Chapter 5 – Abraham, or the Obedience of Faith

Abraham has been called “the Columbus of Faith.” Not that he was the only one that has traversed the great and trackless wastes, but because he was the first. Moreover, so wide and comprehensive was the range of his faith, and its trials and triumphs, that he has been called by God Himself ” the father of all them that believe.”
His faith shines out in SEVEN rainbow-like hues of distinct and glorious luster.

1. FAITH OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS. — “By faith Abraham, when he was called, OBEYED.” Faith, therefore, meets us in the very beginning as an act of obedience, and thus God regards it and enjoins it. It is not an option with us whether we shall believe God’s word or not, but “This is His commandment, that we should believe on the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

This makes the act of faith at once most imperative, and yet most simple and easy. Imperative, because if He has commanded we have no choice; easy, because if He has commanded, He is responsible to carry us through and fulfil His promise to us. God is as much bound by His word as we are. Therefore, whenever faith can clearly know that He has spoken, all it has to do is to lay the whole responsibility on Him and go forward. “Hath He said, and shall He not do it; hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”

2. FAITH TRUSTING GOD IN THE DARK. — “He went forth, not knowing whither he went.” That is the next stage. It is faith without sight. When we can see, it is not faith, but reasoning. In crossing the Atlantic, we see no path upon the sea or sign of the shore. And yet, day by day, we are marking our path upon the chart as exactly as if there had followed us a great chalk line upon the sea. And when we come within twenty miles of land we know where we are as exactly as if we had seen it all three thousand miles ahead. How have we measured and marked our course? Day by day our captain has taken his instruments, and looking up to the sky has fixed his course by the sun. He is sailing by dead reckoning, by the heavenly, not the earthly lights. So faith looks up and sails on, by God’s great Sun, not seeing one shoreline or earthly lighthouse or path upon the way.

Faith sails by reckoning too. Often its steps seem to lead into utter uncertainty, and even darkness and disaster. But He opens the way, and often makes such midnight hours to be the very gates of day.

Once, in going down an Alpine path, the travelers found their way wholly closed. The little path down the mountain torrent suddenly ended in a vast ice cliff, under which the torrent plunged and disappeared. What were they to do? Suddenly the guide leaped into the stream and bade his companions follow. For a moment there was darkness and fear, then they were carried under the ice mountain, and a moment later flung on the banks of green in the valley of Chamonix. So faith has often to go right into the darkness, and find God and deliverance in what seems to be a veritable death-plunge. In many a step of faith the way seems to close up, and when all seems threatened with disaster, God delivers. The more fully God purposes to teach us faith, the more will He shut us up to Himself alone, and shut out of our view the human sources of help which He holds at His command until we have learned to trust Him fully without either sight or sign.

3. FAITH BELIEVING GOD’S DEFINITE PROMISE. — For a while Abraham had only God’s general promise of guidance as he went on from day to day. But ere long the promise grows more specific, and at last it is clear and plain, a star of fixed magnitude upon the sky of his future, the promise of an inheritance and a child. Faith now changes from a simple trust in His wisdom and love to a specific expectation. And here he must stand and believe, and wait for God to fulfil. Here we, too, must follow him.

In this Abraham is our great forerunner, and our part is to follow in the steps of our father Abraham, and as we follow we shall find that all his steps were steps of faith. But Abraham’s faith was not as yet perfected; and God had now to give him a startling object-lesson of what it really means to believe God. And so He does much more than talk to Abraham. He requires Abraham to meet Him and answer back by the actions of responsive faith. And so we see in the following verses the most dramatic picture of the steps of faith to be found in the Bible.

First, God gives Abraham the promise of future blessing. “I will make My covenant between thee and Me.” Abraham meets this promise, and goes down upon his face before God to claim it. Then follows, secondly, the next tense of faith, which is the present tense. “As for Me, behold My covenant is with thee.” The thing that God would do He now does. The thing that Abraham expected he now accepts and takes as a present fact. The future becomes the present tense, and faith becomes action. But there is still a third step of faith. “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.” It is now the perfect tense. The thing that was promised was done, and is now finished. Action has become transaction, and has passed even beyond the present tense, and therefore Abraham must take the position of one who has passed through all these stages, and has actually received his yet unseen blessing. He must change his name and stand before the public and be laughed at and called a fool, an old man in his dotage, a dreamer, as his neighbors ask him the reason of the strange difference in his name, and he tells them that God has made him the father of many nations. Faith must be sealed by testimony, and testimony must be steeped in trial, shame, and many a waiting hour of trusting in the darkness.

