven, from its blackness, its habit of feeding on carrion, its
fierceness, was a bird of ill-omen, and sending it forth has a grim
suggestion that it would find food enough, and 'rest for the sole of
its foot,' among the swollen corpses floating on the dark waters.
The dove, on the other hand, is the emblem of gentleness, purity,
and tenderness. She went forth, the very embodiment of meek hope
that wings its way over dark and desolate scenes of calamity and
judgment, and, though disappointed at first, patiently waits till
the waters sink further, discerns the earliest signs of their drying
up, and comes back to the sender with a report which is a prophecy:
'Your peace shall return to you again.' Happy they who send forth,
not the raven, but the dove, from their patient hearts. Their gentle
wishes come back with confirmation of their hopes, 'as doves to
their windows.'

3. But Noah did not leave the ark, though 'the earth was dry.' God
had 'shut him in,' and it must be God who brings him out. We have to
take heed of precipitate departure from the place where He has fixed
us. Like Israel in the desert, it must be 'at the commandment of the
Lord' that we pitch the camp, and at the commandment of the Lord
that we journey. Till He speaks we must remain, and as soon as He
speaks we must remove. 'God spake unto Noah, saying, Go forth ...
and Noah went forth.' Thus prompt must be our obedience. A sacrifice
of gratitude is the fit close of each epoch in our lives, and the
fit beginning of each new one. Before he thought of anything else,
Noah built his altar. All our deeds should be set in a golden ring
of thankfulness. So the past is hallowed, and the future secure of
God's protection. It is no unworthy conception of God which
underlies the strongly human expression that he 'smelled the sweet
savour.' He delights in our offerings, and our trustful, grateful
love is 'an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable' to Him.
The pledge that He will not any more curse the ground for man's sake
is occasioned by the sacrifice, but is grounded on what seems, at
first sight, a reason for the very opposite conclusion. Man's evil
heart the reason for God's forbearance? Yes, because it is _'evil
from his youth_.' He deals with men as knowing our frame, the
corruption of our nature, and the need that the tree should be made
good before it can bring forth good fruit. Therefore He will not
smite, but rather seek to draw to repentance by His goodness, and by
the faithful continuance of His beneficence in the steadfast
covenant of revolving seasons, 'filling our hearts with food and


'And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him,
saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you,
and with your seed after you; And with every living
creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle,
and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that
go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I
will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all
flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood;
neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the
earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant
which I make between Me and you and every living creature
that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set My
bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a
covenant between Me and the earth. And it shall come to
pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow
shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember My
covenant, which is between Me and you and every living
creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more
become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall
be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may
remember the everlasting covenant between God and every
living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And
God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant,
which I have established between Me and all flesh that
is upon the earth.
GENESIS ix. 8-17.

The previous verses of this chapter lay down the outlines of the new
order which followed the flood. The blessing and the command to be
fruitful are repeated. The dominion over animals is confirmed, but
enlarged by the permission to use them as food, and by the laying on
them of 'the terror of you and the dread of you.' The sanctity of
human life is laid down with great emphasis. Violence and bloodshed
had brought about the flood. The appalling destruction effected by
it might lead to the mistaken notion that God held man's life cheap.
Therefore the cornerstone of future society is laid in that
declaration that life is inviolable. These blessings and commands
are followed by this remarkable section, which deals with God's
covenant with Noah, and its token in the rainbow.

1. The covenant is stated, and the parties concerned in it
enumerated in verses 3-11. When Noah came forth from the ark, after
the stupendous act of divine justice, he must have felt that the
first thing he needed was some assurance as to the footing on which
he and the new world round him stood with God. The flood had swept
away the old order. It had revealed terrible possibilities of
destruction in nature, and terrible possibilities of wrath in God.
Was any knowledge of His intentions and ways possible? Could
continuance of the new order be counted on? The answer to such
questions was--God's covenant. Now, as then, when any great
convulsions shake what seems permanent, and bring home to men the
thinness of the crust of use and wont roofing an infinite depth of
unknown possibilities of change, on which we walk, the heart cries
out for some assurance of perpetuity, and some revelation of God's
mind. We can have such, as truly as Noah had, if we use the
Revelation given us in Jesus.

In God's covenant with Noah, the fact of the covenant may first be
noted. What is a covenant? The term usually implies a reciprocal
bond, both parties to which come under obligations by it, each to
the other. But, in this case, there are no obligations on the part
of man or of the creatures. This covenant is God's only. It is
contingent on nothing done by the recipients. He binds Himself,
whatever be the conduct of men. This covenant is the self-motived
promise of an unconditional mercy. May we not say that the 'New
Covenant' in Jesus Christ is after the pattern of this, rather than
after the manner of compacts which require both parties to do their
several parts?

But note the great thought, that God limits His freedom of action by
this definite promise. Noah was not left to grope in dread among the
terrible possibilities opened by the flood. God marked out the line
on which He would move, and marked off a course which He would not
pursue. It is like a king giving his subjects a constitution. Men
can reckon on God. He has let them know much of the principles and
methods of His government. He has buoyed out His course, as it were,
on the ocean, or pricked it down upon a chart. We have not to do
with arbitrary power, with inscrutable will. Our God is not one who
'giveth no account of any of His matters.' To use a common saying,
'We know where to have Him.'

The substance of this covenant is noteworthy. It is concerned solely
with physical nature. There is nothing spiritual or 'religious'
about it. There are to be no more universal deluges. That is all
which it guarantees. But consider how important such an assurance
was in two aspects. Note the solemn light which it threw on the
past. It taught that the flood was an exception in the divine
government, which should stand unrepeated for ever, in its dread
pre-eminence testifying how awful it was as a judicial act, and how
outrageous had been the guilt which it drowned out of existence and
sight. A wholesome terror at the unexampled act of judgment would
fill the hearts of the little group which now represented mankind.

Consider the effect of the covenant in encouraging hope. We have
said that the one thing needful for Noah was some assurance that the
new order would last. He was like a man who has just been rescued
from an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. The ground seems to reel
beneath him. Old habitudes have been curled up like leaves in the
fire. Is there to be any fixity, any ground for continuous action,
or for labour for a moment beyond the present? Is it worth while to
plant or sow? Men who have lived through national tempests or
domestic crashes know how much they need to be steadied afterwards
by some reasonable assurance of comparative continuity. And these
men, in the childhood of the race, would need it much. So they were
sent out to till the earth, and to begin again strenuous lives, with
this covenant to keep them from falling into a hand-to-mouth style
of life, which would have brought them down to barbarism. We all
need the same kind of assurance; and then, when we get it, such is
the weakness of humanity, we are tempted to think that continuity
means eternity, and that, because probably to-morrow shall be as
this day, there will never come a to-morrow which shall be quite
unlike to-day. The crust of cooled earth, on which we walk, is thick
enough to bear man and all his works, but there comes a time when it
will crack. The world will not be flooded again, but we forget, what
Noah did not know, that it will be burned.

The parties to the covenant must be noticed. Note how frequently the
share in it, which all living creatures have, is referred to in the
context. In verse 10 the language becomes strained (in the
original), in order to express the universal participation of all
living creatures; and in verse l3 'the earth' itself is spoken of as
one party. God recognises obligations to all living things, and even
to the dumb, non-sentient earth. He will not causelessly quench one
bright, innocent life, nor harm one clod. Surely this is, at least,
an incipient revelation of a God whose 'tender mercies are over all
his works.' He 'doth take care for oxen'; and man, with all the
creatures that are with him, and all the wild ones that 'come not
near' him, and all the solid structure of the world, are held in one
covenant of protecting and sustaining providence and power.

2. The sign of the covenant is described at great length in verses
12-17. Note that verses 12, 13 state the general idea of a token or
sign, that verses 14-16 deepen this by stating that the token to man
is a reminder to God, and that verse 17 sums up the whole with
emphatic repetition of the main points. The narrative does not
imply, as has often been supposed, that the rainbow was visible for
the first time after the deluge. To suppose that, is to read more
into the story than is there, or than common sense tolerates. If
there were showers and sunshine, there must have been rainbows. But
the fair vision strode across the sky with no articulate promise in
its loveliness, though it must always have kindled wonder, and
sometimes stirred deeper thoughts. Now, for the first time, it was
made 'a sign,' the visible pledge of God's promise.

Mark the emphasis with which God's agency is declared and His
ownership asserted. '_I_ do set _My_ bow.' Neither Noah nor the writer
knew anything about refraction or the prismatic spectrum. But perhaps
they knew more about the rainbow than people do who know all about
how it comes, except that God sets it in the cloud, and that it is His.
Let us have the facts which science labels as such, by all means, and
the more the better; but do not let us forget that there are other facts
in nature which science has no means of attaining, but which are as
solid and a great deal deeper than those which it supplies.

The natural adaptation of the rainbow for this office of a token is
too plain to need dwelling on. It 'fills the sky when storms prepare
to part,' and hence is a natural token that the downpour is being
stayed. Somewhere there must be a bit of blue through which the sun
can pierce; and the small gap, which is large enough to let it out,
will grow till all the sky is one azure dome. It springs into sight
in front of the cloud, without which it could not be, so it typifies
the light which may glorify judgments, and is born of sorrows borne
in the presence of God. It comes from the sunshine smiting the
cloud; so it preaches the blending of love with divine judgment. It
unites earth and heaven; so it proclaims that heavenly love is ready
to transform earthly sorrows. It stretches across the land; so it
speaks of an all-embracing care, which enfolds the earth and all its

It is not only a 'sign to men.' It is also, in the strong
anthropomorphism of the narrative, a remembrancer to God. Of course
this is accommodation of the representation of His nature to the
limitations of ours. And the danger of attaching unworthy ideas to
it is lessened by noticing that He is said to set His bow in the
cloud, before it acts as His remembrancer. Therefore, He had
remembered before it appeared. The truth, conveyed in the childlike
language, is that God has His covenant ever before Him, and that He
responds to and honours the appeal made to Him, by that which He has
Himself appointed for a sign to men. The expectant eyes of the
trustful man and the eye of God meet, as it were, in looking on the
sign. On earth it nourishes faith; in heaven it moves to love and
blessing. God can be reminded of what He always remembers. The
rainbow reminds Him of His covenant by its calm light. Jesus Christ
reminds Him of His grace by His intercession before the throne. We
remind Him of His plighted faithfulness by our prayers. 'Ye that are
the Lord's remembrancers, keep not silence.'


'Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy
country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's
house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will
make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and
make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And
I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that
curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth
be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken
unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy
and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And
Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son,
and all their substance that they had gathered, and the
souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth
to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of
Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto
the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the
Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared
unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this
land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who
appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a
mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent,
having Beth-el on the west, and Hai on the east: and
there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon
the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed, going on
still toward the south.'
GENESIS xii. 1-9.


We stand here at the well-head of a great river--a narrow channel,
across which a child can step, but which is to open out a broad
bosom that will reflect the sky and refresh continents. The call of
Abram is the most important event in the Old Testament, but it is
also an eminent example of individual faith. For both reasons he is
called 'the Father of the Faithful.' We look at the incident here
mainly from the latter point of view. It falls into three parts.

1. The divine voice of command and promise.--God's servants have to
be separated from home and kindred, and all surroundings. The
command to Abram was no mere arbitrary test of obedience. God could
not have done what He meant with him, unless He had got him by
himself. So Isaiah (li. 2) put his finger on the essential when he
says, 'I called him alone.' God's communications are made to
solitary souls, and His voice to us always summons us to forsake
friends and companions, and to go apart with God. No man gets speech
of God in a crowd. If you desired to fill a person with electricity,
you used to put him on a stool with glass legs, to keep him from
earthly contact. If the quickening impulse from the great magnet is
to charge the soul, that soul must be isolated. 'He that loveth
father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.'

The vagueness of the command is significant. Abram did not know
'whither he went.' He is not told that Canaan is the land, till he
has reached Canaan. A true obedience is content to have orders
enough for present duty. Ships are sometimes sent out with sealed
instructions, to be opened when they reach latitude and longitude
so-and-so. That is how we are all sent out. Our knowledge goes no
farther ahead than is needful to guide our next step. If we 'go out'
as He bids us, He will show us what to do next.

'I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.'

Observe the promise. We may notice that it needed a soul raised
above the merely temporal to care much for such promises. They would
have been but thin diet for earthly appetites. 'A great nation'; a
divine blessing; to be a source of blessing to the whole world, and
a touchstone by their conduct to which men would be blessed or
cursed;--what was there in these to fascinate a man, unless he had
faith to teach him the relative importance of the earthly and the
heavenly, the present and the future? Notice that the whole promise
appeals to unselfish desires. It is always, in some measure,
elevating to live for a future, rather than a present, good; but if
it be only the same kind of good as the present would yield, it is a
poor affair. The only really ennobling faith is one which sets
before itself a future full of divine blessing, and of diffusion of
that blessing through us, and which therefore scorns delights, and
for such gifts is content to be solitary and a wanderer.

2. The obedience of faith.--We have here a wonderful example of
prompt, unquestioning obedience to a bare word. We do not know how
the divine command was conveyed to Abram. We simply read, 'The Lord
said'; and if we contrast this with verse 7, 'The Lord appeared ...
and said,' it will seem probable that there was no outward sign of
the divine will. The patriarch knew that he was following a divine
command, and not his own purpose; but there seems to have been no
appeal to sense to authenticate the inward voice. He stands, then,
on a high level, setting the example of faith as unconditional
acceptance of, and obedience to, God's bare word.

Observe that faith, which is the reliance on a person, and therefore
trust in his word, passes into both forms of confidence in that word
as promise, and obedience to that word as command. We cannot cut
faith in halves, and exercise the one aspect without the other. Some
people's faith says that it delights in God's promises, but it does
not delight in His commandments. That is no faith at all. Whoever
takes God at His word, will take all His words. There is no faith
without obedience; there is no obedience without faith.

We have already said enough about the separation which was effected
by Abram's journey; but we may just notice that the departure from
his father's house was but the necessary result of the gulf between
them and him, which had been opened by his faith. They were
idolaters; he worshipped one God. That drove them farther apart than
the distance between Sichem and Haran. When sympathy in religion was
at an end, the breach of all other ties was best. So to-day, whether
there be outward separation or no, depends on circumstances; but
every true Christian is parted from the dearest who is not a
Christian, by an abyss wider than any outward distance can make. The
law for us is Abram's law, 'Get thee out.' Either our faith will
separate us from the world, or the world will separate us from our
faith and our God.

The companionship of Lot, who attaches himself to Abram, teaches
that religion, in its true possessors, exercises an attractive
influence over even common natures, and may win them to a loftier
life. Some weak eyes may discern more glory in the sunshine tinting
a poor bit of mist into ruddy light than in the beam which is too
bright to look at. A faithful Abram will draw Lot after him.

'They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of
Canaan they came.' Compare this singular expression with chapter xi.
31, where we have Terah's emigration from Ur described in the same
terms, with the all-important difference in the end, 'They came' not
into Canaan, but 'unto Haran, and dwelt there.' Many begin the
course; one finishes it. Terah's journeying was only in search of
pasture and an abode. So he dropped his wider scheme when the
narrower served his purpose. It was an easy matter to go from Ur to
Haran. Both were on the same bank of the Euphrates. But to cross the
broad, deep, rapid river was a different thing, and meant an
irrevocable cutting loose from the past life. Only the man of faith
did that. There are plenty of half-and-half Christians, who go along
merrily from Ur to Haran; but when they see the wide stream in
front, and realise how completely the other side is separated from
all that is familiar, they take another thought, and conclude they
have come far enough, and Haran will serve their turn.

Again, the phrase teaches us the certain issue of patient pilgrimage
and persistent purpose. There is no mystery in getting to the
journey's end. 'One foot up, and the other foot down,' continued
long enough, will bring to the goal of the longest march. It looks a
weary journey, and we wonder if we shall ever get thither. But the
magic of 'one step at a time' does it. The guide is also the
upholder of our way. 'Every one of them appeareth before God in

3. The life in the land.--The first characteristic of it is its
continual wandering. This is the feature which the Epistle to the
Hebrews marks as significant. There was no reason but his own choice
why Abram should continue to journey, and prefer to pitch his tent
now under the terebinth tree of Moreh, now by Hebron, rather than to
enter some of the cities of the land. He dwelt in tents because he
looked for the city. The clear vision of the future detached him, as
it will always detach men, from close participation in the present.
It is not because we are mortal, and death is near at the furthest,
that the Christian is to sit loose to this world, but because he
lives by the hope of the inheritance. He must choose to be a
pilgrim, and keep himself apart in feeling and aims from this
present. The great lesson from the wandering life of Abram is, 'Set
your affection on things above.' Cultivate the sense of belonging to
another polity than that in the midst of which you dwell. The
Canaanites christened Abram 'The Hebrew' (Genesis xiv. 13), which
may be translated 'The man from the other side.' That is the name
which all true Christians should deserve. They should bear their
foreign extraction in their faces, and never be naturalised subjects
here. Life is wholesomer in the tent under the spreading tree, with
the fresh air blowing about us and clear sky above, than in the
Canaanite city.

Observe, too, that Abram's life was permeated with worship. Wherever
he pitches his tent, he builds an altar. So he fed his faith, and
kept up his communion with God. The only condition on which the
pilgrim life is possible, and the temptations of the world cease to
draw our hearts, is that all life shall be filled with the
consciousness of the divine presence, our homes altars, and
ourselves joyful thankofferings. Then every abode is blessed. The
undefended tent is a safe fortress, in which dwelling we need not
envy those who dwell in palaces. Common tasks will then be fresh,
full of interest, because we see God in them, and offer them up to
Him. The wandering life will be a life of walking with God, and
progressive knowledge of Him; and over all the roughnesses and the
sorrows and the trivialities of it will be spread 'the light that
never was on sea or land, the consecration' of God's presence, and
the peacefulness of communion with Him.

Again, we may notice that the life of obedience was followed by
fuller manifestations of God, and of His will. God 'appeared' when
Abram was in the land. Is it not always true that obedience is
blessed by closer vision and more knowledge? To him that hath shall
be given; and he who has followed the unseen Guide through dimly
discerned paths to an invisible goal, will be gladdened when he
reaches the true Canaan, by the sight of Him whom, having not seen,
he loved. Even here on earth obedience is the path to fuller
knowledge; and when the pilgrims who have left all and followed the
Captain of salvation through a deeper, darker stream than Abram
crossed, have touched the other side, God will appear to them, and
say, as the enraptured eye gazes amazed on the goodly land, 'Arise,
walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it;
for I will give it unto thee.'



A great act of renunciation at the divine call lies at the
foundation of Israel's history, as it does at the foundation of
every life that blesses the world or is worth living. The divine
Word to Abram first gives the command in all its authoritativeness
and plain setting forth of how much had to be surrendered, and then
in its exuberant setting forth of how much was to be won by
obedience. God does not hide the sacrifices that have to be made if
we will be true to His command. He will enlist no recruits on false
pretences. All ties of country, kindred, and father's house have to
be loosened, and, if need be, to be cut, for His command is to be
supreme, and clinging hands that would hold back the pilgrim have to
be disengaged. If a man realises God's hold on him, he feels all
others relaxed. The magnetism of the divine command overcomes
gravitation, and lifts him high above earth. The life of faith ever
begins as that of 'the Father of the Faithful' began, with the
solemn recognition of a divine will which separates. Further, Abram
saw plainly what he had to leave, but not what he was to win. He had
to make a venture of faith, for 'the land that I will shew thee' was
undefined. Certainly it was somewhere, but where was it? He had to
fling away substance for what seemed shadow to all but the eye of
faith, as we all have to do. The familiar, undeniable good of the
present has to be waived in favour of what 'common sense' calls a
misty possibility in the future. To part with solid acres and get
nothing but hopes of an inheritance in the skies looks like
insanity, and is the only true wisdom. 'Get thee out' is plain; 'the
land that I will shew thee' looks like the doubtful outlines seen
from afar at sea, which may be but clouds.

But Abram had a great hope blazing in front, none the less bright or
guiding because it all rested on the bare promise of God. It is the
prerogative of faith to give solidity and reality to what the world
thinks has neither. The wanderer who had left his country was to
receive a land for his own; the solitary who had left his kindred
was to become the founder of a nation; the unknown stranger was to
win a great name,--and how wonderfully that has come true! Not only
was he to be blessed, but also to be a blessing, for from him was to
flow that which should bless all the earth,--and how transcendently
that has come true! The attitude of men to him (and to the universal
blessing that should descend from him) was to determine their
position in reference to God and 'blessings' or 'cursings' from him.
So the migration of Abram was a turning-point in universal history.

