Abraham's Prompt Obedience to the Call of God
Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, June 27th, 1875, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a plane which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."Hebrews 11:8.
NE IS STRUCK with the practical character of this verse. Abraham was called, and he obeyed. There is no hint of hesitation, parleying, or delay; when he was called to go out, he went out. Would to God thatsuch conduct were usual, yea, universal; for with many of our fellow-men, and I fear with some now present, the call alone is not enough to produce obedience. "Many are called, but few are chosen." The Lord's complaint is "I called and ye refused." Such calls come again and again to many, but they turn a deaf ear to them; they are hearers only, and not doers of the word: and, worse still, some are of the same generation as that which Zechariah spake of when he said, "They pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears that they should not hear." Even among the most attentive hearers how many there are to whom the word comes with small practical result in actual obedience. Here we are in midsummer again, and yet Felix has not found his convenient season. It was about midwinter when he said he should find one, but the chosen day has not arrived. The mother of Sisera thought him long in coming, but what shall we say of this laggard season? We can see that the procrastinator halts, but it were hard to guess how long he will do so. Like the countryman who waited to cross the river when all the water had gone by, he waits till all difficulties are removed, and he is not one whit nearer that imaginary period than he was years ago. Meanwhile, the delayer's case waxes worse and worse, and, if there were difficulties before, they are now far more numerous and severe. The man who waits until he shall find it more easy to bear the yoke of obedience, is like the woodman who found his faggot too heavy for his idle shoulder, and, placing, it upon the ground, gathered more wood and added to the bundle, then tried it, but finding it still an unpleasant load, repeated the experiment of heaping on more, in the vain hope that by-and-by it might be of a shape more suitable for his shoulder. How foolish to go on adding, sin to sin, increasing the hardness of the heart, increasing the distance between the soul and Christ, and all the while fondly dreaming of some enchanted hour in which it will be more easy to yield to the divine call, and part with sin. Is it always going to be so? There are a few weeks and then cometh harvest, will another harvest leave you where you are, and will you again have to say, "The harvest is passed, the summer is ended, and we are not saved"? Shall God's longsuffering mercy only afford you opportunities for multiplying transgressions. Will ye always resist his Spirit? Always put him off with promises to be redeemed to-morrow? For ever and for ever shall the tenderness and mercy of God be thus despised? Our prayer is that God of his grace may give you to imitate the example of Abraham, who, when he was called, obeyed at once.
Dare to stand alone;
Dare to have a purpose true,
Dare to make it known."
May God grant to us grace to be Daniels, even if the lions' den should threaten us.
A second peculiarity of Abraham's conduct is seen in the fact that he was ready for all the losses and risks that might be involved in obedience to the call of God. He was to leave his native country, as we have already said: to some of us that would be a hard task, and I doubt not it was such to him. The smoke out of my own chimney is better than the fire on another man's hearth. There is no place like home wherever we may wander. The home feeling was probably as shone in Abraham as in us, but he was never to have a home on earth any more, except that he was to realize what Moses afterwards sung, "Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations." For him there was no rooftree and paternal estate, he owned no portion of the land in which he sojourned, and his sole alcove was a frail tent, which he removed from day to day as his flocks required fresh pasturage. He could say to his God, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with thee." He had to leave those whom he loved, for, though they accompanied him part of the way, they would not go further; if he followed the Lord fully he must go alone. The patriarch knew nothing of half measures, he went through with his obedience, and left all his kindred to go to Canaan, to which he had been summoned. Those who wished to stop at Halam might stop there. Canaan was his destination, and he could not stop short of it. No doubt he had many risks to encounter on his journey and when be entered the country. The Canaanite was still in the land, and the Canaanites were a fierce and cruel set of heathen, who would have utterly destroyed the wanderer if the Lord had not put a spell upon them, and said, "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." It was a country swarming with little tribes, who were at war continually. Abraham himself was, for Lot's sake, to gird on his sword, and go forth to fight, peace-lover as he was. Of all discomforts and dangers, loss of property, and parting with friends, Abraham made small account. God commanded, and Abraham went. Now, brethren, can you and I do the same? Oh, you who desire to be saved, I say, can you do this? Have you counted the cost and determined to pay it? You must not expect that you will wear silver slippers and walk on green rolled turf all the vary to heaven: the road was rough which your Lord traversed, and if you wall: with him yours will be rough too. Can ye bear for Jesus' sake all earthly loss? Can ye bear the scoff, the cold shoulder, the cutting jest, the innuendo, the sarcasm, the sneer? Could you go further, and bear loss of property and suffering in purse? Do not say that it may not occur, for many believers lose all by having to leave the ill pursuits by which they once earned their bread. You must in your intention give all up for Jesus, and in act you must give up all to Jesus. If he be yours, you must henceforth have all things in common with him; you must be joint heirs together, his yours and yours his; you may be well content to make joint stock, when you have so little and he has so much. Oh, can you stand to it, and give up all for him? Well, if you cannot, do not pretend to do it. Yet, except ye take up your cross, ye cannot be his disciples. Except you can give up everything for him, do not pretend to follow him. Listen to this. If you think heaven worth nothing, and Christ worth nothing, if you consider worldly gain to be everything, and comfort everything, and honor everything, if you could not die a martyr's death for Christ, your love to him is not worth much, and the Abraham spirit is not in you. May God enable us to take our places in the battle in the front of the foe, where the fight is most furious. May grace make us sing,
All to leave and follow thee,
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou, from hence, my all shalt be."
