The Covenant Confirmed to Abraham
June 9th, 1957 @ 8:15 AM
THE COVENANT CONFIRMED TO ABRAHAM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-9-57 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early Sunday morning message, the 8:15 o’clock message, entitled The Covenant Confirmed unto Abraham which is one of the tremendously great revelations in the Book of God, and it is found in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis. And if you have your Bible, you can follow the message this morning; and if you do so with your Book, it will be doubly profitable to you. All of you who are here this morning, a great throng, and many, many thousands who listen on the radio, I say, if you take your Bible and follow the message, it will be doubly meaningful to you.
Now the message is taken, I say, out of the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis.
After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward."
And Abram said, "Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?"
And Abram said, "Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir."
And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, "This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own body shall be thine heir."
And the Lord brought Abram forth abroad, and said, "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them:" and the Lord said unto him, "So shall thy seed be."
And Abram believed the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.
And the Lord said unto him, "I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it."
And Abram said, "Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?"
And the Lord said unto him, "Take me an heifer of three years old, and a goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove and a young pigeon."
And he took unto Him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another . . .
And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
And He said unto Abram, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
"And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
"And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
"But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full."
And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates . . ."
Then in the chapter, as it closes, they name the tribes that live in those lands that God has promised to Abram and his seed [Genesis 15:19-21].
Now, we have two things here in this chapter. We first are going to speak of the Gospel that was preached unto Abram; then we’re going to look at the confirmation of that Gospel, the bringing of it to realization. I do not know whether these things ever occur to you or mean anything to you or not, but when I read of this unusual sacrifice, when I first read that, it didn’t mean a thing in the world to me – not a thing. And I read it, and I read it again, and it meant nothing to me.
I know that an unusual thing like that has a great meaning. It was commanded of the Lord. God told him to do it, and it has a great meaning. If I do not see it, that does not mean the meaning is not there. It has a tremendous meaning. So I set myself to find out what is the meaning of this unusual story in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis. And I am prepared this morning for the quiet of my own heart – somebody may disagree, of course – but for my own heart, I have found its meaning, and that’s going to be our message this solemn and precious and holy hour.
All right, I say, two parts: first, we’re going to look at the Gospel which the Book says was preached unto Abraham. I didn’t say it was preached unto Abraham. The Book says it. If you turn to the [third] chapter of the Book of Galatians, the eighth verse of the third chapter of the Book of Galatians, it says: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, the nations – the Gentiles through faith – the Scriptures foreseeing that, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham . . . " [Galatians 3:8]. So this thing that I find back here in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis the Bible says is the Gospel.
"Why, I thought the Gospel came with Jesus Christ."
No. We have a wrong conception of the Book. There is one Gospel, and it has never changed. Any man who has ever been saved has been saved in the same way. It has never changed. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world, from eternity to eternity [John 1:1-2, 29; Revelation 1:8, 13:8]. These things have never changed. God has dealt with us in different ways because of our incorrigibility and obstreperousness and our iniquity and our hard-heartedness, and God has sought to teach us in many and different ways the great truths of His mercy. But these ways of salvation – the Gospel, the atonement of Christ – these are from everlasting to everlasting.
So the Gospel is not something that just came through the sacrifice of Christ after Calvary, but the Gospel was preached to Abram back yonder two thousand years before the days of Jesus in His flesh. The Bible says so. Galatians 3:8: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham . . . " So this thing that I find back here in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis is the Gospel. That’s what I’m to look for.
Now, let us turn to the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans, and it will delineate that gospel that was preached unto Abraham by which Abraham was saved. Romans 4, first part of it: "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory . . ." [Romans 4:1-2].
"See what I did? I saved myself," Abraham could have avowed. And he could have boasted in it; he could have gloried in it. "If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to boast, to glory" – but he couldn’t do it before God because God knew him, and God knew Abraham was a vile sinner [Romans 4:2].
Now Abraham – and here’s where we left off last Sunday morning – Abraham might boast to me ’cause I don’t know him real well or would not. Well let’s say you: you can boast to me ’cause I may not know you very well. And you can say to me, "Preacher, did you know I am the best man you ever looked at? Did you know, Preacher, I’m going to heaven on my own good works? Did you know, Preacher, I am perfect in all my ways?" Well, I may think you are a liar, but I don’t know. You can boast to me, but you can’t boast to God.
