"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram,
and said unto him... I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee..."
"They that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham... Now to Abraham
were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of
many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." (Gal. 3:7,16).
"For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision
which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and
circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise
is not of men, but of God." (Rom. 2:28,29).
"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which
he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he
went. By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not
his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same
promise: for he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder
and maker is God... wherefore also there sprang of one, and him as good as dead,
so many as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand, which is by the
seashore, innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the
promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed
that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such
things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. For
if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they
would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that
is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God;
for He hath prepared for them a city." (Heb. 11:8-10, 12-16).
The Law of the Double Aspect of the Scriptures
Before we can proceed to the message that is embodied and introduced
by those Scriptures, there is a preliminary word which I think may be helpful to
some who are not familiar with the truth in this connection and which is basic
to all that we have to say just now. It is related to what we may call the law
of the double aspect of the Scriptures. It is very clear, in the passages which
we have just read, that there is a double aspect to all the Scriptures. On the
one side, there is the aspect of the earthly, the temporal, the symbolic, the
typological, the local and the temporary. On the other side, in the same
Scriptures, or behind them, as over against the earthly there is the heavenly;
as over against the temporal, there is the spiritual; as over against the
symbolic and the typological, there is the essential and the real; as over
against the temporary, there is the eternal; and as over against the local,
there is the universal. These are the two aspects of the Scriptures, and, while
that is not fresh information to most of you, it goes far deeper and is far more
revolutionary than any of us have yet recognized. The one set of things
mentioned is just a framework; the other set is that which is embodied in the
framework. On the one hand there is, so to speak, the outward structure which,
as we have pointed out, is earthly, temporal, temporary, local, but that
embodies spiritual principles which go vastly beyond that framework. The
framework is but the embodiment of something much more.
The one - what we will call the 'A' set - is limited. It is limited by time,
it is limited by the need, the occasion, it is limited by the conditions of
people and the earth at a given time, it is limited by range. But the 'B' set is
unlimited. It is full, it is timeless, transcendent, universal, and those two
are to be found everywhere in the Word of God, especially in the Old Testament.
God's Work in this Dispensation is Heavenly and Spiritual
That brings us to this very important point that, in this dispensation in
which you and I are living, the 'A' set of things does not obtain. Now it is the
heavenly and not the earthly; the spiritual and not the temporal; it is the
eternal and not the transient; and, mark this, as this dispensation approaches
its end, that fact, that truth, will be more and more pressed to its
manifestation by God Himself. That is, as we get nearer to the end of this
dispensation, all the temporal aspects of what is of God will most certainly
shrink and the spiritual aspects will become paramount. Surely we can see that
before our eyes now. The things which can be shaken are going to be shaken so
that the things which cannot be shaken may remain (Heb. 12:27). That is the
enunciation of a divine principle concerning this present dispensation, that the
framework of things, the mere external embodiment of divine things, will
gradually crumble, steadily be overthrown or brought to an end or they will
shrink. The outward, formal, and all that belongs to the earth and to time,
everything that is of a temporal character not associated with what is of God will
most surely come more and more to its end, and the thing which will remain and
arise will be how much there is that is truly heavenly and spiritual here on
The heavenly and the spiritual are the governing features of this
dispensation. In past dispensations, the temporal and the earthly were very much
in evidence, but God never meant them to be, even then, everything and
paramount. There are diversities of views about what the next dispensation on
the earth may be. But what concerns us is that this dispensation, from God's
standpoint, is essentially heavenly and spiritual, so far as God's things on the
earth are concerned. And there will be a tremendous overthrowing of everything
that has become attached to this earth in the Name of the Lord. Everything that
has been built up here on this earth and connected with this earth which assumes
to be of God, will be destroyed, narrowed, and steadily shrink. And we shall
find that all those externalities of Christianity will be suffering blows
ordained by heaven, and not by any means prevented by heaven, whatever the
instrumentality may be, even the very Devil and all his system. But God will not
protect anything that is bound up with this earth in His Name from shattering
blows, and more and more at the end of the dispensation, we shall see what I
have called the externalities of Christianity suffering reduction and
limitation. On the other hand, we shall see God increasingly emphasizing and
re-emphasizing the necessity for things being heavenly and spiritual; His people
being a spiritual people, a heavenly people, and all the work which they do
being of heaven and related to heaven; essentially spiritual.
It is very important to note that, otherwise we shall come into confusion.
The Lord allows what looks like the work of God, what He has permitted, what He
has used, what He has even blessed for a time, and what has become something too
much attached to the earth and to men, to suffer terrible havoc. We shall be
confused unless we understand what the explanation is. God, at any cost, is
going to stand by this eternal law of His, which law we shall see more fully as
we go on, that the supreme thought of God, which is bound up with this
particular dispensation, is a heavenly thought, a spiritual thought. And, for
the time being, it has nothing to do with this earth except to take out of this
earth and out of the nations something for God and for heaven.
