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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 18

 

 

Verses 1-8

Genesis 18:1-8

He took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them

The duty of hospitality

I.
As A COMMON DUTY.

II. AS A DUTY OF PIETY. Thus viewed, all duties are ennobled.

1. In their form.

2. In their motive.

3. The best qualities of the soul are developed.

III. As A DUTY WHICH IS PROPHETIC OF SOMETHING BEYOND ITSELF, AS genius does not always know all it utters, so the faithful and loving heart cannot always relate what it holds. Such was the ease with Abraham in his history. His duty rapidly rises in the form and meaning of it.

1. He entertains men on the principles of common hospitality (Genesis 18:2).

2. He entertains angels.

3. He entertains God. (T. H. Leale.)

A prelude to the Incarnation

I. GOD APPEARS AS MAN,

II. GOD PASSES THROUGH THE SAME EXPERIENCE AS MAN. The angel Jehovah performs human actions, and passes through human conditions.

1. He both speaks and listens to human words. This Divine visitor converses freely with Abraham, and listens to his offer of hospitality. So God manifest in our nature spoke with human lips, and heard through ears of flesh the voices of men.

2. He shares the common necessities of man. This Divine visitor has no real need for food and refreshment, and yet He partakes of them. Jesus, though

He had no need of us in the greatness and independence of His majesty, yet took our infirmities and necessities upon Him. He lived amongst men, eating and drinking with them, and partaking of the shelter they offered.

3. As man He receives service from man. Jehovah, under the appearance of a man, partook of the food and of the hospitable services which Abraham offered. So Christ, in the days of His flesh, received the attentions of human kindness, shelter, food, comfort. He had special friends, such as those of the household of Bethany, which He loved so well. He was grateful for every act of kindness done to Him.

III. GOD MANIFEST IS RECOGNIZED ONLY BY THE SPIRITUAL MIND. (T. H.Leale,)

The Divine guest

There is no doubt as to the august character of one of the three who, on that memorable afternoon, when every living thing was seeking shelter during the heat of the day, visited the tent of the patriarch (see Genesis 18:1-10). It was thus that the Son of God anticipated His Incarnation; and was found in fashion as a man before He became flesh. He loved to come incognito into the homes of those He cherished as His friends, even before He came across the slopes of Olivet to make His home in the favoured cottage, where His spirit rested from the din of the great city, and girded itself for the cross and the tomb.

I. ABRAHAM TREATED HIS VISITORS WITH TRUE EASTERN HOSPITALITY.

II. MAY IT NOT BE THAT CHRIST COMES TO US OFTEN IN THE GUISE OF A STRANGER? Does He not test us thus? Of course if He were to come in His manifested splendour as the Son of the Highest, every one would receive Him, and provide Him with sumptuous hospitality. But this would not reveal our true character. And so He comes to us as a wayfaring man, hungry and athirst; or as a stranger, naked and sick. Those that are akin to Him will show Him mercy, in whatsoever disguise He comes, though they recognize Him not, and will be surprised to learn that they ever ministered to Him. Those, on the other hand, who are not really His, will fail to discern Him; will let Him go unhelped away; and will wake up to find that “inasmuch as they did it not to one of the least of these, they did it not to Him.”

III. GOD NEVER LEAVES IN OUR DEBT. He takes care to pay for His entertainment, royally and divinely. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The advent in the theophany

I. GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN.

II. GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN IN HUMAN FORM.

III. GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN UNRECOGNIZED.

IV. GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN IN BLESSING. V GOD VISITS HIS CHILDREN AT CRITICAL PERIODS.

VI. WHEN GOD VISITS HIS. CHILDREN, HE WILL BE BEST RECEIVED IN THE DISCHARGE OF THE SIMPLEST DUTIES. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Abraham’s celestial visitors

Lessons to be learned.

I. KINDLINESS TO STRANGERS.

II. FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.

III. THAT THERE IS A CONCATENATION BETWEEN OUR SINS. Want of trust, such as Sarah showed, necessarily leads to want of courage, and want of courage is the ready cause of want of truth. Let us avoid the first steps to evil.

IV. THE SIN OR INNOCENCE OF ANY ACTION DEPENDS UPON MOTIVES. Abraham laughed with joy, Sarah from incredulity. An action commendable in the one, was sinful in the other.

V. THE LONGSUFFERING AND CONDESCENSION OF GOD.

VI. THE WONDERFUL EFFICACY OF PRAYER. VII. THAT FOR THE ELECT’S SAKE THE DAYS OF EVIL ARE OFTEN SHORTENED OR POSTPONED. Great leaders produce great causes, as much as great causes produce great leaders. VIII. NOW SPIRITUALLY, AS FORMERLY ACTUALLY, GOD VISITS HIS PEOPLE. (Homilist.)

Mysterious visitors

I. THE UNEXPECTED GUESTS.

II. THE POSITIVE PROMISE. To believe God’s word is the path to blessing.

III. THE REVEALED SECRET. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

The coming of God, and the welcome of man

As the ruin of man consisted in his estrangement from God, so his restoration to eternal life consists in his return into the light of God’s presence. The Divine enlightenment of man is the glory or manifestation of God. The history of the spiritual revivals in the patriarchal and Jewish churches was the history of the renewed manifestations of God’s countenance. The theophanies witnessed by the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, gave to them the inspiration of life. But in the fulness of time, in the Incarnation, God who appeared in passing visions to the patriarchs, and shone between the cherubims in the mystery of the holy of holies, manifested Himself in the flesh and blood of the second Adam: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Thus, “God manifest in the flesh” in Christ Jesus, is the life of humanity. To behold Him with the eye of the soul is to have the life of the soul. The conditions upon which God permits men to realize the blessed influences of His presence, are to-day exactly the same as they were three thousand years ago, when the “Father of the Faithful” recognized His nearness on the plains of Mamre. The form of this narrative, which records that manifestation of God, embodies everlasting principles which can never pass away. For our instruction it tells us how the “Father of the Faithful” welcomed the approach of God to his soul. Let us dwell, for our learning--

I. Upon THE MODE IN WHICH THE DIVINE LIFE APPROACHED THE MAN. “The Lord appeared unto him”. . . “Lo, three men stood by him.”

1. The mode in which the Divine Life manifested His presence to the patriarch, as recorded in this passage, is regarded by the Church as an adumbration of the fundamental doctrine of the Christian verity, that we worship the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity. This passage is accordingly appointed to be read on the festival of the Trinity. The words, “The Lord appeared unto him,” give expression to the Unity of the Divine life. The words that describe the forms of the vision in which God manifested Himself to the soul of the man, “Lo, three men stood by him,” express the other aspect of this great mystery, and teach us to think of Three Persons existing within the One Essence of God. St. John the Divine, in his book of Revelation, has been inspired by God to use words which may enable us by analogy to form some faint conception of the relations eternally existing between the three Persons in the Godhead. He illustrates those relations by teaching us to think of the Three Persons in the One Godhead, as we think of the three divisions of one time. Now, the past in time presents itself to our minds as the fountain and origin out of which the present is for ever being born, and out of which the future is for ever destined to proceed. The present, in which we have our being, is for ever departing from us, in order to return into the bosom of that past out of which it came, and in which it dwells. The future comes to us for ever, sent by the departed present, and coming, when it comes, in the name of the present. Our only existence is for ever dependent upon our standing-place in the present. It is our communion, or participation of the present, that enables us to look back, and to remember the past out of which we have come. It is by virtue of our standing on the rock of the present, that we can look forward to the future which it is about to send to us. In the same manner we think of God the Father as the fountain of being, who hath created us, and to whom we look back, seeking the knowledge of our destiny in His creative purpose. So St. John represents the Father as “Holy”. . . “Lord God Almighty that was.” We think of the Son as the Ever Present Life, who gives to us our standing in existence. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” As we go back into the past, by standing in the present, so we can only come to the Father through the Son. He for ever says, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Likewise, as the present leads on to the future, so the Son sends to us--proceeding from the Father and Himself--the Holy Ghost. The “Holy Lord God Almighty that is,” departs and intercedes to send to us the “Holy Lord God Almighty that is to come.” Furthermore, although we necessarily think of time as presenting itself to our consciousness in these three forms, we nevertheless think of it as one in itself. The past, the present, and the future, are not three, but one time.

II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL RECEIVED THE APPROACH OF GOD. Let us proceed to dwell upon the characteristics that marked the spiritual attitude of Abraham in welcoming the Divine vision.

1. We may, perhaps, infer from these opening words, “He lift up his eyes and looked,” the very simple, but very necessary, lesson that the presence of God cannot be realized, unless the soul of man directs its gaze above the objects of the sensual, earthly life. There are men who never rise in thought or feeling above the low level of earthly, transitory interests: that plain upon which are built the habitations that are doomed to crumble into dust The prayerless, thoughtless, sensual, earthly-minded man, cannot realize the presence of the Most High. The splendour of the Triune Majesty never dawns upon the eye of the soul that is engrossed in earthly things. Let no one expect to be partakers of Abraham’s lofty experiences, unless he strives to follow Abraham’s example, and to direct the aspirations of his soul upward.

2. We may also learn from this passage the well-known but frequently neglected truth, that there must be an effort of the soul to go forth, as it were, out of the habits of self, to meet the Divine life that comes near. Such seems to be the significance of the very simple but very deep words, “He ran to meet them from the tent door.” The neglect of this truth has doomed many souls to long darkness and exclusion from the presence of God. Man must use the freedom of his will to go forth to meet the coming of God. There are some who have been misled by the influence of false teaching to ignore this great truth. They have reasoned in their hearts, saying, “If I am chosen and predestined to realize the blessed sight of God’s countenance, He will, in His good time, make an irresistible approach to my soul, and force His Divine presence into the innermost chambers of my being. It is not necessary that I should use that power of will which I have received, in order to go forth to meet Him, who will come, or not come, to me according to His own good pleasure and eternal decree.” Man cannot by his own will cause God to be either present or absent from His sanctuary and throne of grace. “His tabernacle is with men.” But man can neglect to fulfil those conditions upon which God’s presence can be realized by his own soul. By sloth, prayerlessness, and apathy, he can remain beneath the shadow of his earthly tent, and lose the vision of God, because he will neither lift up his eyes, nor go forth to meet Him.

3. The attitude of the patriarch in welcoming the Divine presence teaches us another lesson, viz., the spiritual necessity of humility as a condition of obtaining a clear and near vision of God. The law of reverential humility is binding upon the human soul, and has its original sanction in the majesty of God. The self-confident, arrogant, proud man, transgresses one of the laws that regulate his relation to the majesty of God, and is inevitably removed in spirit to a distance from the throne of God. He loses the faculty of realizing the Divine presence. The physical philosopher who proposes to approach the throne of grace, not as a humble suppliant, but as an irreverent experimentalist, asking for a sign of his own choosing, ignores the elementary truths of the relation existing between the King and the subject. He would acknowledge that for the successful performance of physical experiments, it is necessary to comply with all the known physical conditions. The laboratory of spiritual truth has its conditions. One of those conditions is that it must be pervaded in all its parts by the atmosphere of reverence. God will not reveal the light of His presence to man, however eagerly he may run forth to seek it, until he has learnt to recognize the weakness, the littleness, the unworthiness of his own being before the majesty of the most High. The patriarch’s obedience to this law of spiritual insight is simply expressed in the words, “He bowed himself towards the ground.”

4. The next clause in the text gives expression to the deep truth, that man cannot realize the blessedness of the Divine presence, without an earnest effort to give depth and permanency to his religious impressions. The Divine forms that came to Abraham doubtless passed over the plains of Mamre. They drew nigh to other tents, but those who dwelt beneath their covering realized not the blessedness of their approach, because they fulfilled not the conditions upon which it could be known. The high aspiration, the earnest inquiry, the spirit of reverence, were found only in the Father of the Faithful. The chosen patriarch fulfilled one other condition, without which souls cannot attain unto the clear vision of God. He had the grace of spiritual perseverance. He was not content to permit the truth that had poured its bright beams into his soul to pass away. He sought to deepen the Divine impressions received, and to make them permanent. Such is the significance of the prayer: “My Lord, if now I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant.” In all the ages, the true children of Abraham are marked by this spirit of earnest perseverance, which seeks to deepen the experience of the soul. The dwellers in the tents of the world have not this characteristic. To them God draws near, but they never invite Him to stay. They seek to obliterate the impression at once; and in the angry impatience of a soul that will not give place, even for a moment, to the presence of the Divine life, that rebukes its own baseness, cry out, “What have we to do with Thee?. . . Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?” There are others who welcome the Divine presence for a brief moment, but soon grow weary of its influence. In the church, or in some hour when the heart has been softened into sensibility by some sorrow or joy, they obtain a passing glimpse of the Divine life. The blessed experience of God’s abiding presence is only known by them who, in the spirit of the patriarch, seek by prayer to make the vision lasting. We must learn to pray, as true sons of Abraham, and loving disciples of our risen Lord, in the journey of life, “Abide with us.” “My Lord, if I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant.”

5. The next clause in the text, “Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet,” doubtless gives expression to a deep and everlasting spiritual truth. What is the condition, essential to the entertainment of the Divine life, expressed in these words? They teach us that, in order to welcome the Divine life in its approach, the soul must apply to the forms in which it vouchsafes to dwell, the element of purification here represented by the water. We fetch fresh draughts of the cleansing influences that stream from the cross of Christ, and strive to welcome the life of God to abide with us, by washing away the dust that defiles the forms in which it vouchsafes to dwell. This is an everlasting condition, binding upon every son of Abraham. God will not dwell with us, and manifest the blessed light of His countenance to our souls, unless we seek to cleanse our walk in life. The dust of earth that clings to us unwashed away by the waters of grace; the unconfessed, unrepented, unforsaken sins, will make us utterly incapable of realizing the Divine life.

