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Works of Arthur Pink: Pink, Arthur - An Exposition of Hebrews: 060. The Call of Abraham. Hebrews 11:8
TOPIC: Pink, Arthur - An Exposition of Hebrews (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 060. The Call of Abraham. Hebrews 11:8
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An Exposition of Hebrews
The Call of Abraham
"The scope of the apostle in this chapter is to prove that the doctrine of faith is an ancient doctrine and that faith hath been always exercised about things not seen, not liable to the judgment of sense and reason. He had proved both points by instances of the fathers before the flood, and now he comes to prove them by the examples of those that were eminent for faith after the flood. And in the first place he pitcheth upon Abraham—a fit instance; he was the father of the faithful, and a person of whom the Hebrews boasted; his life was nothing else but a continual practice of faith, and therefore he insisteth upon Abraham longer than upon any other of the patriarchs. The first thing for which Abraham is commended in Scripture is his obedience to God, when He called him out of his country; now the apostle shows this was an effect of faith" (T. Manton, 1660).
The second division of Hebrews 11 begins with the verse which is now to be before us. As pointed out in previous articles, verses 4-7 present an outline of the life of faith. In verse 4 we are shown where the life of faith begins, namely, at that point where the conscience is awakened to our lost condition, where the soul makes a complete surrender to God, and where the heart rests upon the perfect satisfaction made by Christ our Surety. In verse 5 we are shown the character of the life of faith: a pleasing of God, a walking with Him, the heart elevated above this world of death. In verses 6, 7 we are shown the end of the life of faith: a diligent seeking of God, a heart which is moved by His fear to use those means which He appointed and prescribed, issuing in the saving of the soul and establishing its title to be an heir of the righteousness which is by faith. Wonderfully comprehensive are the contents of these opening verses, and well repaid will be the prayerful student who ponders them again and again.
From verse 8 to the end of the chapter, the Holy Spirit gives us fuller details concerning the life of faith, viewing it from different angles, contemplating varied aspects, and exhibiting the different trials to which it is subject and the blessed triumphs which Divine grace enables it to achieve. Fitly does this new section of our chapter open by presenting to us the case of Abraham. In his days a new and important era of human history commenced. Hitherto God had maintained a general relation to the whole human race, but at the Tower of Babel that relation was broken. It was there that mankind, as a whole, consummated their revolt against their Maker, in consequence of which He abandoned them. To that point is to be traced the origin of "Heathendom": Romans 1:18-30 should be read in this connection. From this point onwards God’s dealings with men were virtually confined to Abraham and his posterity.
That a new division of our chapter commences at verse 8 is further evident from the fact that Abraham is designated "the father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4:11), which means not only that he is (as it were) the earthly head of the whole election of grace, but the one after whose likeness his spiritual children are conformed. There is a family likeness between Abraham and the true Christian, for if we are Christ’s then are we "Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:29), for "they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7), which is evidenced by them doing "the works of Abraham" (John 8:39), for these are the marks of identification. In like manner, Christ declared of the Pharisees, "Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts (desires and behests) of your father, ye will (are determined) to do" (John 8:44). The wicked bear the family likeness of the Wicked one. The "fatherhood of Abraham" is twofold: natural, as the progenitor of a physical seed; spiritual, as the pattern to which his children are morally conformed.
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (verse 8). In taking up the study of this verse our first concern should be to ascertain its meaning and message for us today. In order to discover this, we must begin by seeking to know what was shadowed forth in the great incident here recorded. A little meditation should make it obvious that the central thing referred to is the Divine call of which Abraham was made the recipient. This is confirmed by a reference to Genesis 12:1, where we have the historical account of that to which the Spirit by the apostle here alludes. Further proof is furnished by Act 7:2, 3. This, then must be our starting-point.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). There are two distinct kinds of "calls" from God mentioned in Scripture: a general and a particular, an outward and an inward, an inoperative and an effectual. The general, external, and inefficacious "call" is given to all who hear the Gospel, or come under the sound of the Word. This call is refused by all. It is found in such passages as the following: "Unto you, O men, I call; My voice is to the sons of man" (Prov. 8:4); "For many be called, but few chosen" (Matthew 20:16); "And sent His servant at suppertime to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse" (Luke 14:17, 18); "Because I have called, and ye refuse; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded" etc. (Prov. 1:24-28).