If that be said in truth, it is well, my brother; you bid fair to be in all things a partaker with faithful Abraham: you also shall find much blessing in the separated life.
Thirdly, one great peculiarity in Abraham was that he waived the present for the future. He went out to go into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance. He left the inheritance he then had to receive one which was yet to come. This is not the way of the world. The proverb saith, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and especially in such a bush as Abraham saw before him. It did not seem very likely he would ever obtain that land; but still he let his bird in the hand go and took to the bird in the bush, being fully persuaded that he should have it in God's good time. Mr. Bunyan sets this forth in his picture of two children, Passion and Patience. Passion would have all his good things now, and he sat among his toys and joys, and laughed and rejoiced. Patience had to bear to see his brother Passion full of mirth, and to hear his scoffing; but then, as Master Bunyan beautifully says, Patience came in last for his portion, and it lasted for ever, for there is nothing after the last. So, then, if we are to have our heaven last it will last, and no cloud shall mar it, no calamity bring it to an end. He is the wise man who lets go the shadow to grasp the substance, even though he should have to wait twenty, thirty, or forty years for it. He is blessed who leaves earth's wind and bubble and feeds on more substantial meat. God grant us grace to live more for the future than we have been accustomed to do. Oh ye ungodly ones, you do not care about the future, for you have never realised death and judgment. You are afraid to look over the edge of this narrow life. As to death, nothing frightens you so much. As for hell, if you are warned to escape from it, instead of thanking the preacher for being honest enough to warn you of it, you straightway call him a "hell-fire" preacher, or give him some other ugly name. Alas, you little know how pained he is to speak to you on so terrible a subject! You little dream how true a lover of your soul he is, or he would not warn you of the wrath to come. Do you want to have flatterers about you? Such are to be had in plenty if you desire them. As for heaven, you seem to have no regard for it; at any rate you are not making your title to it sure or clear by caring about divine things. If you would have the birthright you must let the present mess of pottage go. The eternal future must come far before the fleeting trifles of to-day; you must let the things which are seen sink, and bid the "things not seen as yet" rise in all their matchless grandeur and reality before your eyes. You must give up chasing butterflies and shadows, and pursue things eternal. My soul immortal pines only for immortal joys. I leave my present lot to be appointed of the Lord as he wills, so long as he will shed his love abroad in my heart. We must be prepared for eternity, and for that purpose we should concentrate our faculties upon divine truth and personal religion, that we may be ready to meet our God. This, then, was the third excellence in Abraham's walk, that he waived present comfort for the sake of the future blessing.
Fourthly, and this is the main point, Abraham committed himself to God by faith.
From that day forward Abraham had nothing but his God for a portion, nothing but his God for a protector. No squadron of soldiers accompanied the good man's march, his safeguard lay in him who had said, "Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward." He had to trust the Lord for his daily bread and daily guidance, for he was to march on and not know half a mile before him. He was ignorant when to stop and when to journey on, except as the Lord God guided him hour by hour. I must not say that Abraham became a poor pensioner upon the daily provision of God, but I will use a better term and describe him as "a gentleman commoner upon the royal bounty of his heavenly King." His lot was to have nothing but to be heir of heaven and earth. Can you thus walk by faith? Has the grace of God brought you who have been hesitating to resolve henceforth to believe God and trust him? If you do you are saved, for faith is the deciding matter. To realize the existence of God and to trust in him, especially to trust in his mercy, through Jesus Christ, is the essential matter. As for the life and walk of faith, they are the most singular things in the world. I seem myself to have been climbing a series of mysterious staircases, light as air and yet as solid as granite. I cannot see a single step before me, and often there seems to the eye to be nothing whatsoever to form a foothold for the next step. I look down and wonder how I came where I am, but still I climb on, and he who has brought me so far supplies me with confidence for that which lies before me. High into things invisible the ethereal ladder has borne me, and onward and forward to glory its rounds will yet conduct me. What I have seen has often failed me, but what I have not seen, and yet have believed, has always held me stably. Have not you found it so, all ye children of God? Let us pray that the Lord may lead others to tread the same mystic ascent by beginning to-day the life of faith.
The last speciality in Abraham's procedure was, what he did was done at once. There were no "ifs" and "ands" debatings, considerings, and delays. He needed no forcing and driving
Charmed to confess the voice divine."