Well let’s just see. Is there anybody here this morning that would stand up and say, "Pastor, in the great final judgment day of Almighty God, I can stand up in God’s presence and say to God, ‘I have never sinned. I’ve never transgressed. I’m here in heaven because of my own good works and my own splendid life.’" Could you? Could you?
Well, that’s what the Book here says about Abraham. If Abraham were justified by his good works, by his virtuous and spotless and unblemished life, he hath whereof to boast, to glory. But he couldn’t do it before God ’cause God knew him. And the Lord wrote down here in this Book one or two things about Abraham that makes me know him a little.
Down there in the land of Egypt, afraid Pharaoh take his wife away from him – that reminds me of the present United States, doesn’t it? Afraid Pharaoh take his wife away from him. And so he told her, "Now you lie about this." There they are down in the land of Egypt where they don’t belong, lying to Pharaoh [Genesis 12:10-20].
Now, God writes that much about him. I know that much about Abraham. You see, you’re not saved by your good works [Ephesians 2:8-9]. That’s what Paul is avowing. That’s what the Gospel says. The Gospel starts off with this: that every man is a vile sinner in the presence of the Lord [Romans 3:23]. The Gospel starts off like this: that our righteousnesses in His sight are filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. The Gospel starts off like this: that we are lost and condemned sinners. "There is none righteous, no, not one . . . There is none that doeth good. They are all turned out of the way" [from Romans 3:10-12]. There’s not a man in this world that is able before God to stand up and point his finger at another man and say, "You see that vile sinner there? I’m better than he is." If we transgress in one, we’ve broken the chain; we’re guilty of all [James 2:10].
That man over there may have sinned in this way, but I’ve sinned in this way, and you’ve sinned in another way. And sin is sin, and in God’s sight, all of it is alike. It is sin, and it breaks the pattern; it breaks the picture; it breaks the connection. And Abraham is a lost sinner just like you are, just like the whole world is – lost sinners. So he can’t be justified by his works ’cause he couldn’t stand before God and say, "Here I am, Lord, perfect in all my ways."
But what saith the Scripture? Now this is the Gospel: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" [Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6]. In lieu of a perfect character, which Abraham didn’t have, and in lieu of perfect works, which Abraham didn’t possess, God took his trust and his faith in lieu of that perfect righteousness which Abraham didn’t possess. Abraham believed God; he trusted God; he leaned on God; he loved God, and the Lord counted it unto him for righteousness:
Abraham, you’re a lost sinner; but you love Me. Abraham, you are a vile, iniquitous, lost soul, but you placed your trust in Me. And in lieu of that perfect righteousness that I demand, I’ll take your faith instead. I’ll save you for your faith’s sake. I’ll save you through your faith, by means of your faith. I’ll put on the righteousness side this: that you have trusted and believed in Me.
Then, of course, Paul continues here: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" [Romans 4:4]. He’s saying there if I work for my salvation, then when I’m saved, God owes it to me. I am being paid my debt. I work for it, and God owes it to me. It’s a debt. "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" [Romans 4:5].
Now, we’re going to illustrate this. What Paul is talking about is Genesis 15:6 – Genesis 15:6. It looks like a verse out of the New Testament, doesn’t it? "And Abraham believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness." Now what Paul is saying – the Gospel – is this: that when this thing came to pass, that Abraham trusted in the Lord, and the Lord imputed no sin to him because he placed his trust in the Lord. When that happened, Paul says that happened years before the rite of circumcision [Romans 4:9-12], and Paul says, and that happened four hundred years before the law [Galatians 3:17]. And what Paul is saying is this: that these things were afterward brought in – the ordinance and the rite of circumcision. All of the sacrificial and Mosaic laws and ordinances, they were brought in after the Gospel was preached unto Abraham that men were to be saved by faith.
