Chapters 12 - 20

"Abraham believed God." -- Rom 4:3.

"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." -- Rom 4:20.

THE progress and development of the natural life in man is, perhaps, the best figure of the progress of the spiritual life. In both One Hand is seen. Adam, Abel, and Noah, shew how in the spiritual, just as in the natural, there is a first stage, when we are begotten and yet not quickened; then a stage, when we are quickened and yet not born, -- when we draw that nourishment which contributes to our growth through the medium of natural things, as the child in the womb receives strength through the mother; and a third stage, when, after we are quickened, we are born, out of that in which we were, into another sphere of greater liberty. Adam answers to the first; Abel, to the second; Noah, to the third of these. In Noah, man, already quickened, is brought, through the travail pains and groans of the first creation, into a sphere, where, like a new-born child, he is delivered out of the first world, into more perfect light and liberty. And this conscious exchange of one world for another, -- this coming out of one sphere into another, is regeneration.

We are now to see how after we are thus born, in the spiritual just as in the natural world, we walk first by faith, implicitly trusting another. This life of faith is perfectly figured and set forth in Abraham. Then, as dear children, in the intelligent enjoyments of sonship, all the joys and experiences of which Isaac's life figures to us, we dwell awhile in peace by wells of water, till, fit for service, we go forth to toil like Jacob, and thence advance to suffering and glory, as is set forth in Joseph. No wonder, therefore, that Abraham's life in every age has suggested lessons of deepest import to thousands. It is the picture of that stage when life is strong; when the heaven-born child, in the energy of heavenly youth, is being exercised in all that may increase strength and skill and blessedness; when the Father of spirits is leading His child to know both himself and Him who has created and will not forsake him. (Note: The Gloss, in the Catena Aurea, on the Genealogy of Christ in St. Matthew, -- while explaining Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as figuring certain successive forms of life in man, which end after many confusions in Christ, the image of God, wrought in us, -- interprets Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as the lives of faith, hope, and charity, respectively. But this is only another way of expressing what I have said; for the spirit of sonship is hope, and true service is practical love or charity.)

In saying that Abraham is the life of faith, I do not mean that there has been no faith before this stage. There must have been faith at every stage, else there could have been no blessedness. Without faith Adam could have found no peace in the promise of the Seed: Abel offered by faith: Noah was saved by faith. But there may be, and are, such acts of faith, before we reach the stage which is a walk of faith distinctively. Just as Christ was begotten of the Holy Ghost, and yet had the Spirit given at His baptism, after which His life, already of the Holy Ghost, took another form in the manifestation of that same Spirit; so in us faith works from the first, but we go some way before we reach that stage in which the walk of faith is manifested. But this walk it is of which Abraham is the type, a form of life always following the full apprehension of regeneration. (Note: Those who care to trace this further, will find some teaching in the difference between phronema pneumatos (Rom. 8:6), and pneuma pisteos or pneuma huiothesias (2 Cor. 4:13 and Rom. 8:15), as used by St. Paul. The phronema pneumatos is not exactly the same thing as pneuma pisteos. We get the phronema pneumatos, that is, the minding of the spirit, at the Abel stage, before we pass the mystic flood; but after regeneration we get pneuma pisteos, or pneuma huiothesias, that is, the spirit of faith, or the spirit of adoption. The marked distinction in these expressions of St. Paul may help some to see the reality of the difference between the Abel and the Abraham stage. And as this is true within, so is it in the dispensations.)

This stage is introduced by the description of the progress of regenerate man, before that line of faith appears which Abraham typifies. Therefore is the course of Shem's line given here, as the introduction to the life of Abraham (Gen 11:10-26). For these ten generations prefixed to Abraham's life, shewing us all the steps from Shem to Terah, Abraham's father, give us all the phases or forms of the contemplative mind, after regeneration, till it produces Abraham, that is, the life of faith. Here, in the generations from Shem downwards, we are shewn how the contemplative mind, after regeneration, for a while degenerates. If the successive names are beyond us, this at least is clear, that Shem's line in Terah now worshipped idols (Joshua 24:2). (Note: Those who wish to look further into the import of the ten names, from Shem to Abram, will find a good deal on the subject in Parker's Bibliotheca Biblica, part i. pp. 286-289.) Then out of this bursts forth again the brighter stage set forth in the life and path of Abraham.

Here then, as in the previous steps, we see that this new form of life grows out of the discovery of failure in the former stage. Abel was not seen till Adam fell; nor Noah till the earth was full of violence. Each morning sprang out of a night; and so here, out of the decline of light in Noah's seed, a fresh day breaks forth again with greater light in Abraham. Just as in a tree, each new growth follows a winter; and the whole clothing of leaves, which had been put on in the former stage of growth, is put off preparatory to another great advance, which bursts forth out of the bonds of the winter, which has seemed to freeze and make the tree almost as dead; so is it in the soul of man: his development is a law of progress, but of progress through checks and conflicts; through winters which strip us, and leave us bare and apparently dead, without that clothing which has been thrown around us; yet not so dead but that the rays of heavenly light can again clothe, enlarge, and quicken us. Such is our life, progress through conflicts and apparent defeats; the harmonies of grace being as those of nature; night and day, cold and heat, in elemental strife, working out the appointed end through the balance of opposing forces everywhere. So we travel on: hindrances aiding our advance; castings down lifting us up; death bringing forth life; separation working a higher and purer unity; a wonder and a riddle even to ourselves.

And this darkness, out of which that walk of faith springs forth, of which Abraham is the appointed figure, is, I suppose, common experience. The liberty we have, as dead and risen with Christ, may be and is perverted for a season; nor is the walk of faith reached till the soul has learnt some of the perversions which follow regeneration. The decline of Shem's seed shews this in type. Our souls, if we have ever reached to true Christian liberty, may witness the sad reality. As a Reformer said, "We prayed more in the days of our darkness than now." Thus practical antinomianism will more or less shew itself after regeneration. Then out of such a state comes the stage we are to trace, a walk of obedient faith with Him who says, "Get thee out of thy country to the land that I will shew thee." All the steps of this walk are here described, from Ur of the Chaldees, where Terah lingers, till we reach the better land beyond Jordan. There trial on trial comes in the way: there faith learns itself, and that its fruit is all of God: there at length another form of life appears, in which man is yet more advanced and perfected. It is an oft-told tale, but, like man's life, no less wondrous because it has been repeated on earth a hundred thousand times.

But to trace each step in order. We shall see that here, as ever, there is first a separating process, then a perfecting one.


Chapter 12

"NOW the Lord had said to 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 the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen 12:1-3).

Thus begins the life of faith. As Noahs, that is, in regeneration, we come from the Adam world to a new world beyond the waters. As Abrams, that is, in the walk of faith, we start from Mesopotamia, the ground between the mystic Tigris and Euphrates, that is, tradition and reasoning. (Note: Respecting these rivers, see on the seventh day.) This walk begins not of man, but of God. It is His call, wholly of grace, which leads at once to separation. For the called one was one of an apostate race, an idolater (Joshua 24:2), and the husband of a barren woman (Gen 11:30), in Ur of the Chaldees, that is, not far from Great Babylon, the ground of false and perverted worship and self-exaltation. Still he was of Shem's line; for the spirit of faith grows up, though amid awful confusions, out of the contemplative mind. But the fine gold of Shem ere this has changed: the contemplative mind has fallen grievously. What hopes could one of such a fallen line have of being made very fruitful and blessed in a better land? Could such a dry tree look for fruit? Yet God speaks, and, as at creation, great results follow. By this Word of God fresh life flows in and shews itself, as the sun's heat penetrating a tree causes it to come up out of the dark earth and spread heavenward. So works the call of God, itself the spring and strength of all the faith that follows it. Babels may grow from men's words one to another, saying, "Go to, and let us make." The walk of faith begins not from man: the Word is its author and finisher.

As to the call, it was, and yet is, personal; addressed, not to the outward man, but to Abram, the fallen inner man. To this God says, "Get thee out, and I will bless thee." The prophets mark this: speaking of this act, the Lord says, "I called him alone, and blessed him" (Isa 51:2). For the call of God, to be of any use, must be personally felt and realised by the inner man. The flesh may hear of it; yea, as with those who went with Paul, it may be struck to the ground by the glory of the revelation: the senses may witness some of the outward circumstances accompanying the call: but as Paul says, "They heard not the voice of Him that spoke to me" (Acts 22:9). For the outward man knows not the call of God, and will prove that it knows it not, by abiding to the last far off from Canaan, on the ground of sense rather than on that of promise; while the spirit of faith goes forth, it knows not where, to stand in the strength of the Lord on the high and heaven-watered hills of promise, which flow with milk and honey.

This call of God contains both grace and truth; grace in the promise, the New Covenant "I will," which said, "I will shew thee a land, I will make thee fruitful, I will bless thee;" truth in the separating word, "Get thee out," obedience to which was the proof that Abram believed the "I will." This promise was the gospel. So St. Paul, alluding to it, says, that in it "the gospel was preached to Abram" (Gal 3:8). The gospel is -- I must repeat it -- a promise of God, a report concerning future glory and an inheritance; which men may believe or disbelieve, but which is true, because it is God's word, and to meet which faith alone is needed. Men are slow to apprehend this. Feelings, or works, or something in us, is looked for as the ground of future blessing and salvation. But the Spirit and the Word with one voice testify that it is the Lord Himself who saves; and that to receive the salvation, faith, that is, taking God at His word, is the simple and blessed means. God is the Saviour; and faith takes God to be God, resting on Him in every fresh discovery of need and barrenness, and finding Him to be all He has promised, in His own unfailing "I will."

But there is more than promise in the call. Promise is its strength; but linked with this there is the separating word, "Get thee out," calling for prompt obedience. Grace saves. It is the promise which sets the heart at rest; which brings us from idolatry and distance to happy confidence. But the faith, which rests on God's "I will," hears God's purpose also to separate His saved ones unto Himself. There is to be, not only peace, but separation. So the word of truth comes, commanding sanctification. Man has often divided between grace and truth, preaching God's "I will," without the accompanying "Get thee out;" or attempting to separate men to God with a "Get thee out," without a full apprehension of God's "I will." The result has proved that this is not God's call. Where He calls, both grace and truth are ever found. So with the Apostles. Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, (Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that sat in gross darkness,) saw two brethren, Simon and Andrew, casting a net into the sea; and He called them and said, "Follow me:" -- here is separation: -- "and I will make you fishers of men:" -- here is the never-failing "I will" (Matt. 4:19). So again, "Come unto me, all ye that labour:" -- here is separation, for He was "separate" (Heb. 7:26): then follows the promise, "I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28). So again, in the well-known words, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: wherefore come out and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you" (2 Cor 6:17, 18).

And these two points are yet in the Lord's call, nor can the spirit of faith afford to part with either. At times, indeed, for "the flesh is weak," even faith may shrink from all that the separating word claims for it. We are slow to believe that apostate things are to be forsaken, not improved. We would fain mend them, rather than leave them. How many, both in the world within and without, are attempting to put the evil to rights, when God's word respecting both is only, "Get thee out." But the Lord is faithful; and where He has appeared, the way of separation or sanctification will be trodden: and, indeed; "the spirit is willing," if the flesh is weak.

But this leads us to the way in which the call was obeyed. The word was, -- "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house." Abram gat him out from his country, and even from his kindred, but not from his father's house. He attempts to take his father, and his father's house, with him (Gen. 11:31). He obeys, but not wholly. So is it yet. The spirit of faith in us, when called to go forth from the outward things of Ur of the Chaldeans, -- the ground of reasoning, where Babel is built up, -- is called of God to leave, not only the more outward things, such as "thy country," but the more inward also, the "kindred and father's house." Some are more outward, as natural pleasures and affections; and some more inward, as "the old man," and "father's house." Of these the outward things are sooner left than the inward; for nature yet is strong, and the old life is still very near and dear to us. So, like Abram of old, the spirit of faith in us endeavours to take with it into the land of promise the old man of our corrupt mind which has never truly known the call of God. But this old man, though ready to start for Canaan, never reaches it. It cares not to go so far. Nay, while it lives, even the elect, if he abides with it, cannot reach his destination. Journeying thus, Abram gets halfway to Canaan: so we read, -- "They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and they came to Charran and dwelt there." And there they stopped until this old man died. Then Abram starts again: and now nothing stops him; for now, "they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came." (Compare Gen. 12:5 and Gen. 11:31.) Stephen, alluding to Abram's call, specially marks this: -- "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I will shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran; and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell" (Acts 7:2-4). (Note: Ambrose gives the inward sense, Ambros. de Abr. l. ii. c. 1.)

"So Abram departed." So starts the spirit of faith. Great is the struggle to leave "country and kindred and father's house." To go forth "not knowing whither we go" is trial enough. To go forth from "father's house" at once seems impossible. Thus the old man of our fallen spiritual life, though it cannot really help us to Canaan, is still clung to. Indeed, at first it seems to help us. It is written, not Abram took Terah, but "Terah took Abram" (Gen. 11:31); for often some energy, which is really corrupt, is active, apparently in a good direction, when the elect is called. But Terah never passes Jordan; he can but reach Charran. Having got thus far, he has been pilgrim long enough; and so "he dwells there." (Note: This place is mentioned as Laban's home, Gen. 27:43; as a place easily conquered by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 19:12; and, lastly, as having an extensive trade with Tyre, Ezek. 27:23. All this is significant.)

We are slow to learn this lesson, but it must be learnt. Even faith cannot take the old man into the place of promise. Jordan is not really passed. Often has it been tried; but the old life cannot be brought into heavenly places beyond that "stream of judgment," with its deep waterfloods. (Note: Jordan, Heb. yarden [H3383], meaning "the stream of judgment," -- if with Jerome we derive it from dan [H1777, H1835], (Hieron. Comment. in Ezech. xlvii. 18,) the stream which must be passed by Israel, if they would enter Canaan, is the well-known figure of that death by which we enter heavenly things. If, however, with Augustine, (Enar. in Psalm. xli. [E.V. 42,] 6,) and Gregory the Great, (Moral. in Job, l. xxxiii. c. 6, 13,) we derive the word from yarad [H3381], to come down, and regard Jordan as the figure of that self-abasement, which is a death to self, through which every one must pass who would enter into rest, the lesson is, in substance, the same.) Thus we are in a strait. A new bond draws us heavenward, but the old one as yet has claims on us. So we start with both: we get "out of our country," and the old man for many stages bears us company; but at length he wearies of this path; Canaan is too far off: and so with him for a season faith too settles down. But in due time we are freed. The time must come at last, when we discover this much loved old man to be dead, and that he must be buried out of sight. Hitherto, spite of the call, we have acted as though the old man might be saved, or improved, or taken with us. But now the meaning of our baptism dawns upon us; the call is recollected, and we become once more pilgrims. This is no fable. Once, with the old man leading us, we went forth to go into the land of Canaan; but we only got to Charran, and dwelt there. But the old man was buried: then again we started to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan we came.