6. Another essential condition which man must fulfil in order to realize the blessed consciousness of God’s presence, is expressed in these words addressed to the Divine forms: “Rest yourselves under the tree.” What is the spiritual truth conveyed in these words? They teach us that there must be in human life hours of rest and calm meditation, in order to ensure the enjoyment of the Divine presence. The hours taken from the world and spent in Divine worship, in the calm peace of the church; the hours in which the soul enters into the closet, shuts the door, and prays to the Father which is in secret, are the hours in which man rises into the realization of the eternal life.

7. The last act in the patriarch’s welcome of the Divine presence is described in these words: “I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on; for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.” The man is here permitted to offer unto the Creator of His own creatures in order to welcome His presence. Man is hero represented as offering gifts to sustain the forms of the Divine life, and his offering is approved and accepted as a part of the welcome which he was bound to give. Such is the duty that rests upon man for ever. His services in themselves are of no value. His prayers, worship, alms, oblations--these are nothing in themselves. But they must be offered as expressions of loving welcome to the presence of God. If they are withheld, God will not lift up the light of His countenance upon the soul. The welcome which the human soul offers to God, finds its full expression in the holy eucharist. This vision of God brought with it to

Abraham special blessings. He was inspired to look forward to endless life, typified in the supernatural birth of Isaac; and to realize the doom of the lost souls, typified in the destruction of the cities of the plain. Such are for ever the fruits of the knowledge of God. It shows man the ways of life and death. If we would attain unto the blessedness of God’s realized presence, we must remember that the conditions to be fulfilled are the same as they were thousands of years ago on the plain of Mamre. (H. T.Edwards, M. A.)

Abraham, the friend of God

I. THE FRIENDLY VISIT.

1. Abraham’s hospitality.

2. God’s gracious acceptance. A singular instance of Divine condescension--the only recorded instance of the kind before the Incarnation.

II. THE FRIENDLY FELLOWSHIP. In the progress of the interview, as well as in its commencement, the Lord treats Abraham as a friend.

1. He converses with him familiarly, putting to him a question which no stranger in the East would reckon himself entitled to put. He inquires into his household matters, and asks after Sarah, his wife (Genesis 18:9).

2. Then in the pains He takes, by reiterated assurances, to confirm the faith of Abraham and to overcome the unbelief of Sarah--in the tone of His simple appeal to Divine omnipotence as an answer to every doubt, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”--and in His mild but searching reproof of the dissimulation to which the fear of detection led Sarah, “Nay, but thou didst laugh,”--in all this, does it not almost seem as if by anticipation we saw Jesus in the midst of His disciples, stretching forth His hand to catch the trembling Peter on the waters, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” or, after the denial, turning to look on Peter, so as to melt his soul to penitence and love!

3. It is chiefly, however, in the close of this interview that Abraham is treated by God as His friend; being, as it were, admitted into His deliberations, and consulted in regard to what He is about to do.

III. THE FRIENDLY AND CONFIDENTIAL CONSULTATION.

1. The Lord refers to the honour or privilege already granted to Abraham, as a reason for having no concealment from Him now (Genesis 18:18).

2. The Lord, in communicating His purpose to Abraham His friend, refers not only to the high honour and privilege which that relation implies, but also to its great responsibility (Genesis 18:19).

IV. THE LIBERTY OF FRIENDLY REMONSTRANCE.

1. There is no attempt here to pry into the secret things which belong to the Lord our God (Deuteronomy 29:29); no idea of meddling with the purposes or decrees of election, which the Lord reserves exclusively to Himself.

2. Nor in this pleading does Abraham arrogate anything to himself. He has boldness and access, with confidence, by the faith of Jesus. He has liberty to converse with God as a friend, to give utterance to his feelings and desires before Him, to represent his own case and the case of every one for whom he cares; and not for himself only, but for others, yea, indeed for all, to invoke the name of Him whose memorial to all generations is this: “The Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty” Exodus 34:6-7).

3. Abraham’s expostulation, accordingly, proceeds upon this name of the Lord, or in other words, upon the known and revealed principles of the Divine administration. Aspiring to no acquaintance with the secret decrees of God, and standing upon no claim of merit in himself, he has still warrant enough for all the earnestness of this intercessory pleading, in that broad general aspect of the character and moral government of God, to which he expressly refers. For he knows God as the just God and the Saviour; and on this twofold view of the ways of God he builds his argument in his intercessory prayer.

4. Such is the principle of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom. And as it is founded on a right understanding of the nature and design of God’s moral government of the world, in this dispensation of long-suffering patience, subordinate to a dispensation of grace, and preparatory to a dispensation of judgment, so it is combined with a spirit of entire submission to the Divine sovereignty. (S. R. Candlish, D. D.)

Hospitality

Consider this virtue in--

I. Its source: a kind and generous heart.

II. Its attendant qualities.

1. Prompt.

2. Admitting of no refusal.

3. Unsparing.

III. The esteem in which it is held. It is--

1. Pleasing to man.

2. Approved of by God.

IV. The reward which it brings.

1. An angel may be entertained unawares.

2. Gratitude in its object is but natural to expect. (J. H. Jones.)

Abraham’s hospitality

One thinking of these words of Abraham more seriously, “If I have found favour,” &c., noteth by them, that when one cometh to us to whom we may do good, we, rather than he, receive a benefit, for the poor man peradventure receiveth of us a penny, and we of the Lord an hundredfold, and eternal life also. Whether had Elias the better that received a cake, or the widow that by him received such comfort? How, then, may the true consideration hereof quicken us in all charitable and merciful actions towards our brethren distressed, and needing our pity and comfort? (Bp. Babington.)

The trite hospitality

In that he nameth a morsel of bread, and yet performed better, we see the antiquity of this modesty, that of a man’s own things he should speak with least. So use we to invite men to a pittance, or to some particular morsel, when yet we intend somewhat better. But whatsoever Abraham made ready, was all but moderate, in comparison of that ungodly excess that some now use, rather to show their own pride, than to welcome the guest. True welcome never consisted in meats and drinks, and multitude of dishes, but in that affection of an inward heart, which truly hath appeared in a cup of water, where better ability wanted, and which passeth all dishes and meats under the sun. (Bp. Babington.)

Hospitality

Some years ago a pious widow in America, who was reduced to great poverty, had just placed the last smoked herring on her table to supply her hunger and that of her children, when a rap was heard at the door, and a stranger solicited a lodging and a morsel of food, saying that he had not tasted food for twenty-four hours. The widow did not hesitate, but offered a share to the stranger, saying, “We shall not be forsaken, or suffer deeper for an act of charity.” The traveller drew near the table; but when he saw the scanty fare, filled with astonishment, he said, “And is this all your store? And do you offer a share to one you do not know? Then I never saw charity before! But, madam, do you not wrong your children by giving a part of your last morsel to a stranger?” “Ah,” said the widow, weeping, “I have a boy, a darling son, somewhere on the face of the wide world, unless heaven has taken him away; and I only act towards you as I would that others should act towards him. God, who sent manna from heaven, can provide for us as He did for Israel; and how should I this night offend Him, if my son should be a wanderer, destitute as you, and He should have provided for him a home, even as poor as this, were I to turn you unrelieved away?” The widow stopped, and the stranger, springing from his seat, clasped her in his arms. “God indeed has provided just such a home for your wandering son, and has given him wealth to reward the goodness of his benefactress. My mother! O my mother!” It was indeed her long-lost son returned from India. He had chosen this way to surprise his family, and certainly not very wisely. But never was surprise more complete, or more joyful. He was able to make the family comfortable, which he immediately did. The mother lived for some years longer in the enjoyment of plenty.


Verses 1-33

ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION FOR SODOM

Genesis 18:1-33

THE scene with which this chapter opens is one familiar to the observer of nomad life in the East. During the scorching heat and glaring light of noon, while the birds seek the densest foliage and the wild animals lie panting in the thicket and everything is still and silent as midnight, Abraham sits in his tent door under the spreading oak of Mamre. Listless, languid, and dreamy as he is, he is at once aroused into brightest wakefulness by the sudden apparition of three strangers. Remarkable as their appearance no doubt must have been, it would seem that Abraham did not recognise the rank of his visitors; it was, as the writer to the Hebrews says, "unawares" that he entertained angels. But when he saw them stand as if inviting invitation to rest, he treated them as hospitality required him to treat any wayfarers. He sprang to his feet, ran and bowed himself to the ground, and begged them to rest and eat with him. With the extraordinary, and as it seems to our colder nature extravagant courtesy of an Oriental, he rates at the very lowest the comforts he can supply; it is only a little water he can give to wash their feet, a morsel of bread to help them on their way, but they will do him a kindness if they accept these small attentions at his hands. He gives, however, much more than he offered, seeks out the fatted calf and serves while his guests sit and eat. The whole scene is primitive and Oriental, and "presents a perfect picture of the manner in which a modern Bedawee Sheykh receives travellers arriving at his encampment"; the hasty baking of bread, the celebration of a guest’s arrival by the killing of animal food not on other occasions used even by large flock-masters; the meal spread in the open air, the black tents of the encampment stretching back among the oaks of Mamre, every available space filled with sheep, asses, camels, -the whole is one of those clear pictures which only the simplicity of primitive life can produce.

Not only, however, as a suitable and pretty introduction which may ensure our reading the subsequent narrative is it recorded how hospitably Abraham received these three. Later writers saw in it a picture of the beauty and reward of hospitality. It is very true, indeed, that the circumstances of a wandering pastoral life are peculiarly favourable to the cultivation of this grace. Travellers being the only bringers of tidings are greeted from a selfish desire to hear news as well as from better motives. Life in tents, too, of necessity makes men freer in their manners. They have no door to lock, no inner rooms to retire to, their life is spent outside, and their character naturally inclines to frankness and freedom from the suspicions, fears, and restraints of city life. Especially is hospitality accounted the indispensable virtue, and a breach of it as culpable as a breach of the sixth commandment, because to refuse hospitality is in many regions equivalent to subjecting a wayfarer to dangers and hardships under which he is almost certain to succumb.

"This tent is mine," said Yussouf. "but no more

Than it is God’s; come in, and be at peace;

Freely shall thou partake of all my store,

As I of His Who buildeth over these

Our tents His glorious roof of night and day,

And at Whose door none ever yet heard Nay."

Still we are of course bound to import into our life all the suggestions of kindly conduct which any other style of living gives us. And the writer to the Hebrews pointedly refers to this scene and says, "Let us not be forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." And often in quite a prosaic and unquestionable manner does it become apparent to a host, that the guest he has been entertaining has been sent by God, an angel indeed ministering to his salvation, renewing in him thoughts that had been dying out, filling his home with brightness and life like the smile of God’s own face, calling out kindly feelings, provoking to love and to good works, effectually helping him onwards and making one more stage of his life endurable and even blessed. And it is not to be wondered at that our Lord Himself should have continually inculcated this same grace; for in His whole life and by His most painful experience were men being tested as to who among them would take the stranger in. He who became man for a little that He might for ever consecrate the dwelling of Abraham and leave a blessing in his household, has now become man for evermore, that we may learn to walk carefully and reverentially through a life whose circumstances and conditions, whose little socialities and duties, and whose great trials and strains He found fit for Himself for service to the Father. This tabernacle of our human body has by His presence been transformed from a tent to a temple, and this world and all its ways that He approved, admired, and walked in, is holy ground. But as He came to Abraham trusting to his hospitality, not sending before him a legion of angels to awe the patriarch but coming in the guise of an ordinary wayfarer; so did He come to His own and make His entrance among us, claiming only the consideration which He claims for the least of His people, and granting to whoever gave Him that the discovery of His Divine nature. Had there been ordinary hospitality in Bethlehem that night before the taxing, then a woman in Mary’s condition had been cared for and not superciliously thrust among the cattle, and our race had been delivered from the everlasting reproach of refusing its God a cradle to be born and sleep His first sleep in, as it refused Him a bed to die in, and left chance to provide Him a grave in which to sleep His latest sleep. And still He is coming to us all requiring of us this grace of hospitality, not only in the case of every one who asks of us a cup of cold water and whom our Lord Himself will personate at the last day and say, "I was a stranger and ye took Me in"; but also in regard to those claims upon our heart’s reception which He only in His own person makes.

But while we are no doubt justified in gathering such lessons from this scene, it can scarcely have been for the sake of inculcating hospitality that these angels visited Abraham. And if we ask, Why did God on this occasion use this exceptional form of manifesting Himself; why, instead of approaching Abraham in a vision or in word as had been found sufficient on former occasions, did He now adopt this method of becoming Abraham’s guest and eating with him?-the only apparent reason is that He meant this also to be the test applied to Sodom. There too His angels were to appear as wayfarers, dependent on the hospitality of the town, and by the people’s treatment of these unknown visitors their moral state was to be detected and judged. The peaceful meal under the oaks of Mamre, the quiet and confidential walk over the hills in the afternoon when Abraham in the humble simplicity of a godly soul was found to be fit company for these three-this scene where the Lord and His messengers receive a becoming welcome and where they leave only blessing behind them, is set in telling contrast to their reception in Sodom, where their coming was the signal for the outbursts of a brutality one blushes to think of, and elicited all the elements of a mere hell upon earth.

Lot would fain have been as hospitable as Abraham. Deeper in his nature than any other consideration was the traditional habit of hospitality. To this he would have sacrificed everything-the rights of strangers were to him truly inviolable. Lot was a man who could as little see strangers without inviting them to his house as Abraham could. He would have treated them handsomely as his uncle; and what he could do he did. But Lot had by his choice of a dwelling made it impossible he should afford safe and agreeable lodging to any visitor. He did his best, and it was not his reception of the angels that sealed Sodom’s doom, and yet what shame he must have felt that he had put himself in circumstances in which his chief virtue could not be practised. So do men tie their own hands and cripple themselves so that even the good they would take pleasure in doing is either wholly impossible or turns to evil.