That is capable, of course, of application in many ways, but it is a broad
principle which you must ever bear in mind, and you will find that it operates
in this way: that the more the thing is of God, the less will He allow it to
assume those forms and features and proportions of which men can take account
and say, That is something great, something big as on this earth. The Lord will
not allow that. He will reduce and reduce what is most essentially of Himself to
what is just heavenly and just spiritual.
Abraham the Embodiment of Eternal Spiritual Principles
Well now, our passages have brought a man into view. The most comprehensive
and outstanding personal embodiment and example of this two-fold principle that
we have enunciated, apart from the Lord Jesus Himself, is Abraham. Abraham is
the most comprehensive example of this double aspect of Scripture. He is not
just an Old Testament character from whom we could learn many lessons for the
Christian life. He has been used a lot in that way as a type and so on. He is
much more than that. Abraham is the embodiment of God's full message to the
church in this spiritual dispensation. We
are going to prove that before we are through. I am fully aware of how that will
clash with many accepted interpretations of Scripture, that the Old Testament
saints do not come into the church and so on. Nevertheless, I make that
affirmation with full consideration and have no question about it, and I trust
that, as we go on, that will be borne out.
Do you not see how Abraham is brought up to date in the New Testament, not as
a type merely, but as the embodiment of eternal spiritual principles? Not
temporary, earthly principles, but heavenly and spiritual principles which
outbound all time, outrange all limitations; they are the principles of God.
Abraham is brought forward in the New Testament as the embodiment of those
Abraham, as Set Forth in "Romans"
Let us take three instances. Take the letter to the Romans. I am not going to
deal with these in detail, but you know how much Abraham comes in within the
first four chapters of the letter to the Romans and what a large place he has.
In doctrine, he has been mainly, if not entirely, shut up to the doctrine of
justification by faith. Of course, he is there undoubtedly set forth in that
connection, but the mistake is to limit him to that. Justification by faith is
something very much greater than is generally recognized. What is the setting of
the letter to the Romans? You are familiar with these words - "Whom he
foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he
might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he
also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified,
them he also glorified." (Rom. 8:29,30). Get the setting of justification -
that is the point. You have two verses, and in those two verses, you are taken
right back before times eternal - foreknown, foreordained and on into eternity
to come - "them he... glorified". That is the setting. It is timeless, it
goes far beyond any limits of which we are conscious or of which we have any
knowledge, right back there in those eternal counsels of God, foreknowing and
foreordaining. It goes on to the end. "Them He... glorified". From
eternity to eternity.
What is justification by faith? What does justification by faith do? It takes
you clean out of all that came in with the fall, of all that came in with Adam,
all that came in with this world, and puts you behind it, makes all that as
though it had never been, gets you into the eternal and out of the temporal.
Justification has a background like that, and Abraham, who is presented here in
that connection, is therefore the embodiment of the eternal idea of God that all
that came in with the fall, all that happened by man's complicity with Satan,
all the results accruing to a fallen creation, everything - and it is vast and
terrible - is completely leapt over and set aside as though it had never been
and put right back there. And you are carried right out there from eternity to
eternity; and Abraham embodies that.
Abraham is a great man; he means far more than just an Old Testament type
from whom we learn a few lessons for the Christian life. It takes us to the
fundamental things of God's spiritual universe. Look at the words – "called
according to His purpose... to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom.
8:28,29), and that is what Paul, in this letter to the Romans, calls the Gospel.
"The gospel of God" he says at the beginning of the letter, "the
gospel of God... concerning His Son... Jesus Christ". What is it? "Foreordained
to be conformed to the image of His Son." That is tremendous; that is not
just being saved. It is a great thing to be saved, it is a great thing to be
justified, it is a great thing to be redeemed, but that is something in time
because of something that has happened. The Gospel is bigger than that. What is
said here is that the Gospel goes right back to those eternal counsels of God
where He foreknew, foreordained, and chose us to be conformed to the image of
His Son. It is only another way of saying, "them He also glorified". That
is the Gospel here. His Son is the object in view in justification by faith.
Justification is related to His Son and all His purposes are centred in His Son,
and when those purposes are realized, there will be a great corporate expression
of His Son in glory. Glorified! It is the Gospel of God concerning His Son.
That is how Abraham is introduced in the letter to the Romans, and you see it
is not earthly. It is not temporal or temporary; it is not of time.
Abraham as Set Forth in "Galatians"
Let us go on to the second illustration in the letter to the Galatians. You
know that Abraham comes into this letter to the Galatians quite a bit. We read
at the outset some fragments in that connection, and what has the letter to the
Galatians to say about Abraham? In chapter 3 verse 7: "Know therefore that
they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham." "Now to Abraham
were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of
many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). That is
the heart of things so far as Abraham is concerned in this letter, and Abraham
holds a central position here in principle. The principle embodied in Abraham is
that which is governing the whole of this letter to the Galatians. You can
follow that through yourself. What is the principle, what is the heart of it? It
is a spiritual, and a new and distinctive seed.
