By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out…
By faith Abraham, when he was called, etc. Abraham was a good and a great man. "He was called the friend of God." Even amongst the heroes of religious faith he is conspicuous as a believer in God. St. Paul speaks of him as "the father of all" the faithful. Let us consider the exhibition of his faith which our text presents. We discover it -
I. IN HIS OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE CALL. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed," etc. The summons here mentioned is recorded in Genesis 12:1-5. This call was
(1) of Divine origination. It was not solicited from God by Abraham, but addressed by God to Abraham. The initiative was Divine, not human. Every summons to the true and good is from above. Every aspiration and effort after holiness and usefulness is the result of Divine influence. This call was
(2) a Divine communication. How it was addressed to Abraham, whether through his bodily senses or direct to his spiritual consciousness, we know not. But we know the fact that the summons came to him, and was felt by him to be a sacred and Divine command. A mysterious and mighty impulse came upon him, and he felt that it was from God. The call was to depart from his country and kindred to a land whither God would lead him. And it seems that either then or formerly he was called to a truer and higher life. Whether he was ever an idolater we cannot tell; but if such were the case, he was summoned from polytheism to monotheism. Most glorious and animating was the destiny which was set forth for him and his posterity (Genesis 12:2, 3). But at present we have to do with his call to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees, and to follow whithersoever the unseen hand might lead him. In his prompt and pious obedience to that call we have an impressive illustration of his faith.
1. He obeyed, notwithstanding the fact that his obedience involved considerable sacrifices. Unto a man like Abraham it could not have been a light thing to depart "from his country, and from his kindred, and from his father's house." It must have been a trial to him to go forth from places which were hallowed by precious and sacred memories, to sever many close and tender social associations, and without any prospect of returning to these cherished friends and familiar scenes again. Yet he obeyed the heavenly call. His faith in God was mightier than his strongest human feelings.
2. He obeyed, notwithstanding his ignorance of his destination and of the way by which it was to be reached. Abraham must, we think, have had some idea as to the direction and destination of his journey. But he was called, not to any country which is named in the call, but "unto a land that I will show thee." "And he went out, not knowing whither he went." The distance he might have to travel, the difficulties and dangers he might have to encounter, the scene and circumstances in which his journey would end, he knew not. Yet he went out, obedient to the voice which faith alone could hear, and guided by the hand which faith alone could see. The Divine call is addressed at some time or other to every man. The summons from carnal existence to spiritual life, from selfish pursuits to generous sympathies and services, from the local and temporal to the universal and eternal, from sin to holiness, - the call to God by Christ Jesus sounds at some time in the soul of every man. It is addressed by various voices and at different times; to some it comes again and again; and it is variously treated by those who hear it. Be it ours like Abraham to attentively hear, heartily believe, and promptly obey the heavenly mandate. If we have believing]y received the summons, let us not hesitate to go forward, though the way be unknown to us. Complying with the Divine command, the Divine conduct will never fail us.
II. IN ITS CONTINUED EXERCISE, NOTWITHSTANDING THE LONG-DELAYED FULFILMENT OF THE PROMISE. "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country," etc. When Abraham arrived in Canaan Jehovah appeared unto him, and promised to give that land to him and to his seed (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15, 17; Genesis 15:18); yet he never possessed that land. Very forcibly is this fact stated by Stephen: "And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: and he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child." Once in the life of Abraham the fact that he had no actual possession in that land was very forcibly and feelingly expressed. In his great and sacred sorrow by reason of the death of his beloved wife, he had to purchase a place in which to bury her mortal remains. "And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." And he paid four hundred shekels of silver for the field and the cave of Machpelah for a possession of a burying-place (Genesis 23.). The points which we wish to bring out as taught in ver. 9 are these:
1. Though the land was promised to him, yet he never possessed it. "He sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country;" or, "as in a land not his own."
2. Though he dwelt in the land, it was as a stranger. He became a sojourner there, not a settler or a citizen. He had no home there. He did not attempt to build a fixed dwelling-place, but took up his abode in tents, which could easily and speedily be removed from place to place.
3. Yet he believed God - lived "by faith in God and in his promise. Now, as Robertson says, the surprising point is that Abraham, deceived, as you might almost say, did not complain of it as a deception; he was even grateful for the non-fulfillment of the promise; he does not even seem to have expected its fulfillment; he did not look for Canaan, but 'for a city which had foundations;' his faith appears to have consisted in disbelieving the letter, almost as much as in believing the spirit of the promise." Abraham's life in Canaan as exhibited in the ninth verse may be viewed
(1) as a picture of our life upon earth. There is no abiding-place for man in this world; and the Christian's treasure is in heaven, not upon earth; his inheritance also is not here, but is "reserved in heaven for" him. This part of Abraham's life may be viewed
(2) as a pattern for our life upon earth. We should emulate the spirit of the illustrious patriarch. "Seek the things that are above," etc. (Colossians 3:1, 2).
III. IN THE SUBLIME HOPE WHICH IT INSPIRED. "For he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." We must not attribute to Abraham views of the future state as full and clear as those which are unfolded in the New Testament. Yet it is evident that the writer of this Epistle intended to teach that he and the other patriarchs expected the fulfillment of the promise of Canaan in something higher than any earthly city. Abraham believed God's promise; but by faith he looked for even more than its literal fulfillment. His faith hoped for and anticipated a more glorious inheritance than the earthly Canaan, and a fairer, firmer, and diviner city than was ever designed by human skill or constructed by human strength. He looked forward to:
1. A state of social blessedness. "He looked for the city." A city is suggestive of society. In Canaan Abraham was a sojourner amongst strangers; he anticipated being a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, and at home in congenial society. Heaven is a scene of the most delightful fellowships.
2. A state of permanent blessedness. "The city which hath the foundations." The inhabitants of the heavenly world are immortal; and their "inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away." The crowns which the faithful wear in that high realm are "crowns of glory that fade not away." Its holy enjoyments are everlasting.
3. A state of Divine blessedness. "Whose Builder," or Architect, "and Maker is God." As an edifice illustrates the mind of the architect and the character of the builder; so in the new Jerusalem will be specially displayed the skill and the strength, the goodness and the glory, of the great God. "He hath prepared for" his people this city. Its securities and sanctities, its occupations and enjoyments, are all from him. "And he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, their God." This state Abraham was eagerly expecting. The sublime hope of it sustained him in his earthly sojourn. To us a fuller, clearer, brighter revelation of the future is given. If we have obeyed the Divine call and are following the Divine guidance, let us hold fast and cherish the inspiring hope of perfect holiness and perpetual blessedness, in "the city which hath the foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.