A Sermon Delivered On Wednesday Morning, April 27, 1881, By C. H. Spurgeon, At Exeter Hall. *3/21/2013
(The Annual Sermon On Behalf Of The Baptist Missionary Society.)
Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you: for I
called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. For the Lord
shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will
make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the
Lord; joy and gladness shall be found in it, thanksgiving, and the
voice of melody. [Isa 51:2,3]
For other sermons on this text:
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1596, “Listen and Look; or, Encouragement for Believers” 1596]
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1633, “Sarah and Her Daughters” 1633]
Exposition on Isa 51:1-13 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2542, “Christ’s Rest and Ours” 2543 @@ "Exposition"]
1. The second verse contains my actual text. It is the argument by which faith is led to look for the blessings promised in the third verse.
2. It is habitual with some people to discover the dark side of every question or fact: they fix their eyes on the “waste places,” and they study them until they know every ruin, and are familiar with the dragons and the owls. They sigh most dolorously that the former times were better than these, and that we have fallen upon most degenerate days. They speak of “shooting Niagara,” and of all kinds of frightful things. I am afraid that a measure of this tendency to write bitter things resides in almost all of us at this present time, for certain discouraging facts which cannot be ignored are pressing heavily upon men’s spirits. The habit of looking continually towards the wildernesses is injurious because it greatly discourages; and anything that discourages an earnest worker is a serious drain on his strength. Perhaps a worse result than honest discouragement comes from depressing views, for they often afford an apology for indifference and inaction. The smallest peg suffices to hang an excuse on when we are anxious to escape from the stern service of faith. “Please have me excused,” is a request which was supported in the parable by the flimsiest of pretences, and discouragement makes one of the same kind. The sluggard’s argument is like this, — “I will not attempt the work, for it is far too heavy for my poor strength. I fear the times are poorly adapted to any special effort; indeed, I am not quite certain that success will ever attend the general work.” It is therefore a dreadful thing when the Christian church begins to be discouraged, and means must be used to stop the evil. We wish to use such means today. Lo, we lift the standard of the divine promise. “Comfort, comfort, my people,” sounds out like a silver trumpet in the forefront of the host. Be encouraged, oh you of the faint heart; there are no more difficulties now than there were of old. The cause is no more in jeopardy than it was a thousand years ago. The result, the end, the consummation of all things is absolutely certain: it is in his hand who cannot fail therefore be of good courage, and in waiting upon the Lord renew your strength.
3. Remember, you who are cast down, that there are other voices besides those of the bittern and owl from the “waste places.” My text has near to it twice, no, three times, “LISTEN TO ME.” You have listened long enough to dreary suggestions from within, to gloomy prophecies from desponding friends, to the taunts of foes, and to the horrible whisperings of Satan: now listen to him who promises to make the wilderness like Eden, and the desert like the garden of the Lord.
4. Oh you whose eyes are quick to discover evil, there are other sights in the world besides waste places and deserts, and hence my text has near to it twice over the exhortation, “LOOK” — “Look to the rock from where you are hewn”; “Look to Abraham your father.” Why should your eyes always ache over desolations? Probably you have seen as much in the wilderness as you are ever likely to see there. It does not take long to discover all the treasures and comforts of the burning sand; you have probably found them all by now. As for the discomforts and needs of the desert, you are perhaps as well acquainted with them as you need to be. Gaze no longer at the thirsty land and the burning sky; turn your eye where the finger of the Lord points by his word. If we enquire what it is that the Lord would have us observe, he answers, “Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you”; for we may find comfort there. Oh for the presence of the Holy Spirit, that the word may be full of the dew of heaven to refresh our souls.
5. I. We shall first look towards Abraham so that we may see in him THE ORIGIN OF GOD’S ANCIENT PEOPLE, the foundation stone, as it were, of the system by which God blessed the former ages. God was known in Judah, his name was great in Israel: let us look to the rock from where Israel and Judah were hewn.
6. We observe, first, that the founder of God’s first people was called out of a heathen family. “Your forefathers,” says Joshua, “lived on the other side of the flood in olden times, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and they served other gods.” Abraham, the founder of the great system in which God was pleased to reveal himself for so long a time, and to whose seed the oracles of God were committed, was a dweller in Ur of the Chaldees, the city of the moon god. We cannot tell to what extent he was actually engrossed in the superstition of his fathers, but it is certain that the family was for years afterwards tainted with idolatry; for in Jacob’s day the teraph was still venerated, and Rachel stole her father’s images. Abraham, therefore, was called out from the place of his birth, and from the household to which he belonged, so that in a separated condition, as a worshipper of the one God, he might keep the truth alive in the world. Remember, then, that the first man from whom sprang that wondrous nation which God has not even yet cast away was originally himself an idolater, and had to be called out of his sinful state by effectual grace. Why, then, might not the Lord, if the cause of truth were today reduced to its utmost extremity, again raise up a church out of one man? If an almost universal apostasy should hide the divine light, could he not kindle a torch among the heathen, and by its light illuminate the earth again? He could call out another Abraham, and bless him and increase him, and achieve all his eternal purposes if all of us should sleep in the dust, and the visible, organised church of today should pass away as the snow of winter at the advent of spring. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Is he not able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham? Concerning anything like discouragement, it ought to vanish at the thought that not only out of your Sunday Schools, your colleges, and your pulpits can God raise up leaders for his church, but he can find them in the very centre of heathenism. Where Satan’s seat is, even there the Lord can raise up advocates for his cause. The thick darkness of superstition shall not prevent the chosen one from seeing the light, neither shall the bondage of sin hold back the captive from finding freedom and proclaiming it to others.
