Abraham: God’s Pilgrim
June 2nd, 1957 @ 8:15 AM
ABRAHAM: GOD’S PILGRIM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-2-57 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the early morning message in the twelfth to the twentieth chapters of the Book of Genesis on Abraham: The Father of Them That Believe. The story of Abraham is encompassed from Genesis 11:26 to Genesis 25:10. In that pericope, in that section of the Word of God, there is revealed the story of this unusual and great man of God. In that section, he is the greatest man in the presence of the Lord – only one greater according to the seventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews: Melchizedek, the priest of the most High God [Hebrews 7:1-10]. Melchizedek is greatest, but next to Melchizedek is Abraham.
Abraham represents God’s people. Melchizedek represents God Himself. There are many, many who think that Melchizedek is a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus, the Christ of God. So in this section in Genesis, there moves this unusual man. God found something rare in him, and in Second Chronicles and in Isaiah and in James, he is called the "friend of God" [2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23] and in Romans "the father of them that believe" [Romans 4:11].
I said last Sunday morning the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – all three of them look to Abraham as a patriarch of the faith. Now, this man was called – in the eleventh and the twelfth chapters of the Book of Genesis – this man was called out of a dark, dark world and in a dark, dark day. God seems to do that. Out of death, He raises up life [John 11:32-45]. Out of the darkness, He commands the light to shine forth [2 Corinthians 4:6]. And out of human failure and collapse, He raises up His immortal witnesses [Judges 16:1-31].
It was only after Adam fell [Genesis 3:1-24] that the righteousness and nobility of Abel was seen [Genesis 4:1-8]. It was only when the world was filled with violence and iniquity that Noah, God’s righteous man, was seen [Genesis 6:5-22]. And now, in the days of the collapse and the failure and the decadence of the seed of Noah, this man Abram is called by the Lord [Genesis 12:1-4].
He lived in a world of universal idolatry. In Joshua 24:2, we are told that even Terah, Abram’s father, was an idolater and that Abram’s family and house and people were idolaters. Last Sunday morning, we took time out to go with the archaeologists and look at Ur of the Chaldees. It was a city of idolatry, and the whole world was plunged in the worship of false gods: the sun and the moon and the stars and all of the animistic objects of worship in the earth. Out of that darkness and out of that night, the word of the Lord and the Lord Himself appeared unto Abraham.
Now, I said there are two wonderful things that we know and follow in the life of this incomparable patriarch. The first is this: that God called him to separate himself from the world, and he obeyed the voice of the Lord. And the second thing is this: the Lord asked him to step out, to go out, on a promise – just a promise, just to trust God for it – and he obeyed. He went out trusting God; that is all. Now, that is the message of this early morning hour. First, his separation, and, second, his believing and trusting and going out on just the word and the promise of the Lord.
Now, in the story of Abraham,look at the twelfth chapter of Genesis, and I want you to notice how many times this thing is emphasized of his going out, of his separation, of his departure, of his leaving, of his getting out. Now, look at it. In Genesis 11:31, in the middle of the verse: "And they went forth, and they went forth from Ur of the Chaldees." Now look in the twelfth chapter and the first verse: "the Lord had said unto Abram, ‘Get thee out’" – there it is again – "from thy father’s house unto a land that I will show thee" [Genesis 12:1]. Now, look again in the fourth verse: "So Abram departed" [Genesis 12:4]. Now, look in the last sentence of the fourth verse: "He departed." Now, look in the middle of the fifth verse: "And they went forth to go – and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan" [Genesis 12:5].
How many times is that used, those little words used, in that brief little summary of the call of Abraham? Now, that thing is repeated. Whenever the story of Abraham is told, that’s the thing that’ll start it: when God said, "Get thee out, depart, come out."
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, you have it repeated again. Third verse: God "said unto him, ‘Get thee out from thy kindred,’" and again, ‘"and come into the land’" [Acts 7:3]. Now, the fourth verse: "Then came he out" [Acts 7:4].
Now, you find that unusually and magnificently portrayed in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the eighth verse: "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out . . . " Now, the last part of that eighth verse: "And he went out" [Hebrews 11:8]. Now, the thirteenth verse: " . . . confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" [Hebrews 11:13].
Now, I say, when you start following the life of Abram, that is the first thing that is so greatly emphasized: God’s word to Abram to separate himself from this world. And in the unfolding of the story, that process of separation continues. It was a personal call to Abraham himself to separate himself.
"But, Lord, what about my father Terah?"
God said, "Abram, I have called thee to separate thyself."
"But what about these, and what about them, and what about these others?" Doesn’t matter about them, God calls you to separate yourself.