The special, inward, and efficacious "call’ of God comes only to His elect. It is responded to by each favored one who receives it. It is referred to in such passages as the following: "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25); "He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when He putteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him: for they know His voice... and other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice" (John 10:3, 4, 16); "Whom He called, them He also justified" (Rom. 8:30); "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise" (1 Cor. 1:26-27). This call is illustrated and exemplified in such cases as Matthew (Luke 5:27, 28), Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5, 6), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:4, 5).
The individual, internal, and invincible call of God is an act of sovereign grace, accompanied by all-mighty power, quickening those who are dead in trespasses and sins, imparting to them spiritual life. This Divine call is regeneration, or the new birth, when its favored recipient is brought "out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Now this is what is before us in Hebrews 11:8, which gives additional proof that this verse commences a new section of the chapter. The wondrous call which Abraham received from God is necessarily placed at the head of the Spirit’s detailed description of the life of faith; necessarily, we say, for faith itself is utterly impossible until the soul has been Divinely quickened.
Let us first contemplate the state that Abraham was in until and at the time God called him. To view him in his unregenerate condition is a duty which the Holy Spirit pressed upon Israel of old: "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged: look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you" (Isa. 51:1, 2). Help is afforded if we turn to Joshua 24:2, "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods." Abraham, then, belonged to a heathen family, and dwelt in a great city, until he was seventy. No doubt he lived his life after the same manner as his fellows—content with the "husks" which the swine feed upon, with little or no serious thoughts of the Hereafter. Thus it is with each of God’s elect till the Divine call comes to them and arrests them in their self-will, mad, and destructive course.
"The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran" (Acts 7:2). What marvelous grace! The God of glory condescended to draw near and reveal Himself unto one that was sunk in sin, immersed in idolatry, having no concern for the Divine honor. There was nothing in Abraham to deserve God’s notice, still less to merit His esteem. But more: not only was the grace of God here signally evident, but the sovereignty of His grace was displayed in thus singling him out from the midst of all his fellows. As He says in Isaiah 51:2, "I called him alone, and blessed him." "Why God should not call his father and kindred, there can be no answer but this: God hath mercy on whom He will (Rom. 9:18). He calleth Isaac and refuseth Ishmael; loveth Jacob, and hateth Esau; taketh Abel, and leaveth Cain: even because He will, and for no cause that we know" (W. Perkins, 1595).
"The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham" (Acts 7:2). All that is included in these words, we know not; as to how God "appeared" unto him, we cannot say. But of two things we may be certain: for the first time in Abraham’s life God became a living Reality to him; further, he perceived that He was an all-glorious Being. Thus it is, sooner or later, in the personal experience of each of God’s elect. In the midst of their worldliness, self-seeking and self-pleasing, one day He of whom they had but the vaguest notions, and whom they sought to dismiss from their thoughts, appears before their hearts—terrifying, awakening, and then attracting. Now it is they can say, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee" (Job 42:5).
O dear reader, our desire here is not simply to write an article, but to be used of God in addressing a definite message from Him straight to your inmost heart. Suffer us then to inquire, Do you know anything about what has been said in the above paragraph? Has God become a living Reality to your soul? Has He really drawn near to you, manifested Himself in His awe-inspiring Majesty, and had direct and personal dealings with your soul? Or do you know no more about Him than what others write and say of Him? This is a question of vital moment, for if He does not have personal dealings with you here in a way of grace, He will have personal dealings with you hereafter, in a way of justice and judgment. Then "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6).
This, then, is one important aspect of regeneration: God graciously makes a personal revelation of Himself to the soul. The result is that He "who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). The favored individual in whom this miracle of grace is wrought, is now brought out of that dreadful state in which he lay by nature, whereby "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). So fearful is that state in which all the unregenerate lie, it is described as "having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph. 4:18). But at the new birth the soul is delivered from the terrible darkness of sin and depravity into which the fall of Adam has brought all his descendants, and is ushered into the marvelous and glorious light of God.