7. “Ah,” you say, “but men are not called now, as Abraham was, by miraculous calls from heaven.” I reply, — The statement may be true; but God’s visible means of calling men are now so many that there can seldom be need of a miracle. The Lord can by his Spirit make one of the millions of Bibles scattered over the world to be as powerful a means of call as though he had sent an angel from heaven; yes, a solitary leaf of a printed tract, if wafted by the wind, or carried by the wave, may be borne where God shall bless it to the calling out of a champion ordained of old to do great exploits. Where ordinary means are so plentiful wisdom does not resort to signs and wonders. Miracles were of admirable use while they were necessary; but now that they are no longer required the prudence of God forbids an extravagant display of the supernatural. Now that the word of God is scattered “thick as leaves in Vallambrosa” [a] everywhere by willing and ready hands, what need can there be of voices of the day or visions of the night? The same Spirit who called Abraham by a supernatural voice can call others by the word of truth. Instead of regarding it as a prodigy that a man should be unexpectedly called out from among the heathen I look for it, and shall not be surprised to hear that in the more remote provinces of China, or in the centre of Tibet, or in the recesses of Africa men have been raised up to found churches for our Lord Jesus. God can through the printed page or by hints and rumours passed from hand to hand convey enough instruction to call out more Abrahams and bless them, and increase his kingdom by them. “Omnipotence has servants everywhere.” Let us never dream that the God of Abraham is short of means for calling out chosen men to build up his church. Surely Christian people should never doubt the power of God to raise up lights in dark places when we remember that the greatest preacher of the gospel, namely, the apostle Paul, was drafted into the army of Christ from the ranks of his direst foes. The proud Pharisee, a fanatic of the fanatics, embittered against Christ, and persecuting his people, became the earnest advocate of Christ Jesus. Previously his breath was threatening and slaughter, yet on the road to Damascus he was conquered and transformed. Just as a lion roars over his prey, so Paul rejoiced that the saints in Damascus were now in his power; but the Lord struck him down, and turned the lion into a lamb, and henceforth where sin abounded grace much more abounded. First in the ranks of Christian heroes stands the man who called himself the chief of sinners because he persecuted the church of God. My brethren, just as Luther came from among the monks, so out of Rome, yes, from the Vatican itself, can God, if he wishes, call another Luther. The darkness of the times cannot forbid it, for God is light. The weakness of the church cannot hinder it, for all power belongs to God. There may not be among us today one whom God will so greatly honour as to make him a spiritual father of nations; but there may be such a one in the courts of Whitechapel or in the tenements of St. Giles. The Christ, who was himself called the Galilean, despises no place or people. Our King is not particular concerning the mine from which he digs his gold. The great seeker of precious souls very often finds his purest pearls in the deepest and the blackest waters. Take this, then, for encouragement, you who tremble for the ark of God: he can build up a spiritual house for himself out of dark quarries, and find cedars for his temple in forests untraversed by the feet of missionaries.
8. “Ah,” you say, “but Abraham was naturally a man of noble mould. Where do you find such a princely spirit as his?” I answer, “Who made him?” He who made him can make another like him. There is a grace of God which goes before what we are accustomed to call saving grace: I mean a grace of God which, in the creating of the nature, makes it a fit instrument for the grace which is later to be bestowed. By such sovereign favour one man is from his birth endowed with a superior mind and character, being adorned, even as a natural man, with much that is excellent in its own order. How often do you see among certain men of the world a generosity, honesty, open-heartedness, and nobility of disposition which are not grace, but which single men out as fit to be leaders in all that is good when grace calls them into the divine service? The Lord can just as soon make a man after the type of Abraham as after any other type; and doubtless he has such in store even now, to whom his call will still come. We may expect to see men of strong convictions converted into believers who “do not stagger at the promise through unbelief.” From among priests and pagans we may hope that the Lord will raise up pillars for his church. Is this hope not encouraged in your hearts as you “Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you?”