Distinctive contrast is drawn between the spiritual children or sons of
Abraham, and those who on natural grounds claim to be children of Abraham. They
are making their claim purely along natural lines that they are Jews. They call
themselves the seed of Abraham. They feel that they can trace their line back to
Abraham, and so make their claim to be children of Abraham. And then, of course,
because God gave Abraham the covenant sign of circumcision and they had been
circumcised, that is an extra claim and evidence that they are children of
Abraham. I do not think we have sufficiently felt the force of the New Testament
on this matter, that the Lord Jesus repudiated that Himself. "If ye were
Abraham's children..." (John 8:39) raises the question. And both in the
letter to the Romans as we read earlier at chapter 2 and here in this letter to
the Galatians particularly, the apostle just brushes aside all this question of
circumcision and natural descent and says, 'It does not count, it does not
effect the thing that you think it effects, the result is not what you have
concluded it to be. You, along natural lines, however you may be able to follow
your genealogy right back to Abraham, are not necessarily Abraham's seed". "He
is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward
in the flesh ... circumcision is that of the heart" (Rom. 2:28,29).
And so this letter to the Galatians brings Abraham fully into view on the
principle of not a natural, earthly, seed, but a spiritual seed - distinct and
not marked by religious rites and ordinances. These are all relegated to the
place of non-effectiveness; of no value in spiritual matters. Now it is all a
matter of a spiritual seed which is Christ, One Seed, and if you are not in
Christ, you have no claims whatever, even as an historical Jew. There is no
other claim, there is no natural basis upon which to be this seed. That is not
new to you in principle, but note how Abraham is brought in here on this eternal
principle: that Christ, from eternity to eternity, gives character to what is of
God, and it is only as we find Christ, as it were, in reproduction that we have
what God is after. It is heavenly, it is spiritual; it is not earthly.
Abraham as Set Forth in "Hebrews"
That is borne out by the third instance: the letter to the Hebrews. That
passage which we read in the eleventh chapter is very remarkable, and it is
worth looking at a little more closely. "By faith Abraham, when he was
called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an
inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he became a
sojourner... wherefore also there sprang of one, and him as good as dead, so
many as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand, which is by the
seashore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises,
but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they
were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (not
only in the land of promise - on the earth). For they that say such things
make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own... that is,
a heavenly." What does that say? Is it not perfectly patent that it says
that, whatever they did get on the earth, whether it was a country or whether it
was a seed, an earthly seed (and there did come of Abraham a multitudinous
earthly seed) but whatever they got, however great, that was not what God was
after? And they came to see that this earthly country was not what God was
after, and that this earthly seed was not what God was after: He sought a
spiritual seed. The whole letter to the Hebrews is built on that very principle.
The whole letter has to do with that which is heavenly and spiritual. It
begins with a Person in heaven. It has completely set aside the earthly,
historical Jesus, and we see Him crowned with glory and honour, and He is
presented in the first verses of the letter as Christ in heaven, the inclusive
Son, then bringing many sons to glory; a heavenly and spiritual people. And
steadily the writer undercuts the earthly. He undercuts the Aaronic priesthood
and carries you over to Melchizedek, without father, without mother, without
genealogy, without beginning or end of days, made like unto the Son of God after
the power of an endless and incorruptible life.
Then there is the argument about Abraham and Melchizedek and their
association. They are brought together on heavenly ground. This one whose
genealogy we cannot trace, we do not know who he is, what he is, the apostle
says. We have no data, therefore he stands to represent something timeless,
earthless, something outside of the ordinary bounds and limitations of mankind,
and Christ is after that order.
I am not going to try to analyse or sum up this letter to the Hebrews. It is
a Person in heaven only known now spiritually, and then it is a people being
taken out of the earth as a heavenly people... sons being brought to glory, and
Abraham is the embodiment of that heavenly people. He, with others, began by
fixing his eyes upon an earthly object, a temporal object, and was disappointed
right to the end of his life, and died in faith, in effect saying, "This is not
it; there is something more than this; however much
we have, however much we get here, that is not God's meaning. It is a better,
that is, a heavenly country"; "wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be
called their God". You notice, going right back again to Genesis 17, that
was the word: "I will... be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee."
"Wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God" (Heb.
11:16). Why? God is not the God of an earthly thing or an earthly people
ultimately. He is the God of
heavenly people, and that is brought to fulness in representation right at the end of the
Bible where consummation is reached in all the thoughts of God, and the new
Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven. This is a figure of this heavenly
people: "the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and
they shall be His peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God"
(Rev. 21:3). It is heavenly, it is spiritual.
We have taken all this time in enunciating the law by illustrating it. It has
yet to be broken up and applied in perhaps still more profitable ways. But do
you see what God is after? Do you see why God permits so much that looks like
destruction of His own work and the narrowing of what represents Him? That is only
the temporal side, the earthly side. God is bent upon increasing, strengthening,
intensifying what is heavenly and what is spiritual. Those who, like Abraham,
are going to walk with God and go on with
God, will find that they have less and less to glory in on this earth, and their
glorying will not be of men, but of God. That is, their glorying will be in the
increase of their spiritual life and spiritual measure, which is the increase of
Christ, the heavenly Man.