But though Terah cannot enter Canaan, Lot, another form of life, closely allied to the old man of our former conversation, and from which Abram, or the spirit of faith, has at length to be separated, goes on some stages further with him (Gen. 12:4). Our blindness makes it hard to speak of this. Few perceive that the inward man, or mind, like the body, is not one member, but many, consisting of many faculties, both of the understanding and affections, the former of which are figured by men, the latter by women, throughout Scripture. But thus it is; and Lot is one of these. As the son of Abram's elder brother, he is the continuation and fruit of what is first and natural, the same old life, only in another form; submitting awhile to be under the direction of true faith, to shew at last its true character. Lot is the natural upright mind in us, not spiritual, yet respecting truth, and, to a considerable degree, following it; scarcely to be distinguished at first from the spirit of faith in us, but with undeveloped tendencies such as the spirit of faith never manifests; just (2 Pet. 2:7), yet loving what the spirit of faith loves not, and at length resting, or seeking to rest, where the spirit of faith cannot rest; till it bears sad fruits, which faith could not produce, and which at a further stage are, like Moab and Ammon, in direct opposition to God's elect Israel. (Note: Moab and Ammon are the children of Lot, Gen. 19:37, 38.) Such a mind still dwells with us, though our old man, like Terah, is confessed to be both dead and buried. (Note: Origen alludes to this inward Lot, in his comment on John 8:39. Ambrose also, De Abr. l. ii. c. 2, and 6. In this view we should not forget that Lot's name signifies a covering. He is not the true inner man.) But this will not be clear to all; for souls, as bodies, live in happy unconsciousness of what is working in them. And indeed though the workings of nature and grace are a sight for some, they work on as well, perhaps even better, unperceived by us.

Having thus passed Jordan, let us mark the trials into which the spirit of faith at once is introduced. Many for lack of knowing this are stumbled, even when through grace they are in the right way, finding it so unlike that which flesh and blood would have chosen. We read here of pilgrimage and difficulty and want, yet of communion with God and happy worship. And these are still some of the chief marks of the position into which true faith brings the believer.

Pilgrimage is noticed first. "Abram passed through the land, to the place of Sichem, and to Moreh; and he removed from thence into a mountain, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east; and Abram journeyed, going and journeying still toward the south" (Gen. 12:6-9). Nahor abides without change where his fathers dwelt before him, and builds a city, which he calls after his own name (Gen. 24:10). Abram dwells in tents to the end, possessing nothing abiding here, save a burial-place.

And the spirit in us which obeys God's call will even yet dwell in tents and be a pilgrim. The old man may rest in outward things and be settled, but the spirit of faith has here no certain dwelling-place. Its tent is often searched by rains and winds; yet by these very trials it grows strong and is kept from many snares. For the called one cannot be as Moab, "settled on his lees." "Moab hath been at ease even from his youth; he hath settled on his lees; he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remaineth in him, his scent is not changed" (Jer. 48:11). Abram, and David, and Israel, have all been emptied from vessel to vessel. Pilgrimage is their appointed lot, because true life is always progressing, moving. In the course of this discipline, trials befall them which others never meet with; failures, too, are seen, such as we never see in the prudent, worldly man. When did Nahor go down to Egypt, or deny his wife? When did Saul, like David, go down to Achish, and play the madman? But in this same course God is seen, and man is learnt. Man, indeed, is abased, but God is glorified. The pilgrim "learns what is in his heart." He cannot easily forget what his pilgrimage has taught him of his own weaknesses. Once he might, like Eve, have believed the word, "Ye shall be as gods." Pilgrimage has proved that even faith is not a god, but only a vessel to receive God. Thus by trial does faith learn God; and the true discovery of Him more than compensates for all the self-despair, which has been the means of making us acquainted with Him.

Thus Abram passed from place to place; from Ur to Haran, then to Sichem and Moreh, thence to Bethel and Hai, and so on. (Note: On the mystic import of each of these places, the early Fathers have written much. See Ambrose, De Abr. l. i. c. 2. As to the "mountain on the east of Bethel," Ibid. l. ii c. 3. We may compare with this Augustine's spiritual interpretation of Sichem, on the words, "I will divide Sichem." -- Enar. in Psalm. lix. (E.V. 60,) 8. St. Paul's explanation of Salem is well known, Heb. 7:2.) He was what some now call changeable. And further, he went "he knew not whither." This is yet the common charge against the walk of faith. How often have I heard it urged against those, who, in faith and obedience to the call of God, have made no small sacrifices, that they are changeful, here to-day, and there to-morrow; that it is difficult from year to year to know where we may find them. Others, if they are snugly housed in some "city of the nations," some great or small system or polity of man's making, may be reckoned on with some certainty. We can tell where to find them even to the end. They can boast, too, of their consistency. Where they were at first, there they are still. They have never altered a single view, because they have never taken a single step forward. But this faith, which talks of God's having called it, is unmanageable. Men in whom such a spirit rules, however comfortably they are settled to-day, may be off, we know not where, to-morrow. And what do they get by it? Plainly nothing. One thing only is plain: a man who talks of the call of God is not the man to be trusted with the care of this world's cities. He is a madman. So the world has judged long since: so it judges yet: nor indeed is it wholly in the wrong. A madman is one who sees, or thinks he sees, what others see not; and seeing such things, he walks accordingly. The called of God has seen what others see not, and he walks accordingly; and those who see not what he has seen must think him mad; and his failures and inconsistencies, the fruits of his unbelief in the path of faith, only make him more unintelligible. Nevertheless the Lord knoweth them that are His. And, much as there is for self-humiliation in the path of such, there are eyes which can see how these very changes, and even failures, only shew more clearly that the path trodden is one, not of sight or nature, but of faith. All this will probably appear very absurd to those who think that a walk of faith begins or is carried on from some calculations of its effects on others, or of the credit it may bring. That inward man, which hears God's call and walks with Him, is led often it knows not whither. Scarce understanding itself, often misunderstanding its appointed way, no wonder if others misunderstand it. But the Lord knoweth the path of His elect; and when He hath tried them, they shall come forth as gold.

But the spirit of faith is not a pilgrim only: Abram has an "altar" as well as a tent; in worship receiving fresh revelations. "The Lord appeared to Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord" (Gen. 12:7, 8). In Ur of the Chaldees God had said, -- "A land which I will shew thee:" now He says, -- "A land which I will give thee." And let it be observed, that here "the Lord appeared." Before this He had "called," and "spoken" to Adam, and Cain, and Noah, and Abram; but we never hear of His "appearing" until now; for it is to the spirit of faith, above all others, that the Lord shews Himself; for faith brings man into trial, and trial needs special revelations, and these are not withheld. Angels' visits are only few and far between, because we so seldom are in the place really to require them.

The special trials of this stage are, first, "the Canaanite," and then "a grievous famine," in the land (Gen. 12:6, 10). Canaan, the son of Ham, as we have seen, figures that mere outward religiousness which grows even out of the regenerate man. (Note: See above, on chap. 9 and 10.) This is felt by the spirit of faith, when it attempts to enter into heavenly things. The famine shews how the ground on which true faith must stand is indeed a "land of promise," not of present rest. The Canaanite holds it, and famine strips it, till the spirit of faith knows scarcely where to turn itself. And this is the walk with God, with the sense of sin and want sorely pressing us. We may once have hoped through obedience to be wholly freed from such. We may yet think it strange that such fiery trial should be needed, or that the rest so surely promised should yet be kept from us by others, and they the Lord's enemies. Yet such is the path; for the question is, -- Can we be satisfied with God? And many a weary step is trodden before we have made this attainment.

In Abram's case the trial led to failure for a while. The Canaanite and the famine drove him down to Egypt. The faith which gets on to the ground of promise at first has not strength to be steadfast there. Indeed, it requires more grace to stand on the ground to which faith brings us, than to get upon it. Peter had faith to step out on the waters, but he had not faith to walk far when there: he had faith to follow Jesus into the high priest's palace, but he lacked faith while there to witness faithfully. Every act of faith brings us into greater trials, where greater faith will be needed. Thus it is that many who walk by faith have failures, which those know not who do not attempt so much. So it was with Abram. Two stages are marked in his failure: first, trial leads him down to Egypt, and then Egypt leads him to deny his wife. The first step led to the second; for one wrong step, like one lie, if it be not immediately retraced, requires another. The first error was walking by circumstances. Then a step is taken to avoid trial, without asking the Lord's counsel. Then the Lord, and His counsel and care, being for the time forgotten, His promise respecting the seed is forgotten also; and the result is, Sarah is soon in Pharaoh's house; while failing Abram is well entreated for her sake: -- "He had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels" (Gen. 12:15, 16).

Egypt, meaning straitness, or that straitens, (Note: Heb. mitsrayim, [H4693]. This type is very generally understood. Ambrose, De Abr. l. ii. c. 4, 13. Augustine, Enar. in Psalm. cxiii. (E.V. 114,) 3. Gregory the Great, Moral. in Job., l. xxvi. c. 13, 21.) is the ground of sense; outwardly, those who are living the life of sense, that is, in seen things; as Asshur or Assyria is the type of reasoning; outwardly, of those whose life being one of reasoning, by such reasonings pervert and darken truth. (Note: Asshur, ashshur [H804], means steps. Reasoning is a series of steps.) These both are snares on the right and left for Israel; though both at length to be used and blessed, as the Lord distinctly promises (Isa. 19:23-25). For when "the Egyptian serves with the Assyrian" both are "blessed." But here Abram, the spirit of faith, tried by the difficulties on the ground of promise, goes down to seek rest in Egypt, that is, the ground of sense; rightly called straitness, for it is indeed a narrow land, not watered as Canaan with the rain of heaven (Deut. 11:10-12; Zech. 14:18), but by its river, which one day threatens to destroy the sons of Israel. Yet not to Egyptians only is Egypt an enchanting land; it has charms which are felt even by God's elect, treasures gathered up through years of proud empire, and a wisdom which left no room for faith. Here comes the elect, thinking to find some refuge; and here Sarah is at once denied with an equivocation. Women, in this inward view, are certain affections. Sarah is the affection or principle of spiritual truth. (Note: See below on chap. 16.) In Egypt Sarah is denied: those affections which the spirit of faith ought to defend and cherish most carefully, (for from them must spring the promised fruit,) are brought into danger of defilement from earthly things. For Pharaoh at once desires to have Sarah, and is only kept from violating her by the Lord's immediate judgments. So does sense now seek to enter into the things of faith, and, could it do so, it would at once violate them. But the Lord saves them: Sarah is not defiled; and Abram, being reproved, turns again, and so departs from Egypt.


But this will be clearer to some as seen without. In this view Abram is the type of those in whom faith is the ruling life, that is, the men of true faith. Such are found by God, when members of a fallen Church, serving idols, and barren, and nigh to Great Babylon. There the Lord's voice is heard, and they who hear it start at once, leaving kindred and country, to go they know not whither. These are the works of Abraham, which must be done, if indeed and in truth we would be Abraham's children: for the Truth has said, "If ye were Abraham's seed, ye would do the works of Abraham (John 8:39); (Note: Origen's comment on this verse contains many very striking thoughts. See Com. in Johan. tom. xxi.) and his first work was to go forth with God, not knowing whither he went. So walk the men of faith, whose faith is believing in God, not in what others believe about God. Nevertheless, for awhile they seek to take some with them, who, never having personally heard the inward call of God, though ready to begin the course, will never be willing or able to cross over Jordan. With such even believers can only go half-way. But in due time the Terahs are found to be dead; when, leaving them, not without tears, the elect gird up their loins and go on over Jordan. Then come the first trials of the promised land, Canaanites and famine, which drive us down to Egypt. There, while seeking a little rest, Sarah is denied, that is, the spiritual principles of the New Covenant. Believers hope, by denying their true relation to this, to gain greater safety and liberty. Who knows not how common this is? Sarah, the principle of grace, is denied, that failing Abrams may have, as they say, greater liberty, a wider field of usefulness. Take an example. Circumstances of trial have brought believers off their true ground of promise into worldly things. Such love Sarah. Nothing is dearer to them than the covenant of grace. Yet Sarah is again and again denied. And as of old, so now, the thing is done with an equivocation: -- "Say thou art my sister." Words are used to Egyptians, which, though true in a sense, are not true in the sense in which Egyptians take them. So now, men called of God, who believe we are saved by grace, and that neither ordinances nor flesh can make a Christian, will so far practically give up Sarah as to lead the world to think that, as the world, the New Covenant can yet be theirs. This may be done in many ways. Meanwhile the men who know the truth and love it, and yet act thus, have an equivocation which they think clears them. They do not mean by certain words what others naturally gather from them. And though they see they are misunderstood, they still persist. According to these men, the equivocation, "Say thou art my sister," is all right. It is no harm running the risk of mixing or defiling the holy seed. According to these men, Sarah may be a mother of Egyptians; and no thanks to such if God's grace prevents it. The consequence is, even an Egyptian can rebuke Abram. So far from a greater sphere of usefulness, the equivocation deprives the elect of all power over the other's conscience. But Sarah cannot be a mother of Egyptians. The Lord appears to vindicate Himself and free His failing servant. "The Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues, because of Sarai, Abram's wife. And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? So I might have taken her to me for wife. Now therefore behold thy wife: take her and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him, and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had" (Gen. 12:17-20). Thus was Abram delivered: thus even now are individuals freed: thus shall the poor captive Church escape at last. The world will not have us among them, because our principles judge them: and God will not have us there. In this one thing God and the world agree. Both, at last, say to us, "Behold thy wife: take her and go thy way." (Note: Augustine, Contr. Faust. Man. l. xxii. c. 38, traces at considerable length the dispensational fulfilment of this history. In this view Sarah is the Church, or New Covenant body, which, in its way to the land of rest, gets into the world's house for awhile, but is not suffered to be defiled there.)

Such was and is the path of faith. To not a few now living, these first stages are well known, and familiar as household words. I knew a man in Christ, above fourteen years ago, -- no question is it, whether he was in the body, -- who being called by grace, when he was serving other gods, obeyed in part, seeking to take the uncalled with him into the promised land. And I knew such a man, that, though he went forth to go into the land, yet he only got half way, and dwelt there; the old man, whom he took with him, hindering his advance, until, as days passed on, he found the old man dead; when, having buried him, he became what the men of that country called "unsettled," seeking to go further. So he went forth again to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan now he came. Heavenly things and places, once heard of, were seen; but withal, there was trial, and ere long famine. Then Egypt was turned to, and Sarah was denied, till grace restored the wandering pilgrim. And that grace is yet as near as of old. None can look for it far off or near, and look in vain. Is a ruined world around us, with monstrous births, gigantic evils, the fruit of strange unions between the sons of God and men? -- then an ark is prepared, to admit not only the Noahs, but even for unclean and creeping things, if they will enter it; which shall take them from the world of the curse, and of the thorn, to the world of the covenant and the rainbow, beyond the waters. Is the ruin deeper still, a ruined Church, which, brought through the waters, has misused its blessings and exposed its shame; which has bred fierce hunters, or built great Babels? -- God yet remains; and His grace, if sought, is yet enough for every failure, in the world, in the Church, in our flesh, or in our ways. He cannot fail. He grudges nothing. He has freely given His Only Son. In Him are hid for us eternal countless gifts. In Him, the true Restorer of all things, we are accepted; and He waits that those things, which are hid in Him for us, may by Him be wrought in us through His Spirit. And if, to know His fulness, we need to know our emptiness, -- if our ruin is the complement of His sufficient grace, -- most gladly let us glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us.