9. Look again and observe that Abraham was only one man. Do not be startled at the sound which seems to have such terrors for certain brethren. I have heard the pious platitudes of those who object to a “one-man ministry,” a ministry to which all the while they usually submit in their own meetings; but to my ear there is music, and not terror, in the term “a one-man ministry.” I bless God that all my hope of salvation hangs upon the divine ministry of the One Man. Is not Christ, as the servant of God, the very pattern of all ministries which are from God? Working out the Father’s eternal purpose by a life which was necessarily unique in many points, he trod the wine-press alone; in this, however, he causes many of his people to have fellowship with him, even as in the case of Paul, who says, “At my first defence no man stood with me, but all men forsook me.” I am bold also to say that the Lord has as a rule accomplished more nobly by one man than by groups and corporations of men. He in whose seed all nations are blessed was only one. “I called him,” he says, “alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” Nor is this a solitary case. When the earth was utterly corrupt God conserved the race by a solitary preacher of righteousness, who prepared an ark for the saving of his house. See how one Joseph saved whole nations from famine, and one Moses brought out a nation from bondage. Who was there to keep Israel right when Moses died but the one man Joshua? What were the prosperous times in the era of the Judges but days when one man was in the forefront as a leader? When all the rest hid away in dens and caves, some Barak or Gideon, or Jephthah, or Samson came boldly forward and delivered Israel. One man, standing like a figure at the head of many ciphers, soon headed victorious thousands, through faith in God. What was there except one man in the days of David? The Philistines would have still triumphed over the land if the one lad had not brought back Goliath’s head, and if the one man had not again and again struck the uncircumcised in the name of the Lord. Beloved, if we should ever be reduced, as we shall not be, to one man, yet by one man God will preserve his church, and work out his great purposes. I hope we shall never go into our room, and shut the door, and cry with Elijah, “I am the only one left, and they seek my life!” No, my brother, there are more faithful men in this world than you. The Lord has still reserved for himself his thousands who have not bowed the knee to Baal. We are today, not one man, but many, and we all desire to live for the glory of God, and for the spread of his gospel; but if our hosts were so diminished that we could be numbered by a little child upon his fingers, still there would be no excuse for dismay, for the God of Abraham still lives, even he who created a people to his praise by one man, of whom he says, “I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.”
10. Think, my brethren, of the power for good or evil which may be enshrined in a single human life. What mischievous results may come from one man! One sinner destroys much good, and if there were only one person left who had knowledge of the ways of vice and the words of blasphemy that one man would suffice to infect the race with his abominations. If evil is so mighty, is not good with God in it quite as powerful? We may correctly measure quantities in reference to many things, but with others it is absurd. It would be ridiculous to measure the power of fire by the quantity which burns on your hearth. Give us appropriate materials and a single match, and you shall see what fire can do. If ordinary fire, that may so readily be extinguished, is so powerful, who shall venture to measure the power of the fire from heaven, which neither men nor demons can quench, the fire which fell at Pentecost, and still burns among us. You carry fire, you servants of God; you work with a heaven-sent force of boundless energy. Why, therefore, should you despair? If all the lights in the world were put out except a solitary lamp, there is enough fire in one wick to kindle all the lamps in the universe. What inch of ground remains for despair to stand upon?
11. Furthermore, we are bound to notice that this one man was a lone man. He had not only to do the work of God, but also he had no one to help him. “I called him alone.” True, he was attended by Lot — a poor miserable lot he was, costing his noble uncle more trouble than he ever brought him profit. How little did he maintain or adorn the righteousness which, nevertheless, had saved him: a true type of many a feeble professor in these days. Abraham was not backed by any mission society when he crossed the Euphrates and afterwards traversed the desert to sojourn in Canaan as a pilgrim and a stranger. If ever a man was fairly cut adrift and cast upon the Lord it was the great father of the faithful. He certainly found no patronage in his onward course except the all-sufficient patronage of the Lord his God. When he came near to kings it was a source of trouble to him; it led to contention, and once to war; or else he felt bound to refuse their offers of gifts, and say as he did to the king of Sodom, “I will not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet, and I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ ” That same boastful sentence might be uttered by the State concerning some churches that I know of, but not concerning us: may God preserve us, my brethren, from every desire to come under obligations to earthly sovereignties, lest, becoming indebted to them, we should be bound to render suit and service at their bidding, such service being already due to “another king, one Jesus.”
12. Abraham had no prestige of parentage, rank, or title. If you had looked at the stately patriarch when he trod the plains of Mamre you would have seen about him a presence, a calm dignity, a truly regal manner; but that came to him solely through his faith in God and his communion with heaven. Abraham was distinguished from other men only by the grace of God. What grander difference can there be than what is established by the existence of faith in the heart? Thus Abraham was in the fullest sense a lone man, unsupported by any of those outward distinctions which enable some men to do more than others.
13. The fulfilment of his calling rested on his loneliness; for he must get away from his relatives, and wander up and down with his flocks, even as the church of God now does, dwelling in a strange land, and feeding her flock by itself. When he was alone God blessed Abraham, — “I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” The blessing did not come to him in Haran while he still had some connection with the old stock; he was not yet become thoroughly nonconformist, but held in some small degree to the old house at home, and until the last link was snapped the blessing could not come. And now, my brother, if in the town or district where you live you seem to lose all your helpers; if they die one by one, and it seems as if no one would be left to you; if even the prayer meeting fails for lack of earnest, pleading men, still persevere, for it is the lone man whom God will bless. “He sets the solitary in families.” In your present forlorn condition you are learning sympathy with that lone man in Gethsemane, with that lone man upon the cross, who there vanquished all your foes. Remember that your enemies are thus beaten before you encounter them, and therefore you may readily overcome through the blood of the Lamb. Oh, do not be afraid. Thus says the Lord — “I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” Grasp that, you who live isolated from human sympathy. Oh that our missionaries abroad may feel the rich comfort of this fact; for they very often, like lone sentinels, keep watch with eyes that long to see a friend. They are separated from fellowship with brethren, they miss the friendships which tend to comfort and confirm, but it is God who calls them alone, and he will bless them and increase them. The purer churches of today, standing alone as they do, because they dare not make unholy alliances with any, — standing alone, I say, in simple trust in the living Lord — ought not to be afraid with any amazement, but attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.
