We want to continue with the matter which the
Lord has brought to us: The Cross and the Way of Life. We have been seeing the
working of the principle of the Cross in the case of men who stand out in the
early history of the race - Abel and Noah. In this chapter we are going to pass
to Abraham, and if you are not familiar with those parts, I would suggest you
read Genesis chapters 17 and 22.
But before we come to speak of this matter in
connection with Abraham, let me say this which I think may be helpful. We can
only rightly and adequately appraise and understand the value and meaning of the
lives of these men in the Bible as we recognize the particular purpose which
characterized those lives.
Every one of them was connected with something
quite specific or something quite specific was connected with them, and until we
can put our finger upon that thing which accounted for them and explained them,
we cannot really understand all their experiences or the ways in which God dealt
with them. That is, while a particular law applied in the case of these men, it
is also a general principle in life. In order to understand our lives under the
hand of God, we have to see what it is that relates to our lives in the mind of
We have spoken of Abel, and the particular
thing that comes to us through Abel is that he established the principle in
fulness and finality that the Cross is the way of life. And in the first one all
is summed up and so Abel, by the death of the lamb and then by his own death
because of the lamb - for he was slain, was murdered - because of his lamb he
established the law that the Cross is the way of life.
Passing on to Noah, the same thing in principle
is there but in Noah's case we see that the principle which was established in
the one man, Abel, now is manifested in a universal way. The whole world,
rejecting the principle of the Cross, found no way through with God. They found
a closed door but Noah and seven others, because they accepted that principle,
found the way through and Noah's specific function was to set forth the
universality of this principle. It is not only one man now, it is the whole
world over against the comparative few who find a way through by the Cross. So
Noah becomes the testimony in a corporate form, while Abel was the testimony in
an individual and personal form.
Abraham - God's New Race
Now, when we come to Abraham, moving on in the
counsels of God, we come to God's new race beginning. There are two titles given
to Abraham with specific and peculiar meaning. Those titles are 'father' and
'friend'. He was the father of the Hebrew race, but he was not only the father
of the Hebrew nation, for Paul says "the father of all them that believe"
(Rom. 4:11) and again, "the father of many nations". And that was written
to Romans, so Abraham steps clean out of the confines of the Hebrew race and, as
Paul says, is "the father of all nations who believe". And we know that
the one outstanding characteristic of Abraham was faith. He is called "the
father of the faithful", that is, the people of faith, "all them that
Faith, therefore, is generic; the
characteristic of a genesis, that is, of a class of people. It is a power which
creates a kind of people, that makes a race, a nation. Faith is a mighty
propagating thing, and that was the particular characteristic of Abraham's
fatherhood or paternity - faith. What a tremendous thing faith is. "I will
multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the
seashore" (Gen. 22:17). What propagating power there is in faith! Now this
particular characteristic of his fatherhood is the principle of all that
follows. It is not just saying something which does not sound particularly
enlightening or interesting, but it is the principle of everything, and
so we proceed to look at this man Abraham.
Abraham's Call and Separation
Firstly, his call and his separation, "The
God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia,
before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy land, and from
thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee" (Acts 7:2-3).
This was his call and his separation, which implied the rejection of Chaldea and
the Chaldeans. God had no open way for them. Of course that would be understood
if we had time to speak of the conditions in Chaldea, for they were exceedingly
evil. Idolatry was rampant; iniquity was terrible. "Get thee out", which
meant that for the Chaldean and Chaldea, there was a closed door with God, and
Abraham being brought out, separated and called forth, meant that God's open way
lay in that direction.
God's Covenant with Abraham
The next movement that we want to note in the
course of things is that to which we come in Genesis 17: the covenant made with
Abraham, and the sign of the covenant - being circumcised. Now, note the
covenant that God made with Abraham then. As you can see if you look, it is
related to perpetuity and increase; a going on, a clear, free, full way of going
on - the way of life and increase. That was the covenant, "Thy seed after
thee shall..." and so on. The covenant had to do with life or perpetuity and
with increase, life and enlargement. But this life and this enlargement would be
through and on the basis of, first of all the acceptance of the great fact that
the door was closed to all that was other, death had taken place, and therefore
it could only possibly be on the other side of that door. And that door proved
to be the door of the Cross.
The life, the perpetuity, the continuation and
the increase, lay through the Cross. And that is the meaning, as we know so
well, of circumcision. In the New Testament you know quite well that
circumcision is related by the apostle Paul to the Cross of the Lord Jesus. You
have it definitely stated in Col. 2:11 where the Cross of the Lord Jesus is
definitely in view and it is said to have been the circumcision of Christ. And
Paul calls it the putting away of the whole body of the flesh. It is related to
the Cross. So take that right back from Col. 2:11 to Genesis 17, and you see
exactly the basis upon which the continuance, the perpetuity, the increase
rests. The circumcision there implicitly represents the Cross - the end of
something, and the beginning of something else. Death - a closed door to
something. Life - the open door to something altogether different: God's new
race beginning with Abraham.