In divulging to Abraham His purpose in visiting Sodom, it is enounced here that God acted on a principle which seems afterwards to have become almost proverbial. Surely the Lord will do nothing but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets. There are indeed two grounds stated for making known to Abraham this catastrophe. The reason that we should naturally expect, viz., that he might go on and warn Lot is not one of them. Why then make any announcement to Abraham if the catastrophe cannot be averted, and if Abraham is to turn back to his own encampment? The first reason is: "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him." In other words, Abraham has been made the depository of a blessing for all nations, and account must therefore be given to him when any people is summarily removed beyond the possibility of receiving this blessing. If a man has got a grant for the emancipation of the slaves in a certain district, and is informed on landing to put this grant in force that fifty slaves are to be executed that day, he has certainly a right to know and he will inevitably desire to know that this execution is to be, and why it is to be. When an officer goes to negotiate an exchange of prisoners, if two of the number cannot be exchanged, but are to be shot, he must be informed of this and account of the matter must be given him. Abraham often brooding on God’s promise, living indeed upon it, must have felt a vague sympathy with all men, and a sympathy not at all vague, but most powerful and practical, with the men in the Jordan valley whom he had rescued from Chedorlaomer. If he was to be a blessing to any nation it must surely be to those who were within an afternoon’s walk of his encampment and among whom his nephew had taken up his abode. Suppose he had not been told, but had risen next morning and seen the dense cloud of smoke overhanging the doomed cities, might he not with some justice have complained that although God had spoken to him the previous day, not one word of this great catastrophe had been breathed to him.

The second reason is expressed in the nineteenth verse; God had chosen Abraham that he might command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment that the Lord might fulfil His promise to Abraham. That is to say, as it was only by obedience and righteousness that Abraham and his seed were to continue in God’s favour, it was fair that they should be encouraged to do so by seeing the fruits of unrighteousness. So that as the Dead Sea lay throughout their whole history on their borders reminding them of the wages of sin, they might never fail rightly to interpret its meaning, and in every great catastrophe read the lesson "except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." They could never attribute to chance this predicted judgment. And in point of fact frequent and solemn reference was made to this standing monument of the fruit or sin.

As yet there was no moral law proclaimed by any external authority. Abraham had to discover what justice and goodness were from the dictates of his own conscience and from his observation upon men and things. But he was at all events persuaded that only so long as he and his sought honestly to live in what they considered to be righteousness would they enjoy God’s favour. And they read in the destruction of Sodom a clear intimation that certain forms of wickedness were detestable to God.

The earnestness with which Abraham intercedes for the cities of the plain reveals a new side of his character. One could understand a strong desire on his part that Lot should be rescued, and no doubt the preservation of Lot formed one of his strongest motives to intercede, yet Lot is never named, and it is, I think, plain that he had more than the safety of Lot in view. He prayed that the city might be spared, not that the righteous might be delivered out of its ruin. Probably he had a lively interest in the people he had rescued from captivity, and felt a kind of protectorate over them as he sometimes looked down on them from the hills near his own tents. He pleads for them as he had fought for them, with generosity, boldness, and perseverance; and it was his boldness and unselfishness in fighting for them that gave him boldness in praying for them.

There has come into vogue in this country a kind of intercession which is the exact reverse of this of Abraham-an obtuse, mechanical intercession about whose efficacy one may cherish a reasonable suspicion. The Bible and common sense bid us pray with the Spirit and with the understanding; but at some meetings for prayer you are asked to pray for people you do not know and have no real interest in. You are not told even their names, so that if an answer is sent you could not identify the answer, nor is any clue given you by which, if God should propose to use you for their help, you could know where the help was to be applied. For all you know the slip of paper handed in among a score of others may misrepresent the circumstances; and even supposing it does not, what likeness to the effectual fervent prayer of an anxious man has the petition that is once read in your hearing and at once and for ever blotted from your mind by a dozen others of the same kind. Not so did Abraham pray; he prayed for those he knew and had fought for; and I see no warrant for expecting that our prayers will be heard for persons whose good we seek in no other way than prayer, in none of those ways which in all other matters our conduct proves we judge more effectual than prayer. When Lot was carried captive Abraham did not think it enough to put a petition for him in his evening prayer. He went and did the needful thing, so that now when there is nothing else he can do but pray, he intercedes, as few of us can without self-reproach or feeling that had we only done our part there might now be no need of prayer. What confidence can a parent have in praying for a son who is going to a country where vice abounds, if he has done little or nothing to infix in his boy’s mind a love of virtue? In some cases the very persons who pray for others are themselves the obstacles preventing the answer. Were we to ask ourselves how much we are prepared to do for those for whom we pray, we should come to a more adequate estimate of the fervency and sincerity of our prayers.

The element in Abraham’s intercession that jars on the reader is the trading temper that strives always to get the best possible terms. Abraham seems to think God can be beaten down and induced to make smaller and smaller demands. No doubt this style of prayer was suggested to Abraham by the statement on God’s part that He was going to Sodom to see if its iniquity was so great as it was reported; that is, to number, as it were, the righteous men in it. Abraham seizes upon this and asks if He would not spare it if fifty were found in it. But Abraham, knowing Sodom as he did, could not have supposed this number would be found. Finding, then, that God meets him so far, he goes on step by step getting larger in his demands, until when he comes to ten he feels that to go farther would be intolerably presumptuous. Along with this audacious beating down of God, there is a genuine and profound reverence and humility which at each renewal of the petition dictate some such expression as: "I who am but dust and ashes," "Let not my Lord be angry."

It is remarkable too that, throughout, it is for justice Abraham pleads, and for justice of a limited and imperfect kind. He proceeds on the assumption that the town will be judged as a town, and either wholly saved or wholly destroyed. He has no idea of individual discrimination being made, those only suffering who had sinned. And yet it is this principle of discrimination on which God ultimately proceeds, rescuing Lot. Yet is not this intercession the history of what every one who prays passes through, beginning with the idea that God is to be won over to more liberal views and a more munificent intention, and ending with the discovery that God gives what we should count it shameless audacity to ask? We begin to pray,

"As if ourselves were better certainly

Than what we come to-Maker and High Priest,"

and we leave off praying assured that the whole is to be managed by a righteousness and love and wisdom, which we cannot plan for, which any love or desire of ours would only limit the action of, and which must be left to work out its own purposes in its own marvellous ways. We begin, feeling that we have to beat down a reluctant God and that we can guide the mind of God to some better thing than He intends: when the answer comes we recognise that what we set as the limit of our expectation God has far overstepped, and that our prayer has done little more than show our inadequate conception of God’s mercy.

Not only in this respect but throughout this chapter there is betrayed an inadequate conception of God. The language is adapted to the use of men who are as yet unable to conceive of one Infinite, Eternal Spirit. They think of Him as one who needs to come down and institute an inquiry into the state of Sodom, if He is to know with accuracy the moral condition of its inhabitants. We can freely use the same language, but we put into it a meaning that the words do not literally bear: Abraham and his contemporaries used and accepted the words in their literal sense. And yet the man who had ideas of God in some respects so rudimentary was God’s Friend, received singular tokens of His favour, found His whole life illuminated with His presence, and was used as the point of contact between heaven and earth, so that if you desire the first lessons in the knowledge of God which will in time grow into full information, it is to the tent of Abraham you must go. This surely is encouraging; for who is not conscious of much difficulty in thinking rightly of God? Who does not feel that precisely here, where the light should be brightest, clouds and darkness seem to gather? It may indeed be said that what was excusable in Abraham is inexcusable in us; that we have that day, that full noon of Christ to which he could only, out of the dusky dawn, look forward. But after all may not a man with some justice say: Give me an afternoon with God, such as Abraham had; give me the opportunity of converse with a God submitting Himself to question and answer, to those means and instruments of ascertaining truth which I daily employ in other matters, and I will ask no more? Christ has given us entrance into the final stage of our knowledge Of God, teaching us that God is a Spirit and that we cannot see the Father; that Christ Himself left earth and withdrew from the bodily eye that we might rely more upon spiritual modes of apprehension and think of God as a Spirit. But we are not at all times able to receive this teaching, we are children still and fall back with longing for the times when God walked and spoke with man. And this being so, we are encouraged by the experience of Abraham. We shall not be disowned by God though we do not know Him perfectly. We can but begin where we are, not pretending that that is clear and certain to us which in fact is not so, but freely dealing with God according to the light we have, hoping that we too, like Abraham, shall see the day of Christ and be glad; shall one day stand in the full light of ascertained and eternal truth, knowing as we are known.

In conclusion, we shall find when we read the following chapter, and especially the prayer of Lot that he might not be driven to the wild mountain district, but might occupy the little town of Zoar which was saved for his sake-we shall find that much light is reflected on this prayer of Abraham. Without trenching on what may be more fitly spoken of afterwards, it may now be observed that the difference between Lot and Abraham, as between man and man generally, comes out nowhere more strikingly than in their prayers. Abraham had never prayed for himself with a tithe of the persistent earnestness with which he prays for Sodom-a town which was much indebted to him, but towards which for more reasons than one a smaller man would have borne a grudge. Lot, on the other hand, much indebted to Sodom, identified indeed with it, one of its leading citizens, connected by marriage with its inhabitants, is in no agony about its destruction, and has indeed but one prayer to offer, and that is, that when all his fellow towns-men are destroyed, he may be comfortably provided for. While the men he has bargained and feasted with, the men he has made money out of and married his daughters to, are in the agonies of an appalling catastrophe and so near that the smoke of their torment sweeps across his retreat, he is so disengaged from regrets and compassion that he can nicely weigh the comparative comfort and advantage of city and rural life. One would have thought better of the man if he had declined the angelic rescue and resolved to stand by those in death whose society he had so coveted in life. And it is significant that while the generous, large-hearted, devout pleading of Abraham is in vain, the miserable, timorous, selfish petition of Lot is heard and answered. It would seem as if sometimes God were hopeless of men, and threw to them in contempt the gifts they crave, giving them the poor stations in this life their ambition is set upon, because He sees they have made themselves incapable of enduring hardness, and so quelling their lower nature. An answered prayer is not always a blessing, sometimes it is a doom: "He sent them meat to the full: but while their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them and slew the fattest of them."

Probably had Lot felt any inclination to pray for his townsmen, he would have seen that for him to do so would be unseemly. His circumstances, his long association with the Sodomites, and his accommodation of himself to their ways had both eaten the soul out of him and set him on quite a different footing towards God from that occupied by Abraham. A man cannot on a sudden emergency lift himself out of the circumstances in which he has been rooted, nor peel off his character as if it were only skin-deep. Abraham had been living an unworldly life in which intercourse with God was a familiar employment. His prayer was but the seasonable flower of his life, nourished to all its beauty by the habitual nutriment of past years. Lot in his need could only utter a peevish, pitiful, childish cry. He had aimed all his life at being comfortable, he could not now wish anything more than to be comfortable. "Stand out of my sunshine," was all he could say, when he held by the hand the plenipotentiary of heaven, and when the roar of the conflict of moral good and evil was filling his ears-a decent man, a righteous man, but the world had eaten out his heart till he had nothing to keep him in sympathy with heaven.

Such is the state to which men in our society, as in Sodom, are brought by risking their spiritual life to make the most of this world.


Verses 9-15

Genesis 18:9-15

Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, Which am old?
--

The conflict between fear and faith

I. THE THINGS PROMISED SO FAITH ARE DIFFICULT OF RELIEF.

1. It is necessary that faith should be thus tried by difficulty.

2. We must be cast entirely upon the word of God.

II. FAITH MAY, FOR A WHILE, BE QUITE PARALYZED BY FEAR (Genesis 18:15).

1. In sincere souls this condition is only momentary.

2. To accept God at His word would save us from all foolish wonder.

III. GOD GRACIOUSLY GRANTS POWER TO OVERCOME THE FEAR. If only faith is real at bottom and in any way lays hold upon God, He will pardon its infirmities and repair its weaknesses. This He did in Sarah’s case.