14. Once more, I cannot help asking for your attention to the fact that Abraham was not only a man called from heathendom, one man, and a lone man; but he was a man who had to be stripped even further. The blessing was — “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you,” but its obvious fulfilment was not immediate. As we have already seen, he must come away from his relatives and his father’s house, and he must dwell in Palestine until the promised seed was born. But how long he waited for the expected heir! Twenty, yes, almost thirty years rolled away, and the man Abraham was ninety-nine years old. He is very old: and yet he is to be blessed with a son. He must number the full tale of a hundred years before Isaac can be born. This promised child was to be according to promise, and therefore he could not be born until nature was recognised as spent. As for Sarah — it was not possible that she should become a mother at her advanced age, and yet it must be so, for God had said it.
15. The believing pair had waited on until in an evil hour Sarah suggested a desperate attempt to fulfil the promise, in which she still firmly believed. That artifice broke down; it was a part of the divine plan that it should do so. The covenant promise was not to the seed after the flesh. When that scheme had been set aside, the Lord fulfilled his word in his own time.
16. Joy! joy! in the house of Abraham and Sarah. What a feast there was that Isaac was born, filling the house with laughter. But he must die! “Get up,” said God, “and take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you about.” The grand old man will do it. He will get up early in the morning, and the father and the son will journey together silently; for the aged heart is too full to talk. He believes God, and is sure that even if he should actually kill his son at God’s command the promise would somehow be kept. Abraham could not tell how, but it was no business of his to tell how; he was fully persuaded that what God had promised he was able to perform. God had said to him “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” and he believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, or in some other way achieve the promise. Thus he grasped the resurrection. He laid hold on a truth which was deeper than he knew about: by his faith he believed in the resurrection of Isaac though as yet the Lord Jesus had not shown the way by his own rising from the dead. What a stripping Abraham had endured! Who can describe what would have been the wretchedness of that aged parent if it had not been for his faith! Men intensely love the children of their old age. See how a grandchild is fondled by his grandfather, and so Isaac must have been loved by Abraham; and yet he must die by his father’s own hand. Oh, most miserable among the miserable must he have been who stood there on Mount Moriah, called to such a duty, his heart breaking while his soul obeyed. Such, doubtless, would have been the case had not faith been his support. Look, then, to Abraham your father, and say is he not the greatest of men, the grandest human representative of the great Father God himself, who in the fulness of time did not spare his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all? You Abraham are most like God among mortal men, and therefore you might well be his friend! In your trial brought to such a stripping we may yet envy you as we hear the Lord saying, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” Now, if in all these trials Abraham was still blessed, and God’s purposes were accomplished in him, can we not believe that the same God can work by us also, despite our downcastings and humiliations? When we are utterly broken and crushed may not the Lord’s strength be made perfect in our weakness? Let us not question the promise because of our personal deadness and inability, but believe God without wavering, for he has said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
17. Now, brothers and sisters, here is the sum and substance of this first point of my discourse: in looking to the rock from where we are hewn, we have to see the Lord working the greatest results from apparently inadequate causes. This teaches us to cease from calculating means, possibilities, and probabilities, for we have to deal with God, with whom all things are possible. Almighty God can assuredly do whatever he says he will do. Who is to hinder him? Let the voice ring out over all the earth, and let it be heard in hell itself — who shall restrain the arm of God when he wills to achieve a thing? He fears no opposition, and he needs no help. Of what did he make the world? With whom did he take counsel? Who instructed him? And, if all the things that exist have been spoken into existence by God alone, by his mere word, can he not still build up his church, even if on her earthly side there should seem to be no material with which to raise her walls? Consider creation and notice what God has accomplished. See how all the millions of mankind have sprung from a single pair, because God blessed them in the beginning. But I must not multiply illustrations from nature or from history, for they rise spontaneously before your own minds. Refresh your faith by a reference to our own island history. If you would firmly believe in the conversion of the heathen remember what your forefathers were when bloody rites were performed in the oak woods or amid the huge monoliths of Stonehenge. The Druidic system was as cruel and degrading as any that now curses a savage people; but the heralds of Jesus conquered. Where are the gods of the Druids now? Who reverences the golden sickle and the sacred oak? The thing is gone, as though it never had been. Why, then, should not other evil idolatries pass away? Look again at the triumph of Protestantism in this country. What was it at first? A thing utterly despised and hunted down. The stakes of Smithfield [b] cannot be forgotten by those who live so near the place. Yet, despite all, the gospel of God triumphed, and rood, [c] and pyx, [d] and image were broken in contempt. Let the days of the Puritans, the sunny days when God was known in England, tell how thoroughly Bible truth won the victory. Why not again? Why not everywhere? If you desire another illustration, look at our own body of Christians! History has so far been written by our enemies, who never would have kept a single fact about us upon the record if they could have helped it, and yet it leaks out every now and then that certain poor people called Anabaptists were brought up for condemnation. From the days of Henry II to those of Elizabeth I we hear of certain unhappy heretics who were hated by all men for the truth’s sake which was in them. We read of poor men and women, with their clothes cut short, turned out into the fields to perish in the cold, and immediately of others who were burned at Newington for the crime of Anabaptism. Long before your Protestants were known of, these horrible Anabaptists, as they were unjustly called, were protesting for the “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.” No sooner did the visible church begin to depart from the gospel than these men arose to keep firmly by the good old way. The priests and monks wished for peace and slumber, but there was always a Baptist or a Lollard tickling men’s ears with holy Scripture, and calling their attention to the errors of the times. They were a poor, persecuted tribe. The halter was thought to be too good for them. At times poorly written history would have us think that they died out, so well had the wolf done his work on the sheep. Yet here we are, blessed and multiplied; and Newington sees other scenes from Sunday to Sunday. As I think of your numbers and efforts, I can only say in wonder — “What a growth!” As I think of the multitudes of our brethren in America, I may well say, “What has God accomplished?” Our history forbids discouragement. Never once was there a cause more hopeless; none more hopeful today! It matters little what may yet happen, the cause is safe. What if all our Baptist organisations expire! What if only one man should be left faithful to the old banner, our Captain would still triumph gloriously, for he saves not by many nor by few. Though everything else fails, the Lord shall reign for ever and ever. This is the lesson which, I pray, all of us may learn, and then, by faith, go out to act upon it.