Inward and Spiritual
But in the New Testament circumcision is
regarded as spiritual and inward. Paul said it quite emphatically, "Neither
is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh... circumcision is that of
the heart" (Rom. 2:28-29). "We are the circumcision, who worship by the
Spirit of God" (Phil. 3:3). It is a spiritual thing, an inward thing; it is
of the heart. And it simply means that in the Cross of the Lord Jesus, the
natural life and the reasoning of the natural life, or the self-life - the
willing of the self-life, the desiring of the self-life - has been cut off by
the Cross. Every expression and aspect of the self-life has been cut through by
the Cross and is put in the place where the door is shut. There is no open door
to any expression of the natural life. The Cross says, 'The door is closed;
death rests upon that'. That is spiritual circumcision.
Stephen, in that matchless discourse of his
which resulted in his murder, cried at one point to those who were persecuting
and about to stone him, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart" (Acts
7:51). What did he mean by "uncircumcised in heart and ears"? He just
meant this, that they were only willing and minded to have what they wanted and
nothing more. Prejudice is a certain mark of an uncircumcised heart. Bigotry is
the same, and anything that you can find that made up the situation which
brought Stephen to his death is a mark of an uncircumcised heart. That is the
thought. Still there is the reasoning and the arguing of the Self, of the
natural life. There is still the desiring and the feeling of the Self obtruding
itself. The Cross, spiritual circumcision, says "No!" to it all.
Now, you see that is the position to which
Abraham came as recorded in Genesis 17 when God made the covenant and then gave
circumcision as the sign of the covenant.
A Supreme Test
Now you pass to chapter 22, and you find
Abraham's supreme test of that whole situation. "Take now thy son, thine only
son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and
offer him..." Now, in that covenant sign, Abraham had taken the position
that everything was to be through death to Self, and all the aspects of Self.
That was in the covenant, and that was the significance of the sign: death to
all the motions and activities and energies of the natural or self-life. He had
become a party to that covenant, for a covenant must always have two parties.
God was one, and Abraham was the other, and he had accepted it, and it has
become very practical.
Now then, the test of Abraham arose, and Isaac
was the test of that position which he had taken. It was this: God had
instituted a covenant, and the covenant was that his seed should be as the sand
and as the stars. God would multiply his seed exceedingly. He should be the
father of many nations, and kings should come from him. These are the terms of
the covenant. Abraham had said, 'All right, Lord, I am with You for that', and
the Lord said, 'Very well, but that can never be along the lines of your natural
resources, your own energies, your own abilities, your own intelligence. That
has got to come only through death and resurrection.' Abraham said, 'Very well,
Lord, I am with you in this, I agree to that, I accept it, and I perform the
sign of the covenant as my declaration that that is the position.'
Oh, I do wish that there you would put into
parenthesis that other New Testament symbol that goes with circumcision -
baptism, because the two things go together in the New Testament. Baptism is the
Christian's way of doing what the Hebrew did in circumcision, saying, 'I die to
myself, I die to the natural life. I cut that all off in the Cross of Christ. I
declare by baptism, just as Abraham did by circumcision, that I accept this:
that the future is out from God, and not out from myself. There is no prospect
of any kind so far as I naturally am concerned. It is only through the Cross in
resurrection that there is any way at all, any life at all.' Abraham took that
position in a very practical way and became party to it.
Now then, Isaac has come in by a miracle which
Abraham had no reason whatever to expect to be repeated. God had bound
everything up with Isaac, not with any further seed of Abraham, but with Isaac.
At that point Isaac lives as the embodiment of God's covenant. Isaac dies, and
what happens? What a test! Now then, between God and Abraham stands Isaac. And
Isaac says "God and everything because of His covenant"; or, "no God and
nothing". It is God and everything, or it is nothing. You see, the promise of
this multiplying of his seed had already been given several times, but the
fulfilment of it only came through Isaac being offered up, for, immediately
Abraham had obeyed, then the Lord appeared to him again and ratified the
covenant, "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son,
thine only son... in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will
multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens."
Now we must draw some very practical lessons
and values from this. Firstly, nothing is truly established until it has been
yielded up and has received the brand of the Cross upon it. Have you got that?
Even though that may have been given to you from God, there is still always the
danger of something in ourselves impinging upon something that God has given us.
We insinuate ourselves into it, and make it ours somehow. This Self! This flesh!
Oh, yes, God gives us a ministry and then we get hold of it and become jealous
about our ministry and afraid of other people getting in our way and taking our
ministry away from us; interfering with our ministry, you see. The flesh
comes up in that way and in so many other directions and connections. God does
something, and then we come into it. We get into the picture.
Somehow or other this flesh cannot keep itself
out of even the things that God does by a miracle. We turn them to the
glorification or the gratification of this flesh of ours, and even a thing which
God may give - and you are thinking perhaps of different things which God may
give - will never be established and confirmed until it has been yielded up and
knows the mark of death to ourselves and that is only alive for and unto God,
and we are only alive for and unto God in that connection, whatever it may be.
The Cross is the way of life in everything and immediately the Cross is
nullified by this thing upon which the Cross says, "No, no!" Immediately anything
of that comes up again, we counter the life of that thing, we strangle its life,
we limit its life.
