In our former article we noticed that the hope of the believing women in the Old Dispensation centered on the promised Christ. When sin entered into the world God promised salvation through the seed that would be born. Fallen mankind lay in the midst of deaths sold under sin, with no escape except for that promised seed, the Christ. Out of the natural, carnal seed that would be born to our first parents God would take unto Himself a spiritual seed, an elect generation, the Church. And in the line of generations of this spiritual seed the Christ would be born. Thus the hope of the believing mother was fixed upon that promised Christ. She longed to have a part in bringing Him forth and thus see her promise realized. She was blessed in bearing children, for therein lay the hope of her salvation.
We traced that hope as it lived in the hearts of some of the believing women, particularly in Eve. Sarah, Rebekah and Hannah.
But we cannot fail to note that this hope was always accompanied by an intense struggle. Without a bitter, lifelong struggle that hope could never be realized, even according to the divine purpose.
The Lord Himself occasions that struggle. He creates a twofold seed in the line of the generations of the human race. He establishes enmity between them, and by the way of struggle causes the Christ child to be born, who destroys the power of Satan and gives His people the eternal victory.
We should not fail to note, first of all, that even within the church there is always a reprobate, carnal seed as well as an elect, spiritual seed. There are always dead branches in the true Vine as it manifests itself here on earth. There are still good and bad fishes in the net of God’s covenant as it sweeps through the sea of this world. There is chaff as well as wheat in the harvest as long as it still stands upon the field. There is scaffolding as well as the building proper as long as God’s temple is under construction. It is not all Israel that is called Israel.
Secondly, it is worthy of note that the natural seed is always first and serves to bring forth the spiritual. Even in nature the straw serves to produce the kernel of wheat, so that finally the chaff and the straw are burned, but the wheat is gathered into the granary. So also God gathers His Church from the natural seed that is born in the line of the continued generations of believers. And finally we must note that the natural, carnal seed is always in the majority and is always stronger than the spiritual seed, when viewed from the earthly aspect. The carnal element holds the position of power even within the church as it manifests itself here on earth. It always oppresses the spiritual element and seeks to destroy it. It persecutes the believers, crucifies the Christ, and in every way proudly exalts itself against the Lord and His Anointed. The heathen rage furiously and the peoples imagine vain things even in the domain of the covenant. For the Lord has placed enmity between the devil and the woman, between the seed of the devil and the seed of the woman, until finally the seed of the woman crushes the head of the devil to powder, even while he is busy bruising its heel.
That is quite evident from the examples we referred to in our previous article.
Notice again the exultant cry of the mother of all living when she took up her firstborn son and said, “I have gotten a man of the Lord.” We could well imagine that she was bitterly disillusioned when later she realized that this son was simply a product of her own sinful flesh, the seed of the serpent. Cain was the firstborn, and therefore Eve readily built her hopes upon that child. Moreover, he was evidently the picture of strength and comeliness. When Abel was born she calls him ‘breath’, ‘vanity’, for he must have been a puny child, upon whom was plainly written the sad results of their fall. Yet according to the will and purpose of God, Cain was the reprobate seed. That became evident as he grew up under the covenant training of his God-fearing parents. Cain revealed only animosity over against all the evidences of God’s grace in the life of Abel. Even Cain’s sacrifice was a wicked product of His own abominable self-righteousness. Until finally Cain reveals His true nature by killing Abel in a vain desire to wipe out God’s Church. But Cain does serve his purpose. He was the firstborn son, and therefore proof of the fact that God would give them a seed. And at the same time he opened the way for that true seed as it was represented in Abel. Therefore the exuberant joy of Eve at the birth of her firstborn was certainly not in vain. It did express her hope of the fulfillment of the promise of God, even though she had still to learn by sad experience that this hope would be realized only by way of struggle.
Then we have the history of Sarah in connection with the birth of Ishmael from Hagar. Many have regarded Hagar as a victim of the capricious whims of Sarah. In fact, Sarah is often condemned for her bitterness toward Ishmael, for demanding that he be sent out of the house, and for insisting that he be disowned as Abraham’s heir. For that is what happens. After the Lord makes plain to Sarah that she herself shall have a son in her old age, and that Isaac shall be the promised seed, Sarah becomes increasingly more determined that Hagar and her son shall not abide under their roof. The day even arrives that Abraham is forced to send the bondwoman and her son away empty handed.
