Volume One - Section Three

GENESIS 15: 1-6.—This is an exceeding precious and truly evangelical passage. It gives a full warrant to the appropriation of faith as distinct from that of experience. "I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward." What should, after this, stop the reunion of God with man ? Abram is our great prototype, and we are required to walk in the footsteps of his faith, as being the father of the faithful. Let us lay confident hold of God as our friend, even as he who was called the friend of God did. There is an offer of friendship on His part, let it be accepted on ours; and the acceptance lies in our firm reliance on the honesty of the offer. Let us not stagger at a privilege so infinitely above our merits and our hopes being brought so wonderfully nigh unto us ; but against hope, against all the likelihoods of nature and experience, let us believe in hope. Such faith, even though we thereby arrogate to our own sinful selves the greatest and highest of all blessings, has no arrogance and no presumption at all in it. It has another character altogether. It is yielding a due honour to one of the divine attributes, even the attribute of Truth - so that the stronger the faith, the greater is the glory we render unto God. What a precious harmony is this, that our greatest peace and God's greatest glory are at one - that in counting Him faithful who has promised, we do that which at one and the same time most advances His honour and most tranquillizes our own fears. Rebuke away, then, from us, 0 God, all the doubtings of unbelief as well as its disinclinations.
7-21. There is a diversity of opinion about the fourth generation in the sixteenth verse - some referring it to the Amorites, others to the children of Israel. Caleb, who came out of Egypt, was the fourth from Judah who entered it. But without adverting further, either to this numerical adjustment, or to the other of the four hundred years in v.13 - I feel more arrested by the evolution here given of God's policy in dealing with nations. The places are very numerous in the Old Testament which warrant the idea that the guilt of a nation is proceeded with as the guilt of an individual is - in that there is a reckoning for the past with the nation even as there is with the individual; and that this reckoning, with its consequent vengeance, comprehends the earlier as well as the later guilt, even though the former may have been incurred at the distance backward of many generations; and so not a creature may be alive who had personally shared in it. However mysterious such a proceeding is to us, it falls in with many analogies of history and experience, is of a piece with the doctrine of original sin, and even the New Testament can be quoted in support of it as well as the Old. The Saviour speaks of filling up the measure of the iniquity of their fathers, and of the sins of their ancestors being visited, and all the things done since the days of righteous Abel coming on the men of His generation. This is at one with the first destruction of Jerusalem, which the repentance of good king Josiah did not avert, and strikingly at one with God's forbearance from the work of vengeance on the Amorites, for so many generations as till their iniquities should be full. May God avert from our own Britain the horrors of an anarchy which seems to me as if impending over her; and pour forth the spirit of repentance and reformation over the land.

GENESIS 16 In this picturesque narrative of Hagar in the wilderness, there is much to interest the artist and man of taste. But the thing of solid and surviving interest is the memorable prophecy of the angel, and which to this day manifests its own striking fulfilment, in the lawless and predatory and marauding habits, but withal the independence of the present Arabians. What materials, even in the state of the world as it now is, for such evolutions as shall make the truth and divinity of Scripture palpable to all men. And what a lesson here, too, of the ever wakeful care and providence of God. What a noble and elevated freedom should be ours from those wretched anxieties which so distract and degrade us - did we bear about with us all the confidence we ought in that eye which never slumbers and never sleeps. " Thou God seest me." What a protection from care, and at the same time what a stimulant to watchfulness - from care about the things of this life, and to watchfulness lest we should fall short of the things which belong to our true peace and life everlasting. Give me to be spiritually minded - and then I shall have both life and peace.

