By E. J. Waggoner
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The Promise To Abraham:
In studying this promise, two portions of Scripture must ever be kept in mind. The first is the words of Jesus: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:39, 46-47 NKJV).
The only Scriptures in the days of Christ were the books now known as the Old Testament; these testify of Him. They were given for no other purpose. The Apostle Paul wrote that they are able to make men wise to salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15); and among those writings the books of Moses are specially pointed out by the Lord as revealing Him. He who reads the writings of Moses, and the entire Old Testament, with any other expectation than to find Christ, and the way of life through Him, will utterly fail of understanding them. His reading will be in vain.
The other text is 2 Cor. 1:19, 20: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us — by me, Silvanus, and Timothy — was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” No promise of God has ever been given to man except through Christ. Personal faith in Christ is the one thing necessary in order to receive whatever God has promised. God is no respecter of persons: He offers His riches freely to everybody; but no one can have any part in them except as he accepts Christ. This is perfectly fair, since Christ is given to all if they will but have Him.
With these principles in mind, we read the first account of the promise of God to Abraham. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3).
At the very outset we may see that this promise to Abraham was a promise in Christ. The Apostle Paul writes: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Gal. 3:8, 9). From this we learn that when God said that in Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed, He was preaching the Gospel to him. The blessing that was to come upon the people of the earth through him was to come only upon those who had faith.
Abraham and the Cross
The preaching of the Gospel is the preaching of the cross of Christ. Thus the Apostle Paul says that he was sent to preach the Gospel, but not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. And then he adds that the preaching of the cross is the power of God to them that are saved. (1 Cor. 1:17, 18). And this is but another way of saying that it is the Gospel, for the Gospel is the power of God to salvation. Therefore since the preaching of the Gospel is the preaching of the cross of Christ (and there is no salvation by any other means), and God preached the Gospel to Abraham when He said, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” it is very clear that in that promise the cross of Christ was made known to Abraham, and that the promise thus made was one that could be gained only through the cross.
This fact is made very clear in the third chapter of Galatians. Following the statement that the promise of blessing is to all the nations of the earth through Abraham, and that they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham, the apostle continues, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13, 14). Here we have it stated in the most explicit terms that the blessing of Abraham, which was to come on all the families of the earth, was to come only through the cross of Christ.
This is a point that needs to be well fixed in the mind at the very beginning. All the misunderstandings of the promises of God to Abraham and his seed have arisen through a failure to see the Gospel of the cross of Christ in them. If it be continually remembered that all the promises of God are in Christ, to be gained only through His cross, and that consequently they are spiritual and eternal in their nature, there will be no difficulty, and the study of the promise to the fathers will be a delight and a blessing.
We read that Abraham, in obedience to the call of the Lord, went forth from his father’s house, and from his native land. “Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants [“Unto thy seed” KJV] I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 12:5-8).
It is best for us to perceive the real meaning of God’s promises and dealings with Abraham from the very start, and then our subsequent reading will be easy, since it will be but the application of these principles. In this last Scripture there are a few subjects introduced, which occupy a very prominent place in this study, and so we will note them here. First,
The Lord said to Abraham, after he had reached the land of Canaan, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” If we but stick to the Scriptures we shall not have a moment’s difficulty in ascertaining who the seed is. “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “and to your Seed,” who is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). This ought for ever to settle the matter, so that there could be no dispute about it. The seed of Abraham, to whom the promise was made, is Christ. He is the heir.
But we also may be joint-heirs with Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:27-29).
Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, and are therefore included in Him. So when it is said that Christ is the seed of Abraham, to whom the promises were made, all who are in Christ are included. But nothing outside of Christ is included in the promise. To say that the inheritance promised to the seed of Abraham could be possessed by any except those who were Christ’s through faith in Him, is to ignore the Gospel, and to deny the word of God. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore since the promise of the land was to Abraham and his seed, which is Christ and those who have put Him on by baptism, and who are therefore new creations, it follows that the promise of the land was only to those who were new creatures in Christ, — children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. This again is additional evidence that all the promises of God are in Christ, and that the promises to Abraham can be gained only through the cross of Christ.
Let this principle, therefore, never for a moment be forgotten in reading about Abraham and the promise to him and his seed, — that the seed is Christ and those who are in Him. This and nothing besides.
Abraham was in the land of Canaan when God said to him, “To your descendants [“Unto thy seed”] I will give this land.” Turn now to the words which the martyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, and his face shining like that of an angel, said to his persecutors: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, “Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you. ’Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell” (Acts 7:2-4).
This is but a repetition of what we have already read in the twelfth chapter of Genesis. Now read the next verse: “And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants [seed] after him” (v. 5).
We learn here that although it is sometimes merely stated, “To your descendants [“Unto thy seed”] I will give this land,” Abraham himself was included in the promise. This is made very evident in the repetitions of the promise that follow in the book of Genesis.
But we learn more, and that is that Abraham actually received no inheritance of land. He had not so much of the land as to set his foot on; yet God had promised it to him and to his seed after him. What shall we say to this? — That the promise of God failed?—Not by any means. God “cannot lie.” “He remains faithful.” Abraham died without having received the promised inheritance, yet he died in faith. We must therefore learn from this the lesson that the Holy Spirit wished the Jews to learn, namely, that the promised inheritance could be gained only through Jesus and the resurrection. This also is made very clear by the words of the Apostle Peter: —
“You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:25-26).
The blessing of Abraham, as we have learned, comes on the Gentiles, or all the families of the earth, through Jesus Christ and His cross; but the blessing of Abraham is connected with the promise of the land of Canaan. That also was to be possessed only through Christ and the resurrection. If it had been otherwise, Abraham would have been disappointed, instead of dying in full faith of the promise. But this also will appear more plainly as we proceed.
— The Present Truth, May 21, 1896
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