Obedience followed the command, immediate as the thunder on the
flash, and complete. 'So Abram went, as the Lord had spoken unto
him,'--blessed they of whose lives that may be the summing-up! Happy
the life which has God's command at the back of every deed, and no
command of His unobeyed! If our acts are closely parallel with God's
speech to us, they will prosper, and we shall be peaceful wherever
we may have to wander. Success followed obedience in Abram's case,
as in deepest truth it always does. That is a pregnant expression:
'They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of
Canaan they came.' A strange itinerary of a journey, which omits all
but the start and the finish! And yet are these not the most
important points in any journey or life,--whither it was directed
and where it arrived? How little will the weary tramps in the desert
be remembered when the goal has been reached! Dangers and privations
soon pass from memory, and we shall think little of sorrows, cares,
and pains, when we arrive at home. The life of faith is the only one
which is always sure of getting to the place to which it seeks to
journey. Others miss their aim, or drop dead on the road, like the
early emigrants out West; Christian lives get to the city.

Once in the land, Abram was still a stranger and pilgrim. He first
planted himself in its heart by Sichem, but outside the city, under
the terebinth tree of Moreh. The reason for his position is given in
the significant statement that 'the Canaanite was then in the land.'
So he had to live in the midst of an alien civilisation, and yet
keep apart from it. As Hebrews says, he was 'dwelling in
tabernacles,' because he 'looked for a city.' The hope of the
permanent future made him keep clear of the passing present; and we
are to feel ourselves pilgrims and sojourners, not so much because
earth is fleeting and we are mortal, as because our true affinities
are with the unseen and eternal. But the presence of 'the Canaanite'
is connected also with the following words, which tell that 'the
Lord appeared unto Abram,' and now after his obedience told him that
this was the land that was to be his. He unfolds His purposes to
those who keep His commandments; obedience is the mother of insight.
The revelation put a further strain on faith, for the present
occupiers of the land were many and strong; but it matters not how
formidably and firmly rooted the Canaanite is, God's children can be
sure that the promise will be fulfilled. We can calmly look on his
power and reckon on its decay, if the Lord appears to us, as to
Abram--and He surely will if we have followed His separating voice,
and dwell as strangers here, because our hearts are with Him.

After the appearance of God and the promise, we have an outline of
the pilgrim's life, as seen in Abram. He signalised God's further
opening of His purposes, by building an altar on the place where He
had been seen by him. Thankful recognition and commemoration of the
times in our lives when He has most plainly drawn near and shown us
glimpses of His will, are no less blessed than due, and they who
thus rear altars to Him will wonder, when they come to count up how
many they have had to build. But the life of faith is ever a pilgrim
life, and Bethel has soon to be the home instead of Shechem. There,
too, Abram keeps outside the city, and pitches his tent. There, too,
the altar rises by the side of the tent. The transitory provision
for housing the pilgrim contrasts with the solid structure for
offering sacrifices. The tent is 'pitched,' and may be struck and
carried away to-morrow, but the altar is 'builded.' That part of our
lives which is concerned with the material and corporeal is, after
all, short in duration and small in importance; that which has to do
with God, His revelations, and His worship and service, lasts. What
is left in ancient historic lands, like Egypt or Greece, is the
temples of the gods, while the huts of the people have perished long
centuries ago. What we build for God lasts; what we pitch for
ourselves is transient as we are.


'They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into
the land of Canaan they came.'--GENESIS xii. 5.


The reference of these words is to Abram's act of faith in leaving
Haran and setting out on his pilgrimage. It is a strange narrative
of a journey, which omits the journey altogether, with its weary
marches, privations, and perils, and notes but its beginning and its
end. Are not these the main points in every life, its direction and
its attainment? There are--

'Two points in the adventure of the diver,
One--when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge,
One--when, a prince, he rises with his pearl.'

Abram and his company had a clear aim. But does not the Epistle to
the Hebrews magnify him precisely because he 'went out, not knowing
whither he went'? Both statements are true, for Abram had the same
combination of knowledge and ignorance as we all have. He knew that
he was to go to a land that he should afterwards inherit, and he
knew that, in the first place, Canaan was to be his 'objective
point,' but he did not know, till long after he had crossed the
Euphrates and pitched his tent by Bethel, that it was the land. The
ultimate goal was clear, and the first step towards it was plain,
but how that first step was related to the goal was not plain, and
all the steps between were unknown. He went forth with sealed
orders, to go to a certain place, where he would have further
instructions. He knew that he was to go to Canaan, and beyond that
point all was dark, except for the sparkle of the great hope that
gleamed on the horizon in front, as a sunlit summit rises above a
sea of mist between it and the traveller. Like such a traveller,
Abram could not accurately tell how far off the shining peak was,
nor where, in the intervening gorges full of mist, the path lay; but
he plunged into the darkness with a good heart, because he had
caught a glimpse of his journey's end. So with us. We may have clear
before us the ultimate aim and goal of our lives, and also the step
which we have to take now, in pressing towards it, while between
these two there stretches a valley full of mist, the breadth of
which may be measured by years or by hours, for all that we know,
and the rough places and green pastures of which are equally hidden
from us. We have to be sure that the mountain peak far ahead, with
the sunshine bathing it, is not delusive cloud but solid reality,
and we have to make sure that God has bid us step out on the yard of
path which we _can_ see, and, having secured these two certainties,
we are to cast ourselves into the obscurity before us, and to bear in
our hearts the vision of the end, to cheer us amid the difficulties
of the road.

Life is strenuous, fruitful, and noble, in the measure in which its
ultimate aim is kept clearly visible throughout it all. Nearer aims,
prescribed by physical necessities, tastes, circumstances, and the
like, are clear enough, but a melancholy multitude of us have never
reflected on the further question: 'What then?' Suppose I have made
my fortune, or won my wife, or established my position, or achieved
a reputation, behind all these successes lies the larger question.
These are not ends but means, and it is fatal to treat them as being
the goal of our efforts or the chief end of our being. There would
be fewer wrecked lives, and fewer bitter and disappointed old men,
if there were more young ones who, at starting, put clearly before
themselves the question: 'What am I living for? and what am I going
to do when I have secured the nearer aims necessarily prescribed to

What that aim should be is not doubtful. The only worthy end
befitting creatures with hearts, minds, consciences, and wills like
ours is God Himself. Abram's 'Canaan' is usually regarded as an
emblem of heaven, and that is correct, but the land of our
inheritance is not wholly beyond the river, for God is the portion
of our hearts. He _is_ heaven. To dwell with Him, to have all
the current of our being running towards Him, to set Him before us
in the strenuous hours of effort and in the quiet moments of repose,
in the bright and in the dark days, are the conditions of
blessedness, strength, and peace.

That aim clearly apprehended and persistently pursued gives
continuity to life, such as nothing else can do. How many of the
things that drew us to themselves, and were for a while the objects
of desire and effort, have sunk below the horizon! The lives that
are not directed to God as their chief end are like the voyages of
old-time sailors, who had to creep from one headland to another, and
steer for points which, one after another, were reached, left
behind, and forgotten. There is only one aim so great, so far in
advance that we can never reach, and therefore can never pass and
drop it. Life then becomes a chain, not a heap of unrelated
fragments. That aim made ours, stimulates effort to its highest
point, and therefore secures blessedness. It emancipates from many
bonds, and takes the poison out of the mosquito bites of small
annoyances, and the stings of great sorrows. It gleams ever before a
man, sufficiently attained to make him at rest, sufficiently
unattained to give the joy of progress. The pilgrims who had but one
single aim, 'to go to the land of Canaan,' were delivered from the
miseries of conflicting desires, and with simplicity of aim came
concentration of force and calm of spirit.



If life has a clear, definite aim, and especially if its aim is the
highest, there will be detachment from, and abandonment of, many
lower ones. Nothing worth doing is done, and nothing worth being is
realised in ourselves, except on condition of resolutely ignoring
much that attracts. 'They went forth'; Haran must be given up if
Canaan is to be reached. Artists are content to pay the price for
mastery in their art, students think it no hardship to remain
ignorant of much in order to know their own subject thoroughly; men
of business feel it no sacrifice to give up culture, leisure, and
sometimes still higher things, such as love and purity, to win
wealth. And we shall not be Christians after Christ's heart unless
we practise similar restrictions. The stream that is to flow with
impetus sufficient to scour its bed clear of obstructions must not
be allowed to meander in side branches, but be banked up in one
channel. Sometimes there must be actual surrender and outward
withdrawal from lower aims which, by our weakness, have become rival
aims; always there must be subordination and detachment in heart and
mind. The compass in an iron ship is disturbed by the iron, unless
it has been adjusted; the golden apples arrest the runner, and there
are clogs and weights in every life, which have to be laid aside if
the race is to be won. The old pilgrim fashion is still the only
way. We must do as Abram did: leave Haran and its idols behind us,
and go forth, ready to dwell, if need be, in deserts, and as
sojourners even when among cities, or we shall not reach the 'land
that is very far off.' It is near us if we forsake self and the
'things seen and temporal,' but it recedes when we turn our hearts
to these.

'Into the land of Canaan they came.' No man honestly and rightly
seeks God and fails to find Him. No man has less goodness and
Christ-likeness than he truly desires and earnestly pursues. Nearer
aims are often missed, and it is well that they should be. We should
thank God for disappointments, for hopes unfulfilled, or proving
still greater disappointments when fulfilled. It is mercy that often
makes the harvest from our sowing a scanty one, for so we are being
taught to turn from the quest in which searching has no assurance of
finding, to that in which to seek is to find. 'I have never said to
any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.' We may not reach
other lands which seem to us to be lands of promise, or when we do,
may find that the land is 'evil and naughty,' but this land we shall
reach, if we desire it, and if, desiring it, we go forth from this
vain world. The Christian life is the only one which has no
failures, no balked efforts, no frustrated aims, no brave settings
out and defeated returnings. The literal meaning of one of the Old
Testament words for _sin_ is missing the mark, and that embodies the
truth that no man wins what he seeks who seeks satisfaction elsewhere
than in God. Like the rivers in Asiatic deserts, which are lost in
the sand and never reach the sea, all lives which flow towards anything
but God are dissipated and vain.