1. By mild reproof.

2. By recognizing the good which is mixed up with our infirmity.

3. By repeating His promises.

4. By casting us upon His own omnipotence (Genesis 18:14). (T. H.Leale.)

Lessons

1. Gracious hospitality hath sweet returns from God as acceptance with Him.

2. Known to God are souls who entertain Him, better than He is known to them. Where is Sarah?

3. God calleth for the woman to be sharer in the promise with the man.

4. It is good to be at hand, near to God in our places, when promises are given out (Genesis 18:9).

5. God labours to put believing souls above all doubts concerning His promise.

6. God is punctual in His own time to perform His promise.

7. God will keep His saints alive to see the good which He promiseth them.

8. Weak saints may receive promises with their ears, and yet not believe nor digest them (Genesis 18:10).

9. Sensible objections may puzzle the weak faith of God’s servants {Genesis 18:11).

10. Weakness of faith and strength of sense may make saints despise the promise,

11. Nature’s defects are apt to question the power of God to help them. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Lessons

1. God takes notice of the unbelief of saints, in word, and deed, to reprove them. Jehovah said, &c.

2. Good works toward God do not excuse from unbelief of His promises. Sarah’s feast stops not God’s mouth against sin.

3. Husbands should hear God’s complaints of their wives to amend them, so Abraham did.

4. God is displeased to have objections from sense set up against His promise (Genesis 18:13).

5. God is absolutely able to do anything what He please in heaven or earth.

6. God proposeth His absolute power for faith to rest on against all sensible objections.

7. God’s promise is joined with His power to take of weak souls from sinful doubting.

8. God tenders the weak in faith, and doubleth His promise for their support (Genesis 18:14).

9. Saints weak in faith, may be so overtaken as to seek to hide one sin by another.

10. Guilt and fear may lead souls to such transgression.

11. God will make His servants own their iniquities, though through weakness they had denied them.

12. God will be gracious to His saints in making them know their sins (Genesis 18:15). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Sarah’s sin

I. HER UNBELIEF.

II. HER UNTRUTH.

God’s promise treated with incredulity

Sarah does not appear to have been by any means a blameless character. Her conduct towards Hagar showed us that she was a woman capable of generous impulses, but not of the strain of continued magnanimous conduct. She was capable of yielding her wifely rights on the impulse of the brilliant scheme that had struck her, but like many other persons who can begin a magnanimous or generous course of conduct, she could not follow it up to the end, but failed disgracefully in her conduct towards her rival. So now again she betrays characteristic weakness. When the strangers came to Abraham’s tent, and announced that she was to become a mother, she smiled in superior, self-assured, woman’s wisdom. When the promise threatened no longer to hover over her household as a m ere sublime and exalting idea which serves its purpose if it keep them in mind that God has spoken to them, but to take place now among the actualities of daily occurrence, she hails this announcement with a laugh of total incredulity. Whatever she had made of God’s word, she had not thought it was really and veritably to come to pass; she smiled at the simplicity which could speak of such an unheard-of thing. This is true to human nature. It reminds you how you have dealt with God’s promises--nay, with God’s commandments--when they offered to make room for themselves in the everyday life of which you are masters, every detail of which you have arranged, seeming to know absolutely the laws and principles on which your particular line of life must be carried on. Have you never smiled at the simplicity which could set about making actual, about carrying out in practical life, in society, in work, in business, those thoughts, feelings and purposes, which God’s promises beget? Sarah did not laugh outright, but smiled behind the Lord; she did not mock Him to His face, but let the compassionate expression pass over her face with which we listen to the glowing hopes of the young enthusiast who does not know the world. Have we not often put aside God’s voice precisely thus; saying within us, We know what kind of things can be done by us and others and what need not be attempted; we know what kind of frailties in social intercourse we must put up with, and not seek to amend; what kind of practices it is vain to think of abolishing; we know what use to make of God’s promise and what use not to make of it; how far to trust it, and how far to give greater weight to our knowledge of the world and our natural prudence and sense? Does not our faith, like Sarah’s, vary in proportion as the promise to be believed is unpractical? If the promise seems wholly to concern future things, we cordially and devoutly assent; but if we are asked to believe that God intends within the year to do so-and-so, if we are asked to believe that the result of God’s promise will be found taking a substantial place among the results of our own efforts--then the derisive smile of Sarah forms on our face. (M. Dods, D. D.)


Verses 16-18

Genesis 18:16-18

And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
--

The secret of the Lord with Abraham

God communicates Himself, and the knowledge of His ways and designs, to His faithful ones. There was a special propriety for this mode of dealing with His servant Abraham. Consider this--

I. As ONE OF THE PRIVILEGES OF GOD’S FRIENDSHIP WITH HIM. Communication of secrets is one of the special privileges of friendship. Where we trust our secrets the intimacy must be very close, and the confidence of love very great. God imparted to His friend Abraham a twofold secret.

1. The secret of loving intercourse.

2. The secret of His purposes.

II. AS DEPENDING UPON HIS DESTINY AND CHARACTER. Abraham was not only a saint, but also a representative man, through whom God intended to convey great blessings to mankind. He was the human foundation upon which God’s most gracious purposes concerning the race were to he erected. The friendship of God with him, therefore, is to be considered--

1. With regard to his destiny. God had known him, that is, determined him for a purpose.

2. With regard to his personal character, God knew that Abraham was a righteous man, and that he would be just and upright in the government of his family, bringing them up in the fear and love of Himself. So would they enjoy the benefits of the covenant of grace, and avoid the doom of the wicked. (T. H. Leale)

The friend of God

I. WE ARE TO PONDER THIS MOST INTERESTING SCENE. In it we shall find three leading acts.

1. The condescending visit of God to Abraham.

2. The revelation of the Lord’s purpose to Abraham (Genesis 18:16-22).

3. Abraham interceding for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33).

II. APPLY TO OURSELVES. As Abraham’s spiritual seed, we are called to be friends of God.

1. Jesus calls us His friends (see John 15:15).

2. Jesus manifests Himself to us as He does not to the world. Certainly, this is an inward and spiritual manifestation; but it is not less real or delightful than that vouchsafed to Abraham.

3. He condescends to be refreshed by us. When we do His will, and offer Him praise, He sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied. He sups with us.

4. He reveals to us His secret. This relates to His second coming, to the destruction of the world, and the final overthrow of the ungodly. The fate of Sodom represents that of all the earth.

5. We are permitted to intercede for others. (The Congregational Pulpit.)

God’s reasons for revealing His intentions to Abraham

1. The importance of his character. He was not only the friend of God, but the father of “a great nation,” in which God would have a special interest, and through which “all other nations should be blessed.” Let him be in the secret.

2. The good use he would make of it. Being previously disclosed to him, he would be the more deeply impressed by it: and according to his tried and approved conduct as the head of a family, would be concerned to impart it as a warning to his posterity in all future ages. As the wicked extract ill from good, so the righteous will extract good from ill Sodom’s destruction shall turn to Abraham’s salvation: the monument of just vengeance against their crimes shall be of perpetual use to him and his posterity, and contribute even to the “bringing of that good upon them, which the Lord had spoken concerning them. (A. Fuller.)


Verse 19

Genesis 18:19

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him

Family religion

I.
THE LIGHT IN WHICH ABRAHAM APPEARS IN THIS PASSAGE AND HOW HE WAS QUALIFIED FOR THE DUTY HERE ASCRIBED TO HIM.

1. A man of knowledge.

2. A man of piety.

3. A man of virtue.

4. A man of authority.

5. A man of fidelity.

6. A man of diligence.

II. THE NATURE OF THIS DUTY OR HIS ENDEAVOURS FOR THE GOOD OF HIS FAMILY.

1. He not only prayed with and before his family, but interceded for them as a priest.

2. He was a prophet in his family.

3. He was a king in his house, and used authority.

III. HOW PLEASING IT WAS TO GOD, AND THE BLESSED CONSEQUENCES THEREOF TO ABRAHAM AND HIS FAMILY. Observe--The reason why God would hide nothing from Abraham. “For I know him,” &c. Abraham was communicative of his knowledge, and improved it to the good of those under his care, and therefore God resolved to make communications to him. The way to the accomplishment of God’s promises: “That the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.” Family-blessings arise from family religion;--temperance, frugality, industry, discretion--peace, quietness, love, harmony--the favour, protection, and care of God; His direction and aid--all necessaries (Psalms 37:25; Matthew 6:33)--prosperity, as far as will be good for us, and our families. (J. Benson, D. D.)

The parental empire

The text implies--

I. THAT A PARENT IS INVESTED WITH REGAL AUTHORITY.

II. THAT A PARENT’S AUTHORITY IS TO BE WIELDED IN SUBORDINATION TO THE DIVINE.

III. THAT A PARENT WHO THUS WIELDS HIS AUTHORITY ENSURES THE FULFILMENT OF THE DIVINE PROMISE IN HIS EXPERIENCE. (Homilist.)

Lessons

1. God’s knowledge of souls giveth them capacity of receiving his revelations. The knowledge of His election and approbation.

2. God’s knowledge determines souls unto duty and doth commend them for it, so it did to Abraham.

3. God’s known ones will command for God all within their power.

4. Children and servants are to be commanded by God’s approved rulers to keep close to His way.

5. Saints known of God will take care for their seed to serve God after their departure. Succeeding generations are their care.

6. The commands of godly fathers and governors are answered fruitfully where God knoweth souls.

7. Keeping the way of Jehovah and doing justice are inseparably enjoined and performed.

8. Such souls are fittest to receive discoveries of God’s purposed judgments, who make the best use of them.

9. The full accomplishment of all promises in Christ are the consequents of duty, caused by them.

10. God will bring home all the good promised in Christ unto His covenant ones.

11. God will not hide any thing that is good from the people of His promise; He showeth evil to avoid it.

12. What God hath vouchsafed and spoken to Abram hath always been with respect unto His Church’s good. So in this case to the Church in his family (Genesis 18:19). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Parental government of a family

I. We are to consider, WHO THEY ARE THAT COMPOSE A FAMILY. Some families are smaller, and some are larger than others. Families are usually composed of parents and their children, which are sometimes less, and sometimes more numerous. But parents may have other children and youths committed to their care and instruction, and those equally belong to their family. Besides their own and other children, they may have those whom they employ in their service, and who reside in their house; and these all belong to their family. They may also have some persons whom they invite to reside with them gratuitously. These likewise belong to the family. In a word, all whom they permit to enter under their roof for pleasure, entertainment, protection, or relief, belong to their family for the time being. Parents are heads of their families, whether larger or smaller, and whether they are composed of persons of different ages, characters and conditions, or not. Their parental authority extends to every individual of their family.

II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN PARENTAL AUTHORITY, OR WHAT IT GIVES PARENTS A RIGHT TO DO IN RESPECT TO THEIR CHILDREN AND HOUSEHOLDS. And here it may be observed--

1. That it gives them the right of dedicating them to God.

2. Parental authority gives parents the right of instructing their children, as well as the right of devoting them to God.

3. Parental authority gives parents a right to restrain, as well as to instruct their children and households. Children and youth are naturally inclined to vanity and vice, from which they need to be guarded and restrained, not only by instruction, admonition and advice, but by proper authority.

III. THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISING PARENTAL AUTHORITY. This will appear, if we consider the great and happy consequences which family government tends to promote.

1. Family government directly tends to promote family religion.

2. The proper exercise of parental authority is highly important, as it tends to propagate religion from generation to generation, throughout the world.

3. The proper exercise of parental authority directly tends to promote both temporal and spiritual prosperity.

Improvement--

1. If it be so important, as has been said, that parents should properly exercise parental authority over their children and households, then it is highly important that they themselves should be pious.

2. If it be so important that parents should duly exercise their parental authority over their children and households, as has been said, then they are entirely inexcusable and guilty, if they neglect to do it.

3. If the proper exercise of parental authority be so important as has been said, in order to promote and perpetuate religion, then we may discover the primary cause of the declension of religion in any place where it has prevailed and flourished. It must be primarily and principally owing to the neglect of parents in exercising their parental authority over their children and households.

4. If the proper exercise of parental authority be so important, as has been said, to promote and perpetuate religion, then we may discover the primary cause of the prevalence of religious errors at this day in this land.

5. We learn from this subject, to whom it primarily and principally belongs to bring about a reformation in piety and virtue. It certainly belongs to parents in particular. And is there a pious or sober parent, who will not acknowledge that a reformation is necessary? (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Family training

I. WE SEE THE HIGH VALUE GOD PLACES ON EARLY SPIRITUAL TRAINING. Children and servants are both to be brought under religious influence.

II. WE SEE THAT GOD NOTICES HOW SPIRITUAL TRAINING IS CARRIED ON. God could trust Abraham. He would “command,” not in dictatorial tones of tyrant, but by power of consistent life. Devout advice. Gentle firmness.

III. WE SEE THAT GOD MADE THE BESTOWMENT OF INTENDED BLESSINGS DEPENDENT ON THE FAITHFUL DISCHARGE OF DUTY. (F. Hastings.)

Christian culture

I. The first duty of the head towards his household, relates to the DAILY WORSHIP of God.

II. RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION.

III. FAMILY GOVERNMENT. (The Homiletic Review.)

Religion in the family

WHAT ARE THE PRACTICAL ELEMENTS OF WHICH THIS RELIGION IS COMPOSED?

1. Every parent or guardian of a family is in duty hound to maintain proper domestic government.

2. The religious education of the family properly devolves upon the parent.

3. God must be worshipped in the family.

4. Religion in the family will be discovered in the exemplification of the Christian temper.

II. We come to consider THE BLESSED RESULTS THAT ATTEND RELIGION IN THE FAMILY. The personal benefits, we apprehend, will be considerable; but we purpose to consider the relative advantages of religion in the family.

1. The conduct we have described will have an important bearing on the domestics, as to their future character and final destiny.

2. Your piety as parents will have an important bearing on the peace and happiness of the family. “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

3. You may further consider that your religion in the family has an important bearing on society. Society is becoming increasingly corrupt--the rising race threaten to outdo their parents in crime; iniquity abounds. The want of religion in the heads of households has contributed in no small degree to this growing deterioration. (John Williams.)

The true principle of education

I. Now, you should observe THE PECULIARITY OF THE EXPRESSION, “I KNOW HIM THAT HE WILL COMMAND HIS CHILDREN AND HIS HOUSEHOLD AFTER HIM.” Such an expression seems to imply that there is no tendency in children to walk in the right way. They have to be dealt with in the way of command--as though, if left to themselves, the almost certainty is that they will walk in the wrong. And this is a great though melancholy truth never to be lost sight of, in our reasonings upon man and religion. And the moment it is proved that children are given into our keeping with a tendency to evil, we are bound to consider that it rests with ourselves to counteract evil tendencies, just as though it were wholly dependent on us whether they should grow up into the righteous or the unrighteous. Let us learn from every instance of stubbornness in children, from every outbreak of passion, from every spiteful action, from every petty quarrel, that we are in boyhood the very miniatures of what we should all be in manhood, if it were not for the grace of God, and that therefore, in dealing with a child, we have not to deal with unoccupied soil, but with soil already impregnated with the seeds of moral evil; and, oh! let this knowledge persuade us of the importance of the duty, and also of the difficulty of thoroughly following the example of Abraham, of whom God could say--“I know him that he will command his children and his household after him. But here we come to a most important question, as to the manner in which the example may most efficiently be copied. We have a thorough belief that the great secret of training lies in the always regarding the child as immortal. The moment that this is kept out of sight we scheme and arrange as though the child had to live only upon earth, and then our plans not being commensurate with the vastness of their object will necessarily be inadequate to the securing its good. Educate on the principle that you educate for eternity, otherwise it is impossible to produce a beneficial result. If it be a sound maxim, and sound it must be, for Christ Himself delivered it, that the direct way of obtaining such things as are good for us upon earth is to “ seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” what is it but the carrying this maxim into the business of education to count that the best mode of improving the mind, of forming the manners, and of fitting for a profession, is never to suffer the present world to keep the next out of sight, to draw every motive from eternity, and to make every pursuit terminate in God? Only remember, that in carrying out any theory of religious education, far more will depend on example than on precept.