But it is time to pass on to another stage in this path.


Chapter 13

WE saw in creation a separating process, before a perfecting one: we shall see it again and again in man's development. Abram separated from Ur, and from Terah, and from Egypt, has further to be separated from Lot also, before he can be perfected; for it is only "after that Lot was separated from him, that the Lord said unto him, Lift up now thine eyes, for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it." The particulars of this separation are fully given; and painful as it is, happy are they in whom it is accomplished.

Abram and Lot, as we have seen, within, represent the spiritual and the upright natural mind respectively, which seem at first so closely united, that for awhile we are scarcely conscious of any distinction or difference between them; so unitedly do they move and act together, like the shell and kernel of a nut, which in its unripe state are scarcely to be distinguished, still less to be separated, but which, in proportion as they ripen, acquire and manifest a distinct separateness. So Lot, our upright natural mind, for a season, takes step for step with the spirit of faith in our advance to good things; but as we proceed we see they are not one, for nature at its best desires and longs for that which faith has given up. From the first God sees they are distinct; for Abram "walks with God," but Lot, (again and again is it noticed,) "walks with Abram." (See Gen. 12:4; 13:1, 5, &c.) Nevertheless, long after faith perceives the old man to be dead, it yet strives, if possible, to bring the natural mind into unity with itself; toiling that the outward should be as the inward, the natural as the spiritual, for it feels the bond of kindred to this outward man, saying as Abram to Lot, "We are brethren" (Gen. 13:8). (Note: Ambrose, De Abr. l. ii. c. 6, 28. Origen, Hom. vi. in Gen.) It seeks, therefore, first by grace to take it heavenward; yet the giving of it up may be the real way to greater perfection in the inner man: for the outward man being thus allowed to go his way, the spirit of faith may be freer and have less distraction. So Paul, while praising a single life, and the higher privilege of an entire victory over natural affections and the natural man, writes to the Corinthians, that if they cannot at once restrain those affections, which though lawful are merely natural, they may yield to them (1 Cor. 7:7-9). What is this but letting Lot, the outward man, have his way, for the greater peace and freedom of the inner man. So the spirit of faith in us, finding this outer man to be, like Lot, though "righteous," yet earthy, gives it its way; and thus gradually learns both to be and to feel itself more distinct and really separated from it; though for stages after this, faith yet sighs over it, and makes more than one effort to save it from the judgments which it brings upon itself. (Note: The inward fulfilment of each particular here is traced at considerable length by Ambrose; De Abr. l. ii. c. 6, 31.)

Such is the general import of this scene, as wrought within; but the particulars are, for such as can read them in this light, no less instructive. For instance, the ground where this takes place is not in Egypt, but when Abram has come back again to the place whence trial had driven him; for, be it observed, Abram is brought back to that very point from which he had swerved to go down to Egypt, even "to the place where his tent was at the first" (Gen. 13:3). Places figure certain states; indeed, the word "state" simply means a "standing place." (Note: Status, from stare, to stand.) So the soul comes back to the ground it once held, with increased apprehension of its value, after the experiences of Egypt. And here, on the ground of promise, it is that Lot finds an occasion to depart from Abram; here, while the spirit of faith would stand on the promise, the outward man makes some gift the occasion of going his own way. Thus does the advance of our spirit ever bring out and test the old man. None have so proved what the natural man is as those who have come into the light of heavenly things. For heavenly things and places, if they do not excite, at least expose, the flesh. The natural man, which can be quiet in natural things, cannot rest when we approach to what is spiritual; so true is it that what is good for the pure is evil to the impure, so that heaven is hell to some, and darkness and blindness are mercy to those who do not love the light. Thus Abram's advance brought out what was in Lot; but Lot's gifts or riches helped to bring about the separation, being not the cause, indeed, but the occasion of strife. Abram and Lot were both rich, although in different ways. "Lot had flocks, and herds, and tents." Abram had these, but was "very rich in silver and in gold" also (Gen. 13:2, 5). The outward man can and does possess much; but the gold and the silver, that is, the higher forms of truth, are not those which he obtains, or even wishes for. (Note: See above, respecting the metals, on chap. 4. Ambrose writes of the different riches of Abram and Lot, De Abr. l. ii. c. 5, 20 and 24.) The "flocks" lead to the strife. What are these but those animal emotions which, as they belong to Abram or Lot, are under the power either of the spirit of faith or of the outward man; and the thoughts which direct these, and keep them from wandering, are their "herdsmen," who strive together for mastery. (Note: I am almost afraid to speak of this, though saints of old have done so; but the following passage from the comment of Ambrose on this chapter, will prove that the interpretation in the text is at least no novelty: -- De Abr. l. ii. c. 6, 27.) And faith, not yet possessing, but waiting for, power, yields for a season, receiving in the place of Lot greater revelations of the loving will of God. For "the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land thou seest, to thee will I give it. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee" (Gen. 13:14-17). (Note: Ambros. de Abr. l. ii. c. 7, 37.) And so when we reach this stage, and Lot departs, -- when the spirit of faith is made to feel its difference even from the upright outward mind, -- we find that there are lengths and breadths, toward the north and south, toward the sun-setting, and toward the sun-rising, in directions toward coldness and warmth, toward light and darkness, of which as yet we have not so much as heard; and all this again and again secured by the unfailing "I will." So faith goes on. Having already reached Bethel, it now comes on as far as Hebron. Bethel is "the house of God;" Hebron is "fellowship" (Gen. 13:18). (Note: The import of the name Bethel (bethel [H1008]) is well known. Hebron (chebron [H2275], from chabar [H2266], to be joined together,) means fellowship. Hebron is called Mamre, see Gen. 35:27, meaning vision. See on chap. 18.) Having known worship, faith now apprehends communion. In due time it gets still further, but at present it rests at Hebron.


Such is this scene within. Its fulfilment in the world without may to some be more intelligible. In this view Abram is the man of faith, who, having already left the ground of nature, after some declension is again escaping from the world. Such men of faith, coming up out of Egypt, have to come back to the very point whence trial had driven them (Gen. 13:4). They "come up" (Gen. 13:1), (Note: In Scripture, going into Egypt is always "going down," and coming out of it is always "coming up." Within the borders of the land also, when the elect goes farther into its interior, it always is "going up." See Gen. 35:1; Joshua 7:2-4. So too from the interior to Jerusalem is "going up." -- 1 Kings 12:27, 28; 2 Kings 20:5, 8; Matt. 20:18; Mark 10:33. The reason for this lies, first, in the form of the country, and yet more in the spiritual reality of which Canaan and Egypt were formed to be types. Origen goes at great length into this, Hom. xv. in Gen. xlv. ad init.) for Egypt is low ground, and the ground of promise, on which they would again stand, needs some patient climbing if we would possess it. They come, step by step, "from Egypt to the South," then "from the South," then "to Bethel," and so on (Gen. 13:1-3); (Note: Augustine, Annot. in Job, vol. iii. p. 669, refers to the mystic sense of "the South.") for not by a single step can a believer get right when his failure in faith has taken him out of the way. But having reached Bethel, worship begins again: -- "Abram called upon the name of the Lord." In Egypt Abram had no altar, for communion with the world mars communion with the Lord; but as soon as the pilgrimage is renewed, the altar again has its appointed feast and offering.

This is a point on which some have much to learn. They hope for communion with the Lord while still in worldliness, as if the Lord's altar could stand yet in Egypt, and attendance at it be the common privilege of believers and unbelievers; so little difference do they see between Pharaoh's kingdom and the promised land, between this world and heavenly places. But such things cannot be as yet. Israel may indeed "sigh and cry," even in the house of bondage; but worship and communion belong to higher ground. So when Pharaoh said to Moses, "Go and sacrifice to God in this land," Moses said, "It is not meet to do so; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?" (Exod. 8:26, 27). Here is the reason why the elect cannot worship with Egyptians. Because the worship of the Church and world are so opposed, that the one is "an abomination" to the other. Israel slays and sacrifices what Egyptians worship. Israel sees that the ox and lamb must shed their blood. Israel knows why this is, and does not grudge it. Egyptians cannot understand it. The ox is their god. Hence the Church, if bound by the world, ceases to worship, or else, like the unfaithful remnant in Jeremiah's days, worships as Egyptians do (Jer. 44:15-17). But here the man of faith is come to Bethel, "to the place of the altar," and there "he calls upon the Lord."

But this high ground has its own trials. Those who, like Lot, until now have walked with men of faith, when they come to this point find reasons for going back; and this, though trying to the elect, is good, for as outward men drop away from us, the Lord more and more reveals Himself.

What Lot is we have already seen. Inwardly, he represents that upright outward mind, which goes some steps with faith towards heavenly things. Outwardly, he represents those in whom this outward mind is the ruling life, whose souls live in religious outward things. Of this class some ever start with men of faith. The Abrams "walk with God;" the Lots "go with Abram" (Gen. 12:4; 13:1, 5). These last are the men who take right steps because others take them, who make sacrifices because others do so, rather than because a present God calls for such a step or such a sacrifice. Such, sooner or later, will shew what they are, righteous souls, but wholly unable to walk where the men of faith walk, leaving them as soon as they resolutely press on to the best things, and destined to beget a seed, like Moab and Ammon, to be a thorn in the side of the seed of the men of faith.

And gift ever helps on this division: to this day "flocks and herds" are an occasion for manifesting the tastes, and thus of separating the inward and spiritual from the righteous outward man; while the cause lies in this, that one seeks heaven, the other is still in measure hankering after this world. Yet the gifts are only the occasion: the cause was this, that one had an eye turned to the plain of Jordan, while the other looked onward into the hills of promise. For we read, that "Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw the plain of Jordan, that it was like the land of Egypt" (Gen. 13:10). In this to him lay its attractiveness. Hence, as soon as the "herds" and "flocks" gave an excuse, he at once separates himself, and goes down Jordan-ward. These "flocks," in this view, are those lower natures, those animal souls, who are ruled and led, some by outward, some by spiritual men, -- for each have their own flocks, -- and the strifes of the herdsmen, who lead these respective flocks, are the occasion for the Lots to leave the Abrams. Oh! what strife has there been about flocks! It is not numbers, nor an abundance of gift, which can make brethren dwell together in unity. Rather will gifts be an occasion for strife; for schism is the growth, not of spiritual poverty, but of spiritual wealth. Hence, at Corinth, where "they lacked no gift," there was strife among the herdsmen, the more because the gifts abounded, while they were "yet carnal." (Compare 1 Cor. 1:7 with 1 Cor. 3:1.)

And this happens not in Egypt, but as soon as the men of faith seek unflinchingly to go up to the higher ground the Lord has promised them. Lot does not depart from Abram in Egypt. While Christians are in the world, its habits and institutions, and the barriers which these raise between man and man, are enough to preclude strifes between brethren. Besides, the outward man has enough while in the world to satisfy his outward tastes. But when Egypt is left, brethren are thrown together in a way hitherto all unknown. Now comes the test to prove their grace, for few things search us more than collision with our brethren. (Note: So Thomas a Kempis says, "It is no small matter to dwell in a religious community or congregation, to converse therein without complaint, and to persevere therein faithfully unto death." -- Book i. chap. 17.) Then the lack of outward things stirs up the outward man. Well do worldly-minded Christians know this, and wisely do they choose the lower ground, where their natural tastes find more that is in accordance with them; where outward things keep them from coming to themselves, and what they are remains undiscovered by them; where thus their weakness may be mistaken for strength, and circumstances take the place of grace. For, indeed, till we are stript of things around, we little know what spirit dwells in us; so much do the things of time and sense without keep us from discovering what really we are within. Hence, some never know what restless selfish souls they have, until the things which have kept them from themselves are for ever taken from them. Others, who by trials get glimpses of themselves, instead of going on to search out the evil hidden in them, that they may overcome it, seek rather to hide it from themselves and others, and, to do this, continually seek more and more of outward things. But faith is content to learn itself, if it may learn God. It would rather be weak with Him than strong without Him.

Thus, for awhile, is the path of faith more lonely. The true believer is more than ever cast on God. The Lots "choose" according to the sight of their eyes; and so, by degrees, get from communion with the godly to communion with the godless. Unlike souls, sooner or later, must separate. If there be not one spirit, no bond or arrangement can keep men long together. Each is gravitating to his own place by a law which none can gainsay, -- dust to dust, and the spirit to God, who is a spirit. Let us not forget the steps of Lot. First "he saw;" then "he chose;" then "he journeyed from the east," like some before him; then "he pitched towards Sodom;" then "he dwelt there" (Gen. 13:10-12). (Note: In our version, the words miquedem, in Gen. 13:11, which, in Gen. 11:2, are translated "from the east," are here simply translated "east." The LXX. in both places render it apo anatolon. The Vulgate also gives, "ab oriente," which the Douay Version follows, translating, "from the east.") In a word, he walked by sight, then by self-will, then away from the light, then towards the unclean world, at last to make his home in it. This is the path of Lots in every age. And such, though "righteous" and "saved," are only "saved so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15).

The separation accomplished, the Lord appears, not to the righteous one who goes towards Sodom, but to him who still abides in the path of faith. To souls left by brethren, the Lord draws near, to tell us that if, by standing on the ground of promise, we lose brethren, we do not lose Him. "The Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes." As if to say, Lot hath of his own will lifted up his eyes: he hath seen what he can from his stand-point. Now lift up thine eyes, and see from my stand-point. "Look from the place where thou art, northward, southward, eastward, westward." Fear not to look whence the cold cometh, and towards the place of heat, towards the light, and towards darkness. As yet little knowest thou of all these. But "all that thou seest, to thee will I give it." And mark the advance in the revelation here. First, the promise respecting the land was, "A land which I will shew thee:" then, when come into the land, the promise ran, "To thy seed will I give it:" now it is, "To thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever." (Compare Gen. 12:1, 7 and Gen. 13:15.) Then follows the exhortation, "Arise, walk through the land," -- learn by experience what it is, -- "in the length of it and in the breadth of it, for I will give it thee."

Such is another stage of faith's way; and trying as the separation here described is, both in the inward and outward world, it is one we must know, if we would know the best things. Surely he who thus loses brethren or children or lands receives a hundredfold.


Chapter 14

WE come now to the conflicts into which the spirit of faith is drawn, in its endeavours to deliver and save the outward man, which yet is dear to it. The letter tells of the part which Abram took in the wars which the seed of Shem carry on against the seed of Ham; for of the kings whose contests are here described, four are of Shem's, and five of Ham's seed (Gen. 14:1-16). In spirit we see here the conflicts into which our faith is drawn, through the workings of certain powers springing from the Shem and Ham within us, in hopes of freeing and saving that outward man, of which Lot is the appointed figure.

