THE CALL OF ABRAHAM. BY JOH RHEY THOMPSO D.D.

ow the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy fathet's house, unto a land that I will show thee : and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great ; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee : and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. — Gen. xii, 1-3. These words describe, in its divine aspects or relations, one of the most noteworthy and significant events in the world's history. This pivotal historic fact is the call of Abram to be the first clear witness to the divine unity, the Father of the Jewish people, and the Founder of the Jewish Church, out of which, in the end, the Christian Church should spring and develop, by whose agency and power in turn the kingdom of God among men should at last be realized. Truly, tJien, may this great fact be remarked as one of the pivotal points of Old World history. The purely temporal or secular side of this transaction carries in it nothing extraordinary or unique. It relates how Terah, the father of Abraham, started from Ur of the Chaldees, with his entire family, to settle anew in the land of Canaan. Even then, it seems, the star of empire was beginning to wend its way westward. The first considerable stage of their journey brought them as far as Haran, between the Ti^jrls and Eu-

234 Christian Manliness, phrates rivers, on the southern, or rather south-

western, slope of the Armenian Mountains, where Terah died. Then Abraham, inheriting the chieftainship of the tribe, and so the governance of the family, takes up and carries onward to a successful completion the unfulfilled purpose of his father. With Sarah, his wife, and Lot, his nephew, together with the slaves which they had gotten, and the substance which they had gathered, he journeyed to the land of Canaan, entering it from the north, by way of Damascus. o intimation is anywhere given that it was in obedience to a divine call that Terah set out on the migration to Canaan. In his movement we see or hear of no higher impelling force than the natural migratory instinct of the ancient Semitic chieftains. He may have thought the land freer, the ranges for his flocks wider and safer, the pasturage richer, and the water more plentiful, than in his native Mesopotamia. ot so with Abraham. The original purpose of his father doubtless had its effect upon his mind, but he heard also the voice of the heavenly Father, the solemn summons of Almighty God, saying, •* Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great ; and thou shalt be a blessing : and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee : and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." We have for our study this evening, '' The Call of Abraham,"

TJie Call of A bra J Lam. 235 constituting, as it does, a pivotal point of Old World history. I. Let us remark, in the beginning, its rich and vast historical significance. As we hastily glance

at this Semitic chieftain yonder, there may not be much calculated to arouse our attention, or profoundly impress the historic imagination. evertheless, he is one of the dozen or two really great and potent men in the whole history of the race. He is the father of the Jewish people. As we stand and watch this Eastern caravan journeying westward to Palestine, let us not forget that we are in the presence of tJie beginnings of Jeivish history ! There is always something solemn, to a reflecting mind, in the beginning of a single human life, however humble and obscure that life may seem to our imperfect vision. How vastly is that solemnity deepened and augmented when we stand by the cradle of a mighty people ! How real, and simple, and natural is this national beginning. Contrast it with the grotesque and fabulous legends of gods and goddesses, enveloping the early records of other ancient peoples, as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Abraham is a man ; simply and truly a man ; pretending to nothing more ; one like his brethren in actual identity of nature ; ?i friend oi God, indeed, but not a god, and making no pretension to superhuman claims. I have called him the father of the JEWISH people ! And what a people ! What a history was 16

l^fi Christian Manliness. then beginning I The modern Jew may justly boast of the most ancient and distinguished lineage of any man on the earth ! We are accustomed to think of the Papacy as an antique institution, and yet fourteen hundred years before the time of the great Gregory

VII., Elijah the Tishbite, a prophet of Israel, was rebuking the apostate Ahab, and confronting the priesthood of Baal ! We speak of Herodotus as the Father of History, but five hundred years before he began to collect the materials of his famous work David had touched his lyre, that " lyre which the nations heard entranced,'' and by which the shepherd boy of Bethlehem became the *' unchallenged king of psalmody till time shall be no more." More than three hundred years before the first recorded Olympiad of the Greeks a Hebrew prophet was teaching the Jewish people the spiritual nature of sacrifice. "And Samuel said, Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." The venerable name of Homer seems to carry us back to the beginnings of poetry and literature, but the chivalric Moses had nobly identified himself and his fortunes with the slaves of Goshen four hundred years before the blind old bard of " Scio's rocky isle" had begun his immortal epic! The boasted names of Europe's proudest a^ristocracy seem but of yesterday when compared with the illustrious names of Hebrew history. 2. The divine call and the peculiar training of Abraham, as recited in the Scriptures, should teach ns the glory and^ the beauty of mercy, charity, and tol-

The Call of Abraham. 237 eration. Abraham was at one and the same time a very imperfect but a very good man. He must be looked at largely, royally, generously, somewhat in the way in which God looks at men, or he will be sure to disappoint you. He was guilty of deceit, of culpable weakness, of mendacity, and of something akin to cruelty. Tried by our standards he would, of course, utterly fail. But on the other

hand consider his virtues, his excellences, his strong points, his many meritorious qualities. Remember his unvarying courtesy; his kindness to Lot, the orphan nephew; his large unselfishness and generosity in dealing with him ; his unsought, unpaid service to the King of Sodom ; his touching and urgent intercession for the city of Sodom ; his gracious hospitality; his wonderful faith in God ; his quick, full, unhesitating, uncalculating obedience to God ! When he was called to go to Canaan, he at once got ready and started. The very day on which he covenanted with God to keep his commandments, and walk in his ways, he circumcised his entire household, while in his offering of Isaac he most conspicuously exhibited a faith and obedience that approached the sublime ! Such was the strange mixture of elements in the character of Abraham. God's great mercy and wondrous loving-kindness overlooked his petty faults, while the divine charity dwelt with delight upon his virtues, and so it was that he became the father of the faithful. Alas ! how differently we we often act in our judgments of men. We look