GENESIS 17: 1-14. - Observe how duty is intermingled with promises in these communications from God, who, ere He speaks of His Covenant, bids Abraham walk before Him and be perfect - a word this last of which it were well to fix the Scriptural signification in the various passages where it is used, and more especially where characterizing man or prescribing to him his obligations. The everlastingness of the Covenant and everlastingness of the possession speak strongly for an ulterior fulfilment; and my convictions are quite on the side of a literal restoration yet to come of the children of Israel to their own land. Altogether this is a passage of great Christian importance, and is referred to and reasoned on as such by the Apostle Paul. The Covenant had been already made with Abraham previous to his circumcision, which rite was but a sign and seal thereof. It was in no respect an act of meritorious obedience by which the blessings of the Covenant were earned, though, after the positive observance had been instituted, these blessings might have been forfeited by the neglect thereof. The analogy between circumcision and baptism forms the strongest defence against the objections which have been alleged to the ministration of the latter to infants.
15-27 The counterpart propriety on our side to God's precepts is that we shall obey them, and the counterpart propriety to His promises is that we shall trust in them. God is as much offended by our failure in the one as in the other. Indeed, He commands us to believe as well as to obey; to do homage to His truth as well as to His authority. And 0 what a blessed harmony is there in the act of rendering such a homage between God's glory and our own comfort. There was perhaps a mixture of incredulity in the mind of Abraham when he laughed at the announcement of a son. It is testified of him, however, that he was strong in faith - a strength tested by the unlikelihood in the face of which he was called to place his reliance upon God. And what but a want of faith in Him as at all times our very present help, can account for those anxieties, and tremors, and nervous depressions wherewith we are visited when menaced by appearances of danger, whether to property, or to the health of near and dear relatives. 0 my God, let me find more direct access to Thyself, and keep close by Thee as a friend who - sticketh closer than a brother. May my trust be in the living God. As Abraham circumcised his flesh on becoming God's by covenant - let me, in virtue of that Covenant by which Christ is mine and I am Christ's, know what it is to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.

GENESIS 18: 1-8. There is an exceedingly picturesque and graphical interest in this narrative; and I feel the highest value for it as an exhibition of the kindness and simplicity of the patriarchal manners in patriarchal times. There is something particularly graceful and imposing in the politeness of Abraham; and I can now better understand the fitness of sacred biography as abounding in the exemplars of all that is good and great in the character of man. One likes the exuberant and affectionate hospitality of the good old man; and the very materiel of which it was made up enters most fitly and beautifully into the description of the whole scene. I do not know if it has ever been made the subject of a painting, but surely there is enough of the visible and the local to furnish the artist with objects for an impressive representation: the tent door, the tree, Abraham and Sarah, the three strangers, the servant, and the food which was dressed and set before them. Let me not hide myself as heretofore from my own flesh. Let me remember that hospitality, even to the unknown, thus exemplified in the Old, is expressly enjoined in the New Testament, and under the warrant, too, of the example recorded in the earlier Scriptures - "For thereby some have entertained angels unawares." I have much to learn and much to unlearn ere I attain the perfection of the second law. I figure the great deference of Abraham for these unknown personages, in his standing by them while they ate - as if officiating in the capacity of their servant. Connect this with their being unknown, with his being unaware of their dignity; and we see in this trait an exhibition of the virtue - to honour all men.
9-22. The laughter of Sarah implied unbelief; and so perhaps, though in a less degree, might that of Abraham. It is very clear throughout the whole Bible, from first to last, that nothing is more offensive to God than unbelief. Let me take the lesson, and confidently look for the evidence and confirmation of the new birth in my soul. I should have noticed in the converse of the angel with Hagar, the likelihood of his being the Angel of the Covenant. The same appears equally obvious in this passage. One of the three angels seems to have been left alone - the transition from three to one appearing first at v. 10, and that one, for there is no intimation of any change from him, being termed Jehovah in the thirteenth verse. After this, however, Abraham convoys all the three, and then it appears that the one signalized as Jehovah had been conclusively left with him, and is termed Jehovah repeatedly throughout the conversation that follows. What a precious testimony to Abraham, that he brought up his children aright, 0 my God, may this feature be realized more and more in me. I need Thy help, and the continued upholding of a strong purpose and a strong principle within me. The Lord (Jehovah) speaks of going down to see and to know how the people of Sodom have conducted themselves. This will at once be called an example of accommodation. Let us not push this style of commentary too far, lest we lose the graphical and strong impression which the Bible is fitted to give of God, in regard of what He is said both to feel and to do.
23-33. In this remarkable conversation, we find nothing that is not analogous to God's ordinary procedure in the government of the world and laws of human society. The property of a few as a preserving salt for the benefit of the many, and for the maintenance of public safety, is quite accordant with experience. They are a leaven for good, and it is quite incalculable with what efficacy a very small proportion of Christian worth in an aggregate of human beings tells for the preservation and good order of a commonwealth. I have been in the habit of applying this principle to the object of reclaiming a corrupt and neglected population from the degeneracy into which they had fallen. It is marvellous with what effect one man, were he to undertake the charge, could bear, for the purpose of good moral or economical or religious habits, upon the families of a district. Were all the men of willingness and worth rightly marshalled for such an experiment, it is marvellous how many are the thousands who could be visibly and beneficially worked upon for good, by the fewer than tens who chose to go forth amongst them on the errands whether of religion or general philanthropy.

