The Faith of Abraham

Edward J. Young

"Abraham believed the Lord." These are indeed remarkable words. An inhabitant of Ur of the Chaldees would have said that Abraham was acting the fool. For Abraham was preparing to leave his home and friends in order to receive a land which he did not know. And he was doing this in response to a three-fold promise. Abraham had been told that he was to receive a land, that he was to have an innumerable seed, and that he was, to be a blessing to all the world. Hearing this promise of the Lord, Abraham had obeyed. He had believed that what the Lord promised He would perform.

The Foolishness of Faith

When a man believes the Lord, among other things he assents to the truth of that which God has spoken. It is this aspect of faith we shall consider briefly. Abraham believed, in other words, that what God had spoken to him was true. What God had said to Abraham was, in part, "I will make of thee a great nation." But when God spoke these words, Sarai the wife of Abraham was barren. Practically the first thing the Bible tells us about Sarai is that she was barren, "she had no child" (Gen. 11:30). When we read this statement concerning Sarai, we are hardly prepared for the surprising statement which comes only a few verses later the promise of fruitfulness. A barren wife and yet a great nation! The reader might almost be tempted to lay aside his Bible and ask, How can this be?

It is just at this point that the enemy of souls often strikes and strikes with devastating force. As we read the promises of God's holy Word, a subtle temptation often enters our minds. We find that the Scriptures are difficult to believe, and so we try to explain them away. In the arrogance of our pride, we seek to explain them so that they will harmonize with what we sinners consider to be reasonable. When Abraham heard the promise of God, he might have reasoned within himself, "This is illogical and contradictory. My. wife is barren and can have no children. Yet here is a promise that I shall have many children. In fact, I am promised that my descendants will be a great nation. Obviously these two do not square with each other. Therefore, when God says that I shall have an innumerable seed, He must mean something else."

Abraham might have reasoned this way, and had he done so, he would have been applying to God standards and measurements of human origin and devising - he would have made man the measure of God, rather than God the measure of man. What a subtle and dangerous temptation this is. And how easily we may fall into it. For example, if there is any teaching in the Bible that is clear and unequivocal, it is that there is one God. There are not three Gods, but one. To that truth we cling, because the Bible teaches it so positively. At the same time the Bible teaches that there are three who are God. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. These three are one God. They are three, but they are "the same in substance, equal in power and glory" (Shorter Catechism, Q. 6). This Triune God, this holy Trinity is the only living and all glorious God. Beside Him who is three there is no other. We may well consider the words of Gregory Nazianzen, "I cannot think of the one, but I am immediately surrounded with the splendour of the three; nor can I clearly discover the three, but I am suddenly carried back to the one."

This then is the foundation upon which all else rests. The true God is One, but He is also three. This sublime truth is an impenetrable mystery in which the heart of faith delights and glories. It is the fountain of all our life, all our faith, all our hope and knowledge.

The spirit of rationalism however finds no delight in such a holy mystery. Its boastful arrogance immediately intrudes itself. "How can God be One and yet be three?", it asks, "That would be to introduce contradiction and conflict into the very being of God." And so, as we look back over the history of the church, we meet with the chill breath of this spirit at work. And what do we find? We find that wherever men have denied or toned down or sought to explain or remove this mystery from the doctrine of the Trinity, there has also gone something else. There has departed the very Christian faith itself.

God is One, yet God is three. In the face of this exalted truth of God's Word, what arrogance it is on the part of the creature to say that this revelation is self-contradictory. What an evil thing it is to introduce standards of logic which are of human origin and by these standards to judge the revelation which God has given us. Rather, before this revelation let us bow, and to it let us submit every thought in willing obedience. God is One, yet God is three. Of course we cannot explain such an heavenly truth. God, however, has not called upon us to explain, but to believe. This exalted mystery infinitely transcends the powers of comprehension which God, the Creator, has given to us finite creatures. But the heart of faith believes the truth, even though it cannot fully comprehend, for it knows that in this heavenly mystery of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is life, and apart from it is only the black night of eternal death.

The Strength of Abraham's Faith

Abraham, however, believed the truth of what God had revealed to him. This does not mean that he was not inwardly distressed and even harassed by doubt. His subsequent actions reveal that such was indeed the case. There is a heart-rending wail in the cry, "Oh that Ishmael might live before thee" (Gen. 17:18). Many a time it must have seemed to the father of the faithful that the promise would never be fulfilled. Many a time the mountain peaks of God's promise were enveloped with the dark clouds of doubt. But honest doubt is one thing, and the arrogant spirit of rationalism is another.

When Abraham first heard the promise, there may have been doubts and perplexities in his mind. In fact, it may be that Paul, in the fourth chapter of Romans, is hinting that such was the case. For Paul says that Abraham believed God "-who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who, against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be" (Romans 4:17-18). Sarai was barren. Yet God said to Abraham, I will make of thee a great nation. God calleth those things which be not as though they were!

This was the situation which faced the great patriarch. The unbelieving spirit would have said - this is foolishness. Sarai is barren, she cannot bring forth children. Why believe what is so manifestly impossible. And the unbeliever would not have believed. He and his "wisdom" would have perished eternally. The promises were not for such a spirit.

But Abraham, by the grace of God, was not an unbeliever. Sarai is barren, yes! How can a barren woman bring forth children? I do not know. But God is speaking, and behind His words lies all the authority and all the power of One who is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. He calls those things which are not as though they are. He has power to quicken the dead, to cause the barren to bear, to do that which, to us, because we are weak and ignorant and limited, seems impossible. With us it is impossible. But with God all things are possible. Therefore, since the One who commands is God, I shall believe.

This is the attitude of faith. True faith is reposed not in ourselves, but in God. In fact, its very essence IS confidence - confidence in God. Abraham believed the truth of that which God had promised. But he did more. He acted upon this belief. He placed his trust in God and went forth, seeking a city. And how God rewarded such faith. For In the calling of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees we see an administration of the Covenant of Grace. God is preparing for Himself a family, a family which is to develop into a nation, the theocratic nation from which in the fulness of time will come the Savior. And Abraham became known as the father of the faithful.

Abraham had doubts, but he was not an unbeliever. He did not try to rationalize, but he believed. And the secret of the strength of his faith was found in God. He believed the Lord, and he looked ever to Him. What God had promised, that God would and could fulfill. Therein lay the strength of Abraham's faith. He trusted in God. "Our help is in the Lord, which made heaven and earth."

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 16, No 7, April, 1947. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available online!


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