But the supreme realisation of an experience like Abram's is
reserved for another life. No pilgrim Zion-ward perishes in the
wilderness, or loses his way or fails to come to 'the city of
habitation.' 'They go from strength to strength, every one of them
in Zion appeareth before God.' And when they appear there, they will
think no more, just as this narrative says nothing, of the sandy,
salt, waterless wildernesses, or the wearinesses, dangers, and toils
of the road. The experience of the happy travellers, who have found
all which they sought and are at home for ever in the fatherland
towards which they journeyed, will all be summed up in this, that
'they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of
Canaan they came.'


'And Abram passed through the land unto the place of
Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was
then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and
said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there
builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto
him.'--GENESIS xii. 6, 7.

Great epoch and man. Steps of Abram's training. First he was simply
called to go--no promise of inheritance--obeyed--came to Canaan-found
a thickly peopled land with advanced social order, and received no
divine vision till he was face to face with the Canaanite.

1. _God's bit-by-bit leading of us._

How slowly the divine purpose was revealed--the trial before the
promise--did not know where, nor that Canaan was land, but only told
enough for his first march.

So with us--our ignorance of future is meant to have the effect of
keeping us near God and training us to live a day at a time.

God's finger on the page points to a word at a time. Each day's
route is given morning by morning in the order for the day.

2. _Obedience often brings us into very difficult places._

Abram was ready to say, no doubt, 'This cannot be the land for me,
peopled as it is with all these Canaanites.' We are ever ready to
think that, if we find obstacles, we must have misunderstood God's
directions, but 'many adversaries' often indicate an 'open door.'

3. _The presence of enemies brings the presence of God._

This is the first time we read that God _appeared_ to men.

As the darkness thickens, the pillar of fire brightens. But not only
does God appear more clearly, but our spirits are more eager and
therefore able to see Him. We are mercifully left to feel the
enemies before we see Him present in His strength.

4. _The victory for us lies in the vision of God and of His loving

How superb the confidence of 'Unto thy seed will I give _this_

That vision is our true strength. And it will make us feel as
pilgrims, which is in itself more than half the battle.


'And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east
of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the
west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar
unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.'
GENESIS xii. 3.

These are the two first acts of Abram in the land of Canaan.

1. _All life should blend earthly and heavenly._

They are not to be separated. Religion should run through everything
and take the whole of life for its field. Where we cannot carry it
is no place for us. It is a shame that heathenism should be more
penetrated by its religion than Christendom is.

2. _The family should be a church._

Domestic religion. New Testament households. Abram a priest. The
decay of family religion, worship, and instruction.

3. _The service to God should be more costly than to

Pitching a tent cheaper than building an altar. Give God the best.
We build ourselves ceiled houses and the ark dwells in curtains.
Pagans build elaborate temples, but their houses are hovels. Too
many Christians do the opposite.

4. _Building for God lasts, for selves perishes._

A tent is stricken, and no trace remains but embers. The stones of
Jacob's altar may be standing yet. The Parthenon of Athens remains:
where are the hovels of the people? 'He that doeth the will of God
abideth for ever.' Permanent results of transitory deeds.


'And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and
all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. And
Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.
And he went on his journeys from the south even to Beth-el,
unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning,
between Beth-el and Hal; Unto the place of the altar,
which he had made there at the first: and there Abram
called on the name of the Lord. And Lot also, which went
with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the
land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell
together: for their substance was great, so that they
could not dwell together. And there was a strife between
the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's
cattle; and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then
in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no
strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my
herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the
whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee,
from me: if thou wilt lake the left hand, then I will
go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand,
then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes,
and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well
watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and
Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land
of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him
all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and
they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram
dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the
cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.
But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the
Lord exceedingly.'--GENESIS xiii. 1-13.

The main lesson of this section is the wisdom of seeking spiritual
rather than temporal good. That is illustrated on both sides.
Prosperity attends Abram and Lot while they think more of obeying
God than of flocks and herds. Lot makes a mistake, as far as this
world is concerned, when he chooses his place of abode for the sake
of its material advantages. But the introductory verses (vv. 1-4)
suggest a question, and seem to teach an important lesson. Was Abram
right in so soon leaving the land to which God had led him, and
going down to Egypt? Was that not taking the bit between his teeth?
He had been commanded to go to Canaan; should he not have stopped
there--famine or no famine--till the same authority commanded him to
leave the land? If God had put him there, should he not have trusted
God to keep him alive in famine? The narrative seems to imply that
his going to Egypt was a failure of faith. It gives no hint of a
divine voice leading him thither. We do not hear that he builded any
altar beside his tent there, as he had done in the happier days of
life by trust. His stay resulted in peril and in something very like
lying, for which he had to bear the disgrace of being rebuked by an
idolater, and having no word of excuse to offer. The great lesson of
the whole section, and indeed of Abram's whole life, receives fresh
illustration from the story thus understood, which preaches loudly
that trust is safety and wellbeing, and that it is always sin and
always folly to leave Canaan, where God has put us, even if there be
a famine, and to go down into Egypt, even if its harvests be

But another lesson is also taught. After the interruption of the
Egyptian journey, Abram had to begin all his Canaan life over again.
Very emphatically the narrative puts it, that he went to 'the place
where his tent had been at the beginning,' to the altar which he had
made at the first. Yes! that is the only place for a man who has
faltered and gone aside from the course of obedience. He must begin
over again. The backsliding Christian has to resort anew to the
place of the penitent, and to come to Christ, as he did at first for
pardon. It is a solemn thought that years of obedience and heroisms
of self-surrender, may be so annihilated by some act of self-seeking
distrust that the whole career has, as it were, to be begun anew
from the very starting-point. It is a blessed thought that, however
far and long we may have wandered, we can always return to the place
where we were at the beginning, and there call on the name of the

Note how we are taught here the great truth for the Old Testament,
that outward prosperity follows most surely those who do not seek
for it. Abram's wealth has increased, and his companion, Lot, has
shared in the prosperity. It is because he 'went with Abram' that he
'had flocks, and herds, and tents.' Of course, the connection
between despising the world and possessing it is not thus close in
New Testament times. But even now, one often sees that the men who
_will_ be rich fall into a pit of poverty, and that a heart set
on higher things, which counts earthly advantages second and not
first, wins a sufficiency of these most surely. Foxlike cunning, and
wolf-like rapacity, and Devil-like selfishness, which make up a
large portion of what the world calls 'great business capacity,' do
not always secure the prize. But the real possession of earth and
all its wealth depends to-day, as much as ever it did in Abram's
times, on seeking 'first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.'
Only when we are Christ's are all things ours. They are ours, not by
the vulgar way of what the world calls ownership, but in proportion
as we use them to the highest ends of helping us to grow in wisdom
and Christ-likeness, in the measure in which we subordinate them to
heavenly good, in the degree in which we employ them as means of
serving Christ. We can see the Pleiades best by not looking directly
at, but somewhat away from, them; and just as pleasure, if made the
direct object of life, ceases to be pleasure, so the world's goods,
if taken for our chief aim, cease to yield even the imperfect good
which they can bestow.

But now we have to look at the two dim figures which the remainder
of this story presents to us, and which shine there, in that far-off
past, types and instances of the two great classes into which men
are divided,--Abram, the man of faith; Lot, the man of sense.

Mark the conduct of the man of faith. Why should he, who has God's
promise that all the land is his, squabble with his kinsman about
pasture and wells? The herdsmen naturally would come to high words
and blows, especially as the available land was diminished by the
claims of the 'Canaanite and Perizzite.' But the direct effect of
Abram's faith was to make him feel that the matter in dispute was
too small to warrant a quarrel. A soul truly living in the
contemplation of the future, and filled with God's promises, will
never be eager to insist on its rights, or to stand on its dignity,
and will take too accurate a measure of the worth of things temporal
to get into a heat about them. The clash of conflicting interests,
and the bad blood bred by them, seem infinitely small, when we are
up on the height of communion with God. An acre or two more or less
of grass land does not look all-important, when our vision of the
city which hath foundations is clear. So an elevated calm and 'sweet
reasonableness' will mark the man who truly lives by faith, and he
will seek after the things that make for peace. Abram could fight,
as Old Testament morality permitted, when occasion arose, as Lot
found out to his advantage before long. But he would not strive
about such trifles.

May we not venture to apply his words to churches and sects? They
too, if they have faith strong and dominant, will not easily fall
out with one another about intrusions on each other's territory,
especially in the presence, as at this day, of the common foe. When
the Canaanite and the Perizzite are in the land, and Unbelief in
militant forms is arrayed against us, it is more than folly, it is
sin, for brethren to be turning their weapons against each other.
The common foe should make them stand shoulder to shoulder. Abram's
faith led, too, to the noble generosity of his proposal. The elder
and superior gives the younger and inferior the right of option, and
is quite willing to take Lot's leavings. Right or left--it mattered
not to him; God would be with him, whichever way he went; and the
glorious Beyond, for which he lived, blazed too bright before his
inward sight to let him be very solicitous where he was. 'I have
learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.' It does
not matter much what accommodation we have on ship-board, when the
voyage is so short. If our thoughts are stretching across the sea to
the landing at home, and the welcome there, we shall not fight with
our fellow-passengers about our cabins or places at the table. And
notice what rest comes when faith thus dwindles the worth of the
momentary arrangements here. The less of our energies are consumed
in asserting ourselves, and scrambling for our rights, and cutting
in before other people, so as to get the best places for ourselves,
the more we shall have to spare for better things; and the more we
live in the future, and leave God to order our ways, the more shall
our souls be wrapped in perfect peace. Mark the conduct of the man
of sense. We can fancy the two standing on the barren hills by
Bethel, from one of which, as travellers tell us, there is precisely
the view which Lot saw. He lifted up his greedy eyes, and there, at
his feet, lay that strange Jordan valley with its almost tropical
richness, its dark lines of foliage telling of abundant water, the
palm-trees of Jericho perhaps, and the glittering cities. Up there
among the hills there was little to tempt,--rocks and scanty
herbage; down below, it was like the lost Eden, or the Egypt from
which they had but lately come.