II. But we come now to consider THE PROMISE WHICH IS CONTAINED IN OUR TEXT, AND WHICH MAY SERVE TO ENCOURAGE US IN OUR ENDEAVOURS TO COPY THE PATRIARCH’S EXAMPLE. “They shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” But do children who have been rightly trained always turn out well? When you come to think on what right training is, a system of example as well as of precept, you must assuredly see how likely it is that the best training has been defective--that even parents who have taken most pains have failed in thoroughly educating their children for God; and of course it is vain to urge that the Divine promise has not been accomplished, so long as there could be doubt as to whether the condition on which it is made has been rigidly complied with. But having delivered this caution, we may proceed to state our thorough conviction, that when parents have done their best to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord, the almost invariable result is, that, sooner or later, these children become what they have wished them to be. It is not that children will walk from the first without any deviation in the course which the parent anxiously prescribes; there is no promise to this effect in Scripture; Solomon only says of the child trained in the right way, that “when he is old he will not depart from it”; and the word rendered “old” does not mark youth or manhood, as distinguished from infancy or child-hood--it belongs strictly to the decline of life, to the season of decrepitude and grey hairs. It is the word used, for example, of Isaac, when it is said--“And it came to pass, when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim.” Our text, as we have already said, by the using the words “after him” seems equally to be looking on to some distant day, as if God would throw parents altogether on their faith, and emphatically warn them against thinking labour lost, because as yet they can discern none of its fruits. In place of despairing, ought not the stubbornness of the soil to be but an argument for increased diligence in all the arts of moral husbandry--seeing that it is on “patient continuance in well-doing” that a recompense is promised by the word of our God? We find, then, the greatest material for consolation in such a passage as our text. We would not ask a stronger encouragement. The emphatic remonstrance of a parent with a dissolute child is not necessarily thrown away because the child persists in his dissoluteness; it may come up with all the touching tones of the remembered voice when the parent has long lain in the grave, and work remorse and contrition in the prodigal. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Duties of parents

A well-ordered, godly household is among the noblest triumphs of our Christianity.

I. Let us first consider the duties of parents to their children in the years of INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD. The first anxiety of the parents will be about the infant’s reception into the Church. And it is a question of no light or ill-considered moment with the pious parents to determine who shall undertake for the child in that holy sacrament; who, in the event of their own early removal, would be most likely to enter into the responsibilities and sanctity of sponsorship, and so give a practical reality to that orphan’s promise, “When my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” I shall presume to offer suggestions to mothers bearing on the treatment of children in their very earliest years.

1. Thus I exhort you to begin cultivating, even in infancy, the principle of prompt and unquestioning obedience.

2. Passing, however, from the infant stage to that commonly designated as childhood, I proceed to offer some suggestions on the best mode of cultivating the religious affections at this period.

3. But, in connection with the formation of the religious character in childhood, we must consider how far it is expedient to impress upon the mind at this tender age anything of stated and compulsory attention to the practical duties and exercises of the Christian life.

II. But let us proceed to consider the duties devolving on parents towards their children at the second stage, or the PERIOD USUALLY ASSIGNED TO THEIR SCHOOL LIFE. But, in relation to the treatment of children at this period of life, the point which of all others will be found to task parental judgment and discrimination most is how to order the discipline of correction or reproof. The discipline itself must, of course, begin from the very earliest period. Let us see what forms of correction seem to be here forbidden.

1. Thus the language may be taken to forbid all angry and intemperate correction,

2. Again, these prohibitions of the apostles extend to that cold, distant, and forbidding demeanour which some fathers think essential to the maintenance of parental authority; but which, in effect, turns the reverence of children into slavish fear.

3. But these are negative directions. What suggestions are to be offered towards a plan of temperate, judicious, and yet firm and effectual correction? Of these some are obvious and general; as, for instance, that all correction be administered upon principles of the most righteous fairness. Again, it should always be apparent to children that you are driven to the use of correction by a loving necessity--by the affection you bear to their souls.

4. But a more important direction for the administering of reproof is to be given, founded on the law for dealing with offenders, laid down by our Lord Himself. “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy brother.” Here is an excellent model for parental reproofs. First, let a little time elapse after the wrong is done to give opportunity for reflection.

III. The third class of suggestions to be offered on the duties which parents owe to their children has respect to the interval between the CLOSE OF THE EDUCATION PERIOD and the time when the parental roof is quitted, and entrance has to be made on the active duties of life.

1. And here the first subject of anxious thought to the parent will be a devout and earnest preparation for the rite of Confirmation.

2. A second counsel for this period goes to recommend a careful avoidance of all needless and irritating restrictions upon children; all tightly held reins upon their reasonable choice and liberty; all those offending reminders of an unmitigated and unlightened yoke which might tempt them to leave the parental roof before the time.

3. We may conclude with one other suggestion having reference to the choice of a calling for our children, or their ultimate settlement in life. (D. Moore, M. A.)

Family religion

I. THE DUTY OF FAMILY RELIGION IS CLEARLY DERIVED FROM SCRIPTURE BY THE CASE OF ABRAHAM. When it is said that God knew, that is, approved him in his conduct, in that he commanded his children and household after him, we must consider such approbation extended to all who tread in the steps of Abraham in this particular. It is clearly the duty of every Christian to do all the good which he can during the time of his sojourn here upon earth, whether as relates to the bodies or the souls of men. The more nearly persons are allied to us, the more binding is the duty. The master of a family then must improve his talent. His influence and authority is a sacred trust to be accounted for at the great day. I infer, therefore, upon these grounds the duty of family prayer. In addition to this, all the members of a household have many wants and share many blessings in common, and therefore all should join together in a common service of prayer and praise.

II. Having thus pointed out the duty of family prayer, WE MAY CONSIDER THE ADVANTAGES RESULTING FROM IT. It is an acknowledgment day by day of God’s right over us, of our dependence on Him for everything which we enjoy, either as relates to time or eternity. It is a solemn memento to all the members of a household that God is greatly to be feared. It is a positive channel by which our heavenly Father conveys multiplied blessings to those who wait upon Him. Moreover it tends to unite together the members of a family, and to lessen those jars and dissensions which often interrupt the peace of households.

III. But THERE ARE DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF FAMILY PRAYER TO BE CONSIDERED. First, as to the time and manner of conducting it. Only determine to begin the practice, and the fit time will easily be found. But again, a difficulty may be urged that persons are not always in a becoming state of mind to pray, and that therefore it is not desirable or advantageous to appoint a set time for prayer. This would be a valid argument against all appointed seasons of prayer whatever, and I believe that we enter upon most dangerous ground in admitting any force in such an objection. We must stir up the gift of God within us, and this most especially by calling upon Him to enable us to pray, and by setting ourselves to pray in dependence on the Holy Spirit who helpeth our infirmities.

IV. We have now to consider How FAMILY PRAYER OUGHT TO BE CONDUCTED. Let it be done with gravity, reverence, and seriousness, as becomes the Almighty Being whom we are going to address, and in whose special presence we are about to appear. Let this be done, where it is possible, both morning and evening; in the morning before the members of the family disperse to their several employments, and in the evening at a convenient hour before they retire to rest. (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)

Family worship: its propriety and utility

I. The OBLIGATION we are under to maintain the worship of God in our families.

1. And here we will first of all observe that family worship is reasonable in itself. Shall the father of a human family be respected in his person, acknowledged in his authority, and loved for his paternal kindness; and shall the one common Father of all, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of mankind, and the God of all our mercies, remain unrespected, unacknowledged, unloved?

2. Moreover, family worship comes recommended to us by many scriptural examples. Joshua’s well-known determination was: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” When David had brought the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obed-edom, and set it in the midst of the tent which he had pitched for it, he “returned to bless his house.” Job, fearing lest his sons in the unchecked gaiety of their hearts should blaspheme the Lord, “rose up early in the morning and offered sacrifices for them all,” and “thus did Job continually.” Cornelius was “a devout man--one that feared God with all his house, and prayed to God alway.” We read of the Saviour praying with His disciples as well as for them, and often did He privately instruct them.

II. The ADVANTAGES derivable from family worship.

1. The continuance and prevalence of piety in our families is, in a good measure, assured by family worship.

2. Family worship, too, when prudently conducted, is attended with this advantage--it tends to promote unity and peace in households.

3. Another great advantage resulting almost necessarily from the practice of family worship is the preservation of a sense of Divine anal spiritual things in the mind.

4. A further advantage derivable from family worship is the efficiency it gives to ministerial labour.

5. And whatever advantage the worship and service of God in our families failed to produce, our performance of a plain and acknowledged duty would bring with it its own rich reward. As in Psalms 19:11, we read, “In keeping God’s commandments there is a great reward.”

III. The EXCUSES made for neglecting family worship.

1. An excuse made by many for neglecting family worship is want of ability to pray in the presence of others, or to lead a family’s devotions. Now, it so happens that this is almost the only case in which people pretend to have a very mean opinion of their own abilities. But, admitting you have no ability to do so, you may seek and ask it.

2. Others, again, will say, We fear being ridiculed; we fear we shall be thought too strict and precise in our domestic habits. Here, however, I would observe: The irreligion of the multitude should be a powerful incentive with us to cherish religious habits and the fear of God in our houses.

3. Another excuse urged by some is, We have no time. Bring this excuse to the Bible. Abraham had flocks and herds exceeding many, and very much cattle. Job, too, had the same. Joshua was the leader and commander of all the armies of Israel. David occupied a throne, and had all the cares of government on his mind. But have you really no leisure?--none for amusement?

4. A final excuse we shall notice is this, Fear of personal restraint. This excuse, if we mistake not, lies at the root of almost every other. Let the heart be examined, and many a one will find there, “I am fearful of a restraint upon myself; I am afraid if I have daily family worship in my house I shall not be able to indulge myself and enjoy the world as I am disposed to do; more will be expected from me then than is expected now; I must be consistent; if I say, ‘Hallowed be Thy name,’ I must not take the name of God in vain. (W. Mudge, B. A.)

“My mother never tells lies”

Some females, says The St. Louis Observer, met at the house of a friend, in this city, for an evening visit, when the following scene and conversation occurred:--The child of one of the females, about five years old, was guilty of rude, noisy conduct, very improper on all occasions, and particularly so at a stranger’s house. The mother kindly reproved her. “Sarah, you must not do so.” The child soon forgot the reproof, and became as noisy as ever. The mother firmly said, “Sarah, if you do so again I will punish you.” But not long after Sarah “ did so again.” When the company were about to separate, the mother stepped into a neighbour’s house, intending to return for the child. During her absence the thought of going home recalled to the mind of Sarah the punishment which her mother told her she might expect. The recollection turned her rudeness and thoughtlessness to sorrow. A young lady present observing it, and learning the cause, in order to pacify her, said, “Never mind, I will ask your mother not to whip you.” “Oh,” said Sarah, “that will do no good; my mother never tells lies.” Said my informant, who is also a parent, “I learned a lesson from the reply of that child which I shall never forget. It is worth everything in the training of a child to make it feel that its mother never tells lies.” (Moral and Religious Anecdotes.)

Parents, a blessing

I thank God for two things, yes, for a thousand; but for two among many--first, that I was born and bred in the country, of parents that gave me a sound constitution and a noble example. I never can pay back what I got from my parents. If I were to raise a monument of gold higher than heaven, it would be no expression of the debt of gratitude which I owe to them for that which they unceasingly gave, by the heritage of their body and the heritage of their souls, to me. And next to that I am thankful that I was brought up in circumstances where I never became acquainted with wickedness. (H. W. Beecher from his last public letter.)

The blessedness of submission to parents

A child who had been trained in the ways of religion by a parent who was kind, but judiciously firm, as she sunk to rest in peaceful reliance on her Saviour’s love, affectionately thanked her beloved mother for all her tender care and kindness, but added, “I thank you most of all for having subdued my self-will.” And why so much gratitude for the mother’s faithful discipline? Doubtless because the child regarded it as preparatory to the submission of her will to God, and thus instrumental of her salvation.

Family religion

Religion in thy house must of necessity be minded, or the whole family is cursed. The naturalists observe of the eagle that, building her nest on high, she is much maligned by a venomous serpent called parias, which, because it cannot reach to the nest, maketh to the windward, and breathes out its poison, so that the air being infected, the eagle’s young may be destroyed; but by way of prevention, the eagle, by a natural instinct, keepeth a kind of agate stone in her nest, which, being placed against the wind, preserveth her young. Satan, the crooked serpent, is ever busy to poison the air in thine house, and thereby to destroy thyself, servants, and whole household. The only stone for prevention is to set up religion. (G. Swinnock.)

Parental example

The ancient Romans were accustomed to place the busts of their distinguished ancestors in the vestibules of their houses, that they might be continually reminded of their noble deeds. They supposed that a recollection of their illustrious virtues would lead to the imitation of the same by all the living members of their households. There is no doubt that the influence of this practice was most happy upon the living, awakening in many breasts high and noble aspirations. At any rate, history records the names of many renowned Romans who descended from the families in which this custom was observed. The young grew up to reverence the worthies whose statues they daily saw, and to emulate the virtues which gave their ancestors such lasting fame. In these days we have no busts of honoured ancestors in the porches of our dwellings; but we have something more impressive. The characters of living parents are constantly presented for the imitation of children. Their example is continually sending forth a silent power to mould young hearts for good or ill; not for a single month or year, but through the whole impressible period of childhood and youth, the influence of parental example is thus felt. If it be constituted of the highest and purest elements, the results will be unspeakably, precious. Sons and daughters will become patterns of propriety and goodness, because their parents are such.