18. II. With great brevity, I shall dwell for a moment upon the second point, namely — THE MAIN CHARACTERISTIC OF THIS CHOSEN MAN. The text says, “Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you,” and it must mean, — consider him and see what he was, so that you may learn from him.
19. You perceive at once that his grand characteristic was his faith. In this faith many other most brilliant qualities are comprehended, but his faith lay at the bottom of it all. Here is his epitaph “Abraham believed God.” That was a mainspring of all his actions, the glory of his life, “Abraham believed God.” The men whom God will work by, whatever else they do not have, must have faith in God. Though it is to be desired that the believer should have every mental and moral qualification, yet it is astounding how, if there is real faith, a multitude of imperfections are swallowed up, and the man is still a power. I would mention Samson as an extreme case. He was the feeblest of men, and the least fitted to be a judge in Israel; but oh, what faith! And what wonders it achieved! A thousand men! He is like a child in his belief that God is with him. He never calculates at all; it is all the same to him whether there are a thousand or one. He flings himself upon the host, and has slain them before we can calculate the deadly odds. A sword; no, he has no sword: an old jawbone of a donkey is quite enough for an arm which God strengthens. See how he strikes them, hip and thigh, until they lie in heaps before him. I do not suppose that it would have meant anything to Samson if there had been a million Philistines: with a thousand to one, a man is so thoroughly outnumbered that the odds cease to matter. Here was an impossibility before him, and what could be worse? Brethren, when you do get off your feet, and must swim, you may as well have fifty fathoms of water beneath you as not, for you can only drown. In the case of faith, drowning is out of the question, and swimming is good in deep water, for there is no fear of striking against a rock. Faith glories in difficulties and infirmities, because the power of God rests upon her. If the work is barely possible for her strength faith hardly likes it; but she gets into her sphere when in trials far beyond human strength she laughs at impossibility, and cries, “It shall be done.”
20. Abraham’s faith was such that it led him to obedience. He was called to go out, and he went, not knowing where he went. His faith through grace led him to perseverance; for once he was in God’s way he did not leave it, but still remained a sojourner with God. His faith led him to expectancy; he looked for the promised seed, and not only for an Isaac but for the Messiah. So clear was the vision of his expectancy that before his eyes Christ was seen visibly. Did not the Saviour, who knew all things, say, “Abraham saw my day; he saw it, and was glad?”
21. The same faith also dwelt in the heart of Sarah; and, as we are told in the text to look to Sarah as well as Abraham, let us not fail to do so. The faith of Sarah was not little when she left home with her husband; forsaking her kith and kin out of love for God, and to him whom she called “lord,” She acted as if she had said to the great patriarch, “Where you go I will go; where you live I will live, for your God is my God.” Nor did the trial of her faith end with the moving; she had to take up with tent life and all its inconveniences. It is the woman who knows the discomfort of domestic life under such circumstances. We never hear that she complained for a moment, though neither the cold of winter or the heat of summer is warded off by a tent. How readily she entertained her husband’s guests. Though they might drop in at most unseasonable hours, or call her to bake bread in the heat of the day, she was glad to welcome strangers, for like her husband she was given to hospitality. I saw you smile, dear friends, when I mentioned domestic matters; but to me it is the solemnity of faith that men and women cannot only pray and sing, but can put up with household discomforts out of obedience to God. Certain people look upon faith as a fine, airy, sentimental thing with which to roam among the stars, anticipate millenniums, and enjoy yourself in lofty contemplation. I believe far more in a faith which, whether it eats or drinks, does all to the glory of God; faith which like Sarah resides in the tent and works there; faith which is cheerful over a scanty meal and drives away the fear of poverty; faith which can come down in life from the mansion to the cottage, if providence so decrees. From Abraham’s comfortable home at Ur to his gipsy wanderings in Palestine the change must have been great, but Abraham may not have felt it one half as much as Sarah, for men can rough it and live out of doors, but the housewife knows all about it, and great was her faith that she never raised a question about the propriety of her husband’s manner of life: and though she laughed when she was told that she should bear a son, yet remember that in the eleventh of Hebrews it is written — “Through faith also Sarah herself received strength.” She was the mother of Isaac, not in the power of the flesh, but through the energy of faith, therefore look at her as the text tells you to.