What need for hesitation? True, the men of the plain were 'wicked
and sinners before the Lord exceedingly,' as the chapter says with
grim emphasis. But Lot evidently never thought about that. He knew
it, though, and ought to have thought about it. It was his sin that
he was guided in his choice only by considerations of temporal
advantage. Put his action into words, and it says, 'Grass for my
sheep is more to me than fellowship with God, and a good conscience.'
No doubt he would have had salves enough. 'I do not need to become
like them, though I live among them.' 'A man must look after his own
interests.' 'I can serve God down there as well as up here.' Perhaps
he even thought that he might be a missionary among these sinners.
But at bottom he did not seek first the kingdom of God, but the other

We have seldom the choice put before us so dramatically and sharply;
but it is as really presented to each. There is the shameless
cynicism of the men who avowedly only ask the question, 'Will it
pay?' But there are subtler forms which affect us all. It is the
standing temptation of Englishmen to apply a money standard to
everything, to adopt courses of action of which the only
recommendation is that they promote getting on in the world. Men who
call themselves Christians select schools for their children, or
professions for their boys, or marriages for their daughters, down
in Sodom, because it will give them a lift in life which they would
not get up in the starved pastures at Bethel, with nobody but Abram
and his like to associate with. If the earnestness with which men
pursue an end is to be taken as any measure of its importance in
their eyes, it certainly does not look much as if modern average
Christians did believe that it was of more moment to be united to
God, and to be growing like Him, than to secure a good large share
of earthly possessions. Tried by the test of conduct, their faith in
getting on is a great deal deeper than their faith in getting up.
But if our religion does not make us put the world beneath our feet,
and count all things but loss that we may win Christ, we had better
ask ourselves whether our religion is any better than Lot's, which
was second-hand, and was much more imitation of Abram than obedience
to God.

Lot teaches us that material good may tempt and conquer, even after
it has once been overcome. His early life had been heroic; in his
young enthusiasm, he had thrown in his portion with Abram in his
great venture. He had not been thinking of his flocks when he left
Haran. Probably, as I have just said, he was a good deal galvanised
into imitation; but still, he had chosen the better part. But now he
has tired of a pilgrim's life. There are men who cut down the
thorns, and in whom the seed is sown; but thorns are tenacious of
life, and quick growing, and so they spread over the field and choke
the seed. It is easier to take some one bold step than to keep true
through life to its spirit. Youth contemns, but too often middle-age
worships, worldly success. The world tightens its grasp as we grow
older, and Lot and Demas teach us that it is hard to keep for a
lifetime on the heights. Faith, strong and ever renewed by
communion, can do it; nothing else can.

Lot's history teaches what comes of setting the world first, and
God's kingdom second. For one thing, the association with it is sure
to get closer. Lot began with choosing the plain; then he crept a
little nearer, and pitched his tent 'towards' Sodom; next time we
hear of him, he is living in the city, and mixed up inextricably
with its people. The first false step leads on to connections
unforeseen, from which the man would have shrunk in horror, if he
had been told that he would make them. Once on the incline, time and
gravity will settle how far down we go. We shall see, in subsequent
sections, how far Lot's own moral character suffered from his
choice. But we may so far anticipate the future narrative as to
point out that it affords a plain instance of the great truth that
the sure way to lose the world as well as our own souls, is to make
it our first object. He would have been safe if he had stopped up
among the hills. The shadowy Eastern kings who swooped down on the
plain would never have ventured up there. But when we choose the
world for our portion, we lay ourselves open to the full weight of
all the blows which change and fortune can inflict, and come
voluntarily down from an impregnable fastness to the undefended

Nor is this all; but at the last, when the fiery rain bursts on the
doomed city, Lot has to leave all the wealth for which he has
sacrificed conscience and peace, and escapes with bare life; he
suffers loss even if he himself is 'saved as dragged through the
fire.' The world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that
doeth the will of God abideth for ever. The riches which wax not
old, and need not to be left when we leave all things besides, are
surely the treasures which the calmest reason dictates should be our
chief aim. God is the true portion of the soul; if we have Him, we
have all. So, let us seek Him first, and, with Him, all else is


'And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the
GENESIS xiv. 13.

This is a singular designation of Abram as 'The Hebrew.' Probably we
have in its use here a trace of the customary epithet which he bore
among the inhabitants of Canaan, and perhaps the presence of the
name in this narrative may indicate the influence of some older
account, traditional or written, which owed its authorship to some
of them. At all events, this is the first appearance of the name in
Scripture. As we all know, it has become that of the nation, but a
Jew did not call himself a 'Hebrew' except in intercourse with
foreigners. As in many other cases, the national name used by other
nations was not that by which the people called themselves. Here,
obviously, it is not a national name, for the very good reason that
there was no nation then. It is a personal epithet, or, in plain
English, a nickname, and it means, probably, as the ancient Greek
translation of Genesis gives it, neither more nor less than 'The man
from the other side,' the man that had come across the water. Just
as a mediaeval prince bore the _sobriquet_ Outremere-the 'man
from beyond the sea'--so Abram, to the aboriginal, or, at least,
long-settled, inhabitants of the country, was known simply as the
foreigner, the 'man from the other side' (of the Jordan, or more
probably of the great river Euphrates), the man from across the

Now that name may suggest, with a permissible, and, I hope, not
misleading play of fancy, just two things, which I seek now to press
upon our hearts and consciences. The one is as to how men become
Christians, and the other is as to how they look to other people
when they are.

1. Men become Christians by a great emigration.

'Get thee out from thy father's house, and from thy country, and
from thy kindred,' was the command to Abram. And he became the heir
to God's promises and the father of the faithful, because he did not
hesitate a moment to make the plunge and to leave behind him all his
past, his associations, his loves, much of his possessions, and, in
a very profound sense, his old self, and put a great impassable gulf
between him and them all.

Now I am not going to say anything so narrow or foolish as that the
Christian life must always begin with a conscious and sudden change;
but this I am quite sure of, that in the vast majority of cases of
thoroughly and out-and-out religious men, there must be a conscious
change, whether it has been diffused through months or years, or
concentrated in one burning moment. There has been a beginning;
whether it has been like the dawn, or whether it has been like the
kindling of a candle, the beginning of the flashing of the divine
light into the heart; and the men that are most really under the
influence of religious truth can, as a rule, looking back upon their
past experience, see that it divides itself into two halves,
separated from each other by a profound gulf--the time on the other
side, and that on this side, of the great river. We must take heed
lest by insisting on any one way of entrance into the kingdom we
seem to narrow God's mercy, or sadden true hearts, or make the
method of approach a test of the fact of entrance. God's city has
more than twelve gates; they open to all the thirty-two points of
the compass, yet there is, in the religious experience of the truest
saints, always something analogous to this change. And what I desire
to press upon you is, that unless you are only religious people
after the popular superficial fashion of the day, there will be
something like it in your lives.

There will be a change in a man's deepest self, so that he will be a
'new creature,' with new tastes, new motives stirring to action, new
desires pressing for satisfaction, new loves sweetly filling his
heart, new insight into the meanings and true good of life and time
guiding his conduct, new aversions withdrawing him from old delights
which have become hateful now, new hopes pluming their growing
wings, and new powers bearing him along a new road. There will be a
change in his relations to God and to God's will. God in Christ will
have become his centre, instead of self, which was so before. He
lives in a new world, being himself a new man.

Our Lord uses this very illustration when He says, 'He that heareth
My Word, and believeth Him that sent Me, hath eternal life, and
cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.'
That is a great migration, is it not, from the condition of a corpse
to that of a living man? Paul, too, gives the same idea with a
somewhat different turn of the illustration, when he gives 'thanks
to the Father who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and
translated us into the kingdom of,'--not, as we might expect to
complete the antithesis, 'the light,' but--the 'kingdom of the Son
of His love,' which is the same thing as the light. The illustration
is probably drawn from the practice of the ancient conquering
monarchs, who, when they subjugated a country, were wont to lead
away captive long files of its inhabitants as compulsory colonists,
and set them down in another land. Thus the conquering Christ comes,
and those whom He conquers by His love, He shifts by a great
emigration out of the dominion of that darkness which is at once
tyranny and anarchy, and leads them into the happy kingdom of the

Thus, then, all Christian men become such, because they turn their
backs upon their old selves, and crucify their affections and lusts;
and paste down the leaf, as it were, on which their blotted past is
writ, and turn over a new and a fairer one. And my question to you,
dear brethren, is, Are you men from the other side, who were not
born where you live now, and who have passed out of the native
Chaldea into the foreign--and yet to the new self home--land of
union with God?

2. This designation may be taken as teaching that a Christian should
be known as a foreigner, a man from across the water.

Everybody in Canaan that knew Abram at all knew him as not one of
themselves. The Hebrew was the name he went by, because his
unlikeness to the others was the most conspicuous thing about him,
even to the shallowest eye. Abram found himself, when he had
migrated into Canaan, in no barbarous country, but plunged at once
into the midst of an organised and compact civilisation, that walled
its cities, and had the comforts and conveniences and regularities
of a settled order; and in the midst of it all, what did he do? He
elected to live in a tent. 'He dwelt in tabernacles, as the Epistle
to the Hebrews comments upon his history, 'because he looked for a
city.' The more his expectations were fixed upon a permanent abode,
the more transitory did he make his abode here. If there had been no
other city to fill his eyes, he would have gone and lived in some of
those that were in the land. If there had been no other order to
which he felt himself to belong, he would have had no objection to
cast in his lot with the order and the people with whom he lived on
friendly terms. But although he bought and sold with them, and
fought for them and by their sides, and acquired from them land in
which to bury his dead, he was not one of them, but said, 'No! I am
not going into your city. I stay in my tent under this terebinth
tree; for I am here as a stranger and a sojourner.' No doubt there
were differences of language, dress, and a hundred other little
things which helped the impression made on the men of the land by
this strange visitor who lived in amity but in separation, and they
are all crystallised in the name which the popular voice gave him,
'The man from the other side.'

