Reading: Gal. 3:7,16; Rom. 2:28-29; Heb. 11:8-9,12-16.
We have been occupied in the first two chapters with the principle which lies at the heart of those passages, that Abraham embodies and represents the divine thought and intention to have a heavenly seed, a heavenly people. And we have been seeing something of the outworking of that principle in the life of Abraham, and narrowing it down as we have gone along. Now we are going to narrow it down still more, and I trust the Lord will bring it to us in His own way and power as of serious personal consequence.
In our previous meditation we got to the first point of God's contact with Abraham, with this great spiritual principle in view, the point indicated by Stephen in his address recorded in the seventh chapter of the book of the Acts: "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham...". We dwelt upon the meaning of that phrase "the God of glory", showing that glory is the ultimate thing. It means finality and perfection in nature, and is really the nature of God fully satisfied and expressed in a creation. The God of glory appeared to Abraham while he was in Ur of the Chaldees, while he was in something which was altogether and utterly contrary to the nature of God, in which God could never find any satisfaction. The city of Abraham was a representation in a small way of the creation to which you and I belong by nature. So the God of glory demands that "Get thee out", that initial, fundamental, basic thing.
"The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia... and said unto him, Get thee out...". It is an initial movement which includes and embraces all subsequent movements and outworkings of the principle that by nature you belong to a realm which can never be glorified; the God of glory can have no place there. The purpose of God to glorify can never be realised in this creation. You can do what you like and do all that you can to embellish this creation and argue against its depravity and try to make something better of it. But you will find that, as it was in Ur where Abraham had his citizenship, the external civilisation may be very great and wonderful and apparently very satisfactory, yet inwardly the thing is full of corruption, contradiction, evil and idolatry. That is true of this creation to which we belong, however we argue and whatever we may try to do about it. Men must be blind fools who do not see that, and go on as men are going on today, the very leaders of world policy, in the way they talk and argue! It is almost unthinkable, unimaginable, how they can do it in the light of facts.
Here you have on the outside a wonderful civilisation so far as sciences and arts and all such things are concerned; progress is tremendous. All the external structure of man's activities and abilities is sometimes most amazing. Yet inwardly there is that which is a contradiction of it and a moral corruption, and it is working out rather to man's destruction than otherwise, because of the deep inward iniquity and the idolatry that is there. Even man's cleverest and most wonderful inventions and discoveries are the undoing of him because there is an evil principle. God, as the God of glory, says, "My purposes can never be realised in that, glory can never come into that; its destiny and its doom is shame and destruction, it is a reservation for the fires of judgment, and those fires are already kindled".
So the God of glory, because He is that, says, in the light of His intention, "Get thee out", and that initial movement, that first inclusive step, is very largely an outward exodus at the beginning. That is, it is a transference from one kingdom to another, from one dominion to another, from one spiritual realm to another. It is what the New Testament calls, in its original word, from one cosmos (one order of things) to another.
With Abraham it was that. From one kingdom which was of this creation, to another; from one dominion which was of this world, to another; from one order of things which was of Satan's creation, to another. Is not that what is implicit in the words of the Lord to Paul at his conversion recorded in Acts 26:16-18: "To this end have I appeared unto thee... I send thee, to open their eyes". The God of glory appeared to open their eyes "that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me". The word translated "sanctified" is really "separated", 'them that are separated, that are cut off, that have been transferred from the authority of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of his love'. That is what is here in "Get thee out". It is a clean cut right at the beginning on the part of the believer with all that belongs to him by nature as born into this creation, the taking of an altogether new position. And it is so completely a new position that he knew not whither he went. He had absolutely no information and no education as to this new kingdom; he had to start from zero and learn everything from the beginning. "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
It is such a complete new beginning by the utterness of this transference, that you can bring nothing over, none of your old intelligence. We pointed out what an educated and enlightened man Abraham must have been. He was a member of that very advanced civilisation, in many respects quite as advanced as our own civilisation. Abraham belonged to that, but he could take none of it out with him; it was no use to him in this realm. What is the good of all that architectural knowledge and ability to build wonderful houses and temples and be living in tents up and down the land, never many hours together in one place, a sojourner? What is the good of that education in this realm?