At once, I say, he went. Promptness is one of the brightest excellencies in faith's actings. Delay spoils all. Some one asked Alexander to what he owed his conquests, and he said, "I have conquered because I never delayed." While the enemy were preparing he had begun the battle, and they were routed before they knew where they were. After that fashion faith overcomes temptation. She rims in the way of obedience, or rather she mounts on the wings of eagles, and so speeds on her way. With regard to the things of God our first thoughts are best: considerations of difficulty entangle us. Whenever you feel a prompting to do a good thing do not ask anybody whether you should do it or not; no one ever repents of doing good. Ask your friends afterwards rather than beforehand, for it is ill consulting with flesh and blood when duty is plain. If the Lord has given you substance, and you are prompted to be generous to the cause of God, do not count every sixpence over, and calculate what others would give; count it after you have given it, if it must be counted at all, but it would be better still not to let your left hand know what your right hand doeth. It cannot be wrong to do the right thing at once; nay, in matters of duty, every moment of delay is a sin. Thus we have Abraham before us; may the Holy Spirit make us like him.
Now, this morning, who will listen to the call of God? Who, like Abraham, will quit the world, with all its folly, and resolve henceforth to be upon the Lord's side? O, Spirit of the living God, constrain manly a hidden Abraham to come forth!
III. We have to close with two or three words about what was THE RESULT OF ABRAHAM'S ACTION. The question of many will be, did it pay? That is the inquiry of most people, and within proper bounds it is not a wrong question. Did it answer Abraham's purpose? Our reply is, it did so gloriously. True, it brought him into a world of trouble, and no wonder: such a noble course as his was not likely to be an easy one. What grand life ever was easy? Who wants to be a child and do easy things? Yet we read in Abraham's life, after a whole host of troubles, "And Abraham was old and well stricken in years, and the Lord had blessed Abrabam in all things." That is a splendid conclusionGod had blessed Abraham in all things. Whatever happened, he had always been under the divine smile, and all things had worked for his good. He was parted from his friends, but then he had the sweet society of his God, and was treated as the friend of the Most High, and allowed to intercede for others, and clothed with great power on their behalf. I almost envy Abraham. I should do so altogether if I did not know that all the saints are permitted to enjoy the same privileges. What a glorious degree Abraham took when he was called "the friend of God"; was not his loss of earthly friendships abundantly made up to him? What honor, also, the patriarch had among his contemporaries; he was a great man, and held in high esteem. How splendidly he bore himself; no king ever behaved more royally. That pettifogging king of Sodom wanted to make a bargain with him, but the grand old man replied, "I will not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abraham rich." Those sons of Heth also were willing to make him a present of a piece of land around the cave of Machpelah; but he did not want a present from Canaanites, and so he said, "No, I will pay you every penny. I will weigh out the price to you, whatever you may demand." In noble independence no man could excel the father of the faithful; his contemporaries look small before him, and no man seems to be his equal, save Melchizedek. His image passes across the page of history rather like that of a spirit from the supernal realms than that of a mere man; he is so thorough, so childlike, and therefore so heroic. He lived in God, and on God, and with God. Such a sublime life recompensed a thousandfold all the sacrifice he was led to make.
Was not his life a happy one? One might wisely say, "Let my life be like that of Abraham." As to temporal things the Lord enriched him, and in spirituals he was richer still. He was wealthier in heart than in substance, though great ever, in that respect. And now Abraham is the father of the faithful, patriarch of the whole family of believers, and to him alone of all mortal men God said, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." This very day, through his matchless seed, to whom be glory for ever and ever, even Jesus Christ of the seed of Abraham, all tribes of men are blessed. His life was both for time and for eternity, a great success; both for temporals and for spirituals the path of faith was the best that he could leave followed.
And now may we all be led to imitate his example. If we never have done so, may we this morning be led to give God his due by trusting him, to give the blood of Christ its due by relying upon it, to give the Spirit of God his due by yielding ourselves to him. Will you do so, or not? I pause for your reply. The call is given again, will you obey it or not? Nobody here will actually declare that he will not, but many will reply that they hope they shall. Alas! my sermon is a failure to those who so speak: if that be your answer, I am foiled again. When Napoleon was attacking the Egyptians he had powerful artillery, but he could not reach the enemy, for they were ensconced in a mud fort, and it made Napoleon very angry, because, if they had been behind granite walls, he could hate battered them down, but their earthworks could not be blown to pieces, every ball stuck in the mud, and made the wall stronger. Your hopes and delays are just such a mud wall. I had a good deal sooner people would say, "There, now, we do not believe in God nor in his Christ," and speak out straightforwardly, than go on for ever behind this mud wall of "We will by-and-by," and "We hope it will be so one day." The fact is, you do not mean to obey the Lord at all. You are deceiving yourselves if you think so. If God be God to-morrow he is God to-day; if Christ be worth having next week he is worth having to-day. If there is anything in religion at all, it demands a present surrender to its claims and a present obedience to its laws; but if you judge it to be a lie, say so, and we shall know where you are. If Baal be God, serve him; but if God be God, I charge you by Jesus Christ, fly to him as he is revealed, and come forth from the sin of the world and be separate, and walk by faith in God. To this end may the Spirit of God enable you. Amen and amen.
PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMONHebrews 11:1 to 13; Genesis 11:27 to end; 12:1 to 9.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"174, 655, 658.