"And the Angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Here am I." (Genesis 22:11)
THE biographies of Holy Scripture contain records of the lives and of the conduct of men and women whom the Holy Ghost the great Author of Scripture, brings prominently under our notice. Every biography of Holy Writ is a faithful delineation of the character of the man or woman whose history it portrays. God the Holy Ghost has drawn these lives out for our profit and for our edification. "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning," (Rom. 15:4) that is, with a special design of conveying instruction to the Church and people of God. The lives of ordinary great men are soon forgotten; those of kings, poets, statesmen and others have an interest chiefly for their own generation, so that it is practically commonplace to say concerning a prominent man who has recently died, "If his biography be not written within a year or so of his decease, he will be practically forgotten." One evening last week I had occasion to go down the Farringdon Road, and I looked at the bookstalls and was astonished to see volumes containing the biographies of men who passed away only about fifty years ago being sold for twopence. Books that were published for a guinea or two guineas upon a two-penny stall! But this can never be said of the biographies of God's holy Word. We have here in Abraham one who has sometimes been called, and rightly so, one of the world's great fathers. But though these biographies are of ancient men, there are no biographies so fresh, so full of life, so modern in their spirit, that bear so closely upon the difficulties, snares and temptations of men and women who in this century are on the heavenward journey. And so we have in Abraham a man who is a landmark in the history of the Church of Christ: we have here a man whose calling constituted an epoch in the history of the world. We have here a man who was not a prophet or a psalmist, but one who stands out as the father of the faithful and the friend of God! There are few biographies that speak so closely home to our hearts as those of which I am speaking, and through each of these biographies the golden thread of the everlasting gospel runs; in each life the sovereignty of God is displayed in the choice and calling of His servants one by one. In each biography we have the same gospel, the gospel that runs through the whole Word from Genesis to Revelation.
I see Adam and Eve in Eden's garden clothed with skins; it is the gospel. And I see in almost the closing words of the Revelation, the people of God in heaven clothed in fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints, with the seal of the living God in their foreheads. It is the gospel, whether it be Adam, typically clothed in the skins, or the saints in the glory, clothed in the fine linen, the imputed righteousness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. "Grace, grace unto it," grace, sovereign, rich and free, calling Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees; calling Saul of Tarsus out of the meshes of Pharisaism, outside the gates of Damascus. Shining through the whole of these histories we have the faithfulness of God to His promise, notwithstanding the weakness and inconsistencies, the unbelief and the failures of His dear people.
What a light do these biographies cast upon the most intricate and complex thing that we can contemplate. And that most intricate and complex thing is your own heart and experience. What we call experience in the believer's breast has a flood of light shed upon it in connection with these biographies. We see these servants of the Most High God clothed with free-grace privileges, and at the same time encompassed with tremendous difficulties. We see Abraham, for instance, brought into fellowship with God, and instantaneously difficulties seem to arise like a barrier. What comfort, what encouragement, what warning there is for us here!
"Once they were mourning here below,
And wet their couch with tears;
They wrestled hard as we do now,
With sins and doubts and fears.
"I ask them whence their victory came,
They, with united breath,
Ascribe their conquest to the Lamb,
Their triumph to His death."
Now let us turn to Abraham and speak of this verse first of all as setting forth Abraham's position as REGARDING HIMSELF; and secondly, Abraham's position as it REGARDED HIS GOD.
Abraham's position as it regarded himself. "The Lord called unto him." The Lord called. When God called unto Adam in Paradise, after the eating of the forbidden fruit, and the disobedience and sin which entered thereby, God said, "Adam, where art thou?" And the answer came from the green trees of the garden, under which Adam and his wife were hidden, "I heard Thy voice in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself,"--the hiding of the sinner with guilt upon the conscience; the hiding of the sinner dreading the voice of the Eternal; the hiding of the sinner attempting to cover himself with those things which shall prevent his seeing or thinking about the eternal God. The circumstances and the answer fitted well together. The answer which Adam returned to God, and the circumstances under which he made that reply, are indicative of the feelings of the heart of every sinner untouched by Divine Grace,--a strenuous determination not to think of God; a strenuous determination to hide from God, for when the voice of God is heard it strikes the soul with chill and deadly fear. When God called to Abraham on Mount Moriah, as Abraham stood by the altar whereon lay his only son, God said, "Abraham, Abraham," and the answer came from that grace-taught and grace-filled and grace-swayed heart, "Here am I." No hiding from God; there was the response of Abraham at the supreme crisis in his history as a child of God. The circumstances and the answer fitted well together. Here you have the two representatives, viewed in this aspect, of the two classes into which mankind are divided. In Adam you have the representative of men in the flesh who go out from the presence of the Lord in disobedience, and with the foretaste of a curse resting upon their consciences. In Abraham you have the representative of men and women who occupy the standing place of faith, and who, in the midst of all their trials, and of the intricacies and fierce problems which beset them within and without, have a foretaste of a blessing.