Let us next consider the accompaniment or terms of the call which Abraham now received from God. A record of this is found in Genesis 12:1, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee." What a testing of faith was this! What a trial to flesh and blood! Abraham was already seventy years of age, and long journeys and the break-up of old associations do not commend themselves to elderly people. To leave the land of his birth, to forsake home and estate, to sever family ties and leave loved ones behind, to abandon present certainty for (what seemed to human wisdom) a future uncertainty, and go forth not knowing whither, must have seemed hard and harsh unto natural sentiment. Why, then, should God make such a demand? To prove Abraham, to give the death-blow to his natural corruptions, to demonstrate the might of His grace. Yet we must look for something deeper, and that which applies directly to us.
As we have pointed out above, God’s appearing to Abraham and his call of him, speaks to us of that miracle of grace which takes place in the soul at regeneration. Now the evidence of regeneration is found in a genuine conversion: it is that complete break from the old life, both inner and outer, which furnishes proof of the new birth. It is plain to any renewed mind that when a soul has been favored with a real and personal manifestation of God, that a move or response is called for from him. It is simply impossible that he should continue his old manner of life. A new Object is before him, a new relationship has been established, new desires now fill his heart, and new responsibilities claim him. The moment a man truly realizes that he has to do with God, there must be a radical change: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new"
(2 Cor. 5:17).
The call which Abraham received from God required a double response from him: he was to leave the land of his birth, and forsake his own kindred. What, then is the spiritual significance of these things? Remember that Abraham was a pattern case, for he is the "father" of all Christians, and the children must be conformed to the family likeness. Abraham is the prototype of those who are "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1). Now the spiritual application to us of what was adumbrated by the terms of Abraham’s call is twofold: doctrinal and practical, legal and experimental. Let us, briefly, consider them separately.
"Get thee out of thy country" finds its counterpart in the fact that the Christian is one who has been, by grace, the redemptive work of Christ, and the miraculous operation of the Spirit, delivered from his old position. By nature, the Christian was a member of "the world," the whole of which "lieth in the Wicked one" (1 John 5:19), and so is headed for destruction. But God’s elect have been delivered from this: Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God our Father" (Gal. 1:4); therefore does He say unto His own "because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19).
"Get thee out of thy country" finding its fulfillment, first, in the Christian’s being delivered from his old condition, namely, "in the flesh": "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:6). He has now been made a member of a new family. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1). He is now brought into union with a new "kindred," for all born-again souls are his brethren and sisters in Christ: "They that are in the flesh cannot please God; but ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Rom. 8:8, 9). Thus, the call of God is a separating one—from our old standing and state, into a new one.
Now what has just been pointed out above is already, from the Divine side, an accomplished fact. Legally, the Christian no longer belongs to "the world" nor is he "in the flesh." But this has to be entered into practically from the human side, and made good in our actual experience· Because our "citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20), we are to live here as "strangers and pilgrims." A practical separation from the world is demanded of us, for "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4); therefore does God say, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers . . . come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Cor. 6:14, 17). So too the "flesh," still in us, is to be allowed no rein. "I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1); "Make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14); "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth" (Col. 3:5).
The claims of Christ upon His people are paramount· He reminds them that, "ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). Therefore does He say, "If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Their response is declared in, "They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). Thus, the terms of the call which Abraham received from God are addressed to our hearts. A complete break from the old life is required of us.
Practical separation from the world is imperative. This was typed out of old in the history of Abraham’s descendants. They had settled down in Egypt—figure of the world—and after they had come under the blood of the lamb, and before they entered Canaan (type of Heaven), they must leave the land of Pharaoh· Hence too God says of our Surety "Out of Egypt have I called My Son" (Matthew 2:15): the Head must be conformed to the members, and the members to their Head. Practical mortification of the flesh is equally imperative, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die (eternally): but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (eternally): (Rom. 8:13); "but he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8).