That is the impression which Christian people ought to make in the
world. They should be recognised, by even unobservant eyes who know
nothing of the inner secret of their lives, as plainly belonging to
another order. If we seek to keep fresh in our own minds the
consciousness that we do so, it will make itself manifest in all our
bearing and actions. So that exhortation to cultivate the continual
sense that our true city--the mother city of our hearts and hopes--is
in heaven is ever to be reiterated, and as constantly obeyed, as the
necessary condition of a life worthy of our true affinities and of
our glorious hopes.

Nor less needful is the other exhortation--live by the laws of your
own land, not by those of the foreign country where you are for a
time. If you do that thoroughly, you will not need to say, 'I am
from another country.' Your conduct will say it for you. An English
ship is a bit of England, in whatever latitude it may be, and
however far beyond the three-mile limit of the King's authority upon
the seas it may float. And so, wherever there is a Christian man,
there is a bit of God's kingdom, and over that little speck in the
midst of the ocean of the world the flag with the Cross on it should
fly, and the laws of the Christ should be the only laws that have
currency. If it could be said of us as Haman said to his king about
the Jews, that we were a people with laws 'diverse from those of all
people,' we should be doing more than, alas! most of us do, to
honour Him whom we profess to serve. Follow Christ, and people will
be quick enough to say of you 'The man from the other side,' 'He
does not belong to our city.' There is no need for ostentation, nor
for saying, 'Come and see my zeal for the Lord,' nor for blowing
trumpets before us at street corners or elsewhere. The less of all
that the better. The more we try to do the common things done by the
folk round us, but from another motive, the more powerful will be
our witness for our Master.

For instance, when John Knox was in the French galleys, he was
fastened to the same oar with some criminal, perhaps a murderer. The
two men sat on the same bench, did the same work, tugged at the same
heavy sweep, were fed with the same food, suffered the same sorrows.
Do you think there was any doubt as to the infinite gulf between
them? We may be working side by side, at the very same tasks, and
under similar circumstances, with men that have no share in our
faith, and no sympathy with our hopes and aspirations, and yet,
though doing the same thing, it will _not_ be the same thing.
And if we keep Christ before us, and follow His steps who has left
us an example, depend upon it people will very soon find out that we
are men 'from across the water.'

Notice, further, how this dissimilarity and obvious aloofness from
the order of things in which we dwell is still perfectly compatible
with all sorts of helpful associations. The context shows us that.
There had come a flood of invasion, under kings with strange and
barbarous names, from the far East. They had swept down upon the
fertile valley of Siddim, and there had inflicted devastation.
Amongst the captives had been Lot, Abram's relative, and all his
goods had been taken. One fugitive, as it appears, had escaped, and
the first thing he did was to go straight to 'the man from the other
side,' and tell him about it, as if sure of sympathy and help. No
doubt the relationship between Abram and Lot was the main reason why
the panting survivor made his way to the hills where Abram's tent
was pitched, but there was also confidence in his willingness to
help the Sodomites who had lost their goods. So it was not to the
sons of Heth in Mamre that the fugitive turned in his extremity, but
he 'told Abram the Hebrew.'

I need not narrate over again the familiar story of how, for once in
his peaceful life, the 'friend of God' girds on his sword and
develops military instincts in his prompt and well-planned pursuit,
which show that if he did not try to conquer some part of the land
which he knew to be his by the will of God, it was not for want of
ability, but because he 'believed God,' and could wait. We all know
how he armed his slaves, and made a swift march to the northern
extremity of the land, and then, by a nocturnal surprise, came down
upon the marauders and scattered them like chaff, before his onset,
and recovered Lot and all the spoil.

Let us learn that, if Christian men will live well apart from the
world, they will be able to sympathise with and help the world; and
that our religion should fit us for the prompt and heroic
undertaking, as it certainly does for the successful accomplishment,
of all deeds of brotherly kindness and sympathy, bringing help and
solace to the weak and the wearied, liberty to the captives, and
hope to the despairing.

I do not believe that Christian men have any business to draw swords
now. Abram is in that respect the Old Testament type of a God-
fearing hero, with the actual sword in his hands. The New Testament
type of a Christian warrior without a sword is not one jot less, but
more, heroic. The form of sympathy, help, and 'public spirit' which
the 'man from the other side' displayed is worse than an anachronism
now in the light of Christ's law. It is a contradiction. But the
spirit which breathed through Abram's conduct should be ours. We are
bound to 'seek the peace of the city' where we dwell as strangers
and pilgrims, avoiding no duty of sympathy and help, but by prompt,
heroic, self-forgetting service to all the needy, sorrowful, and
oppressed, building up such characters for ourselves that fugitives
and desperate men shall instinctively turn to men from the other
side for that help which, they know full well, the men of the
country are too selfish or cowardly to give.

May I venture to suggest yet another and very different application
of this name? To the aboriginal inhabitants of heaven, the angels
that kept their first estate, redeemed men are possessors of a
unique experience; and are the 'men from the other side.' They who
entered on their pilgrimage through the Red Sea of conversion, pass
out of it through the Jordan of death. They who become Christ's, by
the great change of yielding their hearts to Him, and who live here
as pilgrims and sojourners, pass dryshod through the stream into His
presence. And there they who have always dwelt in the sunny
highlands of the true Canaan, gather round them, and call them, not
unenvying, perhaps, their experience, 'The men that have crossed.'
The 'Hebrews of the Hebrews' in the heavens are those who have known
what it is to be pilgrims and sojourners, and to whom the promise
has been fulfilled in the last hour of their journey, 'When thou
passest through the river, I will be with thee.' _They_ teach
the angels a new song who sing, 'Thou hast led us through fire and
through water, and brought us into a wealthy place.'


'And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now
toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to
number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him
for righteousness. And He said unto him, I am the Lord
that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give
thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God,
whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And He
said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and
a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years
old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took
unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and
laid each piece one against another: but the birds
divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the
carcases, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was
going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an
horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto
Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger
in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and
they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also
that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and
afterward shall they come out with great substance. And
thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be
buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation
they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the
Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that,
when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking
furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those
pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with
Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land,
from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river
Euphrates.'--GENESIS xv. 5-18.

1. Abram had exposed himself to dangerous reprisals by his victory
over the confederate Eastern raiders. In the reaction following the
excitement of battle, dread and despondency seem to have shadowed
his soul. Therefore the assurance with which this chapter opens came
to him. It was new, and came in a new form. He is cast into a state
of spiritual ecstasy, and a mighty 'word' sounds, audible to his
inward ear. The form which it takes--'I am thy shield'--suggests
the thought that God shapes His revelation according to the moment's
need. The unwarlike Abram might well dread the return of the
marauders in force, to avenge their defeat. Therefore God speaks to
his fears and present want. Just as to Jacob the angels appeared as
a heavenly camp guarding his undefended tents and helpless women;
so, here and always, God is to us what we most need at the moment,
whether it be comfort, or wisdom, or guidance, or strength. The
manna tasted to each man, as the rabbis say, what he most desired.
God's gifts take the shape of man's necessity.

Abram had just exercised singular generosity in absolutely refusing
to enrich himself from the spoil. God reveals Himself as 'his
exceeding great reward.' He gives Himself as recompense for all
sacrifices. Whatever is given up at His bidding, 'the Lord is able
to give thee much more than this.' Not outward things, nor even an
outward heaven, is the guerdon of the soul; but a larger possession
of Him who alone fills the heart, and fills the heart alone. Other
riches may be counted, but this is 'exceeding great,' passing
comprehension, and ever unexhausted, and having something over after
all experience. Both these aspects of God's preciousness are true
for earth; but we need a shield only while exposed to attack. In the
land of peace, He is only our reward.

2. Mark the triumphant faith which wings to meet the divine promise.
The first effect of that great assurance is to deepen Abram's
consciousness of the strange contradiction to it apparently given by
his childlessness. It is not distrust that answers the promise with
a question, but it is eagerness to accept the assurance and
ingenuous utterance of difficulties in the hope of their removal.
God is too wise a father not to know the difference between the
tones of confidence and unbelief, however alike they may sound; and
He is too patient to be angry if we cannot take in all His promise
at once. He breaks it into bits not too large for our lips, as He
does here. The frequent reiterations of the same promises in Abram's
life are not vain. They are a specimen of the unwearied repetition
of our lessons, 'Here a little, there a little,' which our teacher
gives His slow scholars. So, once more, Abram gets the promise of
posterity in still more glorious form. Before, it was likened to the
dust of the earth; now it is as the innumerable stars shining in the
clear Eastern heaven. As he gazes up into the solemn depths, the
immensity and peace of the steadfast sky seems to help him to rise
above the narrow limits and changefulness of earth, and a great
trust floods his soul. Abram had lived by faith ever since he left
Haran; but the historian, usually so silent about the thoughts of
his characters, breaks through his usual manner of narrative to
insert the all-important words which mark an epoch in revelation,
and are, in some aspects, the most significant in the Old Testament.
Abram 'believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for

Observe the teaching as to the nature and object of faith in that
first clause. The word rendered 'believed' literally means to steady
oneself by leaning on something. So it gives in a vivid picture more
instructive than many a long treatise what faith is, and what it
does for us. As a man leans his trembling hand on a staff, so we lay
our weak and changeful selves on God's strength; and as the most
mutable thing is steadied by being fastened to a fixed point, so we,
though in ourselves light as thistledown, may be steadfast as rock,
if we are bound to the rock of ages by the living band of faith. The
metaphor makes it plain that faith cannot be merely an intellectual
act of assent, but must include a moral act, that of confidence.
Belief as credence is mainly an affair of the head, but belief as
trust is an act of the will and the affections.

The object of faith is set in sunlight clearness by these words,--the
first in which Scripture speaks of faith. Abram leaned on 'the Lord.'
It was not the promise, but the promiser, that was truly the object
of Abram's trust. He believed the former, because he trusted Him who
made it. Many confusions in Christian teaching would have been avoided
if it had been always seen that faith grasps a person, not a doctrine,
and that even when the person is revealed by doctrine, it is him, and
not only it, which faith lays hold of. Whether God speaks promises,
teachings of truth, or commandments, faith accepts them, because it
trusts Him. Christ is revealed to us for our faith by the doctrinal
statements of the New Testament. But we must grasp Himself, as so
revealed, if we are to have faith which saves the soul. This same
thought of the true object of faith as personal helps us to understand
the substantial identity of faith in all ages and stages of revelation,
however different the substance of the creeds. Abram knew very little
of God, as compared with our knowledge. But it was the same God whom
Abram trusted, and whom we trust as made known in His Son. Hence we
can stretch out our hands across the ages, and clasp his as partaker
of 'like precious faith.' We walk in the light of the same sun,--he
in its morning beams, we in its noonday glory. There has never been
but one road to God, and that is the road which Abram trod, when 'he
believed in the Lord.'