But before we criticize Sarah we must bear in mind that Scripture takes her side in the matter. God demands of Abraham that he comply with her wishes, for the son of the bondwomen must not inherit with the son of the free. (). The facts in the case are these: When Hagar realized that she would bear Abraham a son she proudly despised her mistress. According to her estimation, not Sarah, but she was the covenant mother, the real wife of Abraham. Had not God privileged her above Sarah? Therefore she was also determined to claim her own child. She would never give it up to her mistress. That accounts for her insubordination to Sarah and her fleeing away. And that also takes into account the fact that the Lord insists that she must return to her mistress and submit to her until the child is born, for the Lord will see to it that in due time she may claim her own child. Later Hagar even impresses upon Ishmael’s mind that he is the firstborn, and therefore the rightful heir. That is the reason why Ishmael mocks with Isaac, over whom they make such an undue fuss. The son of the bondwoman, Abraham’s natural seed, proudly exalts and maintains himself over against the child of the promise. With the result that God Himself requires that the haughty rebel be cast out of the house in which he has no rightful claim. After a bitter struggle it becomes evident to all that the purpose according to election must stand, for “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”.
We can pass over the struggle in Isaac’s family with but a few words. Before the twins were ever born, Isaac and Rebekah were informed that the knife of divine election and reprobation had cut sharply between them. They were even given to understand that the firstborn, Esau, would have no part in the covenant whatsoever. Sovereign election centered upon Jacob; reprobation rested on Esau. Rebekah proves to be able to adjust herself to this awful revelation more readily than Isaac. He favors the firstborn and even plays with the idea that he might still be the covenant seed. From a purely natural point of view it is not difficult for us to place ourselves in his position, since Esau was his own flesh and blood and had a natural appeal besides, so that Isaac did not like to see him perish. Yet Isaac is wrong, and learned to realize it only after failing in a final desperate attempt to place the blessing upon him. But then he is also ready to declare blessed him whom God will bless.
This throws light on the history of Hannah. She also experienced the struggle within her own household. Hannah was barren, so that her husband Elkanah foolishly devised the plot to take Peninnah to wife, in order that she might serve to bring the joys of the covenant mother into Hannah’s life. In this attempt Elkanah fails miserably. For Peninnah is carnal, even as Hannah is deeply spiritual. She readily usurps Hannah’s place as Elkanah’s wife, and scornfully mocks with Hannah particularly because she is able to present Elkanah with children. That drove Hannah to a point where she pours out her soul in prayer to the Lord at Shiloh. It was an ominous time. These were the days when there was no king in Israel and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. The carnal seed had the upper hand, not only in Hannah’s home, but even in all Israel, so that corruption was rampant even to the tabernacle at Shiloh. The spiritual seed was being oppressed, even threatened with destruction. Therefore she prays, not merely for a child, especially not more carnal seed, but for one who can be a Samuel, and “answered of the Lord”, to cleanse the sanctuary and to preserve God’s church upon the earth. She wants a son whom she may dedicate as a devoted servant to the Lord all the days of his life, that Israel may thus be preserved and that the Christ may come.
Hannah and the whole church of the old dispensation saw their hope fulfilled in Mary, the most blessed among women. With her they lift up their voice in triumph saying, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulders: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
By way of struggle the hope of the believer is realized. How could it be otherwise? For God’s promise never fails. By a wonder of grace He gathers His own in the continued line of believers. He transforms natural, carnal, even depraved sons of wrath into spiritual children of the kingdom of heaven. And He sends His own Son into the flesh, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary. He is God’s Son, yet born in our likeness, son of Eve, son of Sarah, son of Rebekah, son of Ruth son of Mary; Immanuel, God with us! God proves that nothing is impossible with Jehovah our covenant God.
These things are written for our example.
This same hope still lives in the hearts of the believers in the new dispensation. Believing mothers still exaltingly say with the mother of all living, “I have gotten a man of the Lord.” We can readily understand that a world steeped in iniquity refuses to be burdened with the anxieties of child-birth and the trouble of rearing a family. And why bring more children into the misery of this world? It is even an evidence of unbelief within the church that many will follow the same reasonings as the world and resort to the same practices to satisfy the lusts of the flesh without becoming involved in a family. The carnal element within the church is a friend of the world even in that respect. But the true covenant mother counts herself blessed in receiving children from the Lord. In her own small way she is instrumental in bringing forth God’s church and establishing His kingdom. She considers it only a wonder of divine grace that she herself may know the Lord. That wonder is only enriched by the fact that she is privileged to have children who fear the Lord and walk in His ways. She sees even in that the answer to her prayer “Thy kingdom come.”
But this hope is never realized without a struggle, also today. The carnal seed is still always in the majority and lords it over the spiritual seed. It still seeks to destroy God’s church. Therefore we are called to wage an untiring battle. We must be spiritually strong, arraying ourselves as the party of the living God against the powers of darkness. We must be ready at all times to give account of the hope that is within us. We must hold firmly to the truth entrusted unto us, that no man may take our crown. It is our calling to pass on to the generations to come the glorious heritage of truth which was delivered over to us from the fathers. That calls for covenant training in the home, in the church, and in the school, based entirely upon the Word of God. And that, I may add, requires our own school.
The outcome is always safe with God. For we shall finally appear before Him with the church of all ages, saying, “Behold us, Lord and the children which Thou hast given us, for they are Thine.”
May that hope never grow dim among us.