22. Christian men and Christian women, notice well this fact — that the characteristic of the person whom God will bless is that he believes and acts upon his belief. Without faith it is impossible to please God; but the man of faith is God’s man. And why is this? I answer, because faith is the only faculty of our spirit which can grasp God’s ideal. The greatest man, without faith, cannot tread in the divine footsteps. The ideas of God are as high above us as the heavens are above the earth: and therefore it is not by any imagined vastness of our feeble minds that we can ever rise into fellowship with God. Faith in the sight of God’s thought whispers to herself — “I cannot understand this great thing nor need I wish to do so. What is my understanding? Perhaps I trust in it too much already. I am called to do what God tells me without knowing why, and I am glad it is so, for now I can worship him by bowing before his sovereign will.” There is a capacity about faith for grasping divine promises and purposes, a width, a breadth, a height, a depth, which can hold the infinite truth as no other power can do. Love alone can rival it, for it embraces the infinite God himself. With the far-reaching plans and promises of God faith alone is fit to deal; carnal reason is altogether out of the question.
23. Faith, too, has a great power of reception, and in it lies much of her adaptation to the divine purpose. Self-confidence, courage, resolution, cool reasoning, whatever else they are good at, are bad at humbly receiving. Those vessels which are already full are of no use as receivers; but faith presents her emptiness to God, and opens her mouth so that God may fill it. Mercy does not need a jewel, but a chest into which to put her gems, and faith is exactly what she needs.
24. Then, again, faith always uses the strength that God gives her. Pride would boast about it, and doubt would evaporate it; but faith is practical, and economically uses the talent entrusted to her. Faith has already spent all her own strength, and she so yearns to achieve her purposes that she uses all the power that God will lend her. Faith eats her manna and does not leave a morsel for worms to breed in.
25. Faith, too, can wait for the Lord’s time and place. When faith is weak men are in a dreadful hurry, but strong faith does not judge the Lord to be slack concerning his promise. Since God achieves his purpose with infinite leisure, he loves a faith that is patient and does not look for its reward this day or the next. “He who believes shall not make haste”: that is to say, he shall not be ashamed or confounded by present trials so as to rush upon unbelieving actions. Faith leaves times and seasons with God to whom they belong.
26. God loves faith and blesses it too, because it gives him all the glory. The true believer will not allow a trace of self-glory to linger on his hands. “Where is boasting then?” was a question once asked in the house of faith, and the searchers examined every nook and cranny in every room to find it, but they did not find it. Then they said to faith, “Where is boasting?” She answered, “I shut it out.” “It is excluded,” shut out, and the door bolted in its face. You do not believe God if you boast about what you are doing: least of all do you believe if you pride yourself in your faith, for faith does not doubt her God but herself. Faith looks to God to keep her alive as well as to fulfil the promise that he has made to her. This then is the kind of faith which was characteristic of Abraham, and the question is, have we got it? Do we have so much of it that God can greatly bless us? The comfort is that, if we do not have it, the author of faith can give it to us, and if we have it in scant measure he can increase our faith.
27. Is this not a solid reason why you and I should take heart? You, who do not believe that missions will succeed; you who readily become discouraged and discourage others; I ask you to go home and seek for more faith. We cannot go down to the battle with such soldiers as you; you only encumber the host. The men who lapped are the only ones whom Gideon will take to war. Send the fearful ones to the rear and let them take care of the baggage, so that when the battle is won they may have a share of the spoil, according to David’s law. For actual service and warfare we must have men of faith. Cromwell found that when his men came dressed in all kinds of clothes and colours they were apt to injure each other in the melee, and so he put them all in uniform. The uniform of the Prince Emmanuel is faith: no man may call himself a soldier of the cross who does not have it. This is the victory which overcomes the world, even your faith. Brother ministers, let us take heed lest we are found qualified for our ministry in all respects except this one. You have learning, eloquence, industry, honesty, but do you so believe in God as to expect his word to act divinely on men’s hearts? Do you preach believingly? Do you pray believingly? I leave the question with you.
28. III. I have shown you, dear friends, that God accomplished his purpose, and raised up a chosen nation out of one man, whose chief characteristic was his faith: and now I want you to notice OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THAT ONE MAN.
29. I dwelt upon that while reading Romans chapter 4. There is a relationship between us and Abraham even as Paul assures us in the epistle to the Galatians, “Know therefore that those who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Something, surely, is expected of the children of such a man as Abraham. Oh, for shame, you unbelieving one! Is Abraham your father? Are you one of the faithful seed? Great mountains are often succeeded by low valleys. Perhaps that is the case with you; but it should not be so. The natural seed were cut off because they had no faith, do not let those who are grafted in, think to do without it. It is by faith that you are a son at all. You disprove your pedigree if you tolerate unbelief. Oh! let no one find fault with Abraham through you, and surely they may do so if they find you staggering. That “staggering” is a shocking business: staggering at God’s promises is terrible. Abraham did not stagger at the promise through unbelief. May we never dishonour the very noble grace of faith, but so believe that all men may know Abraham’s God to be our God. Oh for abounding spiritual life, for the God of Abraham is not the God of the dead but of the living; and we can only live for God by faith.