Family prayer

In Greenland, when a stranger knocks at the door, he asks, “Is God in this house?” and if they answer “Yes,” he enters. Reader, this little messenger knocks at your door with the Greenland salutation, Is God in this house? Were you, like Abraham, entertaining an angel unawares, what would be the report he would take back to heaven? Would he find you commanding your children and your household, and teaching them the way of the Lord? Would he find an altar in your dwelling? Do you worship God with your children?. . . If not, then God is not in your house. A prayerless family is a Godless family . . . I have sometimes seen family worship in great houses; but I have felt that God was quite as near when I knelt with a praying family on the earthen floor of their cottage. I have known of social worship among the reapers in a barn. It used to be common in the fishing-boats upon the friths and lakes of Scotland. I have heard of its being observed in the depths of a coal-pit. I scarcely know the situation in life in which a willing family might not contrive to pray together. If you live in a scoffing, ungodly neighbourhood, so much the better. Abraham built his altar whilst the heathen Canaanites looked on. He lifted up a testimony for God, and God honoured him, so that Abimelech, his neighbour, was constrained to say, “God is with thee in all that thou doest.” (J. Hamilton, D. D.)

What the religious man is to his family

The religious man may be considered in his family as the keystone to the arch of a building, which binds and holds all the parts of the edifice together. If this keystone be remover!, the fabric will tumble to the ground, and all the parts be separated from each other. Or he is to his family as the good shepherd, under whose protection and care the flock may go in and out and find pasture; but when the shepherd is smitten, the sheep will be scattered. (H. G.Salter.)

Christian example

The Christian parent ought to be a living exemplification of Christianity. His house, his habits, his associates, his pursuits, his recreations, ought all to be so regulated as to evince that religion is, indeed, the parent of order, the inspirer of good sense, the well-spring of good humour, the teacher of good manners, and the perennial source of happiness and peace. (Bp. Jebb.)

Parental instruction

A prison chaplain gives it as his experience that “ the last thing forgotten in all the recklessness of dissolute profligacy is the prayer or hymn taught by a mother’s lips, or uttered at a father’s knee; and where there seems to have been any pains bestowed even by one parent to train up a child aright, there is in general more than ordinary ground for hope.”

Moulding human character; a noble work

Raphael did well, and Phidias did well; but it is not painter or sculptor who is making himself most nobly immortal. It is he who is making true impressions upon the mind of man; frescoes for eternity, that will not shine out till the light of heaven reveals them; sculptures, not wrought in outward things, but in the inward nature and character of the soul. (H. W. Beecher.)

Young should be trained to attendance at public worship

The question is often asked how shall we get our working-classes to attend public worship? The answer may be supplied by an incident of my boyhood. On the mantelshell of my grandmother’s best parlour, among other marvels, was an apple in a phial. It quite filled up the body of the bottle, and my wondering inquiry was, “How could it have been got into its place?” By stealth I climbed a chair to see if the bottom would unscrew, or if there had been a join in the glass throughout the length of the phial. I was satisfied by careful observation that neither of these theories could be supported, and the apple remained to me an enigma and a mystery. But as it was said of that other wonder, the source of the Nile, “Nature well known, no mystery remains,” so was it here. Walking in the garden I saw a phial placed on a tree bearing within it a tiny apple, which was growing within the crystal; now I saw it all; the apple was put into the bottle while it was little and grew there. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 20

Genesis 18:20

Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous

God’s judgment on Sodom

I.
The vale of Sodom was a region blooming and smiling in all the riches of nature; ON EVERY HAND THERE WAS SOMETHING TO RAISE THE THOUGHTS TO THE CREATOR. But amidst all this, what was man? His wickedness was so aggravated and extreme, that the region itself was doomed to perish with its inhabitants. Sin still infects the fair field of nature, and it is this which spoils the beauty of the scene. If all the sin in the world could become a visible thing, it would blast and overpower in our view all the beauty of nature. The sin of Sodom was so aggravated that its cry went up to heaven, and the righteous Governor was obliged to manifest Himself.

II. It is impossible not to be struck with THE CALMNESS AND QUIETNESS WITH WHICH THE WORK OF VENGEANCE PROCEEDED. Three persons came on a friendly visit to Abraham. They accepted his hospitality; spoke with him on a matter of complacent interest--the renewed assurance of his posterity. Then “the men rose up from thence and looked toward Sodom.” We are left in the dark as to one circumstance here. Only two of the persons went on to Sodom, leaving Abraham to converse with the Almighty. The third disappears from our view--unless he was a manifestation of the Divine Being Himself, and the same that Abraham conversed with in that solemn character.

III. Notice WHAT VALUE THE LORD MUST SET ON THE RIGHTEOUS, when for the sake of ten such men He would have spared Sodom. Only one righteous man dwelt in Sodom, and he was saved.

IV. THE PRECISE MANNER OF THE FEARFUL CATASTROPHE IS BEYOND OUR CONJECTURE. It would seem that an earthquake either accompanied or followed it, but the “fire from heaven” is intimated as the grand chief agent of the destruction. The people of Sodom had no time for speculations; there was just time for terror and conscience and despair. Yet our Lord says there is a still greater guilt, a more awful destruction even than theirs. The man that lives and dies rejecting Him had better have been exposed to the rain of fire and brimstone and gone down in the gulf of the vale of Siddim. (Y. Foster.)

Lessons from Sodom

I. Notice FIRST THE WORDS OF GOD WHICH INTRODUCE THIS HISTORY. “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great,” &c. Behind this human manner of speaking what a lesson if; here! The judgments of God from time to time overtake guilty nations and guilty men; but, huge and overwhelming catastrophes as these often are, there is nothing hasty, blind, precipitate about them. He is evermore the same God who, when the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah waxed great, is described as going down to see and inquire whether they had “done altogether according to the cry of it.”

II. In God’s assurance to Abraham that if there are fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten righteous men found in the city He will not destroy it, we may recognize a very important law of His government of the world: this, namely,--THAT IT IS NOT THE PRESENCE OF EVIL BUT THE ABSENCE OF GOOD WHICH BRINGS THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD TO AN END. However corrupt any fellowship of men may he, however far gone in evil, yet so long as there is a sound, healthy kernel in it of righteous men, that is, of men who love and fear God and will witness for God, there is always hope.

III. This promise of God, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake,” SHOWS US WHAT RIGHTEOUS MEN, LOVERS AND DOERS OF THE TRUTH, ARE. They are as the lightning conductors, drawing aside the fiery bolts of His vengeance, which would else have long since scorched, shattered, and consumed a guilty world. Oftentimes, it may be, they are little accounted of among men, being indeed the hidden ones of God crying in their secret places for the things which are done against the words of God’s lips. The world may pass them, may know nothing of them, yet it is for their sakes that the world is endured and continues unto this day,

IV. Does not this remind us of one duty on behalf of others which we might effectually fulfil if a larger measure of grace dwelt in our hearts?--I MEAN THE DUTY OF PRAYER AND INTERCESSION FOR OTHERS. Prayer for others is never lost, is never in vain; often by it we may draw down blessing upon others, but always and without fail it will return in blessing on ourselves. (Archbishop Trench.)

Sodom

I. SODOM’S SINFULNESS. Her sins were committed amidst an unbounded flush of prosperity; they were committed amidst scenes of much natural loveliness, Nature being outraged before the eye of her most beautiful forms: and they were committed not only in opposition to Nature’s silent, but to God’s spoken, warnings.

II. SODOM’S WARNINGS. One was given by the entrance of Lot within its gates; another was given by the advent of Chedorlaomer and the invaders from the east. Abraham and Melchizedek cast their sublime and awful shadows from the King’s Dale southward upon Gomorrah’s walls; but the sinners within felt not the hallowing sense of their presence, trembled not at the steps of their majesty.

III. SODOM’S INTERCESSOR. Abraham’s prayer shows--

1. The confidence that existed between himself and God.

2. It shows God’s personal knowledge of evil.

3. It shows God’s reluctance to punish.

4. It gives proof of the tremendous guilt of Sodom.

IV. This terrible catastrophe lies in A BYE-PATH OF THE DIVINE PROCEDURE it did not relate immediately to the general course of the patriarchal dispensation; and yet what an awful “aside” did the fall of these cities utter. It must have struck Abraham with a new sense of the evil of sin and of the holiness and justice of God. (G. Gilfillan.)

I. THEY ARE PRECEDED BY A LONG HISTORY OF WICKEDNESS.

1. The shedding of innocent blood (Genesis 4:10; Job 16:18).

2. The peculiar sin of Sodom.

3. The oppression of the people of God.

4. Withholding the hire of the labourer (James 5:4).

God’s judgments on nations

II. THEY ARE MANIFESTLY RIGHTEOUS.

1. They proceed slowly.

2. They are only inflicted when the reasons of them have been made evident.

3. They are self-vindicating. (T. H. Leale.)

The depravity of Sodom

We have to speak, then, of Sodom’s sinfulness. Delicacy may seem to repel us from such a subject altogether, but there is a false as well as a true delicacy, which, by passing by sin in silence, gives it an amnesty, and suggests the thought of its repetition. Had the sin of Sodom been confined to that people, and had it been rooted out with the guilty cities, it would almost have been sacrilege against human nature to dig it up from the slush of the sea of death, and expose it to the world. But alas I it still exists even in Christian nations, and requires still to be denounced. Had there been but one prevalent evil practice in Sodom, there is something so disgusting, and at the same time comparatively so rare, in the sin which bears the name of the city, that it might have been as well, perhaps, to have passed it over in silence. But it is evident that the peculiar iniquity of Sodom was only the climax and consummation of the general depravity of the place. This is clear, both from the general principles of human nature, and from certain distinct declarations in the Word of God. We are told that “pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness,” were the sins, or rather were sins producing the flagrant and fatal sin of Sodom; and no doubt along with these every species of excess and licentiousness abounded, so that the city formed, with the exception of Lot and his family, one blot on the face of the earth; and we can conceive of a visitor shuddering with horror, as, passing through it at eventide in haste, he in this street hears cries, faint and half-sincere, of “Father, force me not I” and in another, finds men and women staggering in their vomit; and in a third, hears men cursing Jehovah, and cursing Lot, and cursing Abraham; and in a fourth, sees obscene dances; and in a fifth, beholds many plunging into the fires of an idol-sacrifice. All this, and more than this, which dares not even be shadowed out in expression, might have been seen in this fearful city, running over as a great caldron of iniquity, and coming to a point in that sin for which its inhabitants are set forth for an example, “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” It added to the aggravation of these sins, that they were committed amidst an unbounded flush of prosperity; that they were committed amidst scenes of much natural loveliness, nature being outraged before the eye of her most beautiful forms; and that they were committed not only in opposition to nature’s silent, but to God’s uttered protest. (G. Gilfillan.)

Sodom and its sin

Sodom itself stood not only in the alluvium of a river bed, but on a main highway for land carriage between Babylon and Egypt. The natural consequences of such a position followed fast. When Ezekiel in his analysis of its decline calls “fulness of bread,” comes without toil to a population so favourably situated. Wealth flowed in. With wealth easily acquired came “abundance of idleness”; and with leisure and wealth came luxury, their daughter. Then followed pride, the insolence of the pampered; at last, self-indulgence and shameless licence. Possibly the time had not yet arrived for the cultivation of those adornments which lend dignity to wealth, and serve even to veil the deformity of dissolute manners; of letters, I mean, and of the arts. Possibly the race was not endowed by nature with such gifts. At any rate, we detect no signs of such a degree of culture or refinement as has always accompanied civilization among Aryan peoples. The early civilization of the Hamitic tribes seems to have been of a vulgar material type, and to have fallen a speedy prey to vice and corruption. How far that corruption had gone in the case of Sodom is only too apparent on the face of the narrative. Disgusting and unnatural lust has been the plague-spot of heathenism in other times, as well as of at least one Moslem race in our own. But it never carried itself with such effrontery, or showed its vileness so openly, as in the town which has given it a name. Wherever it has appeared, it has marked a stage of social degradation ripe for destruction. Four hundred years after Sodom, other Canaanite tribes in Palestine had become infected with it, till the land was ready, in the strong words of Leviticus, to “spue them out.” Its prevalence in Greece when St. Paul wrote his letter to the Church of Rome showed how near Greece was to its fall. What it means in the case of the Turk, we are seeing to-day with our eyes. Unnatural vice fills the cup of iniquity to overflowing. It sends up a “cry” to heaven that the righteous Judge must answer. (J. O.Dykes, D. D.)


Verses 22-33

Genesis 18:22-33

Abraham stood yet before the Lord

Abraham’s intercession for Sodom

The intercession of Abraham is the first prayer that the Bible records; and in its great characteristics, human and spiritual, it is one of the most remarkable.
It is the intercession of a good man, a friend of God, for men who, in their wickedness and their defiance of God, had well-nigh approached the utmost possibilities of human evil.

I. A MAN’S PRAISE POWER IS NOT AN ARBITRARY THING IT IS THE RESULT OF LONG ANTECEDENT SPIRITUAL PROCESSES. It is very significant that it is Abraham and not Lot who is the intercessor for Sodom.

1. Jehovah does not even impart His confidence to Lot; only at the last moment, when all is determined, He mercifully sends His messengers to bring him to a place of safety.

2. Even supposing Lot had been made acquainted with Jehovah’s purpose, he would not have been capable of interceding for Sodom as Abraham did. He had not the requisite spiritual qualifications. There was spiritual life in Lot, but it ever leaned to the worldly side of things. There was spiritual life in Abraham, but it leaned to the heavenly side of things.