3. Mark the full-orbed gospel truth as to the righteousness of faith
which is embedded in this record of early revelation, 'He counted it
to him for righteousness.' A geologist would be astonished if he
came on remains in some of the primary strata which indicated the
existence, in these remote epochs, of species supposed to be of much
more recent date. So here we are startled at finding the peculiarly
New Testament teaching away back in this dim distance. No wonder
that Paul fastened on this verse, which so remarkably breaks the
flow of the narrative, as proof that his great principle of
justification by faith was really the one only law by which, in all
ages, men had found acceptance with God. Long before law or
circumcision, faith had been counted for righteousness. The whole
Mosaic system was a parenthesis; and even in it, whoever had been
accepted had been so because of his trust, not because of his works.
The whole of the subsequent divine dealings with Israel rested on
this act of faith, and on the relation to God into which, through
it, Abram entered. He was not a perfectly righteous man, as some
passages of his life show; but he rose here to the height of loving
and yearning trust in God, and God took that trust in lieu of
perfect conformity to His will. He treated and regarded him as
righteous, as is proved by the covenant which follows. The gospel
takes up this principle, gives us a fuller revelation, presents the
perfect righteousness of Christ as capable of becoming ours by
faith, and so unveils the ground on which Abram and the latest
generations are equally 'accepted in the beloved.' This reckoning of
righteousness to the unrighteous, on condition of their faith, is
not because of any merit in faith. It does not come about in reward
of, but by means of, their faith, which is nothing in itself, but is
the channel only of the blessing. Nor is it a mere arbitrary act of
God's, or an unreal imputing of what is not. But faith unites with
Christ; and 'he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,' so as
that 'in Him we have redemption.' His righteousness becomes ours.
Faith grafts us into the living Vine, and we are no longer regarded
in our poor sinful individual personality, but as members of Christ.
Faith builds us into the rock; but He is a living Stone, and we are
living stones, and the life of the foundation rises up through all
the courses of the great temple. Faith unites sinful men to God in
Christ; therefore it makes them partakers of the 'blessedness of the
man, ... to whom the Lord will not impute sin,' and of the
blessedness of the man to whom the Lord reckons his faith for
righteousness. That same faith which thus clothes us with the white
robe of Christ's righteousness, in lieu of our own tattered raiment,
also is the condition of our becoming righteous by the actual
working out in our character of all things lovely and of good
report. It opens the heart to the entrance of that divine Christ,
who is first made _for_ us, and then, by daily appropriation of
the law of the spirit of life, is made _in_ us, 'righteousness
and sanctification, and redemption.' May all who read these lines
'be found in Him,' having 'that which is through the faith of
Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith!'

4. Consider the covenant which is the consequence of Abram's faith,
and the proof of his acceptance.

It is important to observe that the whole remainder of this chapter
is regarded by the writer as the result of Abram's believing God.
The way in which verse 7 and the rest are bolted on, as it were, to
verse 6, clearly shows this. The nearer lesson from this fact is,
that all the Old Testament revelation from this point onward rests
on the foundation of faith. The further lesson, for all times, is
that faith is ever rewarded by more intimate and loving
manifestations of God's friendship, and by fuller disclosure of His
purposes. The covenant is not only God's binding Himself anew by
solemn acts to fulfil His promises already made, but it is His
entering into far sweeter and nearer alliance with Abram than even
He had hitherto had. That name, 'the friend of God,' by which he is
still known over all the Mohammedan world, contains the very essence
of the covenant. In old days men were wont to conclude a bond of
closest amity by cutting their flesh and interchanging the flowing
blood. Henceforth they had, as it were, one life. We have not here
the shedding of Abram's blood, as in the covenant of circumcision.
Still, the slain animals represent the parties to the covenant, and
the notion of a resulting unity of the closest order as between God
and Abram is the very heart of the whole incident.

The particulars as to the rite by which the covenant was established
are profoundly illuminative. The significant division of the animals
into two shows that they were regarded as representing the
contracting parties, and the passing between them symbolised the
taking up of the obligations of the covenant. This strange rite,
which was widely spread, derives importance from the use of it
probably made in Hebrews ix 16, 17. The new covenant, bringing still
closer friendship and higher blessings, is sealed by the blood of
Christ. He represents both God and man. In His death, may we not say
that the manhood and the Godhead are parted, and we, standing as it
were between them, encompassed by that awful sacrifice, and enclosed
in its mysterious depths, enter into covenant with God, and become
His friends?

We need not to dwell upon the detailed promises, of which the
covenant was the seal. They are simply the fuller expansion of those
already made, but now confirmed by more solemn guarantees. The new
relation of familiar friendship, established by the covenant itself,
is the main thing. It was fitting that God's friend should be in the
secret of His purposes. 'The servant knoweth not what his lord
doeth,' but the friend does. And so we have here the assurance that
faith will pierce to the discernment of much of the mind of God,
which is hid from sense and the wisdom of this world. If we would
know, we must believe. We may be 'men of God's counsel,' and see
deeply into the realities of the present, and far ahead into what
will then become the certainties of the future, if only we live by
faith in the secret place of the Most High, and, like John, lean so
close on the Master's bosom that we can hear His lowest whisper.

Notice, too, the lessons of the smoking furnace and the blazing
torch. They are like the pillar of fire and cloud. Darkness and
light; a heart of fire and a wrapping of darkness,--these are not
symbols of Israel and its checkered fate, as Dean Stanley thinks,
but of the divine presence: they proclaim the double aspect of all
divine manifestations, the double element in the divine nature. He
can never be completely known; He is never completely hid. Ever does
the lamp flame; ever around it the smoke wreathes. In all His self-
revelation is 'the hiding of His power'; after all revelation He
dwelleth 'in the thick darkness.' Only the smoke is itself fire, but
not illumined to our vision. The darkness is light inaccessible.
Much that was 'smoke' to Abram has caught fire, and is 'light' to
us. But these two elements will ever remain; and throughout eternity
God will be unknown, and yet well known, pouring Himself in ever-
growing radiance on our eyes, and yet 'the King invisible.'

Nor is this all the teaching of the symbol. It speaks of that
twofold aspect of the divine nature, by which to hearts that love He
is gladsome light, and to unloving ones He is threatening darkness.
As to the Israelites the pillar was light, and to the Egyptians
darkness and terror; so the same God is joy to some, and dread to
others. 'What maketh heaven, that maketh hell.' Light itself can
become the source of pain the most exquisite, if the eye is
diseased. God Himself cannot but be a torment to men who love
darkness rather than light. Love and wrath, life and death, a God
who pities and who cannot but judge, are solemnly proclaimed by that
ancient symbol, and are plainly declared to us in the perfect
revelation in Christ Jesus.

Observe, too, the manner of the ratification of the covenant. The
symbol of the Divine presence passed between the pieces. No mention
is made of Abram's doing so. Why this one-sided covenant? Because
God's gracious dealings with men are one-sided. He seeks no oaths
from us; He does not exchange blessings for our gifts. His covenant
is the free result of His unmotived love, and is ratified by a
solemn sacrifice, which we do not offer. We have nothing to do but
to take what He gives. All ideas of barter and bargain are far from
Him. Our part is but to embrace His covenant, which is complete and
ratified whether we embrace it or not. What a wonderful thought that
is of a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God! We do not hear
so much of it as our fathers did. The more is the pity. It means
that God has, as it were, buoyed out across the boundless ocean of
His possible modes of action a plain course, which He binds Himself
to keep; that He has frankly let us into the very secret of His
doings; that He has stooped to use human forms of assurance to make
it easier to trust Him; that He has confirmed His promise by a
mighty sacrifice. Therefore we may enter into closest friendship
with Him, and take for our own the exultant swan-song of Abram's
royal son: 'Although my house be not so with God [although my life
be stained, and my righteousness unfit to be offered to His pure
eyes]; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in
all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my


'Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding
great reward.'


Abram was now apparently about eighty-five years old. He had been
fourteen years in Palestine, and had, for the only time in his life,
quite recently been driven to have recourse to arms against a
formidable league of northern kings, whom, after a swift forced
march from the extreme south to the extreme north of the land, he
had defeated. He might well fear attack from their overwhelmingly
superior forces. So this vision, like all God's words, fits closely
to moments needs, but is also for all time and all men.

1. The call to conquer fear.

Fear not.--(_a_) There is abundant reason for fear in facts of
life. There are so many certain evils, and so many possible evils,
that any man who is not a feather-brained fool must sometimes quail.

(_b_) Reasons for fear in our relations to divine law.

(_c_) The only rational way of conquering fears is by showing
them to be unfounded. It is waste of breath to say, Don't be afraid,
and to do nothing to remove the occasions of fear. It is childish to
try to get rid of fears by shutting the eyes tight and refusing to
look formidable facts in the face.

(_d_) The revelation of God is the true antidote to fear.

(_e_) 'Fear not' is the characteristic word of divine
revelation. It is of frequent occurrence from Abraham till John in

2. The ground of the call in the Revelation of God as Shield.

(_a_) As to outward evils, His protection assures us, not of
absolute exemption, but of His entire control of them, so that men
and circumstances are His instruments, and His will only is
powerful. Chedorlaomer and all the allied kings are nothing; 'a
noise,' as the prophet said of a later conqueror. All the bitterness
and terror is taken out of evil. If any fiery dart pass through the
shield, all its poison is wiped off in passage. So there remains no
reason for fear, since all things work together for good. Behind
that shield we are safe as diver in his bell, though seas rave and
sea-monsters swim around.

(_b_) As to inward evils, our Shield assures us of absolute
exemption. 'Shield of faith.' Faith is shield because it takes hold
of God's strength.