You look at that call. God said to Abram, "Get thee . . ." Now, this has a meaning. These words are not just there to be words, but every syllable has a meaning. God said to Abram, "Get thee out from thy kindred and thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee" [from Genesis 12:1]. The great prophet, Isaiah, called attention to that. In the fifty-first chapter of Isaiah and the second verse, the prophet says, quoting God: "For I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him" [Isaiah 51:2].
The call was personal to Abraham for Abraham himself to separate himself from the world – to get out, to go out. Now, I say, in the story that unfolds, you have a process of separation. By that I mean this: in the story of his life, God increasingly separates him, separates him, separates him, sets him apart, pulls him apart, sends him away a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth [Hebrews 11:13].
Now, look at it. In that same twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis, beginning at the tenth verse, you have the story of Abram going down into Egypt [Genesis 12:10-13:1]. Did God tell him to go to the honky-tonk? Did God tell him to go to the dance hall? Did God tell him to go to the cocktail party? Did God tell him to go into all of those strange and off-colored places where the world congregates? No. God’s call to Abram was to get out, to get out – to leave. And he didn’t belong in Egypt. And yet, there he is in the land of Egypt [Genesis 12:10]. And God said, "but My children do not belong in Egypt" – "Out of Egypt, have I called my Son" [Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15]. Go out. Out of Egypt does God send Moses to deliver His children [Exodus 3:6-10]. You don’t belong in Egypt. God has separated you [2 Corinthians 6:17]. And I’ll tell you something by the Word of the Lord. Whenever a child of God is in Egypt, he’ll feel himself a misfit: "I don’t belong here, and I’m uncomfortable."
You listen to me. If you can go into Egypt and be at home there and like it, you are not a child of God. You are not a born-again Christian. If you are a child of God, if you are a son of the true Abraham, and if you are a follower of the Lamb, when you are in Egypt, you are the most uncomfortable somebody that lives in this world. You don’t like it. You don’t like anything about it. You don’t like their filthy conversation. You don’t like their drinking and their drunkenness. You don’t like their orgies and their revelries. You don’t like the way they entertain. You don’t like anything about them. You are a child of God, and you don’t belong in the land of Egypt. God has separated you from the land of Egypt.
There are men by the thousands and the thousands in this city that love to go to a stag party and watch a filthy film or watch a striptease act, and they like it. And there are some of those men in this First Baptist Church. And I have heard some of them describe and how they applaud and how they laugh and how they enter into those things. I say they are not children of God. They belong to this church on the roll, but they don’t belong to the true church of God. Any man who’s been born again and was in a filthy company like that would find himself grossly embarrassed, a misfit. You don’t belong. You don’t belong. "Out of Egypt have I called my Son. Abram, get thee out, get thee out" [Hosea 11:1; Genesis 12:1] – a separation for God.
Now, I say, that thing continues. God separates him from Ur. God separates him from Haran. God separates him from Terah, his father [Genesis 12:1-4]. God separates him from Egypt [Genesis 12:10-20]. And now, you look at the Lord: God’s going to separate him again. In the next chapter, in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, you watch this separation.
The Bible says the land could not hold Lot and Abram with their herds and their flocks and their cattle [Genesis 13:6-7]. So Abram said to his nephew, Lot, "Lot, the whole land is before thee. Now, you chose. If you go to the right, I’ll go to the left. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. You choose what is in front of you, and what you leave, I will take. The rest is yours by your choice" [from Genesis 13:9].
All right, watch this. In the tenth verse of the thirteenth chapter of Genesis, it says: "And Lot lifted up his eyes" [Genesis 13:10]. Now, look at this. These words aren’t here just words. These are the words of God: "Lot lifted up his eyes." Now, watch him. First, look at that. "He beheld all the plain of the Jordan . . . that it was like the land of Egypt" [Genesis 13:10]. Isn’t that what the Book says? Now, watch him! Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld and that country before the Lord – of Sodom and Gomorrah before the Lord destroyed it – was like the land of Egypt.
All right, look – eleventh verse, the next one: "Then Lot chose him all of that land like the land of Egypt" [from Genesis 13:11]. Now, watch the next verse: "Then Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom in that land" [Genesis 13:12]. And then, and finally, Lot dwelled in Sodom itself [Genesis 13:10-13].
Now, look at this! Look at this! The next verse: "Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Lift up now thine eyes’" [Genesis 13:14]. Do you see that? In the tenth verse of this thirteenth chapter of Genesis, Lot lifted up his eyes, and there Sodom and Gomorrah like the land of Egypt. And he chose him Sodom – the cities of the plain like the land of Egypt – and pitched his tent toward Sodom and dwelt there [Genesis 19:1-16]. Then the Lord said, "Now, Abram, lift up now thine eyes and look as far to the north and as far to the south and as far to the east and as far to the west. Arise, walk through the land in the length and the breadth of it, for to thee will I give it, and to thy seed after thee" [from Genesis 13:14-15].
