Three Scenes of
Genesis 22:1-14; 21:8-14; 19:27,28
These scriptures bring before us Three Scenes of Judgment,
and I would like to say a few words about them, looking to the Lord that He may
graciously use what comes before us for the help and blessing of the many young
believers present. On each of the three occasions you will notice that Abraham
rose up "early in the morning." He was a man in earnest - a man with purpose of
heart. Faith was in lively and vigorous exercise. No love of selfish ease, no
supine and carnal indulgence, retarded his movements. He was a man in the
energy of faith. My brethren, it is in proportion as this marks us that we
shall get blessing from God. If our hearts are awake to the reality and
blessedness of divine things, and we are set upon them, I am sure we shall be
greatly enriched with spiritual blessing and joy.
In these chapters the man who is in the energy of faith witnesses three scenes of judgment, and it is of great importance that we should realise the typical significance of the pictures thus brought before us, for we cannot have PEACE without seeing the first, we shall not have JOY unless we see the second, and our TESTIMONY will be a total failure if we do not see the third.
There is no type in Scripture more expressive than this touching scene in Genesis 22. Though the uplifted hand was stayed, and the fatal blow did not actually fall, the picture is so plain in its outlines that he who runs may read its meaning. It brings before us the greatest of all facts - that GOD "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all," Rom. 8: 32. Mark the words, "delivered him up"! Other scriptures tell us that He gave Him, that He sent Him, that He anointed Him, that He was with Him; but the supreme fact brought before us in the type we are considering is that He delivered Him up. It is not the incarnation that is thus spoken of, for as incarnate the Holy One of God could say, "Thou keptest me in safety when I was upon my mother's breasts," Psalm 22:9, margin. Nor was He "delivered up" during His holy life of devoted service here, for again and again are we told that His enemies could not take or touch Him because "his hour was not yet come." But there came a moment when, in view of the cross and of all that was to be accomplished there, He was "delivered unto the Gentiles," Luke 18: 31, 32.
While we consider this, let us not forget that, if delivered up, He also "gave himself." The true Isaac was in perfect accord with all the thoughts of God which necessitated His being delivered up. The words are twice repeated in Genesis 22, "they went both of them together," and in the deepest way was this true of God and His beloved Son as They moved on together in that wondrous path of divine love which ended at the cross. In that path the Son could say, "He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him," John 8:29. I want your eyes and hearts to be fastened on that true Isaac, delivered up and giving Himself on the cross, where we see
THE SON OF GOD UNDER JUDGMENT.
Two things made Calvary's scene of judgment necessary, if sinners were to be brought into blessing. First, the holiness of God demanded that there should be judgment upon sin. If the holy Sufferer cries, in the anguish of His soul, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?" He supplies the answer to that unparalleled enquiry by saying, "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel," Psalm 22:1-3. And, in the second place, an awakened conscience could never have peace in the presence of God, apart from the knowledge of the fact that sin has been dealt with in righteous and holy judgment. Have you got peace? Can you say, before God, 'There is not a cloud above, and not a spot within '? If not, may this be the hour of your introduction into this priceless blessing! I purpose to bring briefly before you four aspects of the infinite work of the Son of God upon the cross.
1. "Jesus our Lord...who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification," Rom. 4:25. God has provided a Person capable of bearing sins and their judgment in such a way that the holiness of God, instead of being against the sinner who believes, is absolutely in his favour. We see at the cross the infinite holiness of God in His judgment of our sins; but we see that judgment falling upon one who bears it in voluntary self-sacrifice and devoted love, in order that we may be justified and have peace with God. He gave Himself for our sins, bearing them in His own body on the tree, and by Himself He purged them. Has He removed them all? Certainly! If you remember WHO He was, you can have no question as to the value and efficacy of His work. If any great work has to be done, satisfaction and confidence as to it are based upon knowing the competency of the person engaged in it. Think of the glory of the Person who was "delivered for our offences"! What failure can there be in a work undertaken by the SON of GOD? After such a Person has done such a work God can say righteously about the sins of believers, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more," Heb. 10: 17.
God has "raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." Our Saviour is clean out of the death and judgment that He went into "for our offences," and in God's account every believer is as clear as He is. Knowing this, we are justified by faith, and "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," Rom. 5: 1.
2. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh," Rom. 8: 3. The truth contained in this verse has to do with what we are, and not with what we have done. We should all be prepared to admit that we have done many wrong things, but this outflow of evil must have had a source. So much bad fruit could never have been produced by a good tree. What we have done is the outcome of what we are. Now, as to this, it is written, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing," Rom. 7:18. The Scriptures declare this, and sooner or later, the experience of every converted person will confirm it. I remember a young man saying to me, after some days of deep exercise on what seemed likely to be his deathbed, `The Lord has been showing me what I am. I knew before that there was a lot of bad in me, but I never saw until now that there is no good.' This is a very solemn but needful lesson.
The very existence of "sinful flesh " was a great dishonour to God. That man - the special object of God's heart - should be found in a condition of sin, and in such a state that for the eye of God there is in him "no good thing," is an appalling fact. What could be done with "sinful flesh " for God's credit and glory? The material was too bad for any remedy to be successful. The law might be applied to it, and might detect the evil, but could neither put it right nor remove it to the glory of God. The verse I have read shows how God has dealt with sinful flesh. He has condemned sin in the flesh, and made an end to it in the death of His Son. The man in whom no good dwells was ended before God in the death of Christ. Sinful flesh has been removed in judgment from before God at the cross.
3. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same ; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage," Heb. 2:14, 15. The devil has no power beyond deathnot even over the lost. People get hold of fictitious poetical ideas, and picture him reigning over an infernal kingdom beyond death; but in truth the devil will be for ever the most abject of all lost creatures. His kingdom is bounded by the grave; his territories stretch down to death, but there they end. God allowed the devil to have the power of death, and to wield it in a reign of terror over the consciences of men. Idolatry, superstition, and priestcraft exercise their dark tyranny over more than a thousand millions of the human race, and the secret of their dominion is the fear of death, with the power of the devil behind it.
Then again, when the conscience of a sinner is awakened by the Spirit of God, the fear of death lays the soul in heavy irons and cruel bondage. I expect that most, if not all, of us here have known something of this. There is a terrible reality in death. It is a dark, black cloud which comes over everything that we have and are as children of Adam. It is the blighting of every natural hope, and the desolation of every earthly prospect. It is the complete break-up of our whole status as in the flesh. If ever the true thought of what death is has come home to you, you know right well that it filled your conscience with solemn fear. There is but one way of deliverance from the fear of death, and that is by the knowledge of this precious Saviour, who went into death for us. Jesus has tasted death in all its bitterness and reality as the wages of sin, the power of the devil, and the judgment of God. He has entered into it fully, as none other ever could, that He might deliver us for ever from its fear. He has gone under all that power of darkness, that He might annul it for you and me.
Satan cannot touch that which survives death. If you become possessed of that which is on the other side of death, you have that which Satan cannot touch. Thank God! Jesus is risen. It is a Saviour who has been into death for us, but is now for ever beyond it, who is the righteousness, life, and joy of the believer. All our blessings are in One who is beyond death. These are the "sure mercies" (Acts 13 : 34), and there are no other sure mercies. You may lose your money, your position, your abilities, your friends, your health; indeed, there is nothing sure this side of death, but everything is sure that is on the other side. Nothing can fail or break down that we have in a risen Saviour.
4. "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour," Eph. 5 : 2. I have read this scripture that we may not lose sight of the infinite preciousness of the work of Christ to God. He was under judgment and in death, but He was there for the glory of God, and there in the perfections of divine affections. His devotedness to God, and His love to the Father, were never so expressed as when He gave Himself for us. He brought the obedience and affections of the SON into the place of sin, and judgment, and death, and this made His work an offering and a sacrifice of "sweet smelling savour."
"Love that on death's dark vale
Its sweetest odours spread;
Where sin o'er all seemed to prevail,
Redemption's glory shed."
The true Isaac has been offered up, and by His death sins have been purged, sin in the flesh has been condemned, the power of the devil annulled, the believer perfected for ever, and God glorified. Perfect assurance and peace must be the portion of everyone who looks by faith on that scene of holy judgment, and learns that everything has been settled thus according to the glory of God. In view of that scene, and of the risen Saviour, who is now triumphantly out of it, darkness, doubt, and fear are banished from the heart, and the conscience is filled with perfect PEACE.
We may now turn to Genesis 21, and I think we shall have no difficulty in recognising that the picture presented to us, in the expulsion of Ishmael from Abraham's house, is that of
THE FLESH UNDER JUDGMENT.