First, to mark it within. To understand this we must remember what Shem and Ham represent respectively. They are certain minds growing out of the regenerate soul, which as years roll on produce many varying forms of life. (Note: See on chap. 10.) Now we read that before Lot left Abram, and before Abram entered into this conflict, the kings of the line of Shem, -- Shinar, Elam, and the rest, -- had been engaged in overcoming certain giants and others of the line of Ham, that is, certain reasoning powers springing from the contemplative mind in us, though much debased and fallen, as Shinar and Elam were, yet strive to overcome those open and gigantic evils, which, like the Rephaim, spring out of Ham, that is, the darkened and rebellious mind. These gigantic evils are put down by Shem's seed; but another branch of Ham's race, namely, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrha, rise in rebellion; when again Shem's seed strive to restrain them, and after sore conflict do overcome them. At this point the conflict of these two seeds touches Abram, that is, the spirit of faith; for Lot, the outward mind, having departed from Abram or faith, is taken captive by the kings of Shinar and Elam, those reasoning powers which grow out of the contemplative mind, and is only delivered by an effort of faith, and even so only delivered for a season, for Lot again returns to dwell in Sodom. (Note: Ambrose traces the inward fulfilment, De Abr. l. ii. c. 7, 41. As to the numbers here, viz. five and four, Augustine says, that five always refers to something connected with the senses. -- Enar. in Ps. xlix. (E.V. 50,) 9; Tract. in Johan. xv. 21, and xxiv. 5. He instances the five barley loaves, the five husbands of the woman of Samaria, the five brothers of the rich man, and other fives, as all connected with the five senses; while four is always connected with the world. -- Serm. cclii. c. 10; De diebus Pasch. The mystical serpent of the Hindoos is generally represented with five heads, which are said to signify the five senses. See Payne Knight's Inquiry into the Symbolical Language of Mythology, p. 56.)

But all this effort on Lot's behalf, fruitless as it seems, -- for Lot returns to Sodom, and settles down where he is only saved so as by fire, -- brings into view the mind of faith in its relations to those powers which are figured by the contending kings. Abram stands apart from all. From such powers faith receives no help, waiting for its portion from the Lord Himself, and when it pleases Him; and while thus refusing to be enriched on earth, suddenly receiving gifts from One, whom as yet it knows but little of. For now the Prince of Peace comes in and makes a feast; and faith strengthened by such food is proof against all the seductions of the king of Sodom, that is, the defiled and self-loving fleshly mind. (Note: Ambros. de Abr. l. ii. c. 8, 45.)

Such is the conflict figured here, true in thousands who cannot yet unravel it. They know that before faith comes their reasoning mind has striven to overcome certain gigantic evils in them, that some of these have been overcome, and that after this the evil apparently subdued has again burst out in them, and that again their reason has sought to master it. All this conflict they have known, and further that at a certain point, faith, which has now come, takes part in these struggles, seeking to bring the outward man to walk with the inner man. But the conflict, though felt, is not understood; and hence the picture of it here, as set forth in type, is unintelligible.


I therefore turn to trace it without, as it is fulfilled in the outward kingdom of the professing Church. The selfsame minds are there at work, but, the field being wider and more outward, their works are more visible.

In this view Abram's effort to save Lot figures the conflict into which true men of faith come in their attempts to deliver those of their brethren, who, like Lot, though righteous, yet cling to outward things, -- fightings in which true believers would have no part, were it not for the declension of their brothers, who go down Sodom-ward.

Here incidentally much light is thrown on the state of that world, from which by grace the man of faith is separated.

We read that the kings of Sodom and Shinar, with their respective allies, have long opposed each other bitterly; but all their wars have ended the same way: the king of Sodom is always conquered by Shinar or Babylon. (See Gen. 10:10; 11:2.) (Note: In Joshua 7:21, addereth shinar, "the garment of Shinar," is translated the "goodly Babylonish garment." See also Dan. 1:2 and Zech. 5:11.) The story is told at length. The king of Shinar first masters the king of Sodom. For a certain period, "twelve years," the king of Sodom pays tribute. At the expiration of this time he rebels. Then comes the king of Babylon with his allies, and smites first the Emims and other giants, and then all the country of the Amalekite; after which he routs the king of Sodom, who loses all his goods, but is not slain (Gen. 14:1-10).

The import of this is most plain. Shem's sons here strive with Ham's sons; shewing what bitter strife and keen controversy there is between the religious and the irreligious world, subsequent to regeneration. For the kings of Shinar and Elam are of Shem's seed, sons of him who passed the flood, but who have fallen from contemplation into mere reasonings, and so have perverted the best things. Sodom is the seed of cursed Ham, closely allied to Mizraim or Egypt, and in a land "like the land of Egypt" (Gen. 13:10), the figure of those who turn from the truth, and live in open ungodliness and shameless self-love. (Note: In the Apocalypse, the three great forms of the world set before us are Sodom, and Egypt, and Babylon. In Rev. 11:8, the great city is seen as "Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." This is the sensual and ignorant world. In chapters 17 and 18 the same great city is seen as Babylon: this is the religious world. In chap. 16, which foretells the "seven last plagues," we find the plagues of each of these cities. The "noisome sore" (Rev. 16:2), the "waters turned to blood" (Rev. 16:4), the "kingdom full of darkness" (Rev. 16:10), -- these are the plagues of Egypt (Exod. 9:8-11; 7:17-20; 10:21-23). The "drying up of the Euphrates, and the invasion of the kings of the East" (Rev. 16:12), -- this is the judgment of Babylon (Jer. 51:13, 36; 50:38; Isa. 44:27, 28). The "voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and great hail" (Rev. 16:18), -- this is the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19:24-25).) Now these two seeds, Shinar and Sodom, have at times great conflict and controversy. But always with one result; Sodom is no match for Babylon. The religious reasoning world can always master the irreligious world. Yea, though at times Sodom throws off the yoke, Babylon can always reimpose it. In these conflicts, too, Babylon (as a sword of God, for even "the wicked are His sword," Psalm 17:13,) is used to rid the world of certain gigantic evils: for the king of Babylon "smote the Rephaims, (or giants,) in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Emims, (who were also giants,) in Kiriathaim." (See Deut. 2:10-11.) (Note: I may add here, for it is significant, the rest of the history of these Rephaim. They were first smitten by Babylon: a remnant, however, was left till Joshua's days. -- Josh. 12:4; 13:12; 17:15. The last of these giants seem to have been slain in the time of the kingdom under David. -- 1 Chron. 20:4, 6, 8. They are never heard of when we get to Solomon's reign.) The religious world, in its conflicts with open irreligion, has plainly destroyed some gigantic and crying evils. But Babylonians are not therefore Israel: the religious world, though religious, is still the world. Babylonians may destroy Rephaim; at times it suits their purpose to do so, for there are evils in the world which stink even in the world's nostrils; nay, they may even "lay waste the field of the Amalekite and Mount Seir," for the flesh in some of its forms is hated by the religious world (Gen. 14:7). (Note: The Amalekite was one of Esau's sons. -- Gen. 36:1, &c. As such, as the offspring of him, who, as the rejected firstborn, has ever been one chief type of the flesh, Amalek, even as his father Esau, stands a type of the same flesh, though in rather a different aspect, and at a further stage. See more on this under chap. 36. Mount Seir was Esau's dwelling. -- Gen. 32:3; Deut. 2:5. It is "the field of the Amalekite," not the Amalekite, which the king of Shinar now lays waste. This is significant.) They can do all this, but they cannot walk with God. Nevertheless, they can overcome Sodom, though its king escapes them, to meet ere long his destruction from another hand.

Now "Lot dwelt in Sodom" (Gen. 14:12). This fact links the strifes of the religious and irreligious world with the walk of the man of faith. Abram at Hebron, a stranger with his tent, though he may hear these "rumours of wars," has no personal interest in them. Very different is it with those, who, like Lot, live in the world. To such the strifes of the religious or irreligious world must be of deepest moment. Thus many questions, with which we should have nothing to do, touch us simply because we are not where we ought to be; and thus the faithful too, who are in their place, are involved in conflicts through the captivity of their unfaithful brethren.

But this is not the doctrine of the world, for Sodom and Babylon both agree that the believer should not stand aloof from such controversies. Often have I heard the grounds on which both sides claim the pilgrim. Babylon, the religious world, cannot understand how persons claiming to be the called of God can hesitate to join them in opposing open evils. Gigantic evils, such as Emims and Rephaims, -- the sphere of the flesh's dominion, "the field of the Amalekite," -- and above all, "Sodom," the wicked world, with its many crimes, seem to Babylonians reason enough for the believer to join them in subduing such adversaries. On the other hand, there are some in Sodom, righteous souls living in too great contact with the irreligious world, who, having by experience known Babylonian bondage, are content, like Lot, to make common cause even with the godless and unclean, if only they can break the yoke of the king of Babylon. And such would like to see true believers with them; but from both is Abram separate, till his brother Lot is led away captive towards Babylon. Then does he come down from the quiet hills of promise to the strifes in which his brother is, giving up his ease to rescue a brother out of Babylonian captivity.

Thus is Abram brought into collision with Babylon, that is, the religious world. We never hear of his fighting with Sodom. His place is separation from and intercession for, not war against, it. But as respects the religious world, the believer at times, to free brethren, is forced to contend with it. And strange as it appears, that believers will not join in the strifes of Sodom or Babylon, it seems yet stranger that, if either are assailed, the religious world should be that which is fought against. But so it has been from Christ's days to these: Pharisees are judged, while open sinners are pitied. The motives of the men of faith are not seen or understood, and "though he discerneth all things, yet is he discerned of no man" (1 Cor. 2:15).

The result is, Lot is freed by Abram. The pilgrim brother (Note: Here only (Gen. 14:13), Abram is called "the Hebrew," ha ibriy [H5680], rendered by the LXX., ho perates, or the passenger.) is the means through whom deliverance comes. The man who has been alone with God is the man who can break the chains of Babylon for his unfaithful brethren. And many a gift yet comes to failing souls through brethren with whom they hold no communion, whom they judge as extreme in their views, and to whom they practically prefer the company of such as know not God. Sooner or later, however, God vindicates His own. The pilgrim brother is the helper in time of need.

This leads to trial of another sort. Abram, victor over the kings of Shinar and Elam, is tempted by the other king; for "the king of Sodom came out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer;" but Abram, strengthened by Melchisedek's bread and wine, and blessed by him, refuses the king of Sodom's proffered fellowship (Gen. 14:17-24).

Such a trial meets believers yet; the rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12; 1 Cor. 2:8), successfully opposed in one form, meet us in another. The hour of victory is the chosen time. Opposition to one form of evil brings us sometimes very near to other evil; and he who has been in collision with the religious world will surely be met by another spirit from the irreligious world. If the king of Shinar be slain or put to flight, the king of Sodom is at hand, though humbled, seeking the man of faith. And without God's grace, it would be natural enough for the man who had opposed Babylon to make a league with Sodom. Many have been thus ensnared; but men of faith, in the hour of temptation, are met by other help. Thank God, there is a "Priest of the Most High," who is also "King of Righteousness and Peace," who in times of danger draws nigh to the elect, and, by His gifts of "bread and wine," strengthens them. I need not tell what "bread and wine," or what "King and Priest," is represented here, (Note: See Hebr. 7:1-28. Having the comment of an Apostle here, we need no others; but the following passages in the Fathers may interest some: -- Clem. Alex. Strom. l. iv. p. 637; Cyprian, Ep. 63; Isid. Pelus. l. i. Ep. 431; Augustine, De Civit. l. xvi. c. 22.) who has said, "Lo, I am ever with you," but who peculiarly reveals Himself when we seem to be tempted above that which we are able, and by foretastes of the good things of Salem leads us to refuse "from a thread to a shoe-latchet" from Sodom's wicked rulers. For the fainting soul, even of a saint, if empty, might thirst after the dross which the king of Sodom offers us. Well does the tempter know his time, and that when the man is "an hungered," then is his opportunity" (Matt. 4:2, 3). Israel learnt this in the desert. Water failed them; then thoughts came in of "the vines and pomegranates of Egypt." Then the Lord gave water; and he that drank thereof thirsted no more for Egypt, but was satisfied. Then "they sent to Edom, saying, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land; we will not pass through thy fields or through thy vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of thy wells; we will go by the king's highway; we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left until we have passed thy borders." (See Numbers 20:5, 17; 21:5, 16-22.) So it is ever. The soul must be filled. If it have not the Lord's comforts, the vines of Egypt will be thought of. If it be full, and the living waters are tasted, the pilgrim can say, "I want not thy goods, only let me go onward along the king's highway." And so when men of faith after conflict are faint, the rulers of the darkness of this world meet them, and might entrap them, did not the bread and wine of the King of Salem make them proof against all other blandishments. And "Melchisedek blessed Abram and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be the Most High God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand." He blesses the believer, and blesses the Most High; and, foreseeing faith's long trial, reveals God's character under that name, -- "Possessor of heaven and earth," -- which Abram at that moment most needed; as if to say, If He is thy God, if thus He meets thee by His Priest, in an hour of weakness feasting thee with bread and wine, for which others have laboured, and which cost thee nothing, then thou needest not the gifts of Sodom's fallen king. And Abram feeling this, not only refuses to be enriched by Sodom, but becomes a giver: "He gave Melchisedek tithes of all." For gifts call forth gifts; and of that which God hath given it, faith gives a portion with gladness to the Lord's Anointed.

And withal, Abram, while prescribing this high path for himself, can see how vain it is to expect it from those who do not know God. If there is a mark of pretended grace, it is the zeal to make our walk the rule, to raise or cut down all to our standard. Where there is real grace, its possessor knows how He who came down here for men meets them where they really are, and not where they are not; and that as grace is a gift, if others lack it, no end is gained by laying on them burdens which without grace they cannot bear. So Abram says of those who went with him, -- Aner, Eschol, and Mamre, -- "Let them take their portion: I have lifted up my hand to the Lord that I will take nothing" (Gen. 14:22-24). But these may not know Him. He therefore requires none others to walk as he does. If example avails, there is his example; but life is a reality, not to be copied without power. The true believer, therefore, would rather that men should be true according to their measure and where they are, than false by pretending to be what they have not attained to. If he gloried in their flesh, it might be otherwise; but such an one glories, not in disciples, but in the cross of Christ.

The King of Salem yet lives, "a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek;" and the believer who has striven with the rulers of the darkness of this world, will yet meet Him with His bread and wine in the pilgrimage. "As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our God" (Psalm 48:8).


Chapter 15

BUT conflict, though it ends in triumph, produces weariness. After great efforts and great success the spirit of faith is often suddenly, and, as it thinks, unaccountably, depressed. A reaction is felt, when dryness succeeds to that life and energy which has carried us on hitherto. At such an hour our very blessings try us. That our trials are blessings has been already learnt. Now we learn that blessings are trials too. And though in measure the elect must have proved this before, -- for God's call, and Sarah, and Lot, and the flocks and herds, all of which were blessings, had all been trials also, -- the lesson now is learnt in reference to a class of blessings from which till now we expected nothing but peace. God's own promise and worship are found to try Abram more deeply perhaps than anything which had as yet befallen him.