GENESIS 19: 1-11. - It is altogether worthy of remark here, that in the last chapter, they who had been with Abraham were said (v. 22) to turn their faces from him and go towards Sodom - and this immediately after that the Lord (Jehovah) had said - I will go down now, and see what Sodom and Gomorrah have done. The number with Abraham was thus reduced to two with Lot, who, it is most probable, therefore, were the same who had been with Abraham, and left him in conversation with the third, who throughout is styled Jehovah - the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, or Angel of the Covenant. We may remark in the passage now before us, the high estimation in which the virtue of hospitality was held, and the sacredness that stands associated with its obligations. Lot does not seem to have known the rank of these strangers; and though angels, he did not receive them as such, but entertained them unawares, even as Abraham at the first did - though afterwards, Abraham must have made discovery of one at least, styling him Jehovah (v. 27, ch. xviii.) which he did not at the first (v. 3.) - although it was Jehovah who appeared unto him (v. 1.) Now, the remarkable thing is not the wickedness of Sodom, though very extreme, but the proposition of Lot, who, rather than violate his duty to his guests, offered to give up his daughters to the mob who had assembled at his door.
12-26. In v. 13, when it is said that the Lord hath sent us to destroy Sodom, there is a further harmony with our preceding argument on the Angel of the Covenant, as being the one of the three who remained behind to converse with Abraham, and sent the other two forward to execute His vengeance on the cities of the plain. The request of Lot implies a certain measure of faith. His argument for being allowed to live in Zoar, viz., that it was a small city, and therefore that he was asking no great amount of remission from God's original purposes of vengeance, proves a belief in the certainty of the coming destruction, which we might think would have made Lot desirous of as great a removal as possible from the scene. But instead of this he craves a place, if not in the midst of it, at least on its confines, which looks like a confidence in God for safety, and that in the immediate juxtaposition of what was fitted to shake and to alarm nature. Yet after the destruction did come, this faith, if such there was, gave way at length to fear. The moral of Lot's wife becomes more palpable when we connect therewith the reference made to it by our Saviour, when he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem. We live in a world that is yet to be burnt up, of which Jerusalem is the type. Let us flee from this coming wrath; and in turning to Christ, let us not look back, but be done with the world, and done with it conclusively.
27-38. The feeling of Abraham might well be imagined when he arose in the morning and took a survey of the smoking destruction that he saw in the distance before him. The subject altogether would be a very fine one for the artist, though I know not if it has been attempted. It would appear from v. 29, as if Lot owed his preservation to God's remembrance of Abraham. Yet Lot is characterized by a New Testament writer as righteous (2 Peter ii. 7.) And indeed the delivery of just Lot, and the contrast between his fate and that of the wicked who vexed him, would intimate that God, in delivering him, had respect to himself personally. The history which follows presents a strange picture of the times, and is of a piece with the trait in the immediately preceding passage, where, on the one hand, to maintain the obligation of hospitality inviolate, Lot hazards a most revolting proposal - that is, the prostitution of his daughters; and, on the other hand, these daughters, rather than incur the reproach, and what must have been then felt as the worst of evils, the extinction of a house or family, by all the members of it dying childless - prostituted themselves, and that in the most aggravated and atrocious way possible. The appearance of such a narrative might well be deemed an inexplicable phenomenon in the volume of revelation, yet of no argumentative weight whatever against the genuineness or authority of the record. It favours the idea of a progressive morality from one period or economy to another - that progression whereof the greatest step took place at the time of our Saviour, and is announced by Him in His sermon on the Mount. (Matth. v. 21-48.)

