Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 035. How Did The Call Come?

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 035. How Did The Call Come?

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How Did the Call Come?

1. We are not informed of the manner in which Abraham became certain of the Divine will, hence it is idle to speculate about it. At all events, Abraham was absolutely certain that this was the will of God. When the Divine will is so diametrically opposed to our will as it must have been in this instance, it has to be very plainly expressed, or we certainly should not perceive it. For the best of us have a sad capacity for mishearing, for misunderstanding, what it does not suit us to understand. Accordingly, the first special revelation imparted to Abraham begins with a demand, and indeed with a very difficult one.

Only a God whom Abraham already knew, loved, and honoured could make such a demand. Hence the life of faith must have already existed, though how it originated is a secret. Terah, Abraham's father, was an idolater, his mother is not even mentioned. In Christian times there are thousands of instances in which their mothers have been the means of implanting faith in the hearts of the best. Under the ancient covenant it is only in exceptional cases that the mothers are of importance in the spiritual life of their children. It was Christ who first made the woman free. In short, the origin of that life of faith which we already find in Abraham is a complete secret to us, and such it is to-day also in each individual case. We receive, indeed, by means of our fellow-men, of books, of various providential circumstances, incitements, warnings, awakenings, shocks, attractions of all kinds. But every one who knows anything of the life of faith knows that the true birth of faith is a mysterious act, and that in it the grace of God and the will of man inseparably co-operate.

2. The first thing that is needful for us all, and it is imperatively needful, is to have the same feelings as this man, to have our hearts, whether we be young or old, so stirred and filled. We must have this vivid realization of God, and feel that He is bidding us arise and go out, and give up, if not the external form of our life, yet the old spirit of it, and seek a new life, if not different in the external circumstances of it, yet having a new spirit in it. How many of us have anything like this close, direct feeling about God, or have ever had it? Or if we have at moments had it, how soon it has gone and how dull it has become-this feeling about God that He is quite close to us, amidst all our friends and occupations; and that He is speaking to us, and that He is commanding us to renounce the life we have been leading hitherto, though it be the life of our kindred and our country-to deny it and give it up, in spite of all its charms of association and custom, and start on a new life altogether, with God alone walking by our side! Abraham was called upon actually to leave his country and his kindred. Such a complete break in his manner of life was, in his individual case, needful, in order to break the spell of the fascinations of that life which he had hitherto led.

Was it more easy for Abraham to believe, for him who was the first to exercise faith, than for us now, after so long a time, and after so many examples of faith? Perhaps God spake, in those days, in a way different from the way in which He speaks to us. But difficulties beset His way of speaking then, just as we have our difficulties now. God spake perhaps by a supernatural voice to Abraham; and we fancy that, if He would so speak to us, we should feel sure. But to Abraham's mind, perhaps, supernatural voices were not things very rare. There was nothing in this that, decidedly and without doubt, told him that it was God that spoke to him. Perhaps no account can be given of it but this: that when God does speak to a man, He speaks in such a way that the man knows assuredly that it is God that is speaking. God's voice, in whatever way it be heard-whether as what we call a supernatural sound from heaven, or as the suggestion of conscience, or as an indefinite conviction of duty, and an impulse which we can hardly explain-is self-evidencing. It approves itself to man as the voice of God. Abraham felt under a command as from God: he saw Him who was invisible. He had evidence, which he could not resist, of that place which he was to receive. And he obeyed to go out.1 [Note: A. B. Davidson, The Called of God, 66.]

3. One thing is certain: the writer did not, any more than the Oriental of the present day, imagine that God spoke to the outward ear. “God has spoken to me” is a common Arab phrase to-day when a man feels a deep impression on his soul. Even we use the term-a call from God, a warning from God-and many a man and woman on whom the power of a great idea falls has heard now, as Muhammad heard of old, the call of Abraham-“Get you forth from your father's house into another place,” and, hearing, has obeyed.

Whatever has any pith in it, any genuine life and force, is inspired and moved by hidden spiritual influences over which even the actor himself has but partial control. Take this expression-“the Lord said unto Abram.” How? As a man would speak to a man? Audibly? What is this Divine voice to the sons of men? Suppose the answer should be, “the Lord came visibly before Abram, and spoke to him in plain Hebrew,”-what then? Many difficulties would arise at once, but no difficulties which faith could not overcome. Suppose the answer should be-“a spiritual revelation was made to Abram, no likeness was seen, no audible voice was heard, but his soul was made aware distinctly and certainly of the Divine purpose,”-what then? Substantially the result would be the same, and it is with results we have to deal rather than with processes. Mozart says in his letters that whenever he saw a grand mountain or a wonderful piece of scenery, it said to him-“turn me into music, play me on the organ”; and Mendelssohn says in his letters to his sister, “this is how I think of you to-day,” or “this is what I have to say to you to-day,” and then follows a bar or two of music which she is requested to play on the piano or the organ. So the mountain spoke to Mozart, and the organ spoke to Fanny Hensel, and why should we hesitate to say that the Lord spoke to Abram or that He is speaking to ourselves? He spoke to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abram, Peter, Paul, John; has He ceased to speak unto the children of men? We now say that we have a notion, an impression, a conviction, or a feeling; and considering that our life is so shallow and cloudy, perhaps it is best to speak thus vaguely, but when we get right in soul we shall boldly say,-“the Lord calls me; the Lord tells me; the Lord sends me.” It will be more filial, more tender, more Christian.1 [Note: J. Parker, Adam, Noah, and Abraham, 91.]