II. THE PRAYING POWER OF MAN IS CONDITIONED UPON THE CIRCUMSTANCES BY WHICH HE SURROUNDS HIMSELF. Abraham was at Mamre; Lot in Sodom.

III. EVEN WHEN GOD VOUCHSAFES TO VISIT A MAN, MUCH OF HIS SPIRITUAL BLESSING DEPENDS ON HIS CHARACTER AND CIRCUMSTANCES.

IV. IT IS INSTRUCTIVE TO COMPARE THE INTERCESSION OF ABRAHAM WITH THE PLEADINGS OF LOT WHEN THE ANGELS SOUGHT TO DELIVER HIM. The prayer of Abraham is perfect in its humility, when daring in its boldness. The prayer of Lot is troubled, selfish, and self-willed.

V. There is one contrast more, which is very suggestive. THE NARROW, SELFISH, SELF-WILLED PRAYER OF LOT WAS ANSWERED THE HOLY, CHRIST-LIKE INTERCESSION OF ABRAHAM WAS UNAVAILING. Therefore it is no criterion of a right or wrong prayer, that it does not receive the kind of answer we solicit. (H. Allen.)

Abraham pleading for Sodom

I. ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION WAS THE RESULT OF A DIVINE COMMUNICATION (Genesis 18:17-18). The Spirit of truth inspires men to pray by showing them things to come. It is asserted by Dr. Finney that there are three ways in which God still makes communications to men: first, by the express promises and predictions of the Bible; second, through the movements of His providence; and third, by His Spirit, instructing us and making intercession for us, because we know not what to pray for as we ought. When we are thus moved to pray, we pray according to the will of God.

II. THE PATRIARCH’S PRAYER WAS GROUNDED ON A CONVICTION OF GOD’S CHANGELESS RECTITUDE (see Genesis 18:25). “It is,” as one says, “man beseeching that right may prevail; that it may prevail among men: by destruction, if that must be; by the infusion of a new life, if it is possible. It is man asking that the gracious order of God may be victorious, in such a way as He knows best, over the disorder which His rebellious creatures have striven to establish in His universe. The mercy which is prayed for is not an exception from righteousness, but the fruit of it.” Any other prayer must be a mockery and an abomination in the sight of God. Any other prayer is an insinuation that man is a better being than his Maker.

III. ABRAHAM’S PRAYER WAS DEFINITE. He had many flocks and herds, men-servants and women-servants; yet he asked only that the inhabitants of those guilty cities might be spared. His one request he made known in simple, straightforward language, speaking with God as a man talks with his friend. This is the character of most of the prayers recorded in the Bible.

IV. ABRAHAM’S PRAYER CONSTANTLY ENLARGED ITSELF. He asked for more and more: first, that the city should be spared for the sake of fifty righteous men, then for the sake of forty-five, then for forty, for thirty, for twenty, and for ten. There he paused. A whole city would have been spared for the sake of ten righteous men. God tempts His children to ask large blessings. We make too small demands on His mercy and goodness.

V. ABRAHAM’S PRAYER WAS INSPIRED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, The impulse came from above. As the strings of an AEolian harp are breathed upon by the winds of heaven and made to send forth sounds of an almost unearthly sweetness in swelling and dying cadences, so the mute faculties of the human soul are made vocal: unspoken thoughts become articulate in prayers and intercessions, according to the will of God; in supplications and thanksgivings; nay, even in deep sighings and groanings that utter themselves forth with supernatural sweetness and power, expressing the mind of the Spirit and the will of God. (E. B. Mason, D.D.)

Abraham’s intercession

I. THE MARVELLOUS CONDESCENSIONS OF GOD.

1. He has friends among men.

2. He reveals to His friends His plans, His hidden purposes.

II. GOD TESTS THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN TO SHOW WHETHER OR NOT IT IS RIPE FOR JUDGMENT.

III. THIS NARRATIVE DISCLOSES IMPORTANT TRUTHS CONCERNING, INTERCESSORY PRAYER. The first solemn prayer on record is an intercession, a plea for sparing a wicked city. We see here:

1. The encouragements to intercessory prayer. God made known to Abraham what He was about to do, and thus invited his intercession. He has made known to us the purposes of His government. He has disclosed the issues of sin and holiness. Does He not thus invite us to intercede with Him in behalf of sinful men?

2. We see here the qualifications for intercessory prayer. Power in prayer is in proportion to holiness. The best men are nearest to God, and most powerful in prayer. Faith strengthened his petition. Humility made his approval pleasing to God. Charity enforced his plea. Earnestness characterized his intercession.

3. We see here the grounds for intercessor, y prayer. Abraham did not approach God thoughtlessly, or without good reasons which he was prepared to plead. He urged the value of righteousness. He also urged God’s perfect justice as a reason for his petition. God would not destroy the innocent with the guilty. The Almighty is pleased to invite us to urge upon Him reasons for granting our requests, though they are at the beginning perfectly plain to Him. If to these reasons we add also His mercy displayed in the sacrifice of Christ, may not our prayers be irresistible?

IV. WE LEARN THAT THERE ARE LIMITATIONS TO INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Why did not Abraham ask that the judgment be averted from Sodom for the sake of five righteous men? God draws out from him the inanity of his intercessory spirit; and as the suppliant approach up nearer acquaintance with God, he gains a better understanding of the Divine judgments. He is led to a new insight into the condition of Sodom, and the forbearance and justice of God. Abraham appears at first to have been shocked at the destruction with which God threatened Sodom. His justice had not been outraged. His love had not been abused. But intimate communion with God reconciled him to the punishment which God inflicted. The point at which he ceased to plead came sooner than we might have expected. But the failure of his intercession, if he regarded it as a failure, resulted from his ignorance of the depths of sin, and an inadequate conception of the mercy of God. Men are often shocked at God’s threatened punishment of the wicked. But the true way to comprehend the meaning of His threats is, not to argue against the justice of God, not to explain away His threatenings, and presume to interpret them in violation of the ordinary laws of language; but go and plead with Him for the lost, and as you approach nearer to Him in the increasing earnestness of petition, you shall gain such clearer insight into His wisdom and mercy as shall content you with His purposes. (A. E. Dunning.)

Intercessory prayer

I. THE RIGHT TO UTTER IT PRESUPPOSES A LIFE OF GODLINESS.

II. IT IS SUPPORTED BY THE THOUGHT OF THE DIVINE JUSTICE.

III. IT IS MARKED BY THE SPIRIT OF BOLDNESS.

1. This boldness was based upon the conviction that God would stay judgment upon wicked communities for the sake of the righteous few among them.

2. This boldness was based upon a sense of the Fatherhood of God. Without a sense of this filial relationship with God no man could presume so much.

3. This boldness is tempered by humility. Abraham speaks as one who can hardly realize his right to speak at all (Genesis 18:27). He remembers what he is in the sight of his Creator. Our high privilege does not destroy the reasons for awe and reverence.

IV. WE MUST RECOGNIZE THE FACT THAT IT HAS PROPER LIMITS.

1. The moral limits of the Divine clemency. The long-suffering and forbearance of God may be tempted too far,

2. By a sense of what is due to the Divine honour. The dignity of God’s character and government must be upheld.

3. By our recognition of the Divine sovereignty. God rules all things supremely by a righteous will. It is not given to us to adjust the exact proportions of justice and mercy in God’s dealings with mankind. To attempt this would be presumption.

4. By the confidence which we ought to have in the Divine character. Abraham felt that he had no need to go further. He had seen enough already of God’s favour and willingness to save. Therefore he might hope and trust for the future. (T. H. Leale.)

Pleading for Sodom

I. THE BURDEN OF THE DIVINE ANNOUNCEMENT.

II. THE IMPRESSION WHICH THIS ANNOUNCEMENT MADE ON ABRAHAM’S MIND.

1. There was a natural anxiety about his kinsman, Lot.

2. There was also a fear lest the total destruction of the cities of the plain might prejudice the character of God in the minds of the neighbouring peoples.

III. THE ELEMENTS OF ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION.

1. It was lonely prayer.

2. It was prolonged prayer.

3. It was very humble prayer.

4. This prayer was based on a belief that God possessed the same moral intuitions as himself.

5. This prayer was persevering.

IV. OBSERVE ONE OF THE GREAT PRINCIPLES IN THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. A whole city had been spared if ten righteous men had been found within its walls. Ungodly men little realize how much they owe to the presence of the children of God in their midst. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Intercessory prayer

I. THIS IS THE ENERGETIC ENERGIZING (LITERAL FOR “EFFECTUAL”) PRAYER OF THE RIGHTEOUS (CHRISTIAN) MAN. In ingenuity, in a kind of dialectic skill where logic is spiritualized by devotion, and reasons step by step, it is the mate and type of the cry of the woman out of the coasts of Canaan, “That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked;” and then, carrying the moral argument deeper yet, “and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee.” How well this clear-sighted man knew, how much better than some of us “advanced” nineteenth-century Christians know, what kind of a God God is! How vivid the figures! How real the action! How intense the personality! “Anthropomorphism”? Very well: why not? The yearning, aching heart of a mother, of a loving friend, of a true patriot, of a shepherd-king whose descendants, herds and flock lie asleep around him in the pastures every night while he leans on his staff and talks with the Almighty, is not to be frightened by ultra-spiritualism with a Greek polysyllable. The first chapter of St. John ought to exorcise that phantom. What is “the Word made flesh” but anthropomorphism--God in man’s form? What faith foresaw and prophecy foretold, the incarnation has made a fact; and thereby prayer becomes what otherwise it could never be--one part in a dialogue, one voice in an antiphon, a conversation between earth and heaven.

II. A CHIEF BLESSEDNESS OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER IS THAT WE CAN USE IT FOR THOSE WHOM WE LOVE AND CARE FOR WHEN WE CAN SERVE THEM IN NO OTHER WAY. Their distance, their very nearness, their unbelief, their pride, their dignity, their resentments, their desperation, may render our other helps--helps of the hand or tongue, of counsel or cheer or warning--of the most delicate generality or the friendliest sympathy, impossible or futile. We stand by the sufferer, the blind wanderer, the ungrateful child, the hardened sinner, in speechless agony and dismay. The patriarch doubtless felt that to go down into Sodom and preach against sodomy would be waste, or worse. But there is one gracious benefaction which no possible hindrance can stay; one gracious office which cannot lose its grace by opposition, or apathy, or rejection, or scorn; one heavenly charity which we can bestow at our own free will, everywhere, under all outward conditions, in spite of any infirmity or rebuff or discouragement, in health or sickness, by ejaculation or continued entreaty, as long as we live.

III. Notice THE JOINING OF THE TWO BRANCHES OF THE CHRISTIAN LOVE,

THE LOVE OF THE BROTHER MAN WITH THE LOVE OF THE FATHER. (Bishop F. D. Hutington.)

Abraham’s intercession for Sodom

Next to being concerned about his own safety, a good man will be anxious that others should be saved. The Bible contains several examples of this benevolent anxiety. Thus Jeremiah Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17), Isaiah (Isaiah 23:4), Lot (2 Peter 2:7-8), &c., &c. The reasons are clear.

1. A good man cannot forget his own past life.

2. He has now a clear view of the nature and effects of sin.

3. He desires the extension of the kingdom of God. Hence his intercession for Sodom was--

I. MARKED BY GREAT IMPORTUNITY. Importunity an element of successful prayer. Jacob wrestled till the break of day. The blind man (Mark 10:48) cried “so much the more.” Our Lord enforced importunity in His teachings (Luke 18:1; see also Luke 11:5; Luke 21:36; Ro Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Abraham was importunate. Prayed six times, and obtained six distinct answers.

II. CHARACTERIZED BY WONDERFUL HUMILITY.

1. Did not presume upon the distinguished relation in which he stood to God. Always referred his request to the will and character of God. He prayed because a good man ought to pray; not because being good he deserved to be answered.

2. Acknowledged he was but “dust and ashes” in the presence of God. The Pharisee and the Publican.

III. FILLED WITH LOFTY REGARD FOR THE CHARACTER OF GOD.

1. He assumed that the wicked ought to be punished. Of this he expresses no doubt. Adopts this as the inevitable determination of infinite justice. Yet earnestly desires that the righteous may be spared. Would have men know that the righteous God distinguished between the good and the bad. Would rather the wicked should be mercifully spared than that the righteous should be unrighteously destroyed.

IV. SIGNALIZED BY A WIDE CHARITY. Would fain believe that there were fifty righteous souls even in Sodom (comp. with those who thought that nothing good could come out of Nazareth). Still clung to the hope that there might be some, however few, good men in that vile place. Charity hopeth all things. Would sooner believe too much that was good of Sodom than too little.

V. DISTINGUISHED BY PROFOUND ACQUIESCENCE IN THE WILL OF GOD. Was afraid to go beyond that will. “Suffer me to speak,” &c. Went as far as he felt that he dared. Found, as he proceeded, that God would be merciful as well as just; even to the worst. Was willing to save many for the sake of a few (see Matthew 13:28-29). LEARN--

1. TO pity sinners, and hate sin.

2. To prize the righteous. “The salt of the earth.”

3. To intercede for one’s own house especially (Job 1:5). (J. C. Gray.)

Four great facts

In this passage there are four great facts which should be borne in mind by Christian thinkers and teachers.

