[Note: This article should have appeared in the October 15 issue. The article which did appear in the October 15 issue under the same title should have followed this article and should have carried the title, “Faltering Faith And Guiding Grace.” The mix-up is neither the fault of the author nor the fault of the editor, but of our typesetter, who apologizes for the error. HCH]
He lived to the southeast of the site of the unfinished tower of Babel, and he had no intention of moving away. But when the word of the Lord came to Abram, he left Ur of the Chaldees to go, as Hebrews 11:8 states, “to a land which he knew not.” It was one he had never seen, and from which he had received no reports. And on his journey to that. land he passed close by that tower of Babel in its unfinished state. What is more, God called him to leave the area where the descendants of Shem, whose God Jehovah would be, had settled after the confusion of speech, and led him to where the children of cursed Canaan had firmly settled and filled the land.
The mistaken notion that has gained ground is that God did all this to preserve the true religion. A wrong answer so often sticks where the truth is easily forgotten. We remember back in the days of our catechetical instruction as a youth that our book asked the question, “Why did God call Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees?” And the answer we committed to memory, and that still sticks there today was, “To preserve the true religion.”
This is incorrect, and behind it is the notion that has not one word of proof in Scripture, namely, that Abraham’s life was in danger because he believed in God, and that the large majority of those around him were his enemies who were ready to stamp out the true religion by killing him. And although it is true that God did take Noah and his family out of such a situation and saved them by water, yet He kept Noah there for one hundred twenty years and protected him from the hands of the enemy that despised him for his preaching of righteousness. He could have done the same thing for Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, and in fact did do that now in Canaan.
Canaan was full of unbelievers, and so vile were two of the cities that God destroyed them with fire and brimstone. God did not bring him to a land that gladly gave him freedom of religion, but in the midst of an enemy that wanted to kill him, and that God kept from doing as it desired. It was neither virgin soil where no man had tilled before, and where no one had, staked out a claim, or where few had done so; nor was it virgin in its dedication to the living God. Idolatry abounded. So evil was the country that Abraham had to send for a wife for his son, Isaac, outside of its citizenship. And we had better be careful not to read into the Scriptures what God has not written there. Abram was not called out to preserve the true religion. His separation from the other descendants of Shem was sovereign, but it was not to preserve the true religion from the danger of being exterminated.
Besides, there is that constant principle in Scripture that the calling of the child of God is not world flight but world fight. We are always called to live the antithesis, to walk as children of light in the midst of the children of darkness, to be witnesses of God among the ungodly. And to do that God called Abram, neither to flee from some persecutors, nor to have it easy to serve God among men of like mind.
We do well to note what God says Himself and what reason He gives for this call. In Genesis 12:1-3 we read, “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 thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed.” And although it may be admitted that Abram’s father served idols, as we read in Joshua 24:2, yet this is not mentioned here at all as the reason for calling Abram from the house of his father. In fact his father went with him a good deal of the way. And the correct answer to the question as to why God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees is: to establish the covenant with him and his seed after him. Note that last statement from the mouth of God, “And in thy seed shall all families of themearth be blessed.”
Subsequent. history, as it is recorded in the Scriptures, also shows without a shadow of a doubt that God’s purpose in calling Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and in sending him all that way into the very heart of the descendants of cursed Canaan, was to establish with him the covenant which He first made known to Adam after his fall. Up until the day that God sent the New Testament Church to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, it is the line of Abram that is traced and that is always on the foreground in Scripture. And what we see thus far—or should see at least—in the first twelve chapters of Genesis is a sovereign and very distinct narrowing down of the line of the covenant.