When God speaks to you in His Word, and by His providence, what is the answer? I am afraid? Or is the answer, Here am I? The two answers stand in remarkable and wonderful contrast. Have you fairly weighed the power of that mighty grace which enabled the patriarch Abraham to look up to the Angel of the Lord--God's own Son--that spoke to him here, and to say, "Here am I, awaiting Thy further directions; looking up into Thee, O my faithful and covenant God." Every spark of the religion which is to buoy us up amidst the sorrows and burdens of life, every spark of that religion which shall out-last the waters of death, and be with us in heaven, is of a supernatural origin. Look at Abraham, he was viewing at this time the destruction of all his natural hopes. Long, long had he expected Isaac, and when God gave to him and to Sarah Isaac, the child of promise, fondly had Abraham reared him. Oh how much had he looked for from that dear boy whom the Lord had given to him, and as he watched him in his budding youth, and presently in his manhood, his hopes rose. The father's love went out, it wound itself into the inmost being of his son, and hope spread itself forward. He looked to Isaac as indeed the child of the promise who was to be a link in the fulfillment of God's eternal purposes. And now everything to the eye of nature was coming to an end! And Abraham stood there, and the Angel of the Lord said, "Abraham, Abraham," and Abraham replied "Here am I,"--three words of one syllable, but oh what words, "Here am I."
I am reminded of those magnificent words in the Book of Job, words which perhaps from the point of view of faith soar higher than any others spoken by mortal lips, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him;" and Abraham said here in effect, "Though He slay my hopes and expectations, yet will I trust in Him. Lord, here am I." The child of God often sees his natural hopes and his just expectations coming to nothing, and when we see this, apart from Divine grace, we think very hardly of the arrangements of God's providence. We see ourselves about to be disappointed of what in our folly and our sin we thought we had the right to expect. Is it not so? I have thought again and again that I had a right to expect this, that and the other; all the arrangements of God's providence were framing up to it; and so, in our sin and unbelief, we thought we had a right to expect it. That was not the position of Abraham when he stood by the altar of sacrifice. See what God's grace can do! See what its mighty power can do! See how it can lift the believer up in the most trying and perilous places of his life, and amidst the greatest crises through which he can pass.
Abraham's heart was being wrung. Isaac was at least twenty-five years old at this time, some think he was more; but see how God the Holy Spirit dwells on the wringing of poor Abraham's heart. What did the Lord say to Abraham? "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest." Abraham was a "man of like passions with ourselves." Isaac was not an ordinary son, he was a child of promise given to Abraham in his extreme old age--"Thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest." All the fibers of love had woven themselves around Abraham's heart. The vision doubtless came to Abraham in the night, and early, early in the morning he arose. Oh the obedience of faith! Oh, I long for that faith in larger measure, that will make me obedient. In the night the words were spoken. He does not stop, it seems to me, to consult with Sarah; he does not stop to confer with anyone else; but the power of God's grace was so strong within him that he rose up early in the morning with Isaac his son, intent upon carrying out literally the word of his God unto him. He traveled three days, and they went forty miles from Beersheba to the mount called Moriah, or the Mount Moriah. Abraham's heart was sore; Abraham's soul was blistered as he traveled on. He recalled, as they went on, the first hour of his joy when he looked on Isaac. He recalled the merry laugh of Isaac as a child, and the father's kiss which had been imprinted on his brow. The preciousness of his son Isaac was very great indeed to him. But here he stands with a blistered spirit! Here he stands with a sore heart! Here he stands with his nearest and dearest about to be committed to God. He was about to plunge the knife into Isaac's bosom when, in answer to the Angel of the Lord's words, he replied, "Here am I." He was something like Ezekiel. The Lord said to Ezekiel, "You will lose the desire of your eyes at a stroke, but you are not to shed a tear; you are to go out and prophesy to the people and take My message to them as usual." (Ezek. 24:16) And at evening his wife died, and Ezekiel said, "I went out and spake to the people." That does not mean an unfeeling heart or an unlacerated spirit, but Abraham on Mount Moriah, Ezekiel in his day, and Job sitting upon his dunghill, alike testified to the blessed truth that when God the Holy Spirit regenerates a sinner's soul, He gives that which will enable him, by the exercise which He causes to be put forth, "to run through a troop, to leap over a wall," and to say amidst all the things that most deeply try, "Here am I." Sacrifices in this sense of the word are not cheap. Shall we be dragged to the altar or shall we travel there? When unbelief prevails, there is the dragging; when faith is in exercise, like Abraham and Isaac, we travel thither. What an insight this gives into Abraham's exercise of soul. "On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off." There it is; Abraham's eyes looked upon it, the sacrificing place, and the parting place.
