“They neither know nor trace the way,
But trusting to Thy piercing eye,
None of their feet to run astray,
Nor shall the weakest fail or die.”
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out not knowing whether he went” – Hebrews 11:8.
One of the most searching and fervent inquiries that animates the child of grace in his pilgrimage here, is the desire for Divine guidance; and to have evidence of the Divine Presence. This thought when in the Spirit, inspires him as he awakes in the morning, animates him all his day’s journey; and at night in his evening prayer.
His life in this world is a life of faith and hope: it is not a life of sight. We are told that “the just shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4). And that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). But how earnestly the saint in his mortal pilgrimage looks for sight. We must understand that faith is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is not as Mr. Webster in his admirable dictionary of the English language tells us, “the assent of the natural mind to reveal Truth.” Faith is the gift of God. It is developed in a continual struggle with the flesh. The natural mind cannot comprehend its mysterious workings. It opposes every natural instinct, soaring above all natural wisdom, and finds sure anchorage in the bosom of an eternal trust in God. No one can “exercise faith;” on the contrary faith exercises the spiritual mind; and ever turns to Christ who is its author and finisher. Against hope it believes in hope (Romans 4:18), revealing the good pleasure of God (Hebrews 11:5,6) to the children of the promise; and pointing to the eternal fountain of His everlasting love; the testimony of His grace.
In every proper consideration of the mystery of the Gospel, it is absolutely essential that one should understand something of two points of Gospel Truth. The first is the eternal, unconditional, and personal election of the child that is in Christ, in the Father (I Thessalonians 1:1;) and that child’s development as partaking of flesh and blood. (Hebrews, 2:14) This child is spiritual in seed and development, was spiritual before he partook of flesh and blood, is spiritual thereafter. And it is only in this spiritual identity that he can comprehend the things of the Spirit.
The second point of doctrine that a proper comprehension of Gospel mystery requires, a knowledge of; is the “absolute predestination of all things whatsoever cometh to pass.” These two points of vital doctrine are so inseparably linked together in the Scriptures (Roman 8:28,28,30; Ephesians 1:1-6) that one cannot properly understand one of them without a knowledge of the other; and the apostle in the text in Ephesians 1: 3,4, places the first of these two doctrinal points as “first” in his presentation of Gospel grace.
We have use of it in the subject under discussion. We must remember that “faith” is not the product of, given to, nor understood by the carnal mind. In this respect “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). Faith is not sight to the spiritual mind; it is folly to suppose that it is sight to the carnal mind. And yet it is an eternal substance; not a fanciful shadow dancing in illusive hope before the natural mind.
The particular point in our text to which we wish to call attention is the closing clause; “not knowing whither he went.” This was certainly not sight, or knowing something in the natural mind. Had he known beforehand; had he been promised an earthly reward; could he have seen earthly resultant advantages, it would have been natural sight, It would have been the principle upon which all worldly religions is based.
But he was called to leave home, kindred, and friends; everything that a man holds dear in this present life with no material benefit promised in return. No conditionalism; his obedience was the “obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). Faith is not a dead, inanimate word, it is a living, vital fact. It is a command from Him whose word “is quick and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12). It is a command to the spiritual, not to the natural mind of saints; to the younger, not to the elder man in the dual life of believers. But as the mind and not the feet is the motive power in the natural man; so the spirit and not the flesh is the motive power in Christian life; as it is written: “the elder shall serve the younger” (Romans 9:12).
Faith responds to the Divine command as in Abraham’s case. It separates him from earthly environment, and earthly ties; and opens before him a newness of life, as he leaves an earthly shore, and moves out upon the boundless, unfathomable ocean of eternal love, guided only by the Divine hand, animated by hope (a companion grace) that sometimes shines like a star of the first magnitude, and again is almost lost in a dark and pitiless night.
“Not knowing whether he went.” Every step of the way over which Abraham passed appealed to his spiritual, not to his natural mind. Like the milch kine in 1 Samuel 6:12, who turned not aside “to the right hand or to the left,” but took the straight way; “lowing as they went” and came with their precious burden to the fields of Beth-shemesh. What must have been at times the struggles in the experience of this faithful man; the flesh lusting after the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and yet the impelling power of faith pressed him onward. The end was the victory of faith. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).
Had Abraham clearly and naturally foreseen the end, this would have been “sight” and not faith. He would then have known “whither he went.” Faith is a substance, (Hebrews 11:1,) it is not sight. Abraham felt within him the substance of the promise, the anchor of the hope which fast held him to his course; sight came with the development; the unfolding of the mystery of the promise of God.
It is well that we should remember also, as previously stated, that faith is not given to the natural man, but to the spiritual. The new birth does not develop two principles in the one man. Nor do we find two men in one man, as once held by a Kansas preacher; but two men; the “outward,” (2 Corinthians 4:16;) and “the inward man.” The “old man,” (Colossians 3:9,10) “the new man.” It is absurd to talk of one man with two principles – two minds. Here are two men developed from two different seeds; the one earthly, the other heavenly; the one natural, the other spiritual; and it is of this dual character Solomon writes in Song 6:13; “what will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.” The “outward man” is to perish; the “inward man” is to be renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16.)
“I delight in the law of God,” says the apostle, “after the inward man.” It is the “inner man,” not the “outward” that receives the Gospel. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6: 63). It is the inner man, the man “hid with Christ in God,” that receives faith because he is born of God. It is a God-given; a God-inspiring principle; all-powerful, and irresistible; working always contrary to nature; opposed always by the carnal mind (the only mind that the natural man has;) hence the Christian’s cross, nature working one way, Spirit the other; these are contrary, the one to the other.
“Not knowing whither he went.” Blind to the teachings of earthly reason or wisdom; contrary to the strong natural currents that sway the earthly mind; struggling with the flesh and its depraved selfish lusts; buffeted with contrary winds upon a wild sea of unbelief and natural “faith” (moral suasion). The child of God is held by faith which turns ever to Jesus as the magnat turns to the pole. He cannot see why he should thus keep on his course, but he endures as “seeing Him who is invisible;” and his victory is as stated but the “victory of faith.”
And when he peacefully rests in the haven of safety; when the storm of doubt and unbelief has wasted its strength, and the calm serene confidence and trust in Israel’s God succeeds; he can give all the glory to the God of his salvation, for his victorious deliverance, the Divine guidance. He takes none to himself. He gives it all to his God. The path has been bitter over which he has come; the temptation severe; hard pressed indeed has been his course; the cross often seemed more than he could bear.
“Dark was the night, the valley deep,
Fearful he passed its gloomy way;
It’s path he traced with trembling feet,
Hoping for signs of coming day.”
Bellowing thunders loud and long,
And lightnings flashed through its dark sky;
“O God, my life, can I be wrong,
Have missed my path and gone astray.”
Often indeed, in such a course he is made to feel the forceful words; “Death struck, I ceased the tide to stem.”
But in all of this harrowing experience faith abides, and hope as an achor of the soul holds him fast. Nature turns against him; but faith holds him to his course. Beloved Brethren, amid the rugged path o’er which you are led may we be enabled to heed the admonition: “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward” (Hebrews 10: 35). The sacred promise of Holy Writ declares; “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in Thee” (Isaiah 26:3). “They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mont Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even forever” (Psalms 125: 1,2).
“Love of God so pure and changeless,
Blood of Christ so rich and free,
Grace of God so strong and boundless,
Magnify them all in me.”
Elder William Smoot
The Sectarian, April 1914