God in His mercy came to His covenant breaker, Adam, and in his hearing told Satan that He would take out of the fallen human race a seed in whose hearts He would again place the love of God and hatred against Satan and his whole kingdom, a people to whom He would give the victory, and set aside for His own. It appeared at first as though, this seed would continue in Abel’s children, but he was brutally murdered by his brother before he could bring forth any children. God gave Adam and Eve another Son, Seth, in whom the line continued until the day that Noah and his family were separated from all the human race’ by the waters of the flood and Noah was told that in him and his children the covenant was established. It would run in the line of his children. Here God’s church would be found. Then came a sharper drawing of the line to point out the descendants of Shem as those whose children would be called the children of God. And now God narrows that lineage of Shem down to Abram and his seed. God called Abram to set him and his children aside as the generation wherein the believers of the Old Testament dispensation would be found. For that reason God called him away from all the rest of Shem’s descendants. And though there were still for a time believers of Shem’s descendants living there in Ur of the Chaldees not only, but also in other sections of the area where Shem’s and even Japheth’s descendants dwelt, and also in fact in Ham’s—for we must not forget the Ethiopian eunuch—God chose and called Abram to be the father of the seed that would bring forth the Christ. And therefore it is that God declares here that in him all families of the earth shall be blessed. They shall be blessed in Christ, Who comes out of the loins of Abraham and not from any other descendant of Shem and of Noah.
This raises an interesting question. Why Abram? Why a man whose wife is already sixty-five years of age and proven to be barren? Why this man among all the other descendants of Shem? Was he stronger in faith? Did God find a man more suitable, more worthy than all the rest living in that day? Why must the rest of the line of Shem be eliminated and one man and his wife be removed to such a wicked region to fulfill in them all the covenant promises of a seed of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent and his seed, and would work in the hearts of a multitude that no one can number enmity against Satan and his whole kingdom?
Certainly we can rule out any worthiness on Abram’s part. And it is quite obvious that God did not choose Sarai because she promised to be so very fertile that a seed and a church is sure there in that land of Canaan. Abram was no more worthy than Sarai was fertile. Sarai could not conceive a child, and Abram could not originate a spiritually righteous activity. What faith Abram had, and is recorded in Hebrews 11:8, came from this same God that called him. In fact before God called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees, God called him to faith. God called faith into him, instilled in him the spiritual power whereby he would believe and would obey. It is not Abram’s worthiness that singled him out. It was God’s sovereign grace. And that sovereign grace also gave him this barren wife, Yes, that was God’s gift to Abram. From eternity He had chosen just this wife for Abram; and He called him with that kind of wife knowing full well her hopeless barrenness. He made her that way and wanted her to be that way. And He wanted this particular Shemite with that kind of wife to be the root out of which He would bring forth an innumerable host, and the Christ Who brings blessings to every family of the earth.
It was sovereign grace that planned and executed all this. In God’s grace Abram became the father of all believers. He did not become the father of all believers and therefore become the object of God’s grace. It all began with God, eternally and sovereignly. At no point of our salvation does any part begin with us. That salvation, in every part, reaches back into eternity.
We must not, as is often done, stress how much Abram gave up in heeding this call. Faith looks always at what he got! Read again that “Faith Chapter” ofHebrews 11. Read verses thirteen through sixteen, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.”
Did you note that the stress is not on what they left behind, and upon what they did without? It is all upon what they looked for and on which their faith was firmly attached. They sought a country and did not look back at the one they left at God’s command.
What a lesson here for us when this world’s goods will be taken away from us, and the forces of darkness will crowd more and more into our spheres of life pretty soon to deny us the right to buy and to sell, to eat and to live, to follow our livelihood and to retain our few earthly possessions. Look not back at what you gave up for the cause of Christ, but in faith look forward to the city which hath foundations, the heavenly country, the land to which God calls all His people, and where He blesses us in Christ, The Seed of Abraham.
And then thank God for calling you in His sovereign grace, you, who by nature are not better than those who belong to the kingdom of the prince of this earth. It is grace that separates us from the world. It is grace that makes us pilgrims and strangers amid a larger host that has nothing but this earth, and has it for such a short time. Thousands upon thousands will stay behind when Christ comes to gather His own into His kingdom with its glory. Thank God for sovereign grace that included you in the number of those whom He calls to enter this country you have never seen, but is your inheritance through His Son Who gave up all, His very life, that we might have the right to this better life and better country.