Typically, it is very close to principle. All that, however great, which belongs to this creation, counts for nothing. Here in the new creation in Christ you start all over again and learn everything from scratch. It is a wonderful education upon which we enter, but it is an inward education. It is the outworking or the inworking of divine principles. God is working heavenly laws into us, and we are getting a wonderful education as we walk with God in the Spirit. So it is an inclusive break, an inclusive transference right at the beginning.
The First Movement Negative
In a sense, that first movement of Abraham and of ourselves is negative. There are positive elements in it, but it still remains negative. The positive aspect of revelation and realisation has yet to be. It demands a new position. While the God of glory comes to Abraham and says, "Get thee out", that is all He does say, except "unto the land which I will show thee". That is not very much to go on, that is rather negative. And it is just that that is made so much of in the New Testament, where his faith is proved to be so marvellous, that on such a negative basis, such little information, such a withholding from him of any knowledge about things which lay ahead, he moved, he acted in obedience. But it is negative. That is as far as God can go in that realm. "Get out".
When he came into God's realm, and when we come into God's realm, then the positive side begins, and, as we pointed out, some half a dozen times God appears to Abraham, and every time it is on some positive matter, something extra, something in advance, some going on, some increase, some addition. I want you to remember this. We need not hurry to cover too much ground, but we must make sure of every point. You will never get further revelation of God's mind and purpose to your heart until you have made the break and the cut that God requires. You must be on God's ground to get God's revelation. God will not go on with us while there are links with something that God has ruled out and set aside. That is basic and that is progressive. Do you want to know the Lord in a new way? You will find that the Lord will apply this principle of severance and of heavenliness before you get that further revelation. Arrest, delay, limitation in spiritual life and spiritual growth is usually, if not invariably, due to some earth touch, some touch somewhere with what God will not have, which can never be glorified.
The Danger of an Earth Touch
We mentioned Abraham in the New Testament, and it was on that very point that we saw him in the letter to the Galatians. What is the trouble in the Galatians' church? It is that these people who made a good start and seemed to promise well and were going on, were suddenly stopped. The whole movement forward with God has come under arrest and they are not going on any longer, "Ye were running well; who hindered you?" "Who did bewitch you?" Something has come in. You look in the letter to see why, and you find they have come down to earthly ground, they have come down from Christ in heaven, from the spiritual to the religiously earthly; they begin to take up again these rites and ordinances as earthly things. They have gone back to the ground of what is merely on earth in a religious way, the old Judaistic system of things, which was only intended to point on to the heavenly and spiritual and eternal. Everything has come under arrest, and the great appeal of the apostle is, Get off the earth, break that contact, renew your relationship with Christ in heaven, and as you go on, this arrest will cease.
And so all spiritual arrest or limitation will be traceable to some point, some form or another of an earth touch. It may not be, mark you, grossly worldly or grossly immoral. It may be religious, but it is earthly, something that is built up on this earth and maintained on this earth as a link somewhere, somehow, in a spiritual way with the world that is not God's world. I think that is patent to most people who have eyes. There is a tremendous amount of arrest in what is called the church today and spiritual limitation. And when you look, how the world has got into it, and how it has got into the world, and how worldly principles are governing! That is perfectly clear. So, if we are going on, we have to get onto God's ground. If God is going to speak and reveal Himself, we have to be where God does speak.
Separation Already Effected in the Cross
Note how thorough-going is God's demand over this matter, because He is a positive God, because it is positive things that He is after. If God makes a demand, it is not just because He wants that thing done, but because everything is bound up with that in His purpose, and so He says to Abraham, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house" (Gen. 12:1). Three circles: the widest circle, the whole domain, "thy country"; the narrower circle, "thy kindred"; and the narrowest circle, "thy father's house". Three circles; not the final, that has yet to come, that will be the inward realm, the whole world within. Here God is very comprehensive. "Thy country, thy kindred, thy father's house". For us that means spiritually the whole range and realm of our old natural relationships, and the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ includes that, effects that. This is not something that we can do or that we can bring about. We can only do what Abraham did and be obedient to God; respond to God from our hearts. We do not know all that is involved, we do not know all that it is going to mean, and thank God we do not. We could not face it if we did, but what we do know is that God says, "Take this attitude, that the whole of your natural life and natural relationships lie outside of the possibility of the realisation of My purpose; you have got to start all over again in another realm".
