The Present Truth : May 28, 1896
NOW we come to a record which opens up the promise in a most wonderful manner. More than twenty-five years had passed since God first made the promise to Abraham.3 Doubtless the time had been prolonged by the false step that Abraham took through listening to the reasoning of his wife. More than thirteen years had elapsed since that time. But Abraham had learned the lesson, and so God could lead him again.
“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” Genesis 17.1. The margin has it, “upright, or sincere.” As in I Chronicles 12.33,38, the meaning is, single-hearted. God told Abraham to be sincere before Him, and not double-hearted. When we recall the story recorded in the preceding chapter, we see the force of this injunction. We see also the force of the statement, “I am the Almighty God.” God would let him know that He was fully able to perform His promise, and that therefore he should trust Him with a perfect or an undivided heart.
A New Name
“And Abram fell on his face; and God talked with him, saying, As for Me, behold, My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.” Genesis 17.3-5
The name Abram signifies “Father of height.” Abram’s father was a heathen, and the name may have had some reference to heathen worship in high places. But now his name becomes Abraham, “Father of many peoples.” In the change of name in the cases of Abraham and Jacob, we have a hint of the new name, which the Lord gives to all who are His. See Revelation 2.17; 3.12. “And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.”
This giving to Abraham a new name did not indicate any change in the promise, but was simply a token to Abraham that God meant what He said. His name should ever afterward be a reminder to him of the promise. Some have thought that the giving of this new name marked a change in the nature of the promise to him; but a careful consideration of the promise as previously recorded will show that this cannot be. Abraham was just the same after his new name that he was before. It was while his name was still Abram that he believed God, and his faith in the promise was counted for righteousness. It was while His name was Abram that God preached the Gospel to him, saying, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
3Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran (Genesis 12.4), and the promise was first made known to him before he left Mesopotamia. Acts 7.2.
We may not make any distinction in the promises of God to Abraham, saying that some of them were temporal, and only for the fleshly seed, and that others were spiritual and eternal. “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, . . . was not yea and nay, but in Him is yea. For how many soever be the promises of God, in Him is the yea; wherefore also through Him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us.” 2 Corinthians 1.19, 20, R.V. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Note that the promises, no matter how many they are, all come through Christ. Note also that the apostle speaks of Abraham and not of Abram. He does not say that some were made to Abram, and some to Abraham. And this point is still more emphatic when we read the words of Stephen, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran.” Acts 7.2. Although he was then known as Abram, the promise was the same as when he was known as Abraham. Every subsequent reference to him in the Bible, even to the first promises, uses the name Abraham. This is why we have referred to him only as Abraham.
The Lord continued, after telling Abraham of the change in his name, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Genesis 17.7, 8
Let us take up the different parts of this covenant in detail. The central part of it is the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. It is the same as in the fifteenth chapter. The promise is to give it to Abraham and his seed. The covenant is the same that was made there; but here we have it sealed.
Notice that it is
An “Everlasting Covenant”
that the Lord made with him. It is the one everlasting covenant, which is so often spoken of in the Bible. It is “through the blood of the everlasting covenant” that men are made perfect in every good work to do the will of God. Hebrews 13.20. Moreover, the land promised in this everlasting covenant, was to be
“An Everlasting Possession,”
for both Abraham and his seed. Mark well that Abraham himself, as well as his seed, was promised the land for an everlasting possession. It is not an inheritance that is simply to be the possession of his family forever, but both Abraham and his seed together were to have it for an everlasting possession.
But a land can be held for an everlasting possession only by those who have
Therefore in this covenant we find the promise of everlasting life. It could not be otherwise, because when the covenant was first made, as recorded in the fifteenth chapter, Abraham was told that he should die before the land should be given for a possession; and Stephen said that God did not give him so much as to set his foot on. Therefore it could be his only through the resurrection; and when the resurrection takes place, then there will be no more death. For “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15.51-53
So we see that the making of this everlasting covenant with Abraham was simply the preaching of the everlasting Gospel of the kingdom, and the assuring to him of a part in its blessings. The promise to Abraham was a Gospel promise, and nothing else, and the covenant was the everlasting covenant, of which Christ is Mediator. Its scope is identical with that of the new covenant, in which God says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Hebrews 8.10. But this will appear more plainly as we proceed.