GENESIS 20 - There again occurs here an act of deception on the part of Abraham, and no recorded censure thereof by God, who in His converse with Abimelech speaks of Abraham as a prophet, and whose prayer would avail for the preservation of Abimelech. The deceit is aggravated, I think, by the apology that is made for it. What Abraham said was substantially a falsehood, and had all the effect of it; and so far from a mitigation it is rather an enhancement of the artifice, the attempt that is made in v. 12 to give that saying the guise of truth. Is the moral education of the world progressive ? This whole chapter seems abundantly lucid excepting the sixteenth verse. The reproof perhaps lies in Abimelech designating Abraham to Sarah as her brother, making an ironical repetition of the name she herself gave him. His being a covering unto the eyes might well be a covering from or against the eyes of all, whether acquaintances or strangers. They who know that Abraham is her husband should keep their eyes from her; and this knowledge should not be kept from any as it was from Abimelech. All should know of her marriage relationship, that all might respect it. Abraham should stand betwixt her and all men. There seems to have been no very strict rule of matrimonial consanguinity in these days ; and perhaps this too might be laid to the account of that progression in the virtues and habits of God's own people which seems to have taken place from age to age.

GENESIS 21 1-13. Sarah's laughter proves that on a former occasion it might not have been altogether a matter of incredulity. It could not be so now, or after the actual fulfilment of the promise which called forth her risibility at the time that it was uttered. There might have been a sense of the incongruous at both times. The deference rendered by Abraham to the wish of Sarah, and that in opposition to his own very strong and heartfelt affection, is the symptom of a greater humanity and civilization in these days than we are apt to imagine. The subjection of the women, and a disregard to their feelings, are commonly regarded as marks and characteristics of barbarism. Sarah had a will of her own, and in the instance revealed here carried it. Yet we have the testimony of an Apostle for her right carriage to her husband. She stood in reverence, but not in dread of him ; and this very passage bears evidence that she was not afraid with amazement. (1 Peter iii. 6.) There was respect but not consternation. The relations of the Old to the New Testament and its doctrines are now multiplying on our hands. The progression towards that great consummation, that day which Abraham saw afar off, is becoming more visible ; and the light struck out by a mutual interchange of notices between the two great portions of Scripture is now making the region on which we enter more luminous than before. Paul adverts to the preference by God of Isaac over Ishmael as a proof that electing love is irrespective of works. In Isaac shall thy seed be called. (Rom. ix.)
14-21. Though I notice the former passage relating to Hagar as picturesque, this far exceeds it in that quality, and would form one of the most interesting of all our Scriptural pieces for an artist. It is most graphically and beautifully told ; and the pen of the historian has supplied all the materials to the pencil for laying out the story in a visible representation. The affection of Abraham is displayed in the early rising to see her away, and the acts of help perhaps which he rendered at the moment of parting. There is the semblance at least of the Angel of the Covenant having interposed on this occasion, from a certain want of distinction in the narrative between God and the angel of God. One cannot but feel an interest in Ishmael - figuring him to be a noble of nature - one of those heroes of the wilderness who lived on the produce of his bow, and whose spirit was nursed and exercised among the wild adventures of the life that he led. And it does soften our conception of him whose hand was against every man, and every man's hand against him, when we read of his mother's influence over him, in the deference of Ishmael to whom we read another example of the respect yielded to females even in that so-called barbarous period of the world. There was a civilization, the immediate effect of religion in these days, from which men fell away as the world grew older.
22-34. This passage presents a valuable evidence of the effect which God's revelations to his selected few had in spreading a sort of secondary and subordinate light of theology among those who were not the direct objects of these visits and communications from Heaven. And when we see that neighbours caught from Abraham a certain sense and knowledge of the true God, what may we not imagine would be the influence of his purer faith on relatives, and more especially those numerous descendants who sprung from him out of the loins of Isaac and Jacob, as the Ishmaelites; and the families that arose from among the children of Keturah, and the sons of those concubines to whom he gave gifts, and sent eastward into Central Asia ; and finally, the children of Esau or the Edomites. There would thus be a strong and widely-diffused tradition in favour of the true God, the light of which underwent successive obscurations from one age to another, but was never, we think, wholly obliterated. There is a great charm in the simple and venerable record of these patriarchal times, and which specially pervades the transaction narrated here between Abraham and Abimelech. If Abraham evinced his facility and forbearance in yielding to Lot, this did not wholly overbear his desire for justice, or restrain him from making a firm remonstrance to Abimelech because of the encroachments that had been practised on him. I rather think that Beersheba is the first sacred locality noticed in Scripture. Abraham planted a grove there, and seems to have made a place of prayer of it, where he called on the name of the Lord.
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