The Cross of the Lord Jesus has effected that. If we will come in heart to that Cross, accept God's meaning in the Cross of His Son, we shall find that this thing happens. That is exactly what is meant, as we pointed out, by the words of Paul to the Colossians which you should take account of again quite definitely, "In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:11-12). It is something that the Cross of Christ has done and which is inherent in the Cross, and our coming in faith to accept the divine meaning of the Cross will do this thing in us. It will do this thing initially in us. That is initial, basic and fundamental, and it is very thorough and very comprehensive. Let us have no doubt about it, that the Cross of the Lord Jesus is a complete severance of us from the whole realm of nature. If we are living in that realm, we do not know the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
The Law of Letting Go to God
Without following that for the moment further in the life of Abraham in particular points, I want to come to the law that is really operating here. It is the law from the beginning right to the end of the life of Abraham which governs and touches everything, and I think, if we can just grasp this now, it will be enough to last us for the rest of our days. We shall find that it is coming up every time, all the way along. What was the law at work in Abraham's life? Well, it was simply this: the law of letting go to God; the most difficult thing for human nature to do. There is in this nature this fallen creation because of that thing to which we earlier referred. There is in us by nature an acquisitiveness and a possessiveness which finds it the most difficult thing in life to let go, to give up, to yield, to hand over, to change an attitude.
It came from Satan himself. The origin of it, as we have it in the Scriptures, was when Satan, in his high place with God in heaven, said, "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13,14). It was an acquisitiveness and a possessiveness born of pride, a taking hold to have, to get. That is the very nature of Satan, that is the original sin: self-possessiveness, self-acquisitiveness, self-control, to have it, to hold it. And it was that that came into the race through Adam, when Satan said to him, "Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). You can have, you can possess, you can acquire, it can be your matter. Then why not? And Adam fell to it, and from that time this possessiveness, acquisitiveness, self-holding, gripping, keeping, is the nature of man.
We see it on a large scale in the world all the way through history, and if you think that you are utterly without it personally, I venture to say that, if the Holy Spirit gets you into His hands, it will not be long before you discover that there is some kick in you and some come-back against the Lord which says, I do not want that, I do not like that, I am not going to have that, and it is a will that is other than the will of God in you. Our fallen nature is to hold to our own way, and to what we have got; to hold our ground. That is this nature, and it is earthly, sensual and devilish, as James puts it in his letter (3:15). It comes from Satan, it belongs to this fallen creation, it is not heavenly and it cannot be characteristic of this heavenly people, this heavenly seed.
It is the law of letting go, self-emptying, obedience. What is obedience but doing someone else's will and not your own, letting go to someone else, standing outside of yourself, forsaking your own ground? That is obedience.
Now you see where this has landed us. What are the Gospels? What are the four Gospels, or, if you like to take one of them alone, what is the Gospel by John? It is the Gospel of the heavenly Man. The Gospels are the divine instruments of setting forth what a heavenly man is on this earth, what a heavenly man is like, how he behaves, what his nature is. We find that the heavenly Man, Jesus Christ, is always emphasizing, "I came down from heaven" (John 6:38), "from above", "Ye are from beneath; I am from above" (John 8:23). He is always keeping that in view, that He does not belong to this creation, He belongs to heaven, "The Son of Man, who is in heaven" (John 3:13); even while He is here, He is in heaven. His life is heavenly, it is hid in God. But what is the supreme characteristic of a heavenly man as represented by Him? It is meekness. And what is meekness? - self-emptying.