A Covenant of Righteousness
The Lord said to Abraham after this restatement of the covenant with him and his seed, “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and thee.” Genesis 17.11. Now if we turn to the Epistle to the Romans we shall learn much more of the meaning of this transaction. We must have the Scripture before us in order that we may consider it understandingly, and so we will quote it at length.
“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; but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also described the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 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 then was it 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 yet being 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.” Romans 4.1-13
The subject of the entire chapter is Abraham and justification by faith. The apostle takes the case of Abraham as an illustration of the truth presented in the preceding chapter, namely, that a man is made righteous by faith. The blessing that Abraham received is the blessing of sins forgiven, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. See verses 6-9. Therefore when we read in Genesis 7.2, 3, that in Abraham all the families of the earth should be blessed, we know that the blessing referred to is the forgiveness of sins.This is positively proved by Acts 3.25, 26: “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.”
This blessing came to Abraham through Jesus Christ and His cross, even as it comes to us. For “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; . . . that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3.13, 14. So we find that the blessings of the covenant with Abraham are simply the blessings of the Gospel, and they are brought to us through the cross of Christ. Nothing was promised in that covenant except that which comes through the Gospel; and everything that the Gospel contains was in it.
Circumcision was given as the seal of this covenant. But the promise, the covenant, the blessing, and everything, came to Abraham before he was circumcised. Hence he is the father of the uncircumcised as well as of the circumcised. Jews and Gentiles are alike sharers in the covenant and its blessings, provided they have the faith that Abraham had.
In Genesis 17.11 we are told that circumcision was given as the sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham. But in Romans 4.11 we are told that it was given him as a seal of the righteousness which he had by faith. In other words it was the assurance and seal of the forgiveness of sins through the righteousness of Christ. Therefore we know that the covenant, of which circumcision was the seal, was a covenant of righteousness by faith; that all the blessings promised in it are on the basis of righteousness through Jesus Christ. This again shows us that the covenant made with Abraham was the Gospel and that only.
A Grant of Land
But in this covenant the central promise was concerning land. All the land of Canaan was promised to Abraham and his seed for an everlasting possession. And then the seal of the covenant—circumcision—was given—a seal of the righteousness, which he had by faith. This shows that the land of Canaan was to be possessed only by faith. And here we have a practical lesson as to the possession of things by faith. Many people think that a thing that is possessed by faith is only possessed in imagination. But the land of Canaan was a real country, and was to be actually possessed. Possession of it was to be gained however, only through faith. That is, faith was to give them the possession of it. This was indeed the case. By faith the people crossed the river Jordan, and “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.” But of this we shall have more hereafter.
The land of Canaan, which was promised in the covenant, was to be had through the righteousness of faith, which was sealed by circumcision, the seal of the covenant. Read now Romans 4.13 once more, and we shall see how much was involved in this promise. “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.” This righteousness of faith we are told in verse eleven was sealed by circumcision; and circumcision was the seal of the covenant which we have recorded in Genesis xvii. Therefore we know that the promise of land, which the covenant with Abraham contained, was nothing less than the promise of the whole earth. As we come to the fulfillment of the promise, we shall see more plainly how it can be that the promise of the land of Canaan included the possession of the whole earth; but the fact may be briefly indicated here.
The covenant in which that land was promised, was, as we have seen, a covenant of righteousness. Its basis was the righteousness of faith. It was an everlasting covenant, promising an everlasting inheritance to both Abraham and his seed, which meant for them everlasting life. But grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life only through Jesus Christ our Lord. Eternal life can be had only in righteousness. Moreover, since the promise was to Abraham, as well as to his seed, and Abraham was assured that he should die long before the inheritance was bestowed, it is evident that it could be gained only through the resurrection, which takes place at the coming of the Lord, when immortality is bestowed. But the coming of Christ is at “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3.21. Therefore we are shut up to the fact that the inheritance of righteousness, which was promised to Abraham for an everlasting possession, to be had through the resurrection, at the coming of the Lord, was the “new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” for which we look according to the promise of God.