Why did Abraham travel to Moriah? Why did he go without a murmuring word? Because the God of Abraham vouchsafed unto him large supplies of faith, and upheld him as he traveled on, and what Abraham's God did to him and for him, He will do for you and for me. "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living," and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Apparently the request--I am now speaking from the human point of view--apparently the request was unreasonable, but faith is enabled to answer,
"Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
Now look at Moriah, where Abraham had built his altar, where Isaac lay, the willing victim. Great was the faith of Isaac as well as of Abraham. A young man of twenty-five could physically have overpowered his aged father, but "they went both of them together." Isaac was a willing victim, and Abraham knew that dark and impenetrable as the mystery was, God was behind it all, and that there was to be wrought glory and grace from it all. On the top of Moriah to this day there is a great slab of solid rock where Abraham built his altar. On that same rock there was the surrender of Ornan to David; on that same slab was placed the altar of burnt offering in the temple worship, typical of the great and glorious sacrifice of Calvary.
Abraham turns and sees, caught in a thicket by its horns, a ram. That man is the substitute for his son, and he called the "name of that place Jehovah-Jireh, as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen."
Now I was very much struck with this, in relation to this name. We know it is one of the covenant names of our gracious God, Jehovah-Jireh. But where was the Mount Moriah? In what was subsequently to be known as the city of Jerusalem. Jehovah-Jireh! First of all--I am now speaking, not from my own knowledge, but from a lexicon--Jerusalem was known as Hierusalem, the city of Peace. Then it became Jerusalem, God's city of Peace; and Jerusalem is simply the expansion of Jehovah-Jireh: "It shall be called Jehovah-Jireh, for there the Lord will provide."
Now let us put these things together: Jerusalem, God's city of Peace, the Mount of the Lord, and "In the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen." What shall be seen? Peace, that which men's hearts long after. "In the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen"--peace. How did that peace originate? "The Lord will provide," and just as the lamb in type, just as Isaac in type, set forth the Christ of God, so upon Calvary's mount the Lord hath provided peace--Jerusalem, the city of Peace.
Look once more at the condition of Abraham. To the eye of nature it looked as if God was about to go back from His word, and does it not look like that again and again to you, as if God was about to go back from His word? Every human probability pointed in that direction. What had God said? "My covenant will I establish with Isaac." (Gen. 17:21) And yet here was Isaac a bound victim! Here was the father with his knife upraised; in another second it would be plunged into the bosom of his beloved son! And yet Abraham was ready. Why? Because of faith. How did his faith work? The second part of our reading this morning very blessedly shows. Abraham believed that if his son died under his hand by the command of God, from the ashes of Isaac there would revive again the living man! The 11th of Hebrews clearly shows us this. In other words his faith was such that it trusted God without a precedent. Now that is a stronger faith than we can exercise. We have precedent, even the resurrection and ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But when Abraham stood there, not one man had been raised from the dead, yet his faith was such that he said to himself, "If my son perishes upon this altar, the Lord will raise him up again, and will justify His word and His promise." Oh what a tendency there is in our hearts to cause us to distrust the covenant love of our God! Could Abraham think that God loved him when apparently, without any need, He was demanding of him so great a sacrifice? Do you think Satan neglected to assail Abraham? I am sure he did not. He was there as he always is when God's people are deeply tried by circumstances. Yet though Abraham by nature had an unbelieving heart like you and me, though Satan was there to tempt and to assail, so strong was his faith that he held fast to his God and replied, "Here am I." Can God love me and yet require this sacrifice at my hands? Can God love me and yet permit these things to occur that are blistering my heart, and withering every earthly hope and joy? Consider our dear Lord in Gethsemane's garden, and notice, dear friends, the form in which He uttered those wondrous words to His Father. He did not say, "If Thou lovest Me, cause this cup to pass from Me." Our Lord did not say that. He knew His Father loved Him. But what did He say? "If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me." In Gethsemane, on Calvary, our blessed Lord with a full and unfaltering faith said to His Father, "Here am I," for peace was to be provided in Jerusalem.