First, the promise tries him. We read, "After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram, in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless?" (Gen. 15:1, 2).

Now this answer expresses deep soul-trial, the time of which is specially noted -- "after these things." This is not faith's first experience. When the word first calls us, though it costs us outward grief, the joy it gives, not to say the excitement it occasions, keeps us from dwelling on our want of fruit. The Lord has promised a land and a seed. On this we can leave our country and kindred, not knowing what the promise will cost us, or how much is to be endured before we obtain the fulfilment of it. We eat the words, and in our mouths they are sweet as honey: we know not that they may be bitter in the belly (Rev. 10:9). Even Terah, the old man, is stirred by the call, little knowing what its results may be. So we start with joy; but years on years pass away: mercies by the way are given, but we have as yet neither the promised fruit nor the inheritance. At last an hour comes when we have counted all things but dross and dung for Christ. The world has come, only to be rejected. Faith, bold to rely on God alone, will not take from it "even a shoe-latchet." At such a moment, the Lord speaks again. The old promise is heard. Still we are barren. And the soul, feeling that it is apparently as far from the fulfilment as when it first started, -- further, in one sense, for there was then some energy in the flesh, which the trials of the way and weary years have now well-nigh quenched, -- answers with something between a sigh and a prayer, saying, "Ah, Lord God, what wilt thou give me?" I have no seed, no fruit: as yet my only heir is this steward born in my house, this "Eliezer of Damascus." Shall he, this spirit of bondage, be the seed? Can this be the promised blessing? Surely there must be something better? So argues faith, even in its depression; and the Lord at once answers, that this steward, this spirit of bondage, is not the promised seed: "This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels, he shall be thine heir" (Gen. 15:4). Precious words, but no less a trial to the spirit of faith, which against hope believes in hope.

A "seed" and a "land" are still the hope which tries the believer. Fruit does not indeed at first much press or exercise us. We look forward to it, because God has named it; but other things surround and occupy us, and its absence for a while does not disquiet us. At such a stage we have enough to do with the old man who goes with us, or with Egyptians, or famine, or strifes with brethren, to think much of the promised fruit. It is far otherwise when the old man has been buried, and we are left alone; when all having been forsaken, and the tempting world denied, we yet are fruitless and strangers without our inheritance. Earnestly then the soul begins to long for that which God has promised it. Fain would it see "the seed," Christ formed within us. Hitherto Christ for us has been enough, the word of God pledged on our behalf. Now Christ in us is longed for daily, the image of God, the spirit of sonship, to live and grow in us. And God replies that such too is His will; that if we go without this, we lack what He has promised us. "He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look towards heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them. And he said, So shall thy seed be." "He brought him forth" out of his narrow tabernacle; faith is led beyond those limits which flesh and blood throw around it, into that expanse where the breath of heaven may touch it, and the countless lights of heaven shine on it, and in this freer air God Himself speaks again, saying to faith, "So shall thy seed be." (Note: Ambros. de Abr. l. ii. c. 8, 48.) And although the words, "Lord, what wilt thou give me?" and, "Lord, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" shew fear as well as faith, yet "Abram believed, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3, 6).

So ends the trial through the word, while out of the trial faith reaps fresh blessing, even righteousness. Faith takes God to be God, and thus honours Him far more than by many works. And therefore God honours faith, "counting it for righteousness," more precious to Him than gold, yea, than much fine gold. Surely in a world where nearly all doubt God, the sight of a poor barren creature in utter helplessness resting on God's promise must be a spectacle even to heavenly angels. Even the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth, seeking it, and where He finds it, He makes Himself strong in behalf of it (2 Chron. 16:9).

Faith, however, still must be tried; and the very worship to which the reception of the word now leads, though the door to fresh blessings, opens through fresh disquietudes.

The steps are these: the soul believes that it shall be even as the Lord has promised; but though it believes, it does not understand how or through what experience the blessing is to come to it. In answer, therefore, to the promise, it says, "Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" The Lord replies by a command to sacrifice, and in this worship and sacrifice His way is manifested (Gen. 15:9-18). Beside the altar light breaks in. Faith may be strong and grow while yet in outward things; but light comes, while we stand before the Lord, by the holy altar of burnt-offering. At every stage we prove this truth. Noah is taught much beside his offering (Gen. 8:20-22). So, too, is David in later days (Psalm 73:16, 17). Abram no less by the altar learns the reasons for the delay in the possession of the inheritance. There is opened the experience of his seed: there again the covenant is renewed and added to. The seed, it is declared, shall be a stranger here, but in God's time it shall come with great substance to its inheritance.

To look for a moment at this worship; for the spirit of faith yet worships in no other way. "The Lord said, Take me a heifer, and a she-goat, and a ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them, but the birds divided he not." This was in substance Abel's offering, the figure of the sacrifice of Christ, both for us, and in us; though at this stage we have far more detail and greater insight into particulars. Here all the forms, "bullock, goat, and turtle-dove," that is, service, sin-bearing, and innocence, if we take the outward view, -- inwardly, all those powers which must die in us, when in and through Christ we present our bodies a living sacrifice, -- are each discerned; the different parts too are marked; the head, and legs, and inwards, all being discriminated; that is, the thoughts, the walk, and the affections, no longer overlooked in the general thought of offering, now claim our notice as we give them to God, a willing sacrifice to His holiness. (Note: On this subject I have spoken at length in "The Law of the Offerings," pp. 77-83. See Lira's comment on the text, in loco.) Faith will not offer less than these, and in thus offering it learns the Lord's purpose.

And to this day sacrifice is the key to the secrets of the Lord's heart. Many a word tries us until the sacrifice for us and in us is apprehended. Then the word is understood; then the oath is heard; then the reasons, why our God acts as He does, open upon us. To how many low and doubting thoughts is the apprehension of Christ's sacrifice for us an answer. To how many struggles is Christ's sacrifice in us the one reply. We wonder we must wait for our inheritance. We wonder we must prove what flesh is; that it is barren, dead, worthless. The slain Lamb is seen; that life and death witness that to meet God the creature must first suffer; that we must die to have God's life exhibited. If we have presented our bodies a living sacrifice, this truth will be yet more manifest. For the veil, (and "the veil is His flesh," -- that flesh in which He yet walks, for He hath said, "I will walk in them," Hebr. 10:20; 2 Cor. 6:16,) when rent by the cross, opens to view the great mystery. Now we can see why we must suffer here: faith is almost turned to sight beside the sacrifice. And though even after such communion an hour may come when the soul again is faint because of the way, the remembrance and savour of such hours do not soon leave us: we go on in the strength of it many days.

Sweet, however, as are the ultimate results of such experience, the apprehension of the cross, in our intercourse with God, at the time costs us not a little. One distraction after another presses the spirit of faith, while it is occupied with the appointed sacrifice.

First, "the fowls come down on the carcasses" (Gen. 15:11). No sooner are the bodies of the beasts offered, and the parts laid open before the eye of God and the worshipper, than the fowls come down, to mar the offering if they can. So when the believer has set before him the sacrifice, and in the contemplation of it would fain learn to see and feel with God, the fowls, "evil spirits in heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12), powers within or without subject to the wicked one, messengers of "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), (Note: The "birds" stole away "the good seed." Our Lord explains this by, "Then cometh the devil, and catcheth away that which was sown in their hearts." Matt. 13:4, 19. Compare also Deut. 28:26; Jer. 5:27; Rev. 18:2. Gregory the Great beautifully comments here, Moral. in Job, l. xvi. c. 42, 53.) come to distract our communion, as far as may be. He that has stood beside his offering knows what distractions these winged messengers cause, while we rise up like Abram to "drive them away."

Then comes "darkness:" -- "when the sun went down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him" (Gen. 15:12). While on earth, our appointed life of faith is one of alternate light and darkness. We would watch while we are beside the altar, though such darkness cover the earth that our very spirit feels it. But it is hard to watch at such times, when nature sleeps. A horror of great darkness, however, is not overcome by slumbering. We must go through the trial with our God: in it we shall learn what purposes He has in trying us.

Here the hour of trial proves an hour of light; the darkness which shuts out the world does but reveal heavenly things. Abram learns through the darkness more of God's will. Before this, he had the promise of a seed. Now he learns some details of the appointed cross, and that only "through much tribulation" the kingdom will be won. The "smoking furnace" is seen, ready to purge away the dross; but beside it appears the "burning lamp" (Isa. 62:1). (Note: Ambros. de Abr. l. ii. c. 9, 61, 62.)

Thus in light ends this trial. The spirit of faith, awaking to its own barrenness, not only with the heart believes unto righteousness, but receives in worship enlarged promises. It may yet err in its efforts to bear fruit, but henceforth there is no more anxious disquietude.


Chapter 16

NOW comes a well-known scene. True faith, though it justifies, does not therefore prevent us (while the Lord yet waits till self-will be dead) from trying our own strength. Here these efforts and their results are shewn, proving that, even of the fruits of faith, "that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural." Here the means which the spirit of faith adopts to be fruitful, -- how it comes to use such means, -- and the result, -- all are represented perfectly.

The means are these. Abram takes Hagar, hoping by her to obtain the promised fruit (Gen. 16:3). Women are always the affections of the will. Hagar is the natural self-will, Sarai, the submissive spiritual will: the former the type of that in us which affects law; the latter, of that purer and truer will which affects spiritual truth; so that, generally speaking, we may say Hagar is law, and Sarai grace (Gal. 4:22-25); (Note: Origen speaks at great length on this: Hom. xi. in Gen. The whole passage is well worth turning to.) our principles ever being what our affections are. Here we see both these wills working in connection with the spirit of faith; and faith, having so long looked in vain to Sarai, now turns to Hagar, hoping by the energy of the flesh or by works to aid, if not to accomplish, God's promise. God's purpose is, out of the death of self, by His own power to bring forth a heavenly life; for He knows, if we know not, that the flesh profiteth nothing, and He would in our ruin shew His resources. But without exception, though we are elect, -- though through faith righteous, -- though we have stood beside the sacrifice, -- though we talk about the cross, and profess to believe it, -- yet have we not learnt to distrust sense, and put away all fleshly hopes. The truth is on our lips, that by strength no man prevails, -- that when we are weak, then are we strong, -- that except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but that, if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. As to our acceptance we may have learnt this: but as to our service, as to our fruitfulness, as to our obtaining Christ's image, how few live in it! We cannot think that the death of our own strength, and of our own will, even when that will is to serve and please God, -- that weakness, disappointment, failure, in self, -- that this can indeed be the right way, -- this seems impossible. So we seek to live rather than to die, and strive to call forth our own energies rather than to be patient at their dissolution. It is not till we have got the fruits of such a course, -- till we have personally experienced the consequences of having seed by Hagar, -- till we have tried all we can do, and having tried it have heard God say, that this fruit which we get by Hagar, that is by the energy of the flesh, is "a wild-ass man" (Gen. 16:12), (Note: In our authorized version, Ishmael is called here "A wild man." Heb. pereh awdawm [H6501 H120], that is, literally, "a wild-ass man." So in Ezek. 36:38, the elect are in the Hebrew called "Sheep-men;" tsone awdawm [H6629 H120], rendered in the common version, "Flocks of men.") and cannot be the heir, "for in Isaac shall the seed be called," that is, in the son or fruit of the long-barren freewoman; -- it is not till we have expressed our regrets for Hagar's son, and have sighed, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee," and have seen all his behaviour to the true seed, and his mockery of him when at last he is given to us; -- it is not till we have gone through all this, and much more, and are worn out, and "as good as dead," that we can give up the flesh with all its hopes, and giving them up find that the death of self, which we have so struggled against, is but the appointed way to gain the promise. So, till we are content to be dead, we take Hagar, and with various experiences of her, and with her, we keep her, till Isaac, the spirit of sonship, being weaned, the bond-maid is no longer wanted, and we learn to say, though not without a struggle even to the end, "Cast out the bond-woman and her son."

But this is anticipating. We are now to see what woman, spiritually, what principles, the spirit of faith embraces here, as a means to gain the seed.

She was "a bond-maid," -- "Sarai's maid" (Gen. 16:1). And self-will is yet a "bond-woman," and "gendereth to bondage" (Gal. 4:22-25). All the elect learn this. With each a time comes, when fruit is sought "as it were by the deeds of the law," and in our own strength. We long to "bear the image of the heavenly," and we look for it through our own energy. Some fruit is borne: Hagar is not barren: but the spirit of sonship is not obtained in this way. The proof is, a bond-maid yet is in the house, and her fruit, the spirit of bondage, is not cast out.

Further, this maid was "an Egyptian." Egypt is the ground of sense, that is the outer world. To this Hagar belongs. In her we lay hold of that which in its very nature is of this world. For "the law is not made for the righteous, but for sinners" (1 Tim. 1:9); in seeking help from it, faith is using a worldly principle.

But how comes faith to use such means? Several circumstances combine to lead to this.

First, "Sarai was barren; she bare no children" (Gen. 16:1). Sarai is the principle of grace, the affection of spiritual truth. From this the spirit of faith looks for seed; but years pass, and there is still barrenness. Faith does not therefore cast out Sarai; for she is ever loved and regarded as the true wife; but because she is barren, we look elsewhere, not yet knowing that these inner affections must be fruitless, till the self which yet cleaves to the spirit of faith be "as good as dead." When at last in self-despair we are thus dead, then, and not till then, Sarai will bear fruit. Indeed, if at first we could have had our way, Sarai, even as Hagar, would have been made fruitful through our energy. The principle of grace would have been as another law, requiring strength in us to make it productive; whereas the truth is, that while we are thus strong the Lord cannot let us have fruit by Sarai. From Hagar, or law, God may grant some fruit, such as it is, through the elect's own energy. But from Sarai no seed shall be so obtained: she is, and must be fruitless, till our own strength is put away. But this is learnt only by long experience. Here faith has not learnt it: therefore, seeing Sarai barren, it is tempted to have recourse to other means.

Then Hagar is at hand: -- "Sarai had a handmaid." Abram had not to seek her: there she was, already serving him. How she came to be there is hinted in the fact, incidentally noticed, that Hagar was "an Egyptian;" telling that Abram had been in Egypt, and possibly had received this woman as a reward of his unfaithfulness there respecting Sarai. Be this as it may, Hagar now is there, already occupying position in attendance on the true wife; and being there, and useful in her place, through the impatience of the elect ere long she usurps another's place. Just so the inner affection of spiritual truth has the principle of law waiting upon it as a servant. And, as a handmaid, law is in its place in Abram's house; a place whence it should not be expelled, at least until the spirit of sonship has obtained a certain growth. The evil is, that this service of law, though useful in itself, and needed for a season, through the impatience of the elect, becomes the occasion for that further trial of the flesh, which like all such trials is doomed to end in disappointment.