We have already seen how sinful flesh has come under the judgment of God at the cross, and if we really know this, we shall see that of necessity the flesh must also be a judged thing with the believer. It is impossible to think that God, having condemned sin in the flesh in the death of His Son, will tolerate the flesh in a believer. And it is monstrous to suppose that a believer can rejoice to know that the flesh has been judged at the cross, and be content to tolerate or gratify it in himself. But, as a matter of fact, we have to learn what the flesh is, and to discover by our own experience the utter impossibility of getting any good out of it, before we are prepared to disown it. The incorrigible badness of Ishmael had to be proved before Abraham was prepared to expel him. And it is of the deepest importance to note well the fact that it was the presence and the honouring of Isaac which brought Ishmael out in his true colours, as not having a single thought in common with God.
Ishmael had been fourteen years in Abraham's house when God brought Isaac into the house, and the introduction of Isaac was a plain declaration that Ishmael would not do for God. He was the child of nature, and none but the child of promise - the child of resurrection power - would do for God. But Ishmael did not see this. I dare say he thought he was quite as worthy to be the heir of the promises as the newcomer, to say nothing of his priority of fourteen years. Why Abraham and Abraham's God were not satisfied with him he could not make out, for he was very well satisfied with himself. He did not see the need of another man. He was mortified at being set aside by the new-comer, for it was evident that if Isaac was to increase, Ishmael must decrease. If Isaac was to be everything, it would make nothing of Ishmael, which was simply intolerable. He mocked! His true character came out-he had not a thought in common with God. Ishmael is a type of man after the flesh; Isaac is a type of man according to the promise and purpose of God, i.e. of CHRIST.
Let me seek to show you the bearing of this, first of all, in a dispensational way. God tried man in the flesh in all kinds of circumstances, and with all kinds of privileges and advantages, for four thousand years, without ever getting any satisfaction in him. The whole history of man, as we have it in Scripture, serves to prove that man in the flesh is a moral wreck, and a grief and dishonour to God. At the end of four thousand years God brought in the promised Seed-the One in whom His heart could rest, and in whom all His promises and purposes could be established. What was the effect? The presence of Isaac brought out the true character of Ishmael. There were venerable men in Judea - men deeply read in the oracles of God - praying men - men entirely given up to the cultivation of their own sanctity and religious character, and these men were the haters and rejecters - the betrayers and murderers - of Christ.
It was not the profane multitude who sought the death of Christ, but the educated, the religious, the priestly class. It was a man in the flesh in his best form that hated Christ. And why? I think we might say the Lord Jesus was marked for death in the minds of these religious men from the moment that He said, "I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven," Matt. 5: 20. A word like that swept away at once as worthless the whole fabric of the righteousness which these men had with patient toil been rearing for themselves. It made nothing of their prayers and religious duties; it poured contempt on all their ceremonies and observances ; it - reduced them to the level of common sinners, and, in short, it declared plainly that Ishmael - man in the flesh - would not do for God, however good and religious he might pretend to be. Christ was guilty in their eyes of the unpardonable offence of making nothing of all their pretensions; and on this account they hated Him with a vindictiveness which pursued Him to the cross. Ishmael would not give place to Isaac.
Nor are religious people different at the present day. If you tell those who are doing their best to be good, and working hard to elevate man, that all their efforts are useless, and that not one bit of man's goodness, or one scrap of his righteousness, will ever be accepted by God that nothing but CHRIST will do for God, and that they must have Him as their righteousness and life, or be for ever lost - they will mock as scornfully as did Ishmael. Ishmael would not mind Isaac having a share; perhaps he would not object to Isaac coming to teach him, or to set him a good example; but for Isaac to be everything, so that Ishmael must be nothing, is unendurable.
But let us bring the matter a little more closely home. Ishmael is not far from any of us, and it is of vital importance to our spiritual prosperity and joy that we should know him, and deal with him as he deserves. One of our greatest snares is the pretension of the flesh to be good. In the experience of Romans 7 our souls learn what the flesh is in its native badness, as opposing all the good and holy desires of the inward man - it is there Ishmael with a dirty face. But in Galatians we see the flesh posing in quite another character. It is Ishmael with his face washed, and professing to be very good indeed. He has turned over a new leaf and quite altered his ways, and now he will be as holy as you please. He will be circumcised, he will keep the law, he will observe days, and months, and times, and years, he will fast and pray, and will endeavour to be a model Christian. He is prepared to do anything if you will only be so kind as not to ignore him altogether. Allow him to have a place - recognise him as having some status in the house, and he will be your most humble servant! In plain words, SELF is ever seeking to have a place and to be something; but this can only be at the expense of CHRIST and of the true joy of a Christian. Ishmael must be cast out.