We not only arrest the progress, but we bring
into smallness God's intention of multiplication. Why cannot God increase? Why
is it that in the first few years of the church's history there was such a going
on and on and on in life, ever and on in life, and growing, growing, growing?
Just think of all that happened in the short life of Paul alone; the churches
over the whole then-known world in one short life - and nearly two thousand
years since, and the world is not yet touched with the gospel. The contrast is
terrible, but why? Why? And the answer is clearly and definitely this: that
somehow or other man has come into this business of God and turned it to
himself. The Cross has not been kept in its place to give God a clear, full,
It is a lesson that you and I have to learn
very deeply in our own lives, that nothing is given increase except on the
ground that it is deeply marked by the Cross as to our own flesh and natural
life. Everything has to carry with it the sign of, on the one hand, death to the
principle of Self, and on the other hand, Life in the realm where it is only of
God and all of the Lord. That is in each individual Christian life for life and
increase; that a local assembly has got to be marked in this way; it has to be a
crucified (and thoroughly crucified) company of the Lord's people so far as any
personal ambitions and interests are concerned. It is just like that. This is
the way of Christ so clearly in His own case: the way of the Cross.
Abraham the Friend of God
Now I come to that second title - friend.
Abraham was the only man in the Old Testament called the friend of God. James
says Abraham was called the friend of God. The Lord Himself, speaking through
the lips of the prophet Isaiah, used this phrase - "Abraham my friend" (Isa.
41:8). Jehoshaphat in a day of pressure and need, appealing to the Lord,
appealed to Him on this basis, "for the sake of Abraham thy friend" (2
Chron. 20:7). It is said about Moses that the Lord spoke to him face to face as
a man speaking to his friend. That does not upset what I have just said because
the Hebrew word is an entirely different one. The word the Lord used about Moses
and the Lord speaking to him face to face as a man speaks with his friend is the
word which just means his neighbour or his companion. Another word is used here
of Abraham which is altogether different, which means 'loved one'. You may talk
to your neighbour quite a lot, say a lot of things to your neighbour, but you
will not say to him things that you will say to your loved one. So Abraham
stands unique in this title - the friend of God.
Do you see why he was the friend of God? Do you
see the basis of that exclusive title - God's friend? Because of the utter
abnegation of the self-life demonstrated and proved in his offering of Isaac.
Abraham knew what that meant, "If Isaac goes, everything goes. But God is God
and He has made a covenant, and I can afford to offer Isaac. In some way, God
will bring Isaac back again." Paul said Abraham believed God who gives life to
the dead (Rom. 4:17). And when you get through where you can so utterly let go
to God because you believe so utterly in God that no matter how much you let go,
there will be no loss in the long run where God is concerned; you are not going
to lose anything or be limited by letting go to God utterly and absolutely. If
we can come to that position with God and God seems to be striking at that in
which everything is contained and with which everything is bound up, and say,
'All right Lord, You are the covenant God; You have covenanted concerning this.
I do not know how You are going to do it or what You will do, but I am going on
with You'. That is the basis of this friendship.
Now you see how it points to the Cross of the
Lord Jesus. "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man,
that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou
crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy
hands: thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet" (Heb. 2:6-8).
"Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands" (Psa.
8:6). The Son of Man is Jesus Christ, as the context shows. He is made to have
dominion over all things, made to have all things put under His feet, made the
Heir of all things before times eternal. So says the Scripture. Very well, go to
the Cross and die! He offered Himself, He laid down His life, and in so doing
everything of God's covenant was put on the Cross, but He believed God. Beyond
the Cross His seed was as the sand of the desert, as the stars of heaven - all
through the Cross. You see the principle. It is a very, very impressive
So then, Abel establishes the principle once
and for all. Noah shows how absolutely universal that principle is. Abraham
shows that in relation to God's great purpose of having a great multitude which
no man can number out of every tribe and kindred and tongue, God's great purpose
to take out of the nations a people for the Name of His Son is by way of the
Cross, by way of the closed door to the flesh.
We who are so concerned with the matter of
evangelisation, the salvation of the multitudes, the increase of God, the life
of men, may we not be standing in the way of it all by bringing so much of our
flesh in? Just frustrating it all because we come into the picture? It
will be a crucified church that lives and grows, and no other. It will be
crucified men and women who live before God and who multiply. It will be a
crucified ministry that brings Life and increase.
You hear Abraham: in the time of trial and
testing, the incident in the interval with Hagar and Ishmael had taken place,
when Abraham had tried to do this in his own energy, tried to bring it about,
and had met a closed door with God. And he knew it, and cried, "O that
Ishmael might live before thee!" (Gen. 17:18). 'Ishmael does not live. I
have produced Ishmael by my own energy, by my own wit, by my own effort to
fulfil divine purposes. I have brought Ishmael into being, but he is dead, he
does not live! God has not accepted him.' "O that Ishmael might live before
thee!" No! No Ishmaels live with God, that is the fruit of the flesh, the
work of the flesh. Only Isaac lives with God, and Isaac bears favour. That is
the mark of the Cross in Abraham's life.