But Sarai's barrenness and Hagar's being at hand are not Abram's only inducements to turn to the bond-maid. The free-woman herself stirs up Abram to this: -- "Sarai said unto Abram, Behold the Lord hath restrained me from bearing. I pray thee, go in unto my maid. It may be that I may obtain seed by her" (Gen. 16:2). There is a stage when grace itself, and the promise of fruitfulness which is connected with it, by acting on our impatience, may so excite, as to lead the spirit of faith to try carnal means, even though for ends which God has promised. Indeed impatience, a zeal for God, without a corresponding faith in the zeal of the Lord of hosts, is ever leading to this. Even to faith it is hard to wait on God, and let Him do His own work in His own way. With right principles exciting us, we may be marring His work, by our haste in attempting to do it for Him. So even Sarai may, and does, mislead us, if, instead of patiently awaiting the Lord's time, that inward affection stirs us up, in connection with other means, to try our own strength. Thus did Abram hearken to Sarai; and thus excited even by the truth, and with right ends, does the elect yet try his own resources. The present age gives countless proofs of this. Christ, the true seed, is by many longed for ardently. Both in Church and world we wait for His appearing. But He tarries. Then Sarai speaks to those, who, though men of faith, are so far from "being as dead," that they are still full of self-will. The result is one scheme after another, all aiming to obtain the promised seed, by doing rather than by dying. Vain hope! Ishmaels enough may be thus gotten. Isaacs are not so born.

But to trace the results, as figured here.

The first is, Abram gets a son: Hagar is fruitful (Gen. 16:4); but her son is not the promised heir. For to Abram and his seed were promises made; "He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to Thy seed; which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). For Abram or faith has many seeds; but that form of life, which, though of faith, is produced by self-will, (and the first fruit of faith is ever such,) is not elect, and cannot be the true heir. Hagar's son is but "a wild-ass man." The spirit of faith has indeed thus produced another form of life, and thus something at first appears to have been gained. The end proves, that, as far as the true heir is concerned, all this effort has availed nothing. Faith by self-will has only got "a spirit of bondage again to fear." The "spirit of adoption" is not thus begotten. (Note: Jerome gives the inward sense, that while our faith deals with the law and the letter, Isaac is not come, but Ishmael only is born in us; whereas Isaac is come, if we enjoy spiritual things. -- Hieron. in Epist. ad Galat. l. ii. c. 4. Ambrose too, after tracing the outward, gives in substance the same inward application. -- De Abr. l. ii. c. 10, 73.)

The next result is as unsatisfactory. "When Hagar saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised." If carnal strength succeeds in bearing any fruit, the immediate result is contempt of better things. For the flesh can achieve nothing without being exalted. Sarai, therefore, instead of being "built up," as she hoped, by Hagar, reaps through her fresh humiliation.

Nor is this all. For this contempt, Sarai deals hardly with the bondmaid, who therefore flees out of the elect house (Gen. 16:6). If through faith's impatience the principle of law is exalted out of its place, and thus dishonour is done to grace, that is the free-woman, a re-action follows, for grace or Sarai is best loved, and though barren never loses her rightful empire over the believing heart. The principle of law is harshly judged, and so, being abused, for awhile departs and is lost sight of. Who that knows this path but has seen how the affection of law, when contempt has through it been poured upon a higher principle, is ejected even from that place, where as hand-maid it might be most useful. So does legality lead to antinomianism, and this when law as yet cannot be dispensed with. The time comes, indeed, after Abram is circumcised and Isaac is born, when there is no further need for the bond-maid, and she is cast out for ever. But this is not yet. At present the bond-maid is needed. She is therefore sent back by the Lord to her true place as "Sarai's maid" (Gen. 16:8, 9). For "the law is good, if it be used lawfully" (1 Tim. 1:8). The sorrow comes from exalting it out of its proper place.

Thus goes the life of faith. And here exercises begin in reference to law, which only end in the final dismissal of the bond-maid. At the point where this chapter ends, this conclusion is not foreseen; for after this the elect yet beseeches that the fruit of the flesh may be his heir" (Gen. 17:18). But exercises of soul here begin which only end in the perfect discovery of God's mind upon the subject.


I need not shew how here, as throughout, this history has had its fulfilment upon every platform where God has worked in man. We are familiar with its accomplishment in the dispensations. In the history of God's dealings with mankind, before the death of the flesh is known, and before Sarai conceives, that is, before the Gospel times, the actings of the spirit of faith are found in connection with Hagar or law throughout a whole dispensation; thus on the broadest scale developing the results of dealing with the flesh to gain the seed. We know how when the fulness of time was come, and the true Isaac was born, Ishmael, the seed according to the flesh, mocked and rejected Him; and we know how since that hour the bond-maid and her seed have been cast out, though for that seed in its time a suited blessing tarries. This fulfilment in the dispensations is so well known, that I need but allude to it. (Note: Jerome, Comment. in Ep. ad Gal. l. ii. c. 4. Ambrose, De Abr. l. ii. c. 10, 72 and 74. Augustine, Enar. in Psalm cxix. (E.V. 120), 7.) But there is also the fulfilment in the outward kingdom now. Here, men of faith, because the gospel is so long unfruitful, turn to law, by law and human energy to raise up a seed to fill the elect house. In the Church, because Sarai is barren till the flesh in the elect is dead, the impatience of believers, as yet not dead, by the flesh has sought and obtained a seed. But it is "a wild-ass man," with the "mark of the beast" upon it. The true seed now, as of old, only comes out of death and barrenness through resurrection power. (Note: Augustine often expounds this view; see Enar. in Psalm cxix. (E.V. 120), 7, and elsewhere.)

Thus are we shewn here, outwardly, what men, -- inwardly, what in man, -- shall inherit the kingdom. The inward fulfilment is that which first concerns us. May we there apprehend what we are apprehended for!


Chapter 17

THE last scene shewed the efforts of faith to be fruitful by its own energy, and in connection with self-will. The results having proved that this is not God's way, the elect comes now to a point where the way of fruitfulness according to God is fully opened to it. The mind of God is now revealed, that the promised seed comes after the circumcision of the flesh, not by its energy, but by its mortification, and by means of a change wrought in faith itself by the inbreathing of Him who now makes Himself known to us as "God Almighty." This is the lesson of this stage, that faith's true fruitfulness is only in God's strength and through self-renunciation. Where we are more, God to us is less. God will be more, yea everything, to us, when we are nothing. Grace even as nature abhors a vacuum. Only let us be empty, and the breath of heaven will fill us abundantly. The revelation by which Abram learns this, and his submission, figure that instruction which faith yet receives from God, and to which it yet yields the same implicit and prompt obedience.

We have here, first, the revelation by which Abram learns the true way of fruitfulness. It comes after many weary days, -- "when Abram was ninety years old and nine" (Gen. 17:1); and even then is given by degrees, first briefly and generally, then in fuller detail, when Abram bows to welcome it. It comes not till Abram is hopeless in himself. Then, as the first brief announcement is met by worship and submissiveness, -- for "he fell on his face," -- while in this posture the fuller revelation of God's mind is granted to him. How much is here! We are quick to be up, and while up and doing like Abram we do nothing to any purpose. We are slow to be "on our faces," yet it is here God's mind is learnt, while in the sense and confession of our weakness we lie low before Him.

But to speak of these communications. The first is this, -- "I am God Almighty: walk before me, and be perfect, and I will make my covenant with thee, and I will multiply thee exceedingly" (Gen. 17:1, 2).

Now this, though brief, contains the germ of all that follows, declaring that the seed depends upon God's "I will," because He is "God Almighty;" while as to the means, singleness of eye and heart towards God, -- "Walk before me, and be thou perfect," (Note: "Perfect:" Heb. tamiym [H8549], sincere or unmixed; the same word as that used of Noah, Gen. 6:9. See also Deut. 18:13.) is the great requisite. Here, as ever, there is the "I will" of God, pledging the result, and also the sanctifying word, "Walk before me," shewing the path in which the elect will find the blessing.

All this, however, is only more perfectly developed in the second and fuller revelation which God vouchsafes to His servant, when he falls down and worships. Many particulars are here revealed, as to the source and channel of the blessing, and as to the means both on God's and man's part.

For the source, it is not in the creature, but in God. Jehovah, revealed as "God Almighty," here to barren Abram, seven times repeats His "I will:" -- "I will make my covenant with thee, and I will multiply thee, and I will make thee exceeding fruitful; and I will make nations of thee, and I will establish my covenant with thy seed after thee; and I will give to thy seed the land wherein thou art a stranger, and I will be their God" (Gen. 17:2-8). As if He had said, Thou child of grace, hast thou not yet learnt that my word, my "I will," is that which makes thee fruitful? Now hear again my covenant, -- I will make thee fruitful: not from thyself, but from me is thy fruit found. Not by thy energy out of Hagar, -- not by blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, -- but because "I will," shalt thou have the seed. And so of the inheritance: thou hast not earned or deserved it, nor can thy strength win it thee; but this also is assured to thee, because "I will give it thee."

The channel, too, by which the seed should come is declared. Faith now learns that Sarai, the barren free woman, that is, the spiritual will, is to bear the desired fruit (Gen. 17:15-19). Long has this will been fruitless in us: most dear to us, we have yet turned from it, to be built up through Hagar or self-will. But faith now learns God's way of fruitfulness, that He will "make the barren woman within us to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children."

As to the means God uses for this, He first changes Abram and Sarai's names, adding to each a letter which is most significant. Abram now is changed to Abraham. A name ever implies quality. Here the Lord takes something of His own name, (for the added H is a special part of the Divine name,) and adds it to the elect, thus in a new name giving him a new character (Gen. 17:5, 15). (Note: In Numb. 13:16, we find a somewhat similar change: Oshea's name is changed to Jehoshua, with the same spiritual reason. See Jerome, Quoest. Hebr. in Gen. Others have observed respecting the name Jehovah, that it is formed simply of the five vowels, I, E, O, U, A, with a twice-repeated H. The vowels, or vocals, are so called, because they are sounds by themselves; unlike the consonants, which can only be sounded with a conjoined vowel. It is remarkable that the name Jehovah, the Self-Existing-One, is composed of those sounds, (and it contains all of them,) which can and do exist by themselves, and which give life and breath to the rest, if we may so speak; with the double addition of the H, the letter of out-breathing, in the middle and end of the name. Luther, in his Comment on the First XXII. Psalms, (on Psalm 5:11,) after tracing a mystic sense in the letters and form of the name, Jehovah, in which he sees a figure of the Trinity, -- the proportions of the Name (as he says) figuring the procession of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, -- says of the letter H, "The first syllable terminates in the letter He, which is a soft breathing, indicating that the proceeding in the Divine Persons is not carnal but spiritual, and all-sweet and all-gentle. For if the aspirate letter be extended in sound, it is nothing more than a certain soft proceeding of wind or gentle blast; so that it most appropriately figures forth the proceeding of the Son. And in like manner the whole name is terminated in the same letter of a soft breathing; so that we are to understand that the second proceeding is also spiritual, and not at all differing from the former, except its being the second, and proceeding from the first," &c. -- Vol. i. p. 277, of the Translation by Cole. If in the laws of number and of sound nothing is by chance, He who has been pleased to reveal Himself as Jehovah surely has a reason for the very form of this name, as indeed for all else.) What He adds is the mystic letter He, (The Hebrew equivalent of H) that sound which is only formed by an out-breathing; the addition of which, making Abram into Abraham, shewed how the elect should be made fruitful, even by the Lord's out-breath, that is the Holy Spirit.

And to bear good fruit the spirit of faith even yet must be breathed on by the Lord, and by that breath be changed from Abram to Abraham. Until we are so breathed upon, though beloved and elect, faith in us is, and will be, barren. To bear fruit we must obtain the "new name;" a new character must be in-wrought, the result of the gift of the Spirit or breath of Him, who by communications of Himself moulds us to His pleasure. Surely we are His, beloved and called, long before we know the baptism of the Spirit. Like those of old we follow the Lord, at first knowing Him after the flesh, before we reach to Pentecost and know him spiritually. We may like Peter on the Mount even see the glory of the living Word, and the law and the prophets testifying to Him, and yet after this deny Him. But the time arrives when we, who have followed Christ in the flesh, come to be tried by His cross, and to see His resurrection. Then, -- when the cross is no more a puzzle, -- when we see it is the way to life, and that the flesh verily profiteth nothing, -- when we have tarried until we are endued with power, and the Holy Ghost has come on us, the out-breathing of God, making us who have once followed Christ carnally, sparing ourselves, now willing to follow Him even to the death of self, -- then are we from Abram changed to Abraham. The Lord hath breathed on us: we can go and bring forth much fruit. Till this change is wrought, we shall be barren. When, by the Lord's revelation of Himself to us, it is accomplished, the fruit we long for is not far off.

One thing, however, yet remains to be done or suffered by the elect. Abraham, as a pledge of his entire dependence, must submit to certain appointed suffering, before he can obtain the seed. Because the Lord has covenanted with him, and has breathed on him, and so changed him, therefore Abraham must on his part suffer in his flesh, so testifying that his hope is not in the flesh or its energies, but only in Jehovah, God Almighty. So God, after His sevenfold promise, and after His gift of a new name, says, "Thou shalt therefore keep my covenant: and this is my covenant, which ye shall keep; ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you" (Gen. 17:9-11).

Now this circumcision signified the mortification of that fleshliness which yet cleaves to the elect spirit. Even the spirit needs to be judged, and "true circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:29; compare Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4). In circumcision a part of the flesh was cut off: "the filth of the flesh was put away" (1 Pet. 3:21). (Note: I am assured that the words, sarkos apothesis rhupou, allude to circumcision.) So faith must judge whatever of the flesh is in it, "laying aside all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, to receive with meekness the engrafted word" (James 1:21) -- that measure of the Divine which is communicated to it, -- that so in the strength of the Lord, and not in self, but rather in self-judgment, it may indeed be fruitful. And this spiritual circumcision, like that which was its type, is not a figure only, but an actual seal, an enduring mark impressed upon us; for as it declares that we have given up all fleshly confidence, so it shews itself in counting all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus; reckoning all that the flesh can achieve but as dung, if only the fellowship of Christ's sufferings and the power of His resurrection may be apprehended. So Paul says, "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3, 8-10). To the eye of sense such an operation seemed not only dangerous to life, but one which, when performed in years, even if the patient survived, would probably preclude all fruitfulness. The offering of Isaac was not a severer trial of faith, or one more apparently opposed to the fulfilment of the promise. Such a trial to the believer is self-mortification. Yet faith triumphs. We are "circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh" (Col. 2:11): "by the spirit we mortify the deeds of the body" (Rom. 8:13), and so "bear in our bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Gal. 6:17).

