(As it is written, I have made you a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who vivifies the dead…
I. ITS GROUND. The promise of God.
1. The general promise (Genesis 15:1), that God would take him into His protection and abundantly reward his obedience. The like promise is made to all the faithful (Psalm 84:11).
2. The particular promise. When God had told Abraham that He would be his shield, etc., he replied, "Lord, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless"; and again, "Behold, Thou hast given me no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir" (Genesis 15:2, 3). These words of Abraham imply some weakness of faith, though they also may be a revival of an old promise (Genesis 12:3). And they say in effect, Lord, how can I take comfort in the promised reward, since I do not seek the fulfilling of Thy promise touching my seed? But now mark the Lord's reply (ver. 4); and then God led him forth (ver. 5) — ocular demonstration leaveth a stronger impression upon the mind — upon this "Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness" (ver. 6). He was a believer before, but now he commenceth a strong believer: "He believed in hope against hope," etc.
I. ITS EXCELLENCY.
1. "He believed in hope against hope." Spiritual hope can take place when natural hope faileth. Most men's faith is borne up by outward probabilities; they can trust God no further than they can see Him; but true faith dependeth upon Him when His way is in the dark, as Paul could give assurance when all hope was taken away (Acts 27:20-22). I prove this —
(1) From the genius and nature of faith. There must be some difficulty in the thing to be believed or else it is not an object of faith (chap. Romans 8:24).
(2) From the warrant of faith, which is the Word of God. We must believe God upon His bare word, though we know not what time or way He will take, or by what means the thing promised will be accomplished. In things future and invisible we believe against sense; in things incredible we believe against reason (Hebrews 11:1). It must not be, saith sense; it cannot be, saith natural reason; it both can and will be, saith faith.
(3) From the object of faith, God all-sufficient. We must gauge neither His goodness nor power by our measure. Not His goodness (Isaiah 55:8, 9; Hosea 11:9); nor His power (Zechariah 8:6).
2. He considered not the difficulties (ver. 19). Here we learn that we must not oppose natural impediments to the power and truth of God. Note —
(1) How we are or not to consider difficulties.
(a) In some sense it is our duty to consider them, that we may not go about the most serious work hand over head. Christ bids us sit down and count the charges (Luke 14:28). The saints are wont to put hard cases to themselves (Psalm 3:6; Psalm 23:4).
(b) Therefore the ends must be observed. We must consider them to weaken our security, but not to weaken our confidence in the promise. The difficulties of salvation must be sufficiently understood, otherwise we think to do the work of an age in a breath (Luke 8:24; Joshua 24:19); for it is not so easy a matter as you take it to be.
(c) Difficulties must be thought on to quicken faith, not to weaken it. If they be pleaded against the promise they weaken faith; if they be pleaded to drive us to the promise they quicken faith.
(2) The inconveniences of this sinful considering the difficulties in all the parts of faith.
(a) As to assent. If you will not credit it unless the thing be evident in itself, you do not believe Christ but your own reason; and instead of being thankful for the revelation you quarrel with tits truth, because it is in some things above your capacity. You should be satisfied with the bare word of God, and captivate your understandings to the obedience of it.
(b) As to consent and acceptance. There are many things may be objected against entering into covenant with Christ. First, our great unworthiness. This is one reason why the instance of Abraham is proposed as a pattern of faith to the Gentiles. As Abraham considered not his natural incapacity to have children, so they not their unworthiness to be adopted into God's covenant. If you be such a sinner, the more need of a saviour. You would laugh at him that would argue I am too cold to go to the fire, too sick to send for the physician, too poor to take alms, too filthy to go to the water to be washed. objected against Christianity that it was a sanctuary for men of a licentious life. answered him that it was not a sanctuary to shelter them only, but an hospital to cure them. Secondly, the fickleness of the heart. You are afraid to bind yourselves to God. The truth is this consent implieth a delivery over of yourselves to Christ, and you must consider difficulties so as to fortify your resolution (Matthew 16:24; Matthew 20:22). And not to consider is to discourage your consent.
(c) For affiance. There seemeth to be an impossibility to sense and reason from first to last. If the difficulties of salvation were sufficiently understood, we should see it is the mere grace and power of God that carrieth it on in despite of men and devils (Ephesians 1:19). As for instance, the reconciling of a guilty soul to God (Ephesians 2:3); the changing of an obstinate heart (Jeremiah 17:9); and the giving us an holy nature and life (Job 14:4); or to quicken us that were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1); to strengthen a feeble and weak creature (2 Corinthians 3:5).
3. "He staggered not at the promise through unbelief." This may refer to three acts or parts of faith:(1) Assent. If we have the word and promise of God we should believe anything as surely as if we had the greatest evidence in the world. Thus some of the disciples doubted of the truth of Christ's resurrection (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:21). This argueth a weak faith; but faith is strong as it overcomes our speculative doubts, and settles our souls in the truth (Acts 2:36).
(2) Consent. When the consent is weak and wavering faith is weak (Hebrews 10:23). But such a confirmed resolution as leaveth no room for wavering argueth a strong faith (Acts 21:13).
(3) Dependence and trust (James 1:6-8).
4. "He was fully persuaded that what God had promised He was fully able also to perform." A strong, steady, and full persuasion of the power of God argueth a great faith.
(1) There is no doubt of His will when we have His promise; but the ability of the promiser is that which is usually questioned. Unbelief stumbleth at His can (Psalm 78:19; Luke 1:34; 2 Kings 7:2). Nay; and the children of God themselves. Sarah was rebuked when she laughed (Genesis 18:12-14).
(2) God's power and all-sufficiency is to the saints the great support of faith in their greatest extremities. They are relieved by fixing their eye on God's almightiness; as Abraham here. So Hebrews 11:19; so for perseverance (Jude 1:24); and for the resurrection (Philippians 3:21). In matters conditionally promised we must magnify His power, and refer the event to His will (Matthew 8:2).
(3) There are two things to enlarge our thoughts and apprehensions about the power of God (ver. 17). We have to do with a God who can say to the dead, Live. He that can quicken the dead can quicken those that are dead in trespasses and sins.
III. ITS FRUIT AND EFFECT — an exact and constant obedience. In Isaiah 41:2 the righteous man is supposed to be Abraham, often designed by that character; and he was called to his foot, to go to and fro at God's command, as the centurion said (Matthew 8:9). There are two great instances of Abraham's obedience:
1. His self-denial in leaving his country (Hebrews 11:8). Such a total resignation there must be of ourselves to the will of God.
2. Another trial was Hebrews 11:17, 18. Because God would make Abraham an example of faith to all future generations, therefore He puts him to this trial, to see whether he loved his Isaac more than God.
(T. Manton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
WEB: As it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations." This is in the presence of him whom he believed: God, who gives life to the dead, and calls the things that are not, as though they were.