What a difference in those two men. I want you to see that difference. You can tell how a man is by the way he prays more than any way that you could ever find. How does he pray? All right. You look over here in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis and the twenty-seventh verse, and you’ll have an idea of this man Abram. Look at him. "And Abraham answered and said, ‘Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes" [Genesis 18:27]. That’s Abram. That’s this man Abraham. Look how humble he is: "Behold, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, I, which am but dust and ashes" [Genesis 18:27]. Why, God in heaven couldn’t help but love a man like that: "I who am but dust and ashes."
All right. Now, you look at Lot. Turn to the next chapter, the nineteenth chapter, and look at the eighteenth verse. The Lord said to Lot, "Escape to the mountain; flee for your life, for I shall surely destroy the city" [from Genesis 19:17]. All right, look at Lot. And Lot said unto Him: "O, not so, Lord" [Genesis 19:18]. "Not so. Not Thy will but mine be done." Then he compliments himself in the next verse, the nineteenth verse: "Behold now, Thy servant hath found grace in Thy sight" [Genesis 19:19].
What a difference. What a difference. So, I say, in this separating process, there the Lord finally separates Abram from Lot, his own nephew [Genesis 12:5], and Abram is by himself up there in the mountains alone with God. That’s where the Lord wants you.
I suppose it is too much for our young people, being young and inexperienced, I suppose it’s too much for our young people to have the courage and the strength to enter into it. But when a young person is kind of by himself, he thinks it’s a great tragedy. "All of these popular kids, look what they’re doing, and here I am by myself."
My young man and my young woman, if the reason you’re by yourself is on account of God – you’re walking with the Lord – if that’s the reason, there is a blessing for you that is beyond anything this world could ever, ever, ever bestow. God delights in His children who walk alone with the Lord: no other stake, no other comfort, no other help, just God – leaning on the arm of the Lord and God delights in you [Zephaniah 3:17].
Didn’t I say that God found something rare in Abraham? And God chose him, and God loved him. And the Lord delighted that in Abraham’s way, more and more and more, he separated himself unto the Lord until finally he walked alone with God.
Why, if we had about five hours here, we’d just take time out and talk about Lot down there in Sodom and Abram alone on the mountains with the Lord. Why, just to say it, just to say it is a sermon in itself. Lot in Sodom, God’s man – and the Bible says he was God’s man [2 Peter 2:6-8] – Lot in Sodom, but Abraham up there on the mountains walking alone with God.
Now, we must hasten. We must come to this second and greater thing. Abraham went out on a promise, just a promise [Genesis 12:1-4]. That’s all that he had – just a promise. You look at this man Abraham. The Lord called him to go out, and God said to him: "Out of thee shall I make many, many nations" [Genesis 17:4]. Now look how he had to trust God.
His wife was barren and sterile [Genesis 11:30] – didn’t have any child, didn’t have any child all the days of her life. Came down to be ninety years of age and still didn’t have any child [Genesis 17:15-17]. Talk about stepping out on a promise, believing God. "Going to make out of these," said God "a great nation," and his wife is barren and sterile: no child, none at all.
And then look again. And God said, "And I’ll show thee the land whereunto I have given thee and thy seed after thee" [from Genesis 12:1]. But He didn’t tell him where it was – didn’t name it. "And he went out," says the eleventh chapter of Hebrews [Hebrews 11:8], "not knowing whither he went." Oh, this man Abram!
Now, I want you to see something here that is the Gospel. In the third chapter of the Book of Galatians and the eighth verse, Paul says: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, ‘In thee shall all nations be blessed.’ So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" [Galatians 3:8-9]. God says that is the Gospel: to believe the Word of the Lord and the promise of God and have nothing except just God’s Word for it that it’ll come to pass.
May I say that about us? What is the ground of our persuasion in God that God will save us, that God will forgive our sins, that God will save our souls, that some day we’ll see Him face to face, that we’ll have an inheritance and a heaven over there? How do you know you’re going to be saved, and how do you know you’ll be there?
Well, so many find the ground of their persuasion in their works, being good, or in the nobility of their character, or in ceremonies, or in church membership, or in ordinances, or in baptism. Oh, in how many ways does this world find its ground for the persuasion that these inheritances shall be theirs in the world to come?
What does God say is the actual ground of our faith and our persuasion? God says it is by faith: "He said it. He promised it, and that’s the Gospel. I take His word for it. I believe it. I trust it, and I’m saved."
If the ground of my persuasion is my own works, if I am justified by my works, if by being baptized or belonging to the church or being noble in character – if by these I am justified, then the promises of God are made of none effect [Romans 4:14; Galatians 3:17]. Grace is no more grace. Listen to Paul as he says in the fourth chapter of Romans: "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to faith hath found? If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory" [Romans 4:1-2].
