Abraham and God’s Call
Abraham was brought up in the city of Ur, not far from the River Euphrates, in what is now southern Iraq. It was presumably very much a heathen environment. Yet even there the Lord appeared to him and called him ‘to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance’ (Heb. 11:8).
In relating this event, Stephen referred to the Most High as ‘the God of glory’, which we may assume to indicate that, when he appeared to Abraham, God revealed something of the greatness of his glory. He was altogether above all other gods, including those worshipped in Ur. They had no real existence; they were mere figments of fallen human imagination. But the One who appeared to Abraham was the true God, the living God, the One who had created the heavens and the earth and everyone on it. He therefore had full authority over human beings, and so had a right to their obedience. And he was able to reveal himself and something of his glory to them. This is what took place in Ur, and Abraham recognised something of the authority of the God of glory over him. Thus ‘by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed; and he went out’. God so worked in his heart that he became able and willing to respond to God’s call to leave the city.
When the God of glory came into this world in the person of his Son, the disciples were by faith able to recognise that glory. So John wrote, ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). They did not recognise this glory by their natural powers; as David Brown comments, ‘this glory . . . was spiritually discerned’ – by faith. Brown goes on to explain:
By ‘GRACE’ is meant ‘the whole riches of God’s redeeming love to sinners of mankind in Christ’. Up to the period of the Incarnation, this was, strictly speaking, only in promise; but in the fullness of time it was turned into performance or ‘TRUTH’ – that is, fulfilment.1
When the God of glory appeared to Abraham, he revealed something beyond what had previously been made known about the coming Messiah. He told Abraham: ‘In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed’ (Gen. 12:3); the blessing of salvation for sinners throughout the earth would come through a Redeemer whose line of descent would be through Abraham. Here was a revelation of grace, somewhat elaborated to him later, but for Abraham and all the other Old Testament saints, the revelation was always in terms of promise, which they received by faith. But John and the other disciples saw the fulfilment of these promises. Yet they needed faith too. Many others lacked that faith and so did not receive Jesus as the Messiah; they rejected his authority. But the 11 believing disciples, along with others such as Mary Magdalene and Mary and Martha of Bethany, saw his glory as the only-begotten of the Father. By faith they saw him as One full of saving mercy, One in whom all the promises of God’s previous revelation were fulfilled. They heard the call to follow him to a place which they should afterwards receive for an inheritance, and they obeyed.
Christ has now finished the work he came into the world to do, according to the Old Testament promises. He suffered unto death for sin; he rose from the grave and ascended to heaven. But we need faith to see him as the Saviour of the world, who is calling sinners to come out of the kingdom of darkness and set out on the way to the everlasting inheritance in heaven which has been provided, in Christ, for all who will obey him. Many, even of those to whom the full revelation in Scripture comes, reject him and his authority. They imagine that their surroundings in the kingdom of darkness are much more attractive than the everlasting inheritance.
But there are others who obey, when they hear the call to go out – to forsake their sins and look to Christ. They set out on the way which leads to everlasting life. This takes place when the God of glory reveals himself through the Scriptures, particularly when these Scriptures are expounded by God-sent preachers. They call sinners to forsake the foolishness of an ungodly life, with its idolising of self, the world and the things of the world. Then God reveals the glory of the redemption wrought out when Christ offered up himself as a living sacrifice. And he reveals the glory of the inheritance in heaven above.
It is entirely a supernatural work to make the call of the gospel effective, so that the sinner leaves Satan’s kingdom and begins to follow Christ. This work of the Holy Spirit is described as ‘an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to [God’s] own purpose and grace’ (2 Tim 1:9). We cannot deserve it; every aspect of God’s saving work is entirely the result of his free grace. And we do well to keep in mind this summary, in the Shorter Catechism, of Scripture teaching:
Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.2
One remarkable aspect of Abraham’s faith was that he left Ur ‘not knowing whither he went’. In other circumstances, to have left home with his family in ignorance of his destination, and of the way there, might have been an act of supreme rashness. But Abraham set out in the light of a revelation from the God of glory. He could therefore trust that he would never come to a stage in his journey where the Lord would refuse direction as to the way in which he should then go. He could also trust in God for protection, so that he would be safe from all potential enemies. And he could be sure of the nature of the inheritance; it would be a suitable place for him and his family to settle in – even for many generations into the future. Abraham could trust God for these and many other blessings because he had recognised such aspects of God’s glory as his goodness and his faithfulness.
If this glorious God had called him to leave Ur, and its idolatry and sin, for an unknown inheritance, it must be for Abraham’s good to obey – and God would be faithful to all the promises implicit in his call. However unreasonable Abraham’s going out must have seemed to everyone else in Ur – ignorant as they were of the glory of God, of his goodness, and of his faithfulness to his promises – it would have seemed to Abraham’s believing mind that to obey was the most reasonable response that he could make to the authoritative call which had come to him from heaven. Obedience is natural to faith.
When the sinner first responds to God’s call in the gospel and sets out from Satan’s kingdom, he may scarcely know where he is going. Leaving aside the question of assurance – does this new-born sinner know that a saving change has taken place in his heart and life and that he has indeed set out for heaven? – his course through this world must remain very largely unknown to him. No one can see into the future; the specific trials and the individual temptations cannot be predicted. Someone with an optimistic outlook may assume that the way ahead will be easy, but the outcome may be very different. Someone else, whose outlook is pessimistic, may see the future in very dark shades – and also be wrong.
But there is every reason for God’s children to trust God for the future; the goodness of the One who has called a sinner out of Satan’s kingdom has been clearly revealed. While his dealings towards every believer are for his own glory, they are also for the good of that individual; indeed ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Rom. 8:28). And this God will be faithful to his promises. There is every reason for all his children to imitate Abraham and go on in the life of grace looking trustingly to Jesus to lead them on safely till they reach the inheritance he has promised to them in heaven.
- David Brown, The Four Gospels (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969 and reprints), p. 349. This title is currently out of print.
- Answer 31. The Trust has recently reprinted The Westminster Shorter Catechism, with Scripture Proofs as a booklet in the Pocket Puritan series.
Rev Kenneth D Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church, Leverburgh, Isle of Harris, Scotland. He is the editor of the Free Presbyterian Magazine from the November 2008 edition of which the above editorial is taken with permission.
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