In answering this question one is automatically giving his view on what the Church is, its relation to the world and to heaven, as well as defining the conception of the Covenant and its development in history. And that, it seems to me, is quite a series of important subjects. So please do not expect that I intend at arriving at any one conclusion and say, “now then, that is the purpose of his separation”.
When the question is asked why God called Abraham apart and what may be God’s purpose in separating him from his surroundings, various answers are given. We ought to stop and look at a few of them just a moment.
You all recall the little answer which the Primer by Beets and Bosma gives: that God called Abraham apart to preserve the true religion. The idea is that after the flood idolatry made such an inrush that it became necessary for God to get Abraham out of the Ur of Chaldees and bring him into a little enclosure where the true religion could be preserved. Apart from the fact that Canaan too was idolatrous, and apart from the fact that the true religion, historically at least, was not even preserved that way, apart from that all, this view is dualistic. It makes it seem as if God suddenly became confronted with the perplexing problem of idolatry and to solve it, called Abraham apart. This is dualism.
Premillennialism views the Abrahamic separation as the beginning of a new dispensation in which the Jews became the proper people of God and ever after remain such. Because later the Jews reject Christ God breaks off His relationship with them for a while, but in due time God will return to the Jews and bring them to Canaan. In other words, God by means of Abraham’s separation, sets out to give the national Jews the land of Canaan. . . . their rejection of Christ interrupted this program for a while during which time Gold gathers a New Testament Church. . . . but after this God will turn again to gather the Jews. And such people excitedly point to the fact that there are so and so many millions of Jews already gone back to geographical Canaan today. Such a view forgets that the true children of Abraham are any and all believers, and that the Canaan which God holds before them when He calls Abraham is not an earthly one but the heavenly one, the Better Country of.
Another prevalent view or error is the Common Grace conception as worked out by the late Dr. A. Kuyper in his De Gemeene Gratie (1:349-350) which runs briefly as follows: 1. After the Fall God’s primary purpose with history is to restore the original creation ordinance. Sin and the devil sought to wreck the creation ordinance, God goes about to restore it. 2. Common Grace prevailed until we reach chapter 12 of Genesis, but the world became more and more steeped in idolatry. Something must be done to keep things on the right road. 3. Special grace makes its appearance in that God calls Abraham apart, isolates him and the cause for a few hundred years so that it can develop into a potent power. 4. Then, finally, in the New Dispensation the highly developed, potent, long preserved religion returns to its common grace channels, goes out into all the world, institutes crisis, influences all that is devilish, bringing judgment day, and after the final separation making the original work of God bloom in glory before the Throne. Such is, in short of course, his view. Many modern Kuyper advocates have taken this conception and rushed with it into Postmillennialism, teaching that the Abrahamic separation first, and the New Testament return to all nations later, will have its finished fruit in a world won for Christ, where the original creation ordinance blooms. All this makes the Abrahamic separation merely an interlude between two acts, and restored creation ordinances the primary goal of God’s work in redemption. Thus losing sight of the election, the Christ and the better things in Christ.
In considering what God is doing when He calls Abraham apart it is necessary first of all to bear in mind two things:
The separation is an historical fact and as such it served the purpose of bringing the Covenant to its Old Testament fulfillment. The Covenant with Adam and Noah takes on a distinct significance now that God calls Abraham apart. And this is evident from the fact that as soon as Abraham reaches the land of Canaan God comes to him with what we read in Gen. 17, and discovers to him things which no mortal ear had ever heard before. Such was impossible without the foregoing separation. Here already the election of God expresses itself in separation before it finds its goal in the covenant relationship. Even the land of Canaan was so situated that at that spot and at no other God’s purposes with His Old Testament Church could be realized. At the same time however this Old Testament act is also a type, which finds its higher fulfillment later in Christ, and especially in His ascension, Pentecost and Parousia. The separation of Abraham is really going on all the time, during all the days of God’s Church in this world, yea, and in the life of every individual Christian. Whosoever confesses the God of Abraham today must feel the power of that Word which saith, “wherefore, come ye out from among them and be ye separate”.