That this practical judgment of self must precede the fruit of promise is not understood, nor is it required, when we begin our pilgrimage. (Note: Origen, Hom. iii. in Gen.) At this stage it is revealed to faith. Need I say that this mortification is not our righteousness; -- that is of faith, as it is written, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness;" -- but this self-judgment comes to seal that righteousness, "as the seal of the righteousness of the faith which a believer has, being yet uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:11). Long before self is mortified, the elect is righteous; nor are we circumcised thereby to win the promise. On the contrary, God first and freely promises. He says, "I will multiply." Then He adds, "Therefore thou shalt circumcise." God does indeed look for self-judgment, but not as the ground, rather as the result, of promise. So the Spirit ever speaks: -- "I will be their God: therefore come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Cor. 6:16, 17): so again, "Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God" (1 Cor. 6:20): and again, "Ye are risen, and your life is hid with Christ in God; mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth" (Col. 3:3, 5).

Would to God that this lesson were learnt; but, alas, mortification is well nigh out of date. Instead of judging the flesh, on all sides we see attempts to perfect it, and this in the hope of thus seeing the seed of promise. But some by the blood of Christ, shed first at His circumcision, have better learnt God's mind. Only let them be faithful to it. Only let the Church's creed, -- "He died and rose," -- be her life. Then, as with the Head, so with herself, the dying of the corn of wheat shall result in the bringing forth of much fruit.

As to the time and subjects of this rite, much is here for such as can receive it. For the time, the "eighth day" is appointed (Gen. 17:12). Seven days in type include the stages or periods proper to the first creation. The eighth day, as it takes us beyond and out of these, brings us mystically into a new order of things and times, in a word into the new creation or resurrection. Those even in Abraham's family, who are yet in the first seven days, that is, in the first creation, are not to be circumcised. (Note: With the same import all creatures newly born were counted in their blood, or unclean, for seven days, and might not, before the expiration of this period, be offered to God. Neither calf, lamb, nor kid, could be presented as an oblation before it was eight days old. -- Lev. 22:27. Of the mystic import of the eighth day, and its connection with circumcision, see Augustine, Serm. ccxxxi. 2; Epistol. l. ii. lv. c. 13.) Inwardly, the men of Abraham's house are all the thoughts which are connected with and subject to the spirit of faith. Some of these were strangers, some home-born. All were now by faith and with faith to be circumcised: for now we must "bring every thought into subjection to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). (Note: Ambrose gives the inward sense, De Abr. l. ii. c. 11, 79.) Outwardly, Abraham's house is the Church, and its inmates the varying natures which fill the house of faith. Of these all who have grown out of the seven days must be circumcised. Practical mortification of the flesh is not to be pressed on babes in Christ, till the eighth day is apprehended by them; but on all the rest the seal must come, not to make them barren, but that they may be yet more fruitful.

Now see how the spirit of faith meets this word. Abraham receives it with something not unlike questioning: -- "He fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him that is an hundred years old, and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?" But this soon changes to prayer. At first the prayer is lacking in intelligence; for he said, "Oh! that Ishmael might live before thee" (Gen. 17:17, 18). Nevertheless, he prays and bows himself, even while pleading for his own will. This struggle too passes. God speaks to his heart, telling him that though the fruit of his own energy cannot be the heir of promise, it shall receive a suited blessing; and the elect, though his soul heaves like the sea after a storm, pleads no more for his own will, but obeys promptly and explicitly. "In the self-same day was Abraham circumcised, and all the men of his house with him, as the Lord had said unto him" (Gen. 17:23-27).

How exactly all this is yet fulfilled, those know who from Abram have been made Abraham. The struggle of doubt and hope within, -- of our own wishes against the Lord's will, -- the desire for the abiding of that which is of self, even when God himself promises better things, -- how all this, which so much savours of the will of the flesh, ends in prompt obedience and willing self-renunciation, is experience which not a few have learnt. Happy they who have thus mortified the flesh with its affections and lusts. Painful as the discipline may be, apparently contrary to that which we desire, the end will shew how good it is for us that we have been thus afflicted. Till we are so afflicted we shall lack the promised seed.

A few words will suffice for the dispensational fulfilment here. Perfection and self-mortification were not required from men of faith until the time came for Sarah to be fruitful, that is, till Gospel days. But when the time was come for a new and wider revelation, -- when God would shew himself as El Shaddai, the Almighty, who could bring fruit even out of death and barrenness, -- when His out-breath was given in a way unknown before, making His elect partakers of the Divine Nature, and possessors of His spirit, -- then with this grace was a judgment of self demanded, which before this had not been asked of men. How truly did the elect then cry as Abraham here, -- "Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee." How earnestly did Paul long for Hagar's son, when he said, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved" (Rom. 10:1). But the fruit of the flesh could not be the heir, though even to them a suited blessing is covenanted. Well might Paul, as he thought upon it, break forth in wonder, "Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"


Chapters 18 and 19

NOW comes the end of Lot, which must be known before Isaac, the spirit of sonship, is given to us. Thus, one after another of the things once walked with drop off from around Abraham as he advances. For the path of the spirit of faith is one of ever increasing separateness to God; until, being stripped of all external aids, it is without any other hope cast wholly and for everything upon the Lord alone. Terah, the old man, is first left. Then, when we escape from Egypt, Lot separates himself. After this, great efforts are made to reclaim him, shewing how much the outward man is yet clung to and yearned over. But a time comes when Lot is seen no more. This stage here begins to open to us.

What Lot is we have already seen. Inwardly, he is that mind in us, which, though righteous, leans to outward things; which, therefore, though moved for a while to go with faith, departs from it after Egypt is left, and goes down Sodom-ward. (Note: See on chapters 12 and 13.) Such a mind is in us at this stage. But the time comes in the life of faith, when Sodom, the work of Ham's seed, must be judged in us; when divine judgment is seen to consume and overthrow all the plain of Sodom, that is, the ground of self-love. For Sodom is not judged at first. There is a time when self-love is not consumed in us. Now its doom is seen; and by this is brought out the full difference between the spirit of faith and the upright outward mind. To each the Lord now speaks. The spirit of faith, having judged itself by circumcision, receives the Lord in a way unknown before, with fresh promises, and an enlarged apprehension of God's will; while the outward mind, still vexed with self-love, and able to receive only an inferior revelation, is rescued thence to produce a shameful fruit, which is destined to become a thorn in the way of Abraham's true seed. After which Lot is seen no more. Having shewn what it is, the outward mind no more affects the path of faith. For a time it tries us, but a day arrives when its full unlikeness to the spirit of faith is seen in a light never to be forgotten. Thenceforth, whatever trials we may have, we know the difference between these, and knowing it walk more simply and intelligently. (Note: Origen at some length traces the inward fulfilment, Orig. Hom. vi. in Gen.)


This outline of the inward sense here may suffice for those who can pursue it inwardly. The outward fulfilment will be better known. In this view, Abraham is the type of those in whom the spirit of faith is the ruling life: Lot, of those who, though righteous and saved, are rather outward than inward men, who hold the truth, but never seem to apprehend the inward spirit of it. As if to shew the contrast between these, Lot's path is drawn here beside Abraham's. Both are seen entertaining heavenly visitors; both gladly welcome such a visit; this is common to both: but beyond this how different the circumstances, and the results to each, of this intercourse!

There is first a difference in the form of the Divine manifestation. In Abraham's case we read, "The Lord appeared to him at midday, and lo, three men stood by him:" in Lot's, "There came two angels to Sodom at even" (Cf. Gen. 18:1, 2; Gen. 19:1). In the first case, the Lord appears in human form, and three persons are apprehended. In the other, only two are seen. By the obedient soul, from Abram changed to Abraham, the promise, "If any man keep my word, we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23), is fully realised. Three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, will be known, stooping in a form we can bear to come under our roof, not in darkness, but in the light, as guests to commune with us. While those who yet are in the world, like Lot, receiving their heavenly guests "at even," that is, in declining light, be their faith what it may, will in experience lose one person, and have less perfect communion. (Note: This is the common exposition of the Fathers. Gregory Nyssen, Test. c. Jud. p. 152; Ed. Par. 1638. Cyril of Alexandria, Contra Julian, l. viii. p. 268. Ambrose, De Abr. l. i. c. 5, 33. Origen dwells much on this manifestation being vouchsafed "at mid-day," Hom. ii. in Cantica.)

The ground they stand on is as distinct. Abraham is "in the plains of Mamre, in his tent-door;" Lot is "sitting in the gate of Sodom." True men of faith, as pilgrims with their tent, in obedient self-judgment rest at Mamre or Hebron, that is in vision or communion. Others, righteous but not self-judged, seek to judge "in the gate of Sodom," the defiled world-loving world. (Note: To "sit in the gate" was to take the place of authority. See Deut. 21:19; Ruth 4:1; Lam. 5:14; Psalm 69:12; Prov. 22:22; Isa. 29:21; Amos 5:10, 12, 15; Prov. 31:23.) The one not only give up the world, but are content to be given up by it, which is far harder. The other take a place of power here, hoping, unjudged as they are, to correct the faults of others who are living in self-love. But can the Lots correct or reform the world? Rather they themselves are only "saved so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15). A stage is, indeed, to be reached by grace, when the elect not only "gets him out," as Abram, from the ground of the old man, but when he can go down thither again, as Jacob, to win flocks thence, which he may bring back to Canaan. There is yet a higher stage, when, as Joseph, he can even in Egypt have it all bowed down before him, while he is its deliverer. But at the Abraham stage this cannot be. To Abram the word is, "Get thee out into a land which I will shew thee." The path of faith as such is not to cleanse the world, but to lift man out of it to dwell in heavenly things. Further on, the elect may be fit for more. As a believer, his place is the ground of promise, in marked separation from outward things. True believers, therefore, dwell apart with God, while the Lots, unjudged, and unfit to judge others, dwelling in Sodom, strive by efforts to improve it, to justify to themselves a position which they feel at least questionable. For few have known the true walk of faith, even in the measure Lot knew it when he walked with Abram, but have some misgivings when they compare their position as professed improvers of the world, which yet is not improved, with that of those who in separation from it are bearing witness of a better. So they labour in the fire, comforting themselves, that, while the Abrahams are useless to the world, they are doing something for it. What they really achieve may teach them at last that Sodom cannot even be helped, much less saved, by unchastened outward men. But Lot has not yet learnt this: while therefore Abraham is at Mamre, Lot is in the gate of Sodom, calling its sinners, "brethren" (Gen. 19:7).

Another contrast between these men may be seen in their reception of their guests, and the circumstances attending it. In both there is the same desire for communion; but while in the one case this at once is granted, in the other at first it is denied: with the one, communion is undisturbed; with the other, when at last obtained, it is marred by the intrusion of the men of Sodom. To Abraham's request, "Pass not away, my Lord, but let me fetch a morsel of bread," the answer at once is, "So do as thou hast said." To Lot's petition, "Turn in, my lords, I pray you, into your servant's house," the reply is, "Nay, but we will abide in the street all night" (Cf. Gen. 18:5; 19:2). Eventually, indeed, they yield to his importunity, and he sups with them, and they with him. But whereas in Abraham's case communion is reached, as it were, naturally without an effort, in Lot's there is a struggle of prayer before his desire is granted. By the self-mortified pilgrim communion is easily obtained. Those who live in the world, judging it rather than themselves, though they would gladly welcome the Lord or His servants, find that, before communion can be enjoyed, a temporary denial and a spiritual struggle must be experienced. Further, in Abraham's case, the communion is unbroken. No rude alarms from without disturb his quiet intercourse. In Lot's, "the men of Sodom compass the house," and Lot, distracted, "went out at the door to them, and shut the door after him" (Cf. Gen. 18:8; 19:5, 6). Abraham, having but One Master to serve, can stand before Him in peace. Lot with two masters, the Lord and the world, can satisfy neither, nor is himself satisfied. Forced away from his guests by those among whom he dwells, the communion of saints, if known at all, is known with many interruptions.

Other contrasts abound throughout this scene. Of Abraham it is said, "He ran to meet them:" of Lot only that "he rose up" (Cf. Gen. 18:2, 6, 7; 19:1). (Note: Origen, (Hom. iv. in Gen.) dwells at considerable length on this, and on the difference between the feasts prepared by Lot and Abraham.) The one, as soon as the Lord appears, instinctively draws nearer to Him: the other, though welcoming Him, does not shew the same alacrity. In the feast prepared, too, a difference may be seen. By Abraham "a calf" is slain, -- there is the pouring out of a life, -- and "fine meal" is added: in the other we find only "unleavened bread and wine," an acceptable service, yet not so costly as the former. (Note: In the authorised version we read, "Lot made a feast, and did bake unleavened bread." The word mishteh [H4960], here translated "feast," is elsewhere more correctly rendered "a banquet of wine," as in Esther 5:6; 7:7. See also Isa. 25:6. The LXX. here render it by poton, "a drinking.") And there is yet this difference in the communion of saints. Some can grasp the highest aspects of Christ's death, apprehending Him as the "ox," and the "fine flour," in which was no unevenness: others have a lower view of the same offering, seeing it only as "unleavened bread and wine." Happy is it to see Christ in any form, but happiest he, who, walking with the Lord, and giving to Him without grudging, in such acts has the fullest views of Him who has even "given himself" to us.

A further contrast is to be seen in the state of the respective families of Lot and Abraham. Abraham, to the question, "Where is thy wife," can reply, in words he could not have used in Egypt, "She is in the tent." In Lot's case, the women of his house are in jeopardy, offered to the men of Sodom, in hope of staying worse abomination (Cf. Gen. 18:9; 19:8). Women, in this outward view, are principles. (Note: See what is said of Eve, on chap. 3; also respecting "the daughters of men," on chap. 6; also of Sarah and Hagar, on chaps. 12 and 16.) If we walk with God, we are in no danger of having our principles defiled by the world's rough handling. Not so if our home is the world: there our purest principles are in danger of being abused, nay, often they are abused, for the world, if it touches, cannot but dishonour them. I know, indeed, that in every age men like Lot have been found, who, tempted or forced by their position, prostitute their principles to the use of the ungodly. I know, too, that in so doing they hope to improve the world, and to keep it from worse abominations. So have liberty and peace, and other fruits of righteousness, been pressed upon the world, in the hope that in embracing these it may, as the world, be somewhat bettered. And what is the result? The principles are perilled or defiled, the world meanwhile being not a whit the better. But the Lots do not believe this, until bitter experience proves it. Is then nothing to be done for the ungodly world? Much surely. Do what Abraham did for Sodom, -- pray for it: nay, if you are sent, do what God's messengers did, -- testify of coming judgment, and shew the way of safety. Bring those you can out of it. But think not that as a Lot you can reform or change it by your principles. It may defile you and them; you cannot change it. Were you a Joseph, you might do something. Being only a Lot, or outward man, though righteous, you are powerless.