But at length there comes a day of vindication, when the laugh is turned upon them, and little Isaac is called by the name “Laughter,” because God has made Abraham to laugh instead of those who scorned his faith.

This, beloved, is the way in which we must meet El-Shaddai. We must not only take the promise for the future, but we must bring it into the present, and claim it as an immediate fact in this moment of our lives. Then we must translate it into the past, and take the position that it is an accomplished fact, and call it so, never ashamed to have men know that we believe our God and venture on calling the things that are not as though they were. This is the committal of faith. This is the place where so many fail to enter in, but this is the very ladder of blessing described in the 37th Psalm, where David says, “Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He worketh. Rest in the Lord, be silent to God and wait patiently for Him, and He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light and thy judgment as the noonday.”

4. FAITH NOT ONLY BELIEVING BUT CONFESSING ITS CONFIDENCE. — Abraham no sooner believed the promise of his seed, than he had to change his name, as we have already seen, and take in the sight of all men, a name that literally signified his great and stupendous claim. Christ ever asks us, “Whom SAY YE that I am?” Faith must always set its seal to it that God is true, and “SAY of the Lord, He is my Helper.”

Faith will die without confession; but a true and humble acknowledgment commits it and confirms it. If the healed demoniac had not gone home to his friends and put himself on record for Christ, he would probably have fallen; and if Simon Peter had fearlessly followed with Christ’s little band he would not have denied Him. We must not merely believe, but we must even CALL the things that are not as though they were, and take the witness-stand for God in regard to all He has called us to.

5. FAITH YIELDING UP THE WORLD BECAUSE IT HAS A BETTER INHERITANCE. — It was not long ere Lot, with his earthly spirit, began to contend for the best of the land. Abraham let him have it, and that same night God appeared to Abraham and told him it was all his own, Lot’s portion as well as the rest, and it was not long ere even Lot had to look to Abraham to defend even the portion that he chose. The man of faith can let the present world go, because he knows he has a better; but even as he lets it go God tells him that all things are his because he is Christ’s.

6. FAITH CONTENDING AGAINST THE DEVIL FOR ITS FULL INHERITANCE. — Abraham would not contend with Lot for the best pastures, but when the Kings of the East invaded Canaan and set their foot on his inheritance, he rose up in the might of divine faith, and in the most chivalrous exploit of ancient times, defeated and drove them from the land, and rescued Lot and his family. Faith can fight as well as yield, but it always fights against the enemies of God, not against God’s servants. God wants us to know and use the authority of faith, and say to this mountain, “Be thou removed and cast into the sea, and it shall obey.”

7. FAITH BEARING THE SUPREME TEST, AND THEN ENTERING INTO REST AND RESURRECTION LIFE. — At length the very promise he had received, claimed, and confessed, seems challenged. Isaac, the link of all the promise, must be given up. Was it then a mistake that in Isaac all the seed was to come? No, not for a second did he question. Isaac might even die, but God could not break His word. It must all come, even if Isaac was raised from the dead. This was really what Abraham looked for. It was his faith, therefore, not only his obedience and love that were tested. And it was because he believed that God would give Isaac back that he was able to give him up. So God would have us stand in the most trying hours, knowing that He cannot lie, and so fully trusting Him that we give up our very blessings to His hand, and our very promises to His keeping, knowing that He is faithful that promised. Such trials only bring out the richer preciousness and overcoming power of faith.

In the desert there is a flower which only blooms when the winds blow. Then amid the fiercest blasts there comes out on every stem a little star-like flower. So faith blossoms when the winds of trial blow the fiercest, and finds its very soil and nurture in the difficulties and testings of life. May the Lord so fill us with the faith of Abraham, that God can not only give, but give back, the Isaacs of His love, and lead us into the rest, the fulness, and the fruitage of the life of faith which made Abraham worthy to be called “the Friend of God.”