We come on to this again and again in the life of Abraham - letting go to God. The very temptations with which the public life of the Lord Jesus commenced, those temptations in the wilderness, are three marvellous examples of this principle of letting go to God. Satan is saying, "Command that these stones become bread." The Lord Jesus reacts to that, not in these words but on this principle, 'I am not so concerned about saving My own life as that; the Lord will look after Me without My doing anything under the coercion of apparent necessity; I am sustained from heaven.' Each answer to temptation was just self-emptiness, not looking after Himself, not taking hold for Himself, not yielding to pressure to do something in His own interests, either personally to preserve His own bodily life, or publicly to make a way for His ministry by some sensational act in casting Himself down from the temple on the basis of a Scripture that "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee... on their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone". In other words, do a sensational thing, and people will at once flock after you and you will become popular. 'I am not concerned about My popularity at all, I am not here to get a Name for Myself.' The devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. 'I am not a bit concerned about getting them in that way; I leave that with My Father, the whole matter is with My Father, it does not concern Me at all; I have to go the way of obedience to My Father.' The way of utter selflessness... not at any point whatever acting on my behalf, in my own interests, to my own ends, not a bit. Self-emptying! And all the way through it was that. Oh, marvellous was His meekness! Meekness is the greatest virtue in God's universe, the most powerful thing known to God.
Note Abraham: "Get thee out", then stage by stage the pressing home of this principle of letting go. It is beautiful, marvellous, right up to the last, final, terrible test: "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest... and offer him" (Gen. 22:2); let go even what God has given you, even the result of a miracle from God. And the result? "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven" (Gen. 22:16).
Carry that over to the Lord Jesus. He let go, was emptied in meekness, holding on to nothing, even what God had given Him, letting it all go in obedience, in meekness, in humility. And God filled Him with all the fulness of the Godhead, and summed up all things in Him. "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven." You see the way. "I leave that with God. My way is letting go, self-emptying, meekness, and the consequences are with God; God looks after the consequences. You may humiliate, you may do everything to degrade, I am not going to stand up for My rights". The Lord Jesus would say that. Abraham said that. 'I am not going to fight for my ends, seek my rights, stand on my ground, hold on to anything; I let go to God.' The consequences are with God, I leave that to Him entirely; mine it is to be obedient and in obedience to show meekness. That is not my ground at all, but God's ground, God does the rest. He vindicates, He justifies, He gives, He multiplies, He increases, He brings in the fulness, and the end is glory; glory through humility, through meekness; fulness through emptiness. That is the law of Abraham's life.
I say it is the most difficult thing for human nature to let go. Your interests are challenged in some way, something comes your way you do not like. See how easy it is at once to let go, to say, All right, I leave that with the Lord, I am not going to fight, I am not going to hold on, I am not going to cling, I am not going to argue back, I am not going to seek my own vindication, I leave that with the Lord, that is the Lord's matter, let them do what they like, that is with the Lord. Mine it is to go on with Him, with no consideration for the consequences at all. That is meekness, that is self-emptying. It is the law of Christ. It is what is meant by this very fragment, "the circumcision of Christ", and Paul, the same writer, says, "circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter" (Rom. 2:29). See the circumcision of Christ, how His heart was circumcised; that is, inwardly He was separated from the flesh and all that the flesh means. Then the apostle says, That is the meaning of baptism. "We were buried with Him through baptism into death" (Rom. 6:4). It means your heart has been dealt with, you have come to an end of all self-government, self-acquisitiveness and self-possessiveness. It is no longer I, but Christ.
So we see Christ as the heavenly Man, and we see the principles of Christ wrought out in Abraham. We hear the Lord Jesus saying, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56). How did Abraham see the day of Christ? - in his experience. The principle of Christ's life was wrought out in the experience and the spiritual history of Abraham, and he saw. If Abraham did not see God giving His only and well-beloved Son, when he was called upon to offer Isaac, if he did not see something in that, I do not know that he would have gone through. But he believed God that He was able to raise him from the dead. You notice that the New Testament often mentions that about Abraham. "He considered his own body now as good as dead" (Rom. 4:19). He believed "that God is able to raise up, even from the dead" (Heb. 11:19). And then it is related to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: "Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad." The apostle says that the Gospel was preached unto Abraham. What is the Gospel? - the Gospel of God concerning His Son.
So Abraham is this comprehensive embodiment of the principles of the heavenly Man, and as those principles are wrought out in us by the grace of God, we become the heavenly people who are to know the fulness of God and come to that divine fulness which is in Christ, the spiritual seed of Abraham.
The Lord interpret His word and make it helpful to us all.