Now you turn again to the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans, and you’ll look at Paul as he talks about this. Now at the ninth [verse]: "Cometh this blessedness," of being justified by faith, saved by faith:
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
How was it then reckoned? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
How is it that a man is justified before God? Is it by ordinances, and is it by laws, and it is by commandments? Or is it by faith? Is it by trust in Christ? How does it come? The Bible says, Paul says, Genesis says, the Gospel says that this righteousness comes by faith. Then there come along ordinances and confirmations and precepts, but we are saved, we are justified, by trusting in the Lord [Romans 5:1]. And Paul says that here in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis [Genesis 15:6], Abraham was justified by faith [Romans 4:3]. He was declared righteous because he placed his trust in the Lord. And he says all men everywhere that are justified are justified by placing their trust in the Lord, and not by good works, and not by ordinances, and not by the keeping of commandments [Romans 4:4-5].
All of which, applied to us – and we must hasten – all of which, applied to us, simply means this. When a little child comes down this aisle and says to me, "Pastor, I want to be baptized," I always have a little conference with the child – every one of them I do. And I talk to them, and I pray [with] them, and I say to that little fellow, "Sonny, do you remember and do you know and do you realize that you are saved by trusting Jesus in your heart? That’s what makes a Christian out of you. And then, having become a Christian, then you’re baptized."
Had we belonged to the Jewish family and to the Jewish nation, we would have been talking about the rite of circumcision. Now, we’re going to talk about the rite of baptism. Circumcision didn’t make Abraham a Christian, nor does circumcision save anybody. That was the great fault of the Jewish nation. When John the Baptist came preaching to those people, he said, "Don’t you begin to say in your heart, ‘We belong to the true church. We were christened when we were babies.’" Or if I put it in John the Baptist’s exact language, ‘"We are the seed of Abraham.’ For," says John the Baptist, "God is able of these rocks to raise up children unto Abraham" [Matthew 3:9].
That doesn’t mean anything at all about a man’s salvation. You’re not saved because you were christened when you were a baby. You’re not saved because you were circumcised the eighth day. You’re not saved because you belong to a chosen family or a chosen people. But you’re saved by placing your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and there’s no other way to be saved [John 8:33-59]. And this man Abraham, Paul says, was justified by faith. He was saved by trusting Jesus. And then, in the days that came, then he was later circumcised – a confirmation of a covenant made to him [Romans 4:9-11]. And then four hundred years later the law was given, but he was saved by trusting in the Lord [Galatians 3:16-19]. That’s the way we are saved [Galatians 2:16-21].
So I say to that little fellow, "Do you realize, do you realize that you’re not saved by being baptized? I could baptize you every day of your life, and it wouldn’t make a Christian out of you. I could write your name in the church book every day of your life, and that wouldn’t make a Christian out of you. Whatever a man can do for you won’t make a Christian out of you. I can baptize you, but I can’t save you. I can’t wash your sins away even though there are many ministers who think they have the power of washing sins away in baptizing converts." Oh, my soul, wouldn’t it be wonderful if he did have the power? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that’s all that it took was just for a man to baptize us and that would wash our sins away?
Sins are deeper than that. It took something else beside what a man could do in washing with water to wash our sins away. It took the blood of the cross. It took Calvary. It took Golgotha to wash our sins away [Matthew 27:33-35; Hebrews 9:22]. And we are saved by trusting in the Lord, by looking to Jesus [Numbers 21:5-9; John 3:14-16]. Then these ordinances and these commandments come for specific purposes: to teach us things, to bring things to our remembrance, to dramatize things [Romans 7:7], but they have nothing at all to do with our salvation!
That’s what Paul says about Abraham: "He believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness" [Romans 4:3], and that was years before the institution of circumcision, and it was hundreds of years before the institution of the law. The law was a parenthesis, and all the rest of these things are parentheses. The great thing is our trust in the Lord and our belief and committal to the Lord [Hebrews 11:6].
Now what is this thing of being saved, and how are we saved? Now that’s the second part of this chapter. And how we must hurry!
The second part of this chapter: it says here in the sixth verse that Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness [Genesis 15:6]. And Abraham said, "Lord, how do I know that this thing is as you say?" [from Genesis 15:8] So the Lord said, "Abraham, you take a heifer, and you take a goat, and you take a ram, and you take a turtledove and a young pigeon, and you slay them, shed their blood, and put half against half, half against half, half against half" [Genesis 15:9]. And over here, I suppose, a turtledove and over here a young pigeon, half and half. And he made a aisle in between: the sacrifice, bleeding and bloody, half of it here and half of it there [Genesis 15:10]:
And when the fowls came down upon the carcass, Abram drove them away.
