Abraham, by Norman Grubb
In every biography of the Bible in which we are given much detail, we find that this fundamental law of life had to be learned, and usually slowly and painfully. The discovery of the independent self as a fruit of the Fall; the innate helplessness of the self in isolation; the experience, glory and fullness of life in the union. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, the Saviour Himself as a man (learning obedience, though with never a failure), Peter, Paul, all bear the same witness. In most cases the moment of realized union can be recognized, and the transformation which followed, as well as the valleys of humiliation which preceded it. A few examples will drive the truth further home for us.
Abraham was given a three-fold revelation, as great as any given to man in history, that he was to have a land for an inheritance, a people as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and a blessing which would reach all the families of the earth. No wonder it said that “the God of glory appeared unto Abraham!” But watch the Lord’s necessary dealings with him through about twenty-five years. It touched spirit, soul and body, and in no case could the Lord get His supernatural purposes into action through Abraham’s faith until independent self had been exposed and dealt with. First, it concerned the material things of life, the concerns of his body. Not long after he had arrived in the land of promise, he made a hasty flight through fear of famine, and went down to Egypt. There he so feared for his own skin that he lied to Pharaoh concerning Sarah, and gained much wealth through his deception. Independent self! This was no body “a living sacrifice” through which God could make history, a man who could not even trust Him for his daily bread! So he was taught a thorough lesson. First, he had deliberately to invite his greedy nephew to take advantage of him. The quarrel broke out between his herdmen and Lot’s. He knew what was in Lot’s heart, yet he gave him the choice of the country, and it didn’t take Lot long to choose the best. Abraham was learning his lesson. From God he was to receive his earthly inheritance; let man do what he liked, he could not touch it; and it was then that God met him with the renewed promise of the whole land. Hands off fighting for human rights.
A while later, and news came of the disaster in battle to the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Lot and his family among the captives. He who went down to Egypt to save his own life must now risk it for his thankless nephew, four hundred retainers against the armies of four kings! The risk was taken, the captives released, and Abraham was rich for life with the spoils which were his by right. But a word from heaven reached him, one of those reviving words at a critical moment. Melchisedek came to meet them as they returned in triumph, that mysterious King-priest, and singled him out for a peculiar blessing; was he not the one whom the God who possesses heaven and earth had set apart for His special purposes? And was not this victory a proof of His good hand on him? Abraham’s eyes were quickly off those defiled earthly spoils; his inheritance was a city with lasting foundations, whose builder and maker was God; and when offered all the goods by the king of Sodom, with what energy and ringing joy of faith he testified to the vow he had made: “I have lift up mine hand to the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from thee a thread to a shoelatchet…lest thou should say, I have made Abraham rich.”
The lesson of the body and of earthly possessions had been fully learned. His human hands were off his own physical security or earthly gains; he was God’s, and from God would receive the promised inheritance. Was Abraham wise? Or was he a fool to refuse what self could have legitimately claimed, but which would have diverted his faith from taking hold of an inheritance invisible to the human eye? Five thousand years have passed, and the course of history has revolved around the fulfilments of those promises to Abraham in the One who took on Him the seed of Abraham, and will yet revolve around the final fulfilments in the restoration of the promised land. That is what happens when man takes his hands off, and God has His hands on a human body.
But Abraham had to learn lessons of soul as well as body. The control of that subtle independent ego in both had to be recognized and refused. With the land of promise assured to him through the covenant of the burning lamp, his concern now centred round the child of promise. His natural mind was hard at work: “What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless ?” How could he have an heir with his wife barren, and both of them growing old? He did not yet discern between soul and spirit, between his mind and God’s. If he had, he would equally have recognized the natural mind in Sarah’s advice. His test now lay not in the bodily, but in the mental realm. The confusion over the birth of Ishmael, the division in the home, the silence of God over thirteen years taught him this second great lesson. He saw the difference between the schemings and strivings of self, and the voice of God.
Now at last he was prepared for the realized union. God appears to him and says, “I am El Shaddai; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” And as God is revealed to him as the Almighty One, so his own name is changed to, “The father of a great multitude”. The mind that was formerly bounded by the limited range of its own thoughts can now receive and act on the supernatural thoughts of God. A child of promise is born by an act of faith, which gave him for ever the position of “the father of all them that believe.”
This was the realized union in the days when the full light that shone from Calvary and Pentecost had not yet given fullness of understanding. The communion of Spirit with spirit is seen in its full and marvelous fruition in Abraham’s life when it was given to him to prefigure the very cross and resurrection. He can receive the word, beyond all natural reasoning, that he is to sacrifice that son of promise, “thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.” In doing that he would be sacrificing what God had given him, the very fruit of his faith, the reward of his life of obedience and renunciation. If there had been any independence left in Abraham, it would have appeared now, any secret pride of spiritual achievement, any claim to hold as his own even what he had received from the Spirit; if anyone lived in him but God alone, it would surely be seen now. But no. He was found pure in spirit. God only was the portion of his lot. God must be obeyed. But He also must be believed. He who now said he was to sacrifice his son, had formerly said that in Isaac would his seed be called; therefore he argued that if he must sacrifice him, he must also be raised again from the dead. He did not waver. He traveled the three days to the appointed mount. He left the servants with the ass while he ascended with his son, but he was careful first to say to them, “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again unto you,” for to his eye of faith the resurrection was an accomplished fact. He laid his son on the altar and raised his knife to make the awful sacrifice, and only at that last second did God intervene.
Perfect faith, as James called it, proceeding from a spirit in which the Spirit perfectly dwelt. None but the Spirit, who was to lead a great Son to Calvary and raise Him from the dead, could have given that earthly father such an insight into the heavenly mind and purpose, such a grace of obedience and such faith; and the Spirit could have given that to no man except to one in whom He could fully think His own thoughts, believe His own believings, and act His own acts. And it was to that man, at last come through to a nothingness of self and an allness of the Spirit that God could now swear by Himself that, besides giving him a land, and making him a great nation, He would bless the world through him.
In that great pioneer of faith, called the father of the faithful, we see in clearest outline how deeply this ingrained self-life has to be exposed and uprooted; but equally how marvellously that One who takes the place of the independent ego can bring into being through a yielded spirit, soul and body, creative acts which change the course of history.