Our self-importance is our greatest hindrance: it shuts Christ out. Every bit of Christ that comes into your soul makes less of you. If you are not prepared to give up Ishmael, you will make no spiritual progress. A man who is self sufficient, and who wants to have credit for himself is not honouring Isaac. He may preach or pray, and be very well pleased with himself when he has done it, especially if he thinks he has made an impression. This is all Ishmael - the man who will not do for God. As a Christian gets on in his soul, and as Christ becomes more to his heart, he does not think of himself or of his own glory at all, and then what he does is in the power of the Spirit of God. If you are not prepared to give up your own importance, all the reading and hearing in the world will not help you much in your spiritual life. People try to make their Christianity a distinction to themselves: and this is only Ishmael - the man that will not do for God.
If nothing but CHRIST will do for God, all that I am must go. I may set to work to make myself as pious as possible; after the straitest sect of my religion I may live a Pharisee, and all this in thorough earnestness and sincerity: but it will not do for God. Death is upon all my moral, mental, and physical powers as a child of Adam - they can yield nothing for God. There must be ANOTHER MAN! I trust that Isaac has come to your house! You can say, `Thank God! I know and have Christ as my Saviour.' But have you yet celebrated the 'great feast'? I am persuaded that you will not have true Christian joy until you do. There are many believers who have got Isaac in the house but have not celebrated the feast. There came a day when Abraham would declare unmistakably that Isaac was the heir, not Ishmael. The "great feast" was the declaration that Isaac was the one to whom belonged all the rights of the house. Have you celebrated such a feast in your soul's history? Have you acknowledged with gladness of heart that nothing counts with God but Christ? that the best bit of self in you is hateful to God? Are you glad to know that it is only as CHRIST lives in you that there is anything for God? Do you refuse to tolerate, or gratify, or acknowledge the flesh, because you have learnt that it is entirely opposed to what is of God? Have you cast Ishmael out?
At this point I would like to bring before you two simple illustrations of the way in which self is displaced in the heart of the believer. When David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, and was brought before Saul with the head of Goliath in his hand, we are told that "it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul...And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle," I Sam. 18: 1, 4. Jonathan had been, in figure under the power of death, but had been freed by David's victory. His heart was now at leisure to admire, and delight itself in, the lovely grace of the victor. The personal grace of the one who stood there with such a perfect absence of self-consciousness and self-elation, whose whole demeanour showed that he had no motive but the glory of the living God in undertaking such a conflict, won his heart so that he could ignore himself. In presence of the lovely grace of David he found pleasure in stripping himself. Naturally, he might have been vexed and mortified that another should have the honours of the day; but the one who had all the honours had also all the affections of his heart, and this made all the difference. The natural man hates the one who supersedes him, 'slat the believer's heart is knit to him. CHRIST has stripped himself for the glory of God, and for our deliverance and salvation. Such is His grace. He has given Himself. Is it not enough to knit the heart of any Jonathan to the true David, and to so move and win his affections that he will rejoice to ignore himself ? It is thus that we celebrate the feast, and that Ishmael is cast out.
You may see the same thing in the woman of Luke 7. The grace of the Person before her heart made her forget herself altogether. She was happy to be at His feet - to make nothing of herself in His presence - and she was happy of all that might be thought or said of her. Isaac had his true place in her heart, and Ishmael was unthought of. In the presence of Christ, and only there, we recognise the worthlessness of flesh, and are able to ignore self. This is the way he Spirit of God works to produce true holiness. It is by leading our hearts into deepening acquaintance with Christ, and into the knowledge of the divine satisfaction which God has found so perfectly in Him.
There is one scene above all others where the worthlessness of Ishmael and the surpassing excellence of Isaac are fully displayed together. It is brought to view in these words of Paul: "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again," 2 Cor. 5:14, 15. Here we see plainly that the judgment of death is upon every power and faculty of man; yea, upon man himself. "All dead" is the solemn judgment of God passed on man at Calvary. But wondrous love is there as well as holy judgment. How it touches the heart! For me - a worthless sinner under the judgment of God, yet withal a proud, self-righteous, and self-sufficient sinner - CHRIST HAS DIED. There is no love like that. It surpasses all illustrations; it baffles description. If I gaze on that scene I learn my utter worthlessness and unfitness for God, but I find love there that wins my heart. In presence of that love I can only be nothing, and I am happy to be nothing. Ishmael is displaced from my affections, and Isaac is enthroned there.