"Look, I did it! I did it! I saved myself! I was good, and here I am. I paid my debts, and here I am. I was fair to my fellow men, and here I am. I was baptized, and here I am. I belong to the church, and here I am. My works and what I did, that did it, and here I am."
"If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to boast, to glory" – I did it! But he couldn’t boast before God – "but not before God" [Romans 4:2] ’cause God knew him just like He knows you.
You can boast before me because I don’t know you very well, but you couldn’t boast before God. God looks into your heart, and He knows you are a vile, dark sinner! [Romans 3:10-23] And I don’t know that, but there are hidden things in your life that are known but to God, and they are dark and iniquitous things. If I were to take your soul and your secret life and your inward heart and place it up here on a canvas before the people – what you have thought and what you have done and what you have said – and let us look at it, there would not be a man or a woman or a child here that would stand up without great, terrible embarrassment and shame. You can boast before me, but you can’t before God.
Look at that thing he did down there in the land of Egypt: lying about his wife! [Genesis 12:10-20] Look at that thing that he did down there in the land of Philistia: lying to Abimelech! [Genesis 20:1-15] "If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory but not before God" [from Romans 4:2] – but not before God.
Well then, how was Abraham saved? He was saved by the Gospel. "For what saith the Scripture? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness’" [Romans 4:3]. Abraham was saved just like you’re saved, just like I am saved. Abraham was saved by casting himself upon the mercies of God. Abraham trusted God.
‘"Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.’ Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" [Romans 4:3-4]. That is, if a man works and receives salvation, it’s not a gift of God. God’s paying you a debt. You earned it! You worked for it! If a man works for me for ten dollars a day and I give him ten dollars, I don’t give him that ten dollars, I pay him the ten dollars. He worked for it, and he has a right to come up and say to me, "Give me my money. You told me if I’d work for you, I’d get ten dollars. I want my ten dollars."
Same thing about our salvation. If our salvation is a reward of our works, it’s a debt God’s paying us. He owes it to us. But if my salvation is a gift, then it’s not something I worked for. It’s something God gives me. That’s what he means when he says: "To him that worketh not, is the reward not reckoned of grace. To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" [from Romans 4:4].
If I work and win it, God gives it to me as a payment. He owes it to me. It’s a debt. But if I am saved without works, then I am saved by grace [Ephesians 2:8-9]. The Lord gives it to me. It’s something I didn’t deserve. It’s something I didn’t earn. It’s something I wasn’t worthy of. It is something that God did out of the grace and mercy of His heart.
Now, how shall a man look upon his salvation? Shall we look upon our salvation as though we had earned it? We glory in our own righteousness. It’s a debt God owes to us. We are so fine and so noble. Or shall we look upon our salvation like this: "Lord, poor, unworthy sinner that I am, by Thy grace and by Thy mercy do I stand. Lord, my hope is in Thee, not in myself or my own righteousness or goodness, but, Lord, my hope is in Thee. Poor, unworthy sinner that I am, the Lord had mercy upon me, and He saved me. All glory to God. All glory to the Lamb. All glory to the cross where my pardon was won. All glory to Jesus who died for my sins. O praise to the Lamb!" That’s the way it’s going to be in heaven – not "all glory to me," not "all glory to what I’ve done," not "all glory to what I was," but "all glory to God."
"And what saith to Scripture? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness’" [Romans 4:3]. Now, where is that Scripture? Bless your heart, how you ought to underline it. Paul said, "The Gospel was preached unto Abraham" [from Galatians 3:8]. It’s in Genesis 15:6. How you ought to take a red pencil and underline that! "And Abraham believed the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness."
Now, we have just barely introduced that. It’s a hurt to my heart to leave off right here in the middle of that, but we’ll pick it up next Lord’s day morning. "Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness": the Gospel preached unto Abraham.
How many years later was the Law? Four hundred years later [Galatians 3:17]. How many years later was the rite of circumcision? How many years later was baptism? How many years later all of these precepts and commandments of the Lord? But here, at the beginning, Abraham is saved by trusting God, believing in the Lord – no law, no ordinance, no circumcision, no baptism, no precepts – just leaning on the Lord, just trusting in the Lord, just going out on a promise of the Lord. "And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness" [Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3] – children of the promise, children of faith, children of Abraham looking to God [Galatians 3:6-7].
Now, while we sing this stanza, just one stanza, somebody you, put your trust in the Lord. Somebody you, come into the fellowship of the church – a family. However God shall open the door, say the word, and make the appeal, while we sing the song, will you come? Come down and stand by me here at the front: "I’m taking the Lord as my Savior today," or, "I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church." Would you do it now while our people stand and sing?