The Faith Of Abraham Genesis 15:6

Genesis 15:6

“He believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.” It is very important for us to understand rightly what was the nature of that faith in Abraham which God “counted to him for righteousness.” That faith does not belong to things that have passed away. Abraham exercised it, and it was counted to him for righteousness, before he was under the covenant of circumcision. Although there be different degrees of faith, they are but different measures of the same thing. The faith that justifies (which is what is meant by its being counted for righteousness) is that faith which saves; and saving faith has ever been of one nature, and has always had one object. This is placed beyond a doubt by the fact that Saint Paul more than once sets before Christians the faith of Abraham as the model for their own. In the patriarch, therefore, we have an example of that faith which is needful to ourselves, and it thus the more behooves us that this example should not be misapprehended.

The history of no man that has lived is known which shows stronger faith than that of Abraham. He is called to abandon his friends and country, and he obeys; he goes forth, “not knowing whither he went.” God promises to him a son; and he believes, although he is already old, and the accomplishment is many long years delayed. God promises that his posterity shall be as the sand that is by the sea shore in numerable; and he believes, although he is childless. God tells him that the land in which he is a stranger shall be the heritage of his children; and he believes, although he sees not how so great an event can be brought to pass. The promised son is born, and grows up, when he is commanded to slay him in sacrifice; and he forthwith proceeds to obey  that commandment, although he regarded that son as the medium of all the blessings promised to him and his. What more do we require than this? Is not this sufficient to constitute the faith which justified and saved his soul? Alas, no. Abraham himself knew this very well. All this does not constitute the faith which the Gospel requires of us, and which we are assured is the same faith that Abraham held. From all that appears in the stated facts, the faith of Abraham consisted in his belief that it was God who spoke to him, and that whatever that God had promised he was able to perform. His strong acts of obedience were proportioned to the strength of his belief. But is this saving faith? We find many who exhibit strong trust in God’s providence and care, and who exhibit much energy in acts of obedience to his commandments, but who do not and cannot claim to have received the anointing from the Holy One. There are many such, not even nominally Christians. They are good men and true in their order; but their order is not in Christ, and they are none of his. Even the faith that can remove mountains is not in itself the faith that saves and justifies, and it is to be feared that many who have had that faith alone will utterly perish. We write these words with awe; for they form a sentence of condemnation against many from whom the heart cannot withhold its love.

Since, therefore, that Abraham had saving faith, and seeing that such faith is not inevitably connected with such acts as those which his history sets before us, why is not its real nature and object more clearly pointed out to us? It is clearly pointed out; although not in the history. The sacred volume comes to us as a whole, and the information not given in one part of it is generally to be found in another. The gospels and the epistles clearly tell us wherein lay that faith of Abraham which was counted to him for righteousness. If it be asked, why this is not set forth in the history itself? it may as well be asked, why the doctrine of redemption is not as clearly set forth in the Pentateuch as in the prophecies of Isaiah. It is indeed as fully set forth, now  that we can read with anointed eyes the types and symbols under which it was at once veiled and expressed. It was not the purpose of God that the mysteries of his kingdom should be fully unveiled until the fulness of time was come. He gave more and more, stronger and stronger light, dispersing gradually the morning shades, until we reached the noontide splendors of that day in which Christ rose from the dead. All was then known.

What, then, is this essential faith which, according to the testimony of Christ and his apostles, Abraham possessed, and through which alone he could be justified—justified, not as being righteous, but as being “counted righteous” before God? We will give the answer from the able but neglected book of a clear-minded writer. Note: A Practical Treatise of Saving Faith. By Abraham Taylor, 1730. It is remarkable, however, that this writer does not once allude to the case of Abraham.] “Faith is a grace wrought in the soul of a sinner by the Holy Spirit, whereby being emptied of all opinionative thoughts of his own righteousness, strength, and fulness, he is enabled to look to Christ, to betake himself to him as his only Savior, to receive him, to rest and rely upon him for the remission of his sins, for a righteousness to justify him in the sight of God, for strength to enable him to perform duty, to follow after holiness, and to encounter spiritual enemies; and for eternal life, when his work of faith and labor of love is ended, and when he comes to finish with joy his course. This is the Scripture notion of saving faith: and it has God for its fundamental and principal object, as he is a God of truth reconciled to sinners; but it has Christ for its immediate object, for it is only by his mediation that a sinner can come to God.”

Had Abraham this faith? There can be no question of it. There can be no question that he was enabled to find in the Divine promises made to him, far more than met his ear. He had a spiritual perception of their purport, and apprehended through them a hope of heaven, and an interest in its blessedness. As this can be only realized through Christ,  this alone would be evidence that his faith had reference to the promised Messiah. But we are not left to any conjecture in this matter. Our Lord himself says: “Abraham longed to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” Joh_8:56.

This means that Abraham earnestly desired to have a distinct conception, a clear representation, of the work of the Messiah—his promised seed in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed; and that this privilege was in a special manner afforded to him, and filled his heart with gladness. In Christ, therefore, and in his great redeeming work, his faith centered. This was in his view the ultimate object of all the promises he received; and while he did look forward to a numerous posterity through Isaac, he was also permitted to behold in faith the far larger heritage which should accrue to him through that great Son—the heirs of his faith, the inheritors of the blessings belonging to his spiritual seed—numerous as the stars, and not less glorious.

These are not fancies. As the words of our Lord disclose to us the nature of Abraham’s faith, so the words of the apostle indicate the sense we have given, as that in which our Lord’s words are to be understood. Saint Paul, in the fourth chapter of Romans, treats largely of the nature of Abraham’s faith, showing that the promises made to the patriarch had, besides their natural meaning, a spiritual one which he fully understood. He shows that Israel had no exclusive inheritance in the promises made to Abraham that he should be “the father of many nations,” and the “heir of the world;” and whether the large views which we are thus led to take of these promises and facts were opened to him or not, there is every reason, from the declaration of our Savior, to conclude, that his faith did embrace these spiritual views, and that in the degree of light imparted to him, his faith was the same in its essence as our own.

In his epistle to the church in Galatia, the same apostle returns to a subject obviously full of interest to him. He  declares plainly that the Gospel—nothing less than the Gospel—was preached to Abraham, when it was declared to him that in him all nations should be blessed. “So then,” he adds, “they that be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

It must be admitted, that on the surface of the narrative, the expectation and the hopes of Abraham are temporal, and the promises also. It is refreshing to be enabled thus, by the aid of the later Scriptures, to penetrate to their inner meaning, and find that they were not such. Through faith, his views, like our own, extended beyond the grave, and rested not short of heaven. His portion was not in this world. He was thus well content to dwell in a strange country, without any abiding place, because, as the same apostle assures us, he looked not in this world, but in the world to come, “for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Heb_11:10. Truly and beautifully applicable to him, are, as intended to be, the lines of the poet—

“No foot of land do I possess;
No cottage in this wilderness;
A poor wayfaring man,
I lodge awhile in tents below,
Or gladly wander to and fro,
Till I my Canaan gain.
Nothing on earth. I call my own,
A stranger to the world, unknown,
I all their goods despise;
I trample on their whole delight,
And seek a city out of sight,
A city in the skies.”