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." This verse, read in the light of Genesis 12:1, clearly signifies that God demanded the supreme place in Abraham’s affections. His life was no longer to be regulated by self-will, self-love, self-pleasing; self was to be entirely set aside, "crucified." Henceforth, the will and word of God was to govern and direct him in all things. Henceforth he was to be a man without a home on earth, but seeking one in Heaven, and treading that path which alone leads thither.
Now it should be very evident from what has been said above that, regeneration or an effectual call from God is a miraculous thing, as far above the reach of nature as the heavens are above the earth. When God makes a personal revelation of Himself to the soul, this is accompanied by the communication of supernatural grace, which produces supernatural fruit. It was contrary to nature for Abraham to leave home and country, and go forth "not knowing whither he went." Equally it is contrary to nature for the Christian to separate from the world and crucify the flesh. A miracle of Divine grace has to be wrought within him, before any man will really deny self and live in complete subjection to God. And this leads us to say that, genuine cases of regeneration are much rarer than many suppose. The spiritual children of Abraham are very far from being a numerous company, as is abundantly evident from the fact that few indeed bear his likeness. Out of all the thousands of professing Christians around us, how many manifest Abraham’s faith or do Abraham’s works?
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." This verse, read in the light upon which we would fix our attention is Abraham’s obedience. A roving faith is one which heeds the Divine commands, as well as relies upon the Divine promises. Make no mistake upon this point, dear reader: Christ is "the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" (Heb. 5:9). Abraham placed himself unreservedly in the hands of God, surrendered to His lordship, and subscribed to His wisdom as best fitted to direct him. And so must we, or we shall never be "carried into Abraham’s bosom" (Luke 16:22).
Abraham "obeyed, and he went out." There are two things there: "obeyed" signifies the consent of his mind, "and went out" tells of his actual performance. He obeyed not only in word, but in deed. In this, he was in marked contrast from the rebellious one mentioned in Matthew 21:30, "I go, sir, and went not." "The first act of saving faith consists in a discovery and sight of the infinite greatness, goodness, and other excellencies of the nature of God, so as to judge it our duty upon His call, His command, and promise, to deny ourselves, to relinquish all things, and to do so accordingly" (John Owen). Such ought our obedience to be unto God’s call, and to every manifestation of His will. It must be a simple obedience in subjection to His authority, without inquiring after the reason thereof, and without objecting any scruples or difficulties against it.
"Observe that faith, wherever it is, bringeth forth obedience: by faith Abraham, being called, obeyed God. Faith and obedience can never be severed; as the sun and the light, fire and heat. Therefore we read of the ‘obedience of faith’ (Rom. 1:5). Obedience is faith’s daughter. Faith hath not only to do with the grace of God, but with the duty of the creature. By apprehending grace, it works upon duty: ‘faith worketh by love’ (Gal. 5:6); it fills the soul with the apprehensions of God’s love, and then makes use of the sweetness of love to urge us to more work or obedience. All our obedience to God comes from love of God, and our love comes from the persuasion of God’s love to us. The argument and discourse that is in a sanctified soul is set down thus: ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20). Wilt thou not do this for God, that loved thee? for Jesus Christ, that gave Himself for thee? Faith works towards obedience by commanding the affections" (Thomas Manton, 1680).
"He went forth not knowing whither he went." How this demonstrates the reality and power of his faith—to leave a present possession for a future one. Abraham’s obedience is the more conspicuous because at the time God called him, He did not specify which land he was to journey to, nor where it was located. Thus, it was by faith and not by sight, that he moved forward. Implicit confidence in the One who had called him was needed on the part of Abraham. Imagine a total stranger coming and bidding you follow him, without telling you where! To undertake a journey of unknown length, one of difficulty and danger, towards a land of which he knew nothing, called for real faith in the living God. See here the power of faith to triumph over fleshly disinclinations, to surmount obstacles, to perform difficult duties. Reader, is this the nature of your faith? Is your faith producing works which are not only above the power of mere nature to perform, but also directly contrary thereto?