Secondly, let us look at Abraham's position as it regarded God. We have been speaking more especially of Abraham himself. There was the simple obedience of faith, and the power of faith is its simplicity. If faith were not to act at all, if it could reason out every point in God's dealings, it would cease to be faith. The world cannot put obedience and faith together. The world will say, "It is right to walk in such a path if reason and expediency and circumstances all back it up." But in Abraham's case there was no reason that he could see, it certainly was not expedient, and the circumstances were all against it; but God had said, "That is the pathway, and that is what thou art to do," and with a simple reliance upon the word, the promise, the covenant of his God, Abraham went forth with his dear son. From the beginning of his career as a child of God down to the very end, the patriarch was thrown upon God; thrown upon God as his covenant God. Abraham by faith knew with whom he had to deal, and by his faith he was enabled to look down, as it were, into the very roots of God's covenant dealings with him. He knew His faithfulness, he knew and treasured up the pledges that He had given concerning His word, and he knew that there was not a particle of untruth in the character of God. "I am the Lord, I change not." (Mal. 3:6) "I am thy Shield and thy exceeding great reward." (Gen. 15:1) Now Abraham's faith fastened itself upon these covenant aspects of the nature of his God in Christ, and he clung to them with all the intensity of a living faith.
I very much dislike--and I suppose most of you do--I very much dislike vagueness. In all vagueness there is weakness. Vague thinking is weak thinking; vague knowledge is not worth anything when the pinch comes. In concentration lies power and all authority, and whilst this is true in relation to human life in all its aspects, it is divinely true in relation to divine things. I know that in relation to the gospel of our God there are depths that are unfathomable. It is an ocean that cannot be compassed by created intellect. But in all things concerning my personal religion, my standing before God as a sinner, and as one of His children, and in every hope I have of heaven, I must have nothing vague. I want everything definite, particular, real, personal, coming home to my heart with power, and this is the work, the office and the ministry of God the Holy Ghost. The Person of our Lord I want to be made very plain and real to me; that He loves me, that He died for me, and that He rose again and appears in the presence of God for me.
Look at the holy concentration of Paul. He was a man who said, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33) But Paul, what about your salvation? "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day." (2 Tim. 1:12) And that is what Abraham knew, for the Lord says, "Abraham saw My day; he saw it and was glad." (John 8:56) And what was the day that Abraham saw? He saw it on Moriah's mount; he saw there the all-sufficient sacrifice and glorious resurrection of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. God's providences vary; His promises are always the same. Abraham was enabled to rejoice in his covenant God, and so do we in proportion as our covenant God in Christ is realized by faith. It acts upon the whole man. If I realize that I am in that covenant I am strong in prayer; I know that God will give me that which is good. I have strong expectations, for the "covenant is ordered in all things and sure."
Here was Abraham then, called out of Ur of the Chaldees, taught to know and feel his sinfulness, brought to rejoice in the mercy of God, enabled to look forward to Christ's day. By sorrow and disappointment and trial he was exercised, but he was brought to lean wholly upon Him who was the Rock of his salvation.
Where art thou, dear friend? Is it at Calvary, the mount of blessing, the mount where, through the sin-atoning sufferings and death of our dear Lord, Jehovah hath provided peace? Where art thou? Oh, poor sinner, if you are enabled to say this morning concerning Calvary, "Here am I, at Calvary, under the shadow of Thy cross," life and health and peace thou shalt possess from the sinner's dying Friend. Swiftly is the river of time rolling on. We stand, we walk, we testify in a place where the thick mists often surround us, and circumstances try us in every way, but oh the mercy to stand beside the altar, and to say there beside the altar of Calvary, and the altar of sacrifice in relation to other things, "Lord, here am I; here is the sacrifice of my dearest hopes, but work it out as Thou wilt, O my God. Here am I, Thy Name is love; Thou art never unkind; Thou hast never wronged one of Thine own children yet. Here am I, Lord, and whether the trial be long, whether it be very sharp or not, my God I would trust Thee, for having given to me Thine own Son, wilt Thou not with Him also freely give me all things?"