30. Brethren, because we are the seed of Abraham, the apostle declares that the blessing of Abraham has come upon us also. I pray that all the friends and labourers in our Missionary Society may grasp the blessing of Abraham. What is it? It is a covenant favour that belongs to all who are the servants of God by faith. Here is the substance of it: “Surely blessing, I will bless you, and in multiplying, I will multiply you.” That is the grand old covenant promise and it belongs to the church. Notice that the blessing is attended with multiplying. Some friends are afraid of statistics which represent the increase of the churches; I am far more afraid of those statistics which will show that we do not increase as we could wish. The blessing of the church is the increase of the church. The two go together: “Blessing, I will bless you, and in multiplying, I will multiply you.” How much are Christians to be multiplied in the world? At the present moment we do not seem to be increasing as fast as the population. I am afraid that the number of converted people relative to the population is scarcely as great as it was thirty years ago; we long to be multiplied at a very different rate from this — and we shall be if we have faith in our God. Hear the covenant word: “ ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to number them’: and he said to him, ‘So shall your seed be. And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.’ ” These are lines from the covenant, which is sure to all the seed and can never be broken. We have been called and blessed, and it is of necessity that we increase also. We are bound to increase; we are destined to overrun the nations; the Hittites, the Hivites, the Amorites, of Popery, Mohammedanism, and Idolatry are in the land, but their false systems are utterly to perish. Jesus at the head of his people shall drive them out — I mean not the men, but their evil beliefs. They may take notice to leave, for he is coming before whom all men must bow. Oh that before he himself shall appear his spiritual presence in the midst of his church might suffice for victory, so that all mankind might call him blessed. We are bound to increase, until the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for us, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. Upon the church in her vigour the blessings of the tribes of Joseph shall yet descend. “His glory is like the firstling of his young bull, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth.” The success of truth is the battle of the Lord, and the increase of his church is according to his own promise, therefore in quietness we may possess our souls.
31. IV. Last of all consider for a minute OUR POSITION BEFORE ABRAHAM’S GOD. Do not let anything that I have said about Abraham for a moment take your mind off from the Lord himself, because the pith of it all lies here, — “I called him alone.” Look to Abraham, but only as to the rock from which the Lord quarried his people: your main thought must be Jehovah himself. “I, I called him alone, and blessed him.” “I the Lord do all these things.” Look to the everlasting God who does great wonders, and sustain yourselves upon him.
32. Let us joyfully remember that the Lord our God has not changed, no, not in one jot or tittle. He is “the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” There is so far a change in the revelation of him, that it is brighter now in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, than it could have been through seer and vision; but that should be a motive for increased faith. “His arm is not shortened that he cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that he cannot hear.” This God of Abraham is still almighty, and still in the midst of the covenanted ones. If the ages that have passed over his dreadful brow could wrinkle it and his strength could decay, then we might also decline in our confidence; but it is not so. He does not faint, neither is weary. Our behaviour towards him, therefore, should resemble that of Abraham; and especially, representing, as many of us do, the churches of Jesus Christ as ministers or deacons, we must never dishonour the Lord by unbelief. Doubt everything except God. Let God be true and every man a liar. This is the everlasting decree which no one can change, — Christ must reign; he shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied; the kings of the earth must bow before him. Do not doubt it, for God has sworn by his own life that all flesh shall see his glory. Here is the grand argument for strong faith.
33. Notice next that the covenant of God has not changed. God has not recalled his words, nor taken a pen and struck out his promises from the record. Read the covenant words, and write them upon the doorposts of your mission house, “In blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This is the covenant with the one spiritual seed of Abraham, this is the marrow of it, and it has never been revoked. As I have said before, we read it now in clearer light, and understand better the fulness of its provisions, but the covenant is not disannulled. Let us go to God with any one promise of it, and we can say to him, “This is your promise in Christ Jesus; and you have not spoken in secret in a dark place and withdrawn your word and said to the seed of Jacob, ‘Seek my face in vain.’ ” Such pleading will prevail. He will never renege on his word. Has he said, and will he not do it? Therefore let us cry, “Remember your word to your servant upon which you have caused me to hope.”
34. But there is this also to be added, that this work which we desire the Lord to do is in some respects even less than what he has done with Abraham. What do we ask for? Not that he should begin with one man to build up a nation, or create a church? No, but that Zion being built, he should comfort her, and cause her waste places to rejoice. The field is the world, and the seed is ready for the sowing. The gospel is in the hands of those who have the best means of spreading it. Everything is ready for its ultimate triumph. The events are decreed; we only need the heavenly fire to touch them, and the deed is accomplished. Oh that the work of the Lord may be speedily done; so that the Lord may carry on his work of righteousness and make a short work in the earth. I say that if God has done this greater thing, if he has excavated a nation from the quarry of Abraham, we may well expect the very same God to keep his covenant, to multiply his church, and build her up after the similitude of a palace. The time to favour Zion, even the set time, has come. Besides that; we have been already visited by God as Abraham had not been when he was first called. Abraham had not known the Lord until he called him, but our Zion is familiar with God, for she is the city of the great King. He dwells in our midst by his Holy Spirit, and holy hymn and prayer rise every day from the multitudes who fear him. The Lord has redeemed, and justified, and saved his people, and surely we may look to him to refresh and revive his inheritance.
35. What marvellous things has God done on the face of the earth since Abraham’s days! — the stupendous marvel of incarnation, the height and depth of which none of us can measure; the wondrous work of redemption, the highest, grandest, most divine, achievement of the Deity — all this is done; what may we not expect after this? You know more about God than Abraham could know; I beseech you then, trust him, at least up to the level of the patriarch. How shall we forge an excuse if we do not? What can excuse us if we doubt so glorious a God?