In the second place Abraham is the father of all believers, whose seed principally is Christ Jesus, in whom we are all blessed with believing Abraham. When God separates Abraham God separates him as the father of all who believe and thus God makes all believers a separate people. Let me put it this way: The only children God has are the children of the separated Abraham. Does notsay so beautifully: “These all died in faith. . . .and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth?”. Too many so-called Christians are not strangers and pilgrims here. Instead of that they bathe themselves in fleshly lusts, seek the world and under the guise of restoring the original creation ordinances, seek an earthly kingdom. Let these remember that God has no children but those of the separated Abraham. Jesus greets these children when He says: “Ye are not of the world. . . .I have chosen you out of the world”. God’s elect are a separate people. In the Old Testament this separation was national and geographical, in the New Testament the people of Abraham, through Christ, no more live in a separate country. But they are as truly separate from the nations as Abraham was. . . .in a much more highly developed sense of the word.
To make this article as plain as possible let us take these general facts now and draw a few conclusions.
1. First of all I believe that it is evident to all that the separation of Abraham has its purpose somewhere in the Plan of God in re His Covenant. It somehow serves His Covenant and its development, but it also serves to demonstrate what kind of thing the Covenant really is. When God separates Abraham if becomes plain that God is inaugurating a new period. God begins to deal with His people in a new way. Shem, Arphaxad, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Nahor and Terah had lived and experienced the blessedness of God’s friendship, but now, in Abraham, God does something new. God takes His people as a Groom taketh His Bride and He brings them into the isolation of His House. The Groom with His Bride retire, as it were, into one another’s fellowship, jealous of one another’s love and devotion. The Covenant after all is not an open house, where any and all may rush in, and where clean and unclean congregate. . . . nay the Covenant is ideally a relation of love and friendship between God and His people, so glorious and so intimate, that Scripture frequently tells us that it can best be illustrated by the love of a Groom and Bride. Thus God takes Abraham into that fellowship, and retires. When Babel’s confusion scattered the families over the face of the earth, God singles out one family and with that family God establishes His Covenant and makes them heirs of all things. Through Jesus Christ, the proper Groom, in whom we acquired the adoption. This process of election, calling, isolation goes on throughout all history. The Song of Solomon beautifully indicates this same thing. It reaches its fulfillment only when that Word is realized which saith, “Father, I will, that where I am, they be also which Thou hast given me”. So Abraham was separated and God reveals that His Covenant is a living relationship of friendship and love, between God and His people whom He calleth thereto through His Word and Spirit.
2. Although we thus have spiritual isolation we do not have Anabaptism. This chosen, called and separated people of God are “in the world” and when Abraham stood in the land of Canaan, he did not hide himself in a corner. Nay, rather, God let all the world see this family. Nation after nation got into contact with him. But, wherever they saw him or heard him he appeared among them as a Friend of God and as a stranger and pilgrim in the earth. Abraham and His spiritual family, of that time and of today, are strangers and pilgrims in the earth, that is, they reveal that they are the Bride and Christ the Groom. I know that of the Ten Virgins, in the parable, five were foolish. . . .for they are not all children of Abraham that are called seed of Abraham. . . .but the believing and faithful remnant according to the election appears upon this earth as a family that is spiritually married to Christ Jesus. That way the world has to see them. So that the purpose of Abraham’s separation in that respect is that we must stand in the midst of this world and confess that we are strangers and pilgrims here. Canaan wondered at Abraham. How they marveled at him when he had been promised the land of Canaan but had not a square foot of it wherein to bury his wife. How they wondered at him when he insisted that instead of the land being given him he wanted to buy it with money. The world must wonder at us today. They must not understand us. Jesus saith, “the world knoweth you not”. It is too bad when the world does know us, that is, when it can analyze our actions because they are similar to theirs. Let the world see us as strangers and pilgrims here, for our very appearance here as strangers and pilgrims also serves the Cause of God’s Covenant. It serves to gather out of that world all those who love God and believe His truth, but it also serves to condemn all those who make this world their primary interest. On the basis also of our appearing here as strangers and pilgrims God will after while judge the world. And all this serves the Cause of God’s Covenant. As children of Abraham therefore, let us be in the world but having our Home in Christ and His love.