Further, Abraham waiting on his guests "stood by them" in calm communion. Lot "went out," anxious for his children. Not one word is recorded addressed by him to the heavenly strangers while they are in his house (Cf. Gen. 18:8, 9; 19:14). Men of faith can speak to the Lord, and in communion receive fresh promises. The Lots can but speak to their children or the world, and receive warnings, that, if they flee not, they must be destroyed. Lot's words here are very characteristic. He goes out to direct others, but his preaching is, first, not in exact accordance with the word of the Lord, and then, not in accordance with his own conduct. The Lord had said, "Hast thou any here? Bring them out." Lot only says, "Get you out" (Gen. 19:12, 14). It is all the difference between "Come," and "Go:" and alike as these may seem, the difference is by no means trifling. Again, his preaching is not in accordance with his walk. Lot preaches, "Get you out of this place, for the Lord will destroy it;" but he himself "lingers" (Gen. 19:14, 16). Here we see his reason for altering the Lord's words. He could not "bring" others out if he tarried there: he must say, "Get you out." How many righteous Lots in Sodom are yet attempting thus to bear the Lord's message. Even while they say, This world is condemned, they linger in it, and are at last only separated from it by force, against their own will. Yet they hope such preaching will move others. But the truth from such lips is paralysed. Its preachers are its greatest hindrance: they may like Lot be "saved by fire," but "their works shall be burnt up, and they shall suffer loss." (1 Cor. 3:15. Compare John 15:6, and 1 Cor. 9:27.)

Very different too are the words addressed to Abraham out of Sodom, and to Lot yet lingering there. To both the Lord declares that city's fate, but how unlike to each the terms of the communication. To the one He speaks as to a friend, saying, "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I will do?" To Lot He says, "We will destroy this place: escape for thy life, lest thou also be consumed" (Cf. Gen. 18:17-21; 19:13-17). Such as walk with God can in quiet learn of Him. Such as walk with the world must, even as the world, be alarmed to "flee for their life, lest they be consumed." A carnal Christian cannot bear spiritual words. Paul, though he might speak wisdom among them that were perfect, could not speak to the Corinthians as unto spiritual. (1 Cor. 2:6; 3:1. Compare Heb. 5:11-14.) Even the Holy Ghost, whose office it is "to take of the things of Christ" to shew them to faithful souls, to the world speaks only "of sin, and righteousness, and judgment." (Compare John 16:8, and John 16:13, 14.) Worldly Christians therefore, though they talk for ever of assurance and election, so long as they are in the world will hear God's voice warning and alarming them. Out of Sodom they shall hear of peace; in it, the word, and it is in love, must be a warning, lest they also be consumed.

Even more unlike are the prayers of these men. Abraham, with confessions that he is "but dust and ashes," waiting on God in Christ-like intercession, yields his will to God's will. Lot, full of self, styling himself God's "servant," prays only for self, in a prayer which throughout is a struggle to obtain his own will (Cf. Gen. 18:23-33; 19:18, 19). The Lord had said, "Stay not in all the plain:" and Lot answered, "Oh! not so, my Lord;" that is, not thy will but mine be done: (is there not too much of such prayer?) to justify which he speaks of grace; "Not so, my Lord, for thy servant hath found grace in thy sight." This is ever so: Christians in the world plead grace as a reason for self-indulgence and for obtaining their own will. Then, again, what confusion is in the prayer. He speaks of the "mercy shewn in saving his life," and yet of "some evil (he knows not what) taking him;" not saying, "I will not," but "I cannot:" -- "I cannot escape to the mountain, lest I die." Thus he pleads for his own way to the end, his last request being for Zoar, a little matter, -- "Is it not a little one?" -- the gracious answer to which is one of the unnumbered proofs, that as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is the Lord's mercy to all them that fear Him.

But one fact more is known of Lot. Sodom is judged: the condemnation of this world is clearly seen. Then Abraham gets up early to the place where he stood before the Lord, as though yet waiting on Him. Lot, unsatisfied with his self-chosen refuge, gets up to the mountain, without a command, only to fall there grievously. (Note: Compare the Lord's command to Israel, to go up into the land, which they disobeyed, with the result of the self-will of the same men, who afterwards chose to go up presumptuously, without a divine command. -- Deut. 1:26-44.) Wine first, and then his daughters, cast him down. So when outward men, through mere alarm of judgment, attempt without command to walk where faith walks, their very gifts will cause their fall. The higher the ground, the harder for them to occupy it. There the cup of blessing, misused by Lot's daughters, that is, by the evil working of those principles which have been produced and are most cherished by outward men, will give occasion for those very principles first to corrupt, and then to be themselves corrupted by, those who cherished them. Thus will righteous Lots unintentionally produce out of their own self-defiled principles a seed to their own shame and the grief of God's elect; a seed which Israel may be forbidden to dispossess (Deut. 2:9-12, 19-21), but which cannot come into the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:3, 4), to the end dwelling nigh to the wilderness, short of the land beyond Jordan.

Such is the end of Lot. Henceforth he is no longer a snare to the man of faith. Within, when once the outward mind has shewn its full unlikeness to that spirit of faith, with which for a while it seemed so closely linked, it ceases to be a hindrance: it may live, but henceforth it does not trouble faith. So without, the fall of outward men may grieve, but it will not stumble the men of faith. It may even help them, as the removal of dead wood serves the vine no less than the purging and pruning of the fruitful branch. "All things are yours." "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us."


Chapter 20

ONE trial more remains for faith before Isaac, the spirit of sonship, is manifested. Terah and Egypt have long since been left; Sodom is judged; Lot too is gone, no more to trouble us. In other words, the old man, and sense, and self-love, and the outward man, have all been given up or overcome. At this point another trial meets us. Abraham, saved from Egypt, and Sodom, and Lot, comes into the Philistines' land; and there, through fear lest he should be killed for his wife's sake, is tempted to deny his true relation to her. "Abraham said of Sarah, She is my sister: and Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent and took her." But God interferes, making known to the Philistine, that, because she belongs to another, he may not touch her. Sarah, therefore, is restored untouched to Abraham, who with her receives considerable presents from Abimelech (Gen. 20:1-16).

Thrice does the elect fail thus. In Egypt Abraham has already once given up his wife. Now with the Philistines he repeats the same act. Isaac, too, at a later date fails in like manner (Gen. 26:6-11). (Note: David also "changed his behaviour before Abimelech." -- See Psalm 34 title; and 1 Sam. 21:13.) There must be, therefore, some peculiar tendency in the elect to that form of failure or error, which for our instruction is recorded here. What is it? Can we be guilty of it? Or may we say that Abraham's sons do not fail here as their father did?

Throughout this book every man or woman, sprung from Adam, figures (if we take the inward application) some mind or affection which by nature or grace springs out of human nature. Abraham is the spirit of faith. Sarah, speaking broadly, is the principle of the New Covenant. What is Abimelech? He was a Philistine. On turning to the chapter (Gen. 10:13, 14) which gives us the development of the seeds which multiplied on resurrection-ground, we read that the Philistines were the children of Mizraim or Egypt. Egypt is sense; (Note: See on chap. 12.) outwardly, those who live the life of sense, that is, in seen things. The Philistine is only the same spirit, in rather a different aspect, and at a further stage. Thus, if Egypt figures worldly wisdom, that knowledge through the senses which cannot really know God, the Philistine represents the further attainments of the same, when it is seen attempting to enter into heavenly things. For the Philistine stretches out toward the land of Canaan; (Note: A glance at any map, shewing the relative position of the Philistines, and Egypt, and Canaan, will make this clearer to those who are not familiar with the localities of the countries named here.) but he would enter that land without circumcision, (Note: The Philistines are continually mentioned as "uncircumcised." -- See 1 Sam. 17:26, 36; 31:4; 2 Sam. 1:20, &c. Those who can trace the mystic significance of numbers will observe that there were "five lords of the Philistines." -- Joshua 13:3; Judges 3:3; 1 Sam. 6:4, 16, 18. Five always refers to something connected with the senses. See note in chap. 14.) without passing the wilderness, and without crossing Jordan or the Red Sea. Such is the Philistine, knowledge derived from sense, which seeks to enter into heavenly things without death and resurrection. It is a race famed for giants (1 Sam. 17:4-7; 2 Sam. 21:15, 16, 18, 20), but with all their might they cannot possess the promised land. Knowledge derived from sense is not elect: it cannot inherit, though it may seek to intrude into, heavenly things. (Note: Origen gives the same interpretation, taking the Philistine to represent worldly knowledge or philosophy, Hom. xiv. in Gen. xxvi.)

What is figured here then is this. The spirit of faith, delivered from outward hindrances, discovers that even the knowledge which aims at heavenly things may be a snare to it. An attempt is made by knowledge to take the things of faith, and hereby faith's best things are seriously imperilled. For knowledge may not take the things of faith. Nevertheless, when faith fails to hold its proper truth, knowledge attempts to lay hold on that which as exclusively belongs to faith as Sarah did to Abraham. But this is not allowed, and cannot be. The New Covenant or spiritual truth belongs only to the spirit of faith. On the other hand, if faith owns this relationship, then knowledge may strengthen faith, and give it many gifts, which may serve for the veiling or adorning of the truth. For even as Abimelech gave gifts to Abraham, after that he confessed the true relationship in which he stood to Sarah, so may knowledge enrich faith with many useful things, if only the true relationship between faith and the covenant of grace is not denied. It is not lawful by knowledge to take hold of the things of faith, but some of the things of knowledge may be received by faith, and of these a covering may be made for the protection of the things of faith. Faith, holding the truth, can possess the things which knowledge gives, but mere knowledge cannot enter into spiritual truth.

For example, take the truth of the cross. Mere earthly knowledge never embraces it. But faith, firmly holding this truth, may be confirmed and enriched by many considerations, which properly belong to the province of mere worldly knowledge, that is, the Philistine. For even nature says, that the ground must be pierced by spade and plough before it will yield its best fruits, -- that thorns may grow without a chastened earth, but that corn-fields only smile after the ploughers have ploughed upon its back and made long furrows. Every creature slain to support our life, the threshing needed to separate the wheat from the chaff which covers it, the crushing of the grape to produce the precious wine, -- these "voices in the world" (1 Cor. 14:10) all preach the cross, and that life and joy are through death and sorrow everywhere. Thus can faith in us receive from knowledge many things which serve to enrich and strengthen it, while knowledge on its part cannot possess spiritual truth. On the other hand, faith freed from outward things now finds that even knowledge may be a snare to it; for knowledge attempts to take the things of faith, and faith failing to hold them firmly thereby imperils the promised seed. Had the Lord not interposed, it might have been doubtful whether Isaac were Abraham's seed or Abimelech's. But God interferes: the things of faith are preserved inviolate. Faith may fail: God never fails.


Outwardly too the scene here is fulfilled, when, through the failure of believers to avow their special privileges, men of mere worldly knowledge are deceived so as to think that as worldlings they can possess the things of faith. That believers fail thus is a fact, shameful and humbling, but as certainly a fact as that Abraham denied Sarah in the Philistines' land. In this outward view, the Philistine represents those in whom the spirit of worldly knowledge is the ruling life, who, like the Philistine, stretch out to enter holy things without spiritual circumcision, without death and resurrection. (Note: Origen, Hom. vi. in Gen. xx, gives the outward view. Augustine traces a yet more general application, seeing in Abimelech the rulers of this world, who seek to take the Church, not knowing its true relationships, but are not permitted to violate it. -- Contra Faustum, l. xxii. c. 38.) In the presence of such, through fear of man, the believer is often tempted practically to deny Sarah, by giving worldlings reason to think that as the world, that is, by mere knowledge, without faith, the New Covenant can properly belong to them. The result is that worldlings, knowing no better, think that the New Covenant is something, which they may know carnally, and accordingly they so attempt to know it. For this the elect are to blame. Words are used, which, though true in a sense, are not true in the sense in which they are taken by worldly men, and by these the world is deceived. Had Abraham avowed Sarah's relation to him, that she was his wife, Abimelech would in all probability not have attempted to meddle with her. And if believers would but say that certain truths belong to certain men, the world would not so often attempt to grasp what is not theirs. But this is shrunk from. And from fear of giving offence, by suggesting that there is anything which worldly men cannot comprehend, they are by the Church's culpable equivocation brought into real danger. Not knowing that Sarah belongs to men of faith, they attempt to lay hold of her by knowledge, that is, as Philistines. The soul which believes is not a Philistine. Such a one may freely take Sarah, for such a one is an Abraham, though perhaps only just commencing his path from Ur of the Chaldees. But for others without faith this is not allowed. Sarah cannot be wife or mother of Philistines.

This is important truth. In our poor pride we cannot believe that anything can be too high or pure for us, or that through our earthliness heavenly things may be a curse, or that as the air of heaven is death to the fish of the sea raised into it, so the things of the Spirit of God may only destroy and ruin us. And yet when we think of the way in which He who is Love has given, and still gives, the light of truth to a world which lies in darkness, -- how He gave it by degrees, under thick veils and shadows, for the space of many hundred years; not surely because He grudged the light, but because mankind could only bear little; -- when we think how, even when the Light Himself appeared, after so many thousand years of thick darkness, He yet came under a veil of flesh and blood, allowing only a few who loved Him, and just in proportion as they loved Him, to see His true brightness, when His raiment did shine as the sun, and He was transfigured before them; -- when we think of the heathen world, why, with a God of love, they are so left; and of the many Christians, who are God's beloved children, whom yet He leaves in dimness all their days, seeming even at times providentially to keep them from more light, though light is all around; -- when we remember that He who acts thus is the only wise and loving God, we may be sure that the light of truth is awful as well as blessed, and that there are good reasons for giving it little and little, and for leaving man for a season "in the lowest parts of the earth."

The truth is, things in earth or heaven are good or otherwise to us, not according to their own intrinsic goodness, but according to our fitness to deal with them. Being what we are, God's best things would consume us. Therefore in love (for indeed God's judgments are love) is fallen man shut out from open vision of heavenly things. Therefore is the Incarnation the way the Lord has met us, a veil covered with cherubic forms, hiding yet revealing heavenly things. Therefore are carnal men kept back from spiritual things, because carnally received they would increase their condemnation. And great as are the sins and judgment of the world, far greater would they be, did not God sometimes interfere to check them in their advance on holy things. Carnal knowledge of grace would not improve them. In mercy therefore are they withheld from it. But men of faith have failed to declare this as they should, so that worldly men like Abimelech can reprove the Abrahams. And however believers may justify to themselves the equivocations, by which the world are deceived to think that as the world they may have part or lot in the New Covenant, neither God nor man will hold them guiltless. The Lord may indeed forgive the sin, but Abraham must confess it, so that henceforth, if he cannot help, at least he may not by his blessings be a snare to others.

This lesson learnt, the believer is not far from the attainment of that fruitfulness which he has so long waited for. Being so far purged, he is fit to bear good fruit; and the fruit is borne, not to his own joy only, but like Isaac to the joy of many others. For when Isaac comes, a covenant is made with Philistines (Gen. 21:27-34). If they cannot be Sarah's sons, they shall in their place at least receive some blessing through Abraham. We shall see this when we come to Isaac's life. Would to God that all through grace had reached it. Then the Lord shall hear the heavens, and the heavens hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn and wine and oil, and they shall hear Jezreel. For He will sow her unto Himself in the earth, and will say to them that were not His people, Ye are my people, and they shall say, The Lord is our God.

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