3. The ground of the call in the Revelation of God as Reward.
Abraham had refused all share in booty, a large sacrifice, and here
he is promised, A Reward in God, _i.e._ He gives Himself in
recompense for all sacrifices in path of duty. 'The Lord is able to
give thee much more than these.' This promise opens out to general
truth that God Himself is the true reward of a devout life. There
are many recompenses for all sacrifices for God, some of them
outward and material, some of them inward and spiritual, but the reward
which surpasses all others is that by such sacrifices we attain to
greater capacity for God, and therefore possess more of Him. This is
the only Reward worth thinking of--God only satisfies the soul. With
Him we are rich; without Him poor; 'exceeding great'--'riches in
glory,' transcending all measure. The revelations of God as Shield
and Reward are both given in reference to the present life, but the
former applies only to earth, where 'without are fighters, within are
fears'; while 'the latter is mainly true for heaven, where those
who have fought, having God for their Shield, will possess Him for
their Reward, in a measure and manner which will make all earthly
experiences seem poor. Here the 'heirs of God' get subsistence money,
which is a small instalment of their inheritance; there they enter
into possession of it all.


Many years have passed since Abram was called to go forth from his
father's house, assured that God would make of him a great nation.
They had been years of growing power. He has been dwelling at Mamre,
as a prince among the people of the land, a power. There sweeps down
on Southern Palestine the earliest of those invasions from the vast
plains of the North which afterwards for generations were the
standing dread of Abram's descendants. Like the storm pillars in
their own deserts, are these wild marauders with the wild names that
never appear again in the history. Down on the rich valleys and
peaceful pasture lands they swoop for booty, not for conquest. Like
some sea-bird, they snatch their prey and away. They carry with them
among the long train of captives Abram's ungenerous brother-in-law,
Lot. Then the friend of God, the father of the faithful, musters his
men, like an Arab sheikh as he was, and swiftly follows the track of
the marauders over the hills of Samaria, and across the plain of
Jezreel. The night falls, and down he swoops upon them and scatters
them. Coming back he had interviews with the King of Sodom, when he
refuses to take any of the spoil, and with Melchizedek. Abram is
back at Mamre. How natural that fear and depression should seize
him: the reaction from high excitement; the dread that from the
swarming East vengeance would come for his success in that night
surprise; the thought that if it did, he was a wandering stranger in
a strange land and could not count on allies. Then there would come,
perhaps, the remembrance of how long God had delayed the very
beginnings of the fulfilment, 'Seeing I go childless.'

To this mood of mind the divine vision is addressed. 'Fear not--I am
thy shield' whatever force comes against thee, 'and thine exceeding
great reward,'--perhaps in reference to his refusal to take
anything from the spoil. But God says this to us all. In these
antique words the very loftiest and purest principles of spiritual
religion are set forth.

He that loves and trusts God possesses God.

He that possesses God has enough for earth.

He that possesses God has enough for heaven.

1. It is possible for a man to have God for his. 'I am thy Reward,'--not
merely Rewarder, but Reward.

How can one spiritual Being belong to another?--plainly, By mutual

The Gospel assures us of God's love, and makes it possible for ours
to be fixed on Him.

Faith gives us God for ours.

The highest view of the blessings of the Gospel is that God Himself
becomes our reward.

How sad the insanity of men appears, in the ordinary aims of their
life, its rewards and its objects of desire! How they chase after

How much loftier and truer a conception of the blessing of religion
this is than notions of mere escape and the like!

2. The possession of God is enough for earth.

God the all-sufficient object for our spirits, His love, the
communication of Himself, the sense of His presence, the depths of
His infinite character, of His wondrous ways, of His revealed Truth
as an object for thought: of His authoritative will as imperative
for will and conscience: aspiration towards Him.

God the Eternal Object.

To find Him in everything, and everything in Him, is to be at rest.

This is what He promises--

Not a life of outward success and ease--much nobler than if He did.

Take Abram's as a type.

In war He will be our Defence.

In absence of other joys He will be Enough.

Sphered and included in Him is all sweetness. He sustains all
relations, and does for us what these other joys and goods partially

The possession of His love should put away all fear, since having
Him we are not at the mercy of externals.

What, then, is Life as men ordinarily make it?--what a blunder!

3. To possess God is enough for heaven.

Such a relationship is the great proof of immortality.

Christ and Sadducees.

The true glory of heaven is in fuller possession of God: no doubt
other things, but these subsidiary.

The Reward is God.

The idea of recompense ample and full for all sorrow.

More than adequate wages for all work.

That final reward will show how wise the wanderer was, who left his
father's house and 'looked for a city.' God is not ashamed to be
called their God.

Christ comes to us--offers Himself.

Think of how rich with Him, and oh, think of how poor without Him!

Which will you have on earth?

Which will you have in another world?


'And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him
for righteousness.'

It is remarkable to find this anticipation of New Testament teaching
so far back. It is like finding one full-blown flower in a garden
where all else is but swelling into bud. No wonder that Paul
fastened on it to prove that justification by faith was older than
Moses, than law or circumcision, that his teaching was the real
original, and that faith lay at the foundation of the Old Testament

1. The Nature of Faith.--The metaphor in the Hebrew word is that of
a man leaning all his weight on some strong stay. Surely that
metaphor says more than many definitions. It teaches that the
essence of faith is absolute reliance, and that unites us with Him
on whom we rely. Its result will be steadfastness. We are weak,
mobile, apt to be driven hither and thither, but light things lashed
to fixed things become fixed. So 'reeds shaken with wind' are
changed into iron pillars.

2. The Object of Faith.--'Lord.' It is a Person, not the promise but
the Promiser. Of course, reliance on the Person results in
acceptance of His word, and here it is God's word as to the future.
Our faith has to do with the future, but also with the past. Its
object is Christ, the historic Christ, the living Christ, the Christ
who will come again. How clear the nature of faith becomes when its
object is clear! It cannot be mere assent, but trust. How clear
becomes its identity in all ages! The creeds may be different in
completeness, but the object of faith is the same, and the emotion
is the same.

3. The effect of Faith.--Righteous is conformity to the will of God.
Abram was not righteous, but he yielded himself to God and trusted
Him, and God accepted that as the equivalent of righteousness. The
acceptance was shown by the Covenant, and by the fulfilment of the

So here is the great truth that faith is accepted for righteous. It
is rightly regarded and treated as righteous, by the estimate of
God, who estimates things as they really are. It _is_ righteousness,

(_a_) Faith is itself a supreme act of righteousness, as being
accordant with God's supreme desire for man.

(_b_) Faith unites with Christ the righteous.

(_c_) Faith will blossom out into all righteousness.


'And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord
appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty
God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect. And I will
make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply
thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God
talked with him, saying, As for Me, behold, My covenant
is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy
name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have
I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and
I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of
thee. And I will establish My covenant between Me and
thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an
everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy
seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy
seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger,
all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession;
and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou
shalt keep My covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed
after thee In their generations.'
GENESIS xvii. 1-9.

Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He was ninety-
nine when God appeared to him, as recorded in this chapter. There
had been three divine communications in these twenty-five years--one
at Bethel on entering the land, one after the hiving off of Lot, and
one after the battle with the Eastern kings. The last-named vision
had taken place before Ishmael's birth, and therefore more than
thirteen years prior to the date of the lesson.

We are apt to think of Abraham's life as being crowded with
supernatural revelations. We forget the foreshortening necessary in
so brief a sketch of so long a career, which brings distant points
close together. Revelations were really but thinly sown in Abram's
life. For something over thirteen years he had been left to walk by
faith, and, no doubt, had felt the pressure of things seen, silently
pushing the unseen out of his life.

Especially would this be the case as Ishmael grew up, and his
father's heart began to cling to him. The promise was beginning to
grow dimmer, as years passed without the birth of the promised heir.
As verse 18 of this chapter shows, Abram's thoughts were turning to
Ishmael as a possible substitute. His wavering confidence was
steadied and quickened by this new revelation. We, too, are often
tempted to think that, in the highest matters, 'a bird in the hand
is worth two in the bush,' and to wish that God would be content
with our Ishmaels, which satisfy us, and would not withdraw us from
possessed good, to make us live by hope of good unseen. We need to
reflect on this vision when we are thus tempted.

1. Note the revelation of God's character, and of our consequent
duty, which preceded the repetition of the covenant. 'I am the
Almighty God.' The aspect of the divine nature, made prominent in
each revelation of Himself, stands in close connection with the
circumstances or mental state of the recipient. So when God appeared
to Abram after the slaughter of the kings, He revealed Himself as
'thy Shield' with reference to the danger of renewed attack from the
formidable powers which He had bearded and beaten. In the present
case the stress is laid on God's omnipotence, which points to doubts
whispering in Abram's heart, by reason of God's delay in fulfilling
His word, and of his own advancing years and failing strength. Paul
brings out the meaning of the revelation when he glorifies the faith
which it kindled anew in Abram, 'being fully assured that, what He
had promised, He was able also to perform' (Rom. iv. 21). Whenever
our 'faith has fallen asleep' and we are ready to let go our hold of
God's ideal and settle down on the low levels of the actual, or to
be somewhat ashamed of our aspirations after what seems so slow of
realisation, or to elevate prudent calculations of probability above
the daring enthusiasms of Christian hope, the ancient word, that
breathed itself into Abram's hushed heart, should speak new vigour
into ours. 'I am the Almighty God--take My power into all thy
calculations, and reckon certainties with it for the chief factor.
The one impossibility is that any word of Mine should fail. The one
imprudence is to doubt My word.'

What follows in regard to our duty from that revelation? 'Walk
before Me, and be thou perfect.' Enoch walked _with_ God; that
is, his whole active life was passed in communion with Him. The idea
conveyed by 'walking _before_ God' is not precisely the same.
It is rather that of an active life, spent in continual
consciousness of being 'naked and opened before the eyes of Him to
whom we have to give account.' That thrilling consciousness will not
paralyse nor terrify, if we feel that we are not only 'ever in the
great Task-Master's eye,' but that God's omniscience is all-knowing
love, and is brought closer to our hearts and clothed in gracious
tenderness in Christ whose 'eyes were as a flame of fire,' but whose
love is more ardent still, who knows us altogether, and pities and
loves as perfectly as He knows.

What sort of life will spring from the double realisation of God's
almightiness, and of our being ever before Him? 'Be thou perfect.'
Nothing short of immaculate conformity with His will can satisfy His
gaze. His desire for us should be our aim and desire for ourselves.
The standard of aspiration and effort cannot be lowered to meet

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