238 Christian Manliness. long upon the weaknesses, the mistakes, the infirmities, the sins — we sometimes magnify them — while we not infrequently almost entirely overlook the virtues. o man is entirely faulty. Every man is sound and good somewhere. Along some line, in some range of power, in some element of disposition or character, every man has virtue, or the capacity for it. Hunt these nobler qualities up, and fix your attention upon them, if you mean to become imitators of God. We must learn to take men as they are, in this world, especially if we really

mean to help them, and we should always remember that very imperfect men are sometimes very good men, even as David was a man after God's own heart. The many-sidedness of Abraham's character should emphasize anew for us the much-needed lesson of toleration. His strengths and weaknesses, his merits and his faults, should teach us that in the same human character, and at the same time, good and evil may co-exist. His prayer for Sodom shows his compassion for wicked men. They were not even of his religion — they were idolaters. His service to the King of Sodom shows that he could help and rescue an alien, a heretic and an idolater, when in distress. There is nothing in him of the narrow and bitter spirit of intolerance shown by the Jews of a later time. Contrast his noble spirit in praying for Sodom with the desire of the disciples of Jesus to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan villagers. There is nothing mean or petty

The Call of Abraham. 239 or dwarfing, nothing merely Jewish, about him. He seems to belong to the RACE. Such men as Abraham show us how divine and glorious a thing toleration really is, for without mutual forbearance and charity, I am sure, we will never be able to understand God's work in this world at all. A beautiful legend of the Talmud may possibly explain to us how in some vision of the night Abraham first learned the lesson of toleration. When one evening Abraham sat at his tent door, according to his custom, waiting to entertain strangers, he espied an old man, who seemed to be a hundred years of age, stooping and leaning on his staff, weary with age and travel, coming toward him. He received

him kindly, washed his feet, provided supper, and caused him to sit down ; but observing that the old man ate and prayed not, nor begged for a blessing on his meat, Abraham asked him why he did not worship the God of heaven. The old man told him that he worshiped the god of fire only, and acknowledged no other God ; at which answer, Abraham grew so zealously angry that he thrust the old man out of his tent, and exposed him to all the evils of the night and an unguarded condition. When the old man was gone God called to Abraham, and asked him where the stranger was ; he replied, " I thrust him away because he did not worship thee." God answered : *' I have suffered him to live before me these hundred years, though he dishonored me ; and thou couldst not endure him for a single night when he gave thee no

240 Christian Manliiiess. trouble." Upon this Abraham fetched him back again, and gave him hospitable entertainment and wise instruction. The story is a fable, a legend, I know, but the lesson is always needed. If God be so patient and tolerant of flaws and imperfections in a human character, as we see here in Abraham's case, should not we? And if of moral faults, how much more of mere intellectual error ! These bad, mistaken, and wicked men and -women all about us, God suffers them, and shall not we ? My friends, it is better to pray even for Sodom than to curse it. There is only one thing God is unwilling to put into men's hands, and that is the infliction of retaliation. *' Vengeance is MI E ; I will repay, saith the Lord."

3. Consider the momentous import, from the stand-point of religious truth, of the call of Abraham. He was more than the father of the Jewish people, and the founder of the Jewish nation. He was the first clear, undoubted, divinely instructed witness to the unity, the spirituality, and the real governance of Jehovah. That is, he was the first witness to the actuality, the reality of a supernatural revelation. He was an organ for the expression of the divine will. He was inspired of God, fitted, taught, prepared by God, to be the medium of truth undiscoverable by man's unaided faculties. The simple idea of the divine unity, for example, is in the world. Men do believe in one Lord, not many gods. How did it get here? Whence its origin ?

TJie Call of Abraham. 241 It is as a matter of fact distinctly traceable to the Jews as a people. Historically, we can trace it back step by step to this Jewish people. So, in like manner, we trace it back, generation by generation, family by family, until we find it in the family and person of Abraham. He unquestionably held it, and that antecedently to all others. The polytheism or idolatry then prevailing among his contemporaries, in one country not only, but in all the world, is now universally conceded. Whence, then, did he derive this peculiar idea, this sacred truth? He entirely escaped the worship of the heavenly bodies, and the deification of eminent men, as priests ani kings. Somehow or other, he, and he alone, is wholly free from every taint of idolatry. Again I say, Abraham is in clear and undoubted possession of this idea, and I press the solemn question, '' Whence did he derive it ?" And I answer, God himself revealed it to him by his Spirit. The g^reatest living: Oriental scholar, the chief of

those who make comparative religion a study, Max Miiller, says, " And if we were asked how this one Abraham passed through the denial of all other gods to the knowledge of the one true God, we are content to answer that it was by a special divine revelation." O the blessed significance of it ! O glorious word ! God has spoken to us! The silences have been broken, and the loving messages of God have come to us, bidding us look up, and live, and hope ! We know not the distance between the summer-

242 Christian Manliness. land of God's heart and these wastes of sin, but it has been traversed by God's angels of mercy, and will be again. The words of the Eternal have been spoken to man. Abraham has heard these words, and is henceforth the Pilgrim of the Invisible !

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