Abraham’s faith is hard to find these days. There is much talk and boasting, but most of it is empty words—the works of Abraham are conspicuous by their absence, in the vast majority of those who claim to be his children. The Christian is required to set his affections on things above, and not on things below (Col. 3:2). He is required to walk by faith, and not by sight; to tread the path of obedience to God’s commands, and not please himself; to go and do whatever the Lord bids him. Even if God’s commands appear severe or unreasonable, we must obey them: "Let no man deceive himself: if any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise" (1 Cor. 3:18); "And He said to them all, if any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).
But such an obedience as God requires can only proceed from a supernatural faith. An unshakable confidence in the living God, and unreserved surrender to His holy will, each step of our lives being ordered by His word (<19B9105>Psalm 119:105), can only issue from a miraculous work of grace which He has Himself wrought in the heart. How many there are who profess to be God’s people yet only obey Him so long as they consider that their own interests are being served! How many are unwilling to quit trading on the Sabbath because they fear a few dollars will be lost! Now just as a traveler on foot, who takes a long journey through an unknown country, seeks a reliable guide, commits himself to his leading, trusts to his knowledge, and follows him implicitly o’er hill and dale, so God requires us to commit ourselves fully unto Him, trusting His faithfulness, wisdom and power, and yielding to every demand which He makes upon us.
"He went forth not knowing whither he went." Most probably many of his neighbors and acquaintances in Chaldea would inquire why he was leaving them, and where he was bound for. Imagine their surprise when Abraham had to say, I know not. Could they appreciate the fact that he was walking by faith and not by sight? Would they commend him for following Divine orders? Would they not rather deem him crazy? And, dear reader, the Godless will no more understand the motives which prompt the real children of God today, than could the Chaldeans understand Abraham; the unregenerate professing Christians all around us, will no more approve of our strict compliance with God’s commands, than did Abraham’s heathen neighbors. The world is governed by the senses, not faith; lives to please self, not God. And if the world does not deem you and me crazy, then there is something radically wrong with our hearts and lives.
One other point remains to be considered, and we must reluctantly conclude this article. The obedience of Abraham’s faith was unto "a land which he should afterward receive for an inheritance" (verse 8). Literally, that "inheritance" was Canaan; spiritually, it foreshadowed Heaven. Now had Abraham refused to make the radical break which he did from his old life, crucify the affections of the flesh, and leave Chaldea, he had never reached the promised land. The Christian’s "Inheritance" is purely of grace, for what can any man do in time to earn something which is eternal? Utterly impossible is it for any finite creature to perform anything which deserves an infinite reward. Nevertheless, God has marked out a certain path which conducts to the promised Inheritance: the path of obedience, the "Narrow Way" which "leadeth unto Life" (Matthew 7:14), and only those ever reach Heaven who tread that path to the end.
As the utmost confusion now reigns upon this subject, and as many are, through an unwarranted reserve, afraid to speak out plainly thereon, we feel obliged to add a little more. Unqualified obedience is required from us: not to furnish title to Heaven—that is found alone in the merits of Christ; not to fit us for Heaven—that is supplied alone by the supernatural work of the Spirit in the heart; but that God may be owned and honored by us as we journey thither, that we may prove and manifest the sufficiency of H’s grace, that we may furnish evidences we are HIS children, that we may be preserved from those things which would otherwise destroy us—only in the path of obedience can we avoid those foes which are seeking to slay us.
O dear reader, as you value your soul we entreat you not to spurn this article, and particularly its closing paragraphs, because its teaching differs radically from what you are accustomed to hear or read. The path of obedience must be trod if ever you are to reach Heaven. Many are acquainted with that path or "way," but they walk not therein: see 2 Peter 2:20. Many, like Lot’s wife, make a start along it, and then turn from it: see Luke 9:62. Many follow it for quite a while, but fail to persevere; and, like Israel of old, perish in the wilderness. No rebel can enter Heaven; one who is wrapped up in self cannot; no disobedient soul will. Only those will partake of the heavenly "inheritance" who are "children of Abraham," who have his faith, follow his examples, perform his works. May the Lord deign to add His blessing to the above, and to Him shall be all the praise.