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Thus the Holy Scriptures gradually unfold the scheme of redemption.
Abraham was called to sustain an important and peculiar relation to the church of God. In his family God established the church, which was to be “an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations.” Separated from the rest of the world, to receive the promises, he was constituted the father of all, who should walk in the steps of his faith. To him God made peculiar promises concerning his posterity, concerning the Messiah, and concerning the church in general. He “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Circumcision was a seal of that righteousness, in which Abraham became interested by faith. All believers, whether Jews, or Gentiles, are interested in the same righteousness.
The apostle Paul shows, that Abraham's circumcision was not essential to his justification, because he believed and was justified, before he received circumcision ; that believing Gentiles were entitled to the blessedness of a justified state, though uncircumcised; and that Abraham was the father of all believers, whether Jews, or Gentiles.
But why is Abraham called the father of all them that believe ? Not, because he was the first believer, nor because he was the first man, that was interested in the covenant of grace. Abel, Enoch and Noah were eminent believers before Abraham's time, and were interested in the covenant of grace. But God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham, by which the church was established in his family, consisting primarily of his natural descendants, but eventually embracing believing Gentiles, and to continue to the end of the world.
Circumcision, the token of this covenant, is called by the Apostle, in our text, “a seal of the righteousness of faith.” The design of this covenant's being made and sealed with Abraham, was, to constitute him the father of believers. “Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness”—“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.” Our text contains this important doctrine; viz.
God made and sealed his covenant with Abraham, that he might constitute him the fath
er of all
, whether Jews, or Gentiles, who should walk in the steps of his faith, from that time to the end of the world. To illustrate this doctrine it is proposed,
I. To explain God's covenant with Abraham, and show the design of the seal; and
II. To show, in general, what it is to walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham; and to make a particular application to Christian parents.
I. I am to explain God's covenant with Abraham, and show the design of the seal.
1. God's covenant with Abraham was a gracious covenant, and promised spiritual blessings, as well as temporal.
It does not appear to be a clear and full definition of this covenant, to say, merely, that it was the covenant of grace. This does not distinguish Abraham from saints, who lived before him. They were interested in the cov. enant of grace.
Faith, implying love and obedience to God, is the condition of the covenant of
grace. Upon this condition, eternal life is freely offered to sinners; and by grace they are influenced to comply. God is pleased to lay himself under covenant engagement to save all true believers. Christ is the Mediator of the covenant of grace.
“ Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins"* and have everlasting life.”
The faith of Noah was compliance with the condition of the covenant of grace; and he “became heir of the righteous'ness, which is by faith.”f In the same righteousness were interested all the saints, who lived before the Abrahamic covenant was made.
But God's covenant with Abraham may be considered, as a new dispensation of the covenant of grace, containing particular promises to him, and requiring of him particular duties. Though this dispensation contained promises and duties peculiar to Abraham, yet it comprehended all the spiritual blessings of the former dispensation, and the substance of all the gracious promises, which were to be realized, by the church, in all succeeding dispensations. “Now, the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew 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.”—“Unto thy seed will I
* Acts, x. 43. + Heb. xi. 7.
give this land."*
In these promises, which were made 430 years before the law was given at Sinai, the gospel was preached to Abraham. Alluding to this passage, the Apostle says, “The scripture, foreseeing, that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed.”+ These promises implied, that Abraham himself, and a great nation of his lineal descendants, and finally all nations, should be blessed, in Christ, the Mediator between God and men.; that the church should be blessed, and the enemies of the church cursed, to the latest generations. They contained the substance of all the solemn truths of the gospel. In short, it is certain, that better promises are not to be found in the Holy Scriptures, than are expressed, or implied, in God's covenant with Abraham.
This was a gracious covenant. The blessings were freely promised. Says Paul, “ If the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise ; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”! The condition of this gracious covenant, as afterwards renewed to Abraham in more explicit terms, was such an observance of circumcision, as should be expressive of
* Gen. xii. 1-7. + Gal. iii. 8. | Gal. iii. 18.