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and a horror of great darkness fell upon him.
And the Lord said unto Abram, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years . . .
And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
[Genesis 15:11-13, 17]
Now, that says two things. First, the Lord God is revealing here to Abraham what should be the destiny of those people, His seed, the chosen family and nation of God – what shall be the destiny of those people through whom the great atonement of Christ is to be made. And God reveals to Abraham here that they’re going to be afflicted, and for four hundred years, they’re going to be in an awful fiery trial in the land of darkness. And it says here that between those pieces, a smoking furnace passed between, and then a burning lamp [Genesis 15:13-17].
Now, you don’t need to turn to these because I have them marked and by the time you find them, we’ll be in another section of this message. I know that the Lord is revealing here what’s going to happen to his seed because, first, He says so: "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a foreign land where they shall be afflicted four hundred years" [from Genesis 15:13]. And then it spoke of that smoking furnace and the burning lamp [Genesis 15:17].
Over here, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy and the twentieth verse: "The Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt . . . " [Deuteronomy 4:20]. And that thing was so in the minds of the people until in First Kings, the eighth chapter, in the prayer of Solomon: "They be Thy people, and Thine inheritance, which Thou broughtest forth out of Egypt, from the midst of the furnace of iron" [1 Kings 8:51]. What that sacrifice is saying to Abraham first is this: that his children, his people, his seed, are going to be like a sacrifice, torn and bleeding. And in that sacrifice, torn and bleeding, the fowls of the air seek to feast upon the carcasses of torn and bleeding Israel.
When I go over there to Israel today – and I’ve been there twice – I have never in this world seen any family or any people like Israel. Can you imagine for me, just for me, and practically all of those people there that are returning, if it is possible for them, they’re going back to the soil, the only place in the world where Jewish people toil in the ground, in the soil – can you imagine just for me? And while one man is plowing here, or another man is pruning grapes there, or another man is caring for orange trees there, right over yonder is another man with a gun walking up and down a demarcation line that you can’t see with your eye at all. It’s just an imaginary line. And right over there are the most terrible and vicious neighbors that any people ever had in this world.
Our friends to the north, Canada, we don’t even guard the line between. Our friends to the south, Old Mexico, we seek to cultivate the friends of our neighbors beyond the border to the south. But that torn nation, even as they plow, there the neighbor is carrying that gun up and down the line. And when they go to sleep at night, there will you find those search lights playing on that line of demarcation, and there will you find some of these men every night, all night long, sitting up with a gun loaded trying to guard their children and their sleeping families
Wasn’t that the way it was in the days of Nehemiah when they built the wall? "And every man with one hand working with a trowel and with the other hand holding a sword" [from Nehemiah 4:17] Isn’t that the true picture of God’s people like He revealed it here to Abraham: a torn sacrifice, and the nations – the fowls of the air – trying to devour them and a smoking furnace, hot and furious, passing in between the parts of Israel?
Of all the nations and of all the peoples, of all the stories of all the races in the world, there has never been one fraught with more tears, covered with more heartache, attended by more despair and woe, than the seed of Abraham. And God showed that to him in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis thousands of years ago: divided, divided, and the fowls coming down to devour them and a smoking furnace in between [Genesis 15:13-17].
Then of course – oh, where does the time go? Then, of course, the great thing the Lord was showing Abraham here was the sacrifice by which that faith of his might be counted for righteousness. And how is it? "Take a heifer, take a goat, take a ram, take a turtledove, take a young pigeon . . ." [Genesis 15:9]: all of those have deep meaning. Over there in the Book of Leviticus [Leviticus 19:1-10] and in the Book of Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 21:1-9]: a heifer, that is for cleansing, sanctifying. The ram: that is for atonement [Leviticus 5, 6, 8, 9, 16, 19, 23]. The goat: that brings to our minds bearing our sins out in the wilderness [Leviticus 16:7-10]. The turtledove and the pigeon: the redemption for the poor [Leviticus 5:7, 11]. Sacrificed, slain, those innocent animals. Abraham should have been slain [Romans 6:23]. We should have died for our sins.