Paul could say, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me," Gal. 2:20. To observe legal ordinances and to keep up ceremonial distinctions might be an object to others - they might wish to retain Ishmael: but the motive object of Paul's life was a Person whose love to Paul had carried Him unto death, and that Person THE SON OF GOD. How "weak and beggarly" to use the emphatic words of the Holy Spirit - every legal and self-righteous motive becomes, when contrasted with such an object! The effect is that we are so attracted by the grace, beauty, and perfection of Christ, that it is the deepest joy to know that He is our life, and that He is in us by the Spirit. When we recognise this by the Holy Spirit, Ishmael is turned out. That is, we " rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh," Phil. 3: 3.
The Scripture says, "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," Gal. 5: 24. God judged the flesh at the cross, and He has given us His Spirit that we might be of one mind with Him about it. May we have grace, my brethren, to disown, and to regard as a judged thing the flesh in every aspect! There is self-indulgent and worldly flesh; there is flesh that is consequential and obtrusive; but there is flesh that is pious, particular, and Orthodox flesh that is anxious to have the character of being lowly, earnest, devoted, intelligent, and unselfish. In every phase of his character may Ishmael be kept under judgment by each one of us!
The question may be asked, But if turned out, does he not return? Yes, if Isaac loses his place. Just as soon as Christ ceases to command our affections the flesh in some form gets a footing. There is no middle ground between walking in the Spirit and walking after the flesh. If I am doing the first, Christ is before me: I am in the affections and liberty of sonship; my desires and motives are those which are suitable to God; and the fruit of the Spirit is developed in me. But when I drop out of the current of the Spirit by departing from grace, by lack of dependence (or by indifference to Christ,) I throw the door open for Ishmael; and I am then controlled, not by Christ and the Spirit, but by rules and restrictions to which I submit myself in order that my character may not suffer. Nothing but the present power of divine affections in our hearts by the Spirit can keep Ishmael out.
I must now turn for a few moments to the third scene to which I have referred, and we shall find that it is a picture of
THE WORLD UNDER JUDGMENT.
From the mountain-top "where he stood before the Lord," Abraham "looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace," Gen. 19:27, 28. Sodom and Gomorrah are typical of the world, and the man of faith sees them under the judgment of God. I do not believe there can be any true TESTIMONY for Christ unless we see that the world is under judgment.
It is a wonderful and a fascinating scene that is around us. Whether your natural tastes are low or elevated - sensual or refined - there is that in the world which perfectly answers to them. Vanity Fair presents an endless diversity of things. You may have self-gratification and self-display in things mechanical, commercial, intellectual, political, social, scientific, artistic, or religious! And the devil is at the head of the whole system - the invisible organiser and manager of the whole order of things which is "not of the Father, but is of the world." It is the whole circle of things in which men live and move at a distance from God.
Of course God views the world not as a material, but as a moral, system. It is made up of lust, self-gratification, and vanity. "All that is in the world" comes under three heads:
(1) The lust of the flesh;
(2) The lust of the eyes;
(3) The pride of life. 1 John 2:16.
There is no room for the Son of the Father in such a circle, and His rejection has manifested that "now is the judgment of this world," John 12: 31.
And Scripture assures us that the judgment of God will soon fall in actual fact upon the world. The book of the Revelation brings before us "things which must shortly come to pass." Are they fancies or fictions? Nay, they are tremendous realities! And everything which will actually fall under God's judgment then is morally under it this minute. Is not this very solemn? We would not like to have a link with the world in the day when the fire of God shall stream down to blast it with eternal destruction. But what about to-day? Is the world better now than it will be then?
"Love not the world," says the Holy Spirit. Beware of the first turning of the heart in that direction. Achan coveted the goodly Babylonish garment, and the silver and gold, and hid them in his tent. Backsliding often begins thus. Something of the world is cherished in secret. The heart finds enjoyment in something which it would not like to be known. Reading a book, perhaps, that is carefully put out of sight if any godly Christian is expected to call. "Is there any secret thing with thee?"
I do not think that talking and preaching are necessarily TESTIMONY. I believe separation from the world is essential to Christian testimony. I do not mean by this an outward separation from certain things that we choose to designate as worldly, but having our affections so in the things of the Father and of the Spirit, that the motives and desires which rule in "the world" have no place in our hearts.
If I am controlled and coloured by the same motives and desires as a man of the world, I shall have no more power for testimony before him than Lot in Sodom. If we are keeping the "great feast" and CHRIST reigns in our affections, it will be the language of our hearts to say with Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world." Gal. 6: 14.
May the truths typified by these Three Scenes of Judgment have such a place in our souls that each one of us may have unclouded PEACE and Joy, and be found in distinct TESTIMONY for the One who is rejected by the world!
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