36. Brethren, it remains for me only to add this practical word. Let us throw ourselves more and more upon our God. If you have any work appointed to you by the Lord, and it is within the compass of your strength, shame on you if you do not perform it at once; but if it is beyond you, in this God will be glorified if you do it by his power. If there remains no might, wit, or wisdom in you, if you are deeply conscious of your weakness you are by this experience made the more fit to be used by the Lord, for when we are weak then we are strong. If you have confidence in God all things are possible for him who believes. Oh, when will the church cast herself upon her God as men throw themselves into the stream when they intend to swim? They seek no longer for a foothold, their foot leaves the place where it rested, and they throw themselves trustfully upon the wave. The everlasting ocean of love and power is ready to bear us up: we shall swim gallantly to shore if we will only trust this blessed sea of love.
37. Let us begin to believe God and then let us act in daily life as if we believed him. The just shall live by faith. Some people have a faith which is for show, a Sunday faith, faith that cannot bear the wear and tear of everyday life; varnished and gilded, but with no pure metal in it. The faith of Abraham could lead droves of camels and flocks of sheep away from Haran to Canaan. His was the faith which could drive the tent-pin into a foreign soil, or roll up the canvas and seek another unknown resting place. The faith of Abraham is a faith that says to wayfaring men “Turn in, and I will get you a little water and wash your feet.” It is a practical, active, living, weekday, every day faith. I will speak very broadly and plainly, and say we need a bread-and-cheese faith, that is to say, a faith which believes that God who feeds the ravens will send us our daily bread; a faith which believes that the heavenly Father who clothes the lilies will much more clothe his children; the faith that can believe God about the things that are actually around it, and that does not live in the region of fiction. See how God blessed Abraham with flocks and herds, and everything temporal as well as spiritual, because he walked in reference to these things along the line of faith; gave Lot his choice of pasturage, refused the offer of the king of Sodom, and resolutely paid the children of Heth the full price for the cave and the field. If we walk by faith in business life God may not in every case bless us with abundance of temporal mercies, but assuredly we shall be blessed. He may send us adversity, and poverty, but in these things faith is more than conqueror, glorying in tribulations also.
In the Lord’s work of evangelizing the world you must have a
downright, practical faith; not a faith that will sing when the organ
begins to play, and then be so busy fumbling the hymn book as to
forget the collection: not the faith of those who boast about Carey,
and Marshman and Knibb, but whose own names never appear in the
subscription list for a single shilling: not a faith which sings —
“Fly abroad thou mighty Gospel.”
but never lends a bit of down to make a feather for its wings.
39. Let us hear the Scripture, as it says, “Listen!” If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, “Listen!” for you may hear the Sabbath bells ringing in the everlasting peace, and angel songs welcoming the reign of grace over all nations. Let the ears of deaf unbelief be unplugged, for the whole earth echoes with the praises of the Lord. Do not say that the day is distant. Listen! Let faith be the listener, and she will hear across the ages which separate us from the gladsome period. Then you shall listen all day and all night long for many a year, but never hear the roll of drum or roar of cannon. Listen! You shall hear from the islands of the sea, and from the once benighted continents, psalms and hymns, and holy songs, ascending to the one Jehovah and to his Christ. Listen! for ears were never gladdened with sweeter music.
40. Then look! until you see the temples of false gods crumbling into dust. See how the shrines are tottering, and the idols breaking as though they were struck with a rod of iron. Mohammed’s crescent wanes, never to wax again; and she, of the Seven Hills, is hated by the kings, and they burn her with fire. “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he has made in the earth!” Your right hand, oh Lord, has dashed in pieces the enemy. They fall! They fall! They are as the slain. The day breaks, and the shadows flee away. Oh you watchers who look for the dawning, do not fall asleep through sorrowful weariness. The morning comes. It shall not tarry. Do you doubt it? Do you not know that the Lord reigns? Is he not the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle? “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” If you doubt it, dissolve your Missionary Society, and do not pretend to do a work for which you have no faith; but if you believe in the triumph of God’s work, and that you are called to it, behave worthily for so divine an enterprise. May God do so to you as you deal with him in this matter. Amen.
[a] Vallombrosa is a Benedictine abbey in the comune of Reggello (Tuscany, Italy), c. 30 km south-east of Florence, in the Apennines, surrounded by forests of beech and firs. It was founded by Giovanni Gualberto, a Florentine noble, in 1038 and became the mother house of the Vallumbrosan Order. Largely because of his poetic reference to the “autumnal leaves that strow the brooks, in Vallombrosa” in Paradise Lost, John Milton is supposed to have visited the monastery. See Explorer "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vallombrosa_Abbey"
[b] The fires that Queen Mary (1553-1558) ordered to be lit at Smithfield put to death such Protestant leaders and men of influence as Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer and Hooper, but also hundreds of lesser men who refused to adopt the Catholic faith.
[c] Rood: A crucifix, esp. one stationed above the middle of a rood-screen; also rarely, a figure of the cross in wood or metal, as a religious object. The roods at certain places are frequently mentioned as special objects of pilgrimage or worship. In some cases rood denotes especially the image of Christ as distinct from the cross itself. OED.
[d] Pyx: The vessel in which the host or consecrated bread of the sacrament is reserved. OED.