No. God doesn’t slay Abraham on that altar, but God permits Abraham to slay these innocent victims; and their blood is poured out, and they’re divided in two: a bloody, bleeding mass here, and against it, a bloody, bleeding mass there, and a bloody bleeding sacrifice here and a bloody bleeding sacrifice there. And they’re divided on each side, and there is an aisle in between. A bloody sacrifice here and a bloody sacrifice here, and an aisle in between [Genesis 15:9-11].
And a great darkness came upon Abraham and he’s sound asleep and helpless [Genesis 15:12]. And in between those pieces, there passes the smoking furnace, but, also, a burning lamp that passed between those pieces [Genesis 15:17]. A smoking furnace: that’s a picture of the judgment of God. "And Abraham looked down toward the cities of the plain, and the smoke of Sodom and Gomorrah was ascending up into heaven, a smoking furnace" [from Genesis 19:28].
And when the people looked on Mount Sinai, Moses up there, receiving from hands of God those awful laws that no man can keep, it says, "and the mountain smoked with fire" [from Exodus 19:18]. And when John looked into that awful pit, in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation: "And the smoke of their torment ascended forever and forever" [Revelation 14:11]. A smoking furnace: the judgment and wrath of God upon our sins. "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20]: the judgment and wrath of God upon our sins. That’s the dark of Calvary and the sacrifice.
But the burning lamp which was the light of the love and mercy of God: "And in Him was life; and the life was the light of men" [John 1:4]. "Justice and peace have met together; righteousness and forgiveness have kissed each other [from Psalm 85:10]. They’re both there: the judgment of God, the wrath of God upon sin and the light of God and the mercy of God – the burning lamp. They’re there between those sacrifices which make an aisle in between [Genesis 15:17]. And what does that mean? In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
By a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh;
Let us draw near with a true heart . . .
Let us hold fast our profession of faith . . .
Let us provoke one another unto love and good works:
Let us not forsake the assembling ourselves together . . .
– on and on –
[from Hebrews 10:19-20, 22-25]
What is he saying? By this new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil of His flesh, let us draw near with a pure heart. What was it here? The sacrifice is torn and cut in two. Part of it is there and part of it is there and part of it is here and part of it is there; and there’s an aisle in between [Genesis 15:10]. And in between, which is the veil of His flesh, we have an aisle [Hebrews 10:20]. We have access to the throne of God [Hebrews 10:22]. Judgment on our sins in that sacrifice, love and mercy and redemption of God in that sacrifice, and an aisle in the veil of His flesh that leads to glory and to heaven.
God showed that to Abraham back here when the Lord preached the Gospel to him. And when it says, "And Abraham saw His day, and he saw it, and was glad" [from John 8:56] – all these things that we read here in the Book, don’t pass over them lightly. If you pause and look, there is the most marvelous revelation. Who would ever thought a thing could be so meaningful as when God said to Abraham, "Take these sacrifices and divide them in two and walk between them" [from Genesis 15:9].
That came to be a usual thing. In the thirty-fourth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, you have it referred to: the covenant when they cut the calf in twain and passed between the parts thereof. The nineteenth verse: "Which passed between the parts of the calf." Take a calf, cut it in two, walk between it. That was the sealing of a covenant. And that’s what God was doing in Christ: sealing to us our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, opening a way into heaven [Hebrews 9:11-14].
Well, we must stop. While we sing our song this morning, somebody you, give his heart in faith to the Lord; somebody you, a family you, put his life here in the church. As the Lord shall say the word and open the door, would you come and stand by me? In this balcony around, on the first note of the first stanza, while we sing this song, would you come? While we stand and sing.
ABRAHAM AND THE
PROMISES OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Covenant of faith
Human nature looks for hope inside ourselves; works, something within us
It is God who saves us
God takes Abraham’s faith in lieu of perfect righteousness which Abraham
Abraham’s faith accepted long before the law, circumcision
We are accepted not on the basis of our works but on the basis of our
Covenant of sacrifice
Furnace is a type of Egypt
Lamp is a type of God’s presence
Divide pieces are a type of Israel
Both parties in ancient times walked between the pieces to seal the
covenant between them
Only God walks between the pieces because Abraham is unable to keep the
Our salvation "covenant" depends only upon God
A type of Christ, His atoning grace
Levitical offerings are pictures of Christ
Arrangement of sacrifices make a passageway between the bloody pieces
Falling away from the promises – Genesis 16 – hard for us to wait upon