I. That God holds inquest upon the moral condition of cities.

II. That God is accessible to earnest human appeal.

III. That the few can serve the many.

IV. That human prayer falls below Divine resources. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Intercession

What do most of us know of the value and meaning of intercession? I speak of intercession in its human aspect. And I begin by asking you to confess that you know but little of it as a part of prayer: that most of us, when we have prayed, as we may, more or less fully and earnestly, for ourselves, have done praying; that, whether we feel much or little interest in prayer for ourselves, we feel less or none in prayer for others not ourselves. And in contrast with this admission, it must have struck all of you how very much of intercession there is in our public services--how much in proportion to the other kind of prayer. I might almost say that of prayer directly for ourselves there is but little in the public worship of our Church, following, in this respect as in others, alike the direction of the inspired Scriptures and the example of more ancient Christian Churches. I fear that this is sometimes felt by us to be a drawback to the spiritual character of our congregational devotions. We should like more about ourselves. Even our Lord’s own form of prayer has too little about ourselves for our taste. For “our” and “us” we should read “my” Father, “my” daily bread, “my” trespasses, lead “me,” deliver “me.” Next in order amongst our intercessions we place the ministers of God’s Word and sacraments, and the congregations in which they are appointed to conduct that ministry. Thus far we have thought rather of the work of life, the work of rulers, and the work of pastors, and the work of Christians generally; praying that each and all may do that work effectively, and not forget in doing it that, whatever it be, it is the work of God. But now in the last place we are taught to think of the other half of life--its sufferings. I have briefly spoken to you of some of the topics suitable to intercession. Let me not end without a word or two as to the motives by which we should be drawn to it. And I can suffer none to compete in importance with this, the most obvious of all; that all such prayers have a special assurance of acceptance and success. They are, indeed, even more than other prayers, conformable to the mind of God. They are unselfish prayers. It is the recorded experience of one at least who knew what he thus testified, that he had often proved the value of intercessory prayer in its reaction upon other prayer and upon the heart. Often when he knelt down cold and indifferent, unable to brace himself to strong spiritual effort in his own behalf, he bethought himself of another--a friend or a sister--and prayed earnestly to God not for his own but for what he knew to be another’s want. And never did he do so without finding himself in no long time released from darkness and bondage, and able to pour out his whole heart, for himself also, with a fervour and happiness which a few moments before had seemed to be impossible. Let us try this experiment. When we know not how to pray, let us intercede. When the chamber of prayer is fastened within us, let the key of intercession be used to unlock it. I need not say to any one what the effect of intercessory prayer must be in its influence upon our spirit and conduct towards him, or towards those, who have been the subject of it. What a spirit of kindliness, of friendly interest, of concern in their best and truest welfare, must it kindle within us! How shall we watch over them and towards them for good! How anxious shall we be to see good, how fearful of communicating evil! How it pledges us to the recollection of their souls, and lays us under a double responsibility not to counteract our own desires, our own efforts, in their behalf! Finally, I must add that intercession is a Divine work, and that, in practising it, we are sharers with Christ and with the Holy Spirit in that which is at once their chosen office and our one hope. When we pray for another, we are doing that, through Christ’s merits, which it is our happiness to think that He is doing for us through His own. (Dean Vaughan.)

The intercourse of God and His friend

I. THE FRIEND OF GOD CATCHES A GLEAM OF DIVINE PITY AND TENDERNESS. Communion with the very Source of all gentle love has softened his heart, and he yearns over the wicked and fated city. Where else than from his heavenly Friend could he have learned this sympathy? The friend of God must be the friend of men; and if they be wicked, and he sees the frightful doom which they do not see, these make his pity the deeper. Abraham does not contest the justice of the doom. He lives too near his friend not to know that sin must mean death. The effect of friendship with God is not to make men wish that there were no judgments for evil-doers, but to touch their hearts with pity, and to stir them to intercession and to effort for their deliverance.

II. THE FRIEND OF GOD HAS ABSOLUTE TRUST IN THE RECTITUDE OF HIS ACTS. Abraham’s remonstrance, if we may call it so, embodies some thoughts about the government of God in the world which should be pondered. His first abrupt question, flung out without any reverential preface, assumes that the character of God requires that the fate of the righteous should be distinguished from that of the wicked. Another assumption in his prayer is that the righteous are sources of blessing and shields for the wicked. Has he there laid hold of a true principle? Certainly; it is indeed the law that “every man shall bear his own burden,” but that law is modified by the operation of this other, of which God’s providence is full. Many a drop of blessing trickles from the wet fleece to the dry ground. Many a stroke of judgment is carried off harmlessly by the lightning conductor. The truest “saviours of society” are the servants of God. A third principle is embodied in the solemn question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? He is Judge of all the earth, and therefore bound by His very nature, as by His relations to men, to do nothing that cannot be pointed to as inflexibly right. But true as the principle is, it needs to be guarded. Abraham himself is an instance that men’s conceptions of right do not completely correspond to the reality. His notion of “right” was, in some particulars, as his life shows, imperfect, rudimentary, and far beneath New Testament ideas. Conscience needs education. The best men’s conceptions of what befits Divine justice are relative, progressive; and a shifting standard is no standard. It becomes us to be very cautious before we say to God, “This is the way: walk Thou in it”; or dismiss any doctrine as untrue on the ground of its contradicting our instincts of justice.

III. THE FRIEND OF GOD HAS POWER WITH GOD. “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” The Divine Friend recognizes the obligation of confidence. True friendship is frank, and cannot bear to hide its purposes. On the human side, we are here taught the great truth that God’s friends are intercessors, whose voice has a mysterious but most real power with God. If it be true that, in general terms, the righteous are shields and sources of blessing to the unholy, it is still more distinctly true that they have access to God’s secret place with petitions for others as well as for themselves. The desires which go up to God, like the vapours exhaled to heaven, fall in refreshing rain on spots far away from that whence they rose. In these days we need to keep fast hold of our belief in the efficacy of prayer for others and for ourselves. God knows Himself and the laws of His government a great deal better than anybody else does; and He has abundantly shown us in His Word, and by many experiences, that breath spent in intercession is not wasted. In these old times, when worship was mainly sacrificial, this wonderful instance of pure intercession meets us, an anticipation of later times. And from thence onwards there has never failed proof to those who will look for it, that God’s friends are true priests, and help their brethren by their prayers. Our voices should “rise like a fountain night and day” for men. But there is a secret distrust of the power and a flagrantly plain neglect of the duty of intercession nowadays, which needs sorely the lesson that God “remembered Abraham” and delivered Lot. Luther, in his rough, strong way, says: “If I have a Christian who prays to God for me, I will be of good courage, and be afraid of nothing. If I have one who prays against me, I had rather have the Grand Turk for my enemy.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Abraham’s intercession for Sodom

I. THE CLOSE INTIMACY WHICH A GOOD MAN MAY HAVE WITH HIS MAKER. Three things indicate Abraham’s closeness of intimacy.

1. He knew his Maker’s purpose.

2. He felt his Maker’s presence.

3. He heard his Maker’s voice.

II. THE WONDERFUL INFLUENCE WHICH A GOOD MAN MAY HAVE OVER HIS MAKER. Abraham’s prayer was--

1. Definite.

2. Unselfish.

3. Trustful.

4. Humble.

5. Importunate.

Lessons:

1. The spiritual blessedness of a good man.

2. The social value of a good man. (Homilist.)

Abraham’s address to God

I. THE BEING WE WORSHIP.

1. Infinitely great.

2. Incomprehensibly glorious.

3. Transcendently holy.

4. Unboundedly benevolent.

II. THE TRUE CHARACTER OF THE BEST WORSHIPPERS. “Dust and ashes.” The terms seem to indicate--

1. Our origin and mortality. Formed of the dust; residents of the dust; travellers to the dust.

2. Our depravity. Dust and ashes. Ashes are only the refuse of what was once more valuable. Now man is fallen, debased, and worthless.

III. IN WORSHIP GOD ALLOWS US TO SPEAK UNTO HIM. Now, we do this--

1. In adoration and praise.

2. In confession of sin.

3. In supplication and prayer.

Abraham’s intercessory prayer

I. CONTRASTS.

1. Abraham at Mature. Lot in Sodom.

2. The peaceful entertainment in the tent of Mamre. The disturbed hospitality of Sodom.

3. The purity of country life--the corruptions of the city.

4. Abraham’s prayer for others--Lot’s prayer for himself.

5. Sodom was destroyed--Zoar was saved.

II. THE VALUE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER.

1. TO pray for others a duty.

2. To pray without discouragement.

3. Its value to others.

4. Its value to ourselves. Our religious life will register itself in prayer.

III. THE RELATION OF GOOD MEN TO THE WORLD.

1. They are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”

2. Cities and nations attain to true greatness and permanence when they have righteous men in them.

3. With their decline, they decline; and with their extinction they perish. Sodom was safe so long as Lot remained in it.

IV. LESSONS:

1. The unselfishness of a religious life.

2. To live near to God.

3. To make the right use of religious knowledge.

4. To run our prayers along the line of God’s character, and to base them upon Divine precepts and promises.

5. That prayers may be denied in their letter, but answered in their spirit. (Lewis O. Thompson.)

Abraham’s intercession

I. THE SUPERINDUCING CIRCUMSTANCES OF ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION.

1. Abraham’s characteristic courtesy.

2. The revelation of Divine purposes.

II. THE ARGUMENT OF ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION.

1. An appeal to Divine justice.

2. An appeal to Divine compassion.

III. THE REASON OF THE FAILURE OF ABRAHAM’S INTERCESSION.

1. His intense humility, which would not allow him to go beyond a certain limit.

2. His inadequate conception of Divine mercy.

3. His knowledge of the unworthiness of the Sodomites, for whom he pleaded.

4. His spiritual conception of the demerit of sin, and of the perfection of the Divine attribute of justice.

Lessons:

1. The possible important consequences of things trifling in themselves: Abraham’s courtesy led to the most sublime scene of human intercession on record.

2. The high estimate that God places upon family instruction.

3. God’s readiness to answer prayer is greater than the faith of the greatest believer.

4. So long as Abraham interceded, so long Jehovah tarried to listen.

5. There is nothing more acceptable to God than the intercession of His saints. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Abraham’s intercession

1. Abraham makes a good use of his previous knowledge. Being made acquainted with the evil coming upon them he stands in the gap, and labours all he can to avert it. They knew nothing: and if they had, no cries, except the shrieks of desperation, would have been heard from them. It is good having such a neighbour as Abraham; and still better to have an Intercessor before the throne who is always heard. The conduct of the patriarch furnishes an example to all who have an interest at the throne of grace, to make use of it in behalf of their poor ungodly countrymen and neighbours.

2. He does not plead that the wicked may be spared for their own sake, or because it would be too severe a proceeding to destroy them; but for the sake of the righteous who might be found amongst them. Had either of the other pleas been advanced, it had been siding with sinners against God, which Abraham would never do. Wickedness shuts the mouth of intercession; or if any should presume to speak, it would be of no account. But how then, it may be asked, did Christ make intercession for transgressors? Not by arraigning the Divine throne, nor by alleging ought in extenuation of human guilt; but by pleading His own obedience unto death!

3. He charitably hopes the best with respect to the number of righteous characters even in Sodom. At the outset of his intercession, he certainly considered it as a possible case, at least, that there might be found in that wicked place fifty righteous: and though in this instance he was sadly mistaken, yet we may hope from hence that in those times there were many more righteous people in the world than those which are recorded in Scripture. The Scriptures do not profess to be a book of life, containing the names of all the faithful; but intimate, on the contrary, that God reserves to Himself a people, who are but little known even by His own servants.

4. God was willing to spare the worst of cities for the sake of a few righteous characters. This truth is as humiliating to the haughty enemies of religion as it is encouraging to its friends, and furnishes an important lesson to civil governments, to beware of undervaluing, and still more of persecuting, and banishing men whose concern it is to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world. Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a remnant of such characters, we might ere now have been as Sodom, and made like unto Gomorrah! If ten righteous had been found in Sodom, it had been spared for their sakes: but alas, there was no such number! God called Abraham to Haran, and when he left that place, mention is made not only of “the substance which he had gathered,” but of “the souls which he had gotten.” But Lot, who went to Sodom of his own accord, though he also gathered substance, yet not a soul seems to have been won over by his residence in the place to the worship of the true God. (A. Fuller.)

The world’s obligation to God’s saints

I. THE CERTAIN DESTRUCTION OF THE WICKED which some people say they cannot believe, because out of harmony with their notions of the character of God. God is determined on the destruction of the cities of the plain, and all their inhabitants; and He gives these reasons (Genesis 18:20)--“The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is very grievous,” or heavy. Observe--

1. The cry was very great. A cry of blood, like that of Abel’s from the ground, for vengeance against the murderer (Genesis 4:10). Murder, no doubt, was rife in Sodom; and He who had demanded blood for blood, could not overlook it. A cry of proud defiance against God, as represented Ezekiel 16:49-50; and that God knows too well what is due to

Himself to disregard. A cry of oppression, injustice, and wrong. The cry of defrauded labourers, which the Apostle James says, “enters into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (James 5:4). A cry of cupidity, drunkenness, and revelry, such as went up to Jehovah from those whom He had called to be His people, and to whom “He looked for judgment, but beheld oppression; for righteousness, but beheld a cry” (Isaiah 5:7). And shall we not add, a cry from the vexed spirit of righteous Lot--a cry of filial supplication mingling its music, so agreeable to the ears of a loving Father, with the hoarse discord of angry passions and self-inflicted woes? Doubtless that cry from Lot brought down the Omnipotent avenger; and the accumulated cry from the multitude “which no man could number,” of His blood-bought people, who have complained to Him of their treatment from a Satan-ruled world, in every generation since, shall at last bring Him down again, to teach the persecutors that they have persecuted not them but Him Acts 9:4).

2. Their sin was very grievous, or heavy. Like a black cloud, gathering increased density from accumulated vapours of human wickedness until it becomes so charged with rain, thunder, lightning, and tempest, that it must at length empty itself upon the devoted earth over which it lowers. Thus sin cannot be suffered to press upon God’s creation for ever--sooner or later it shall be removed, and all who have their life in it must perish.

3. The signal destruction of Sodom and her kindred cities was resolved on. God is a Sovereign Judge and Ruler. To Him vengeance belongs. “He can create and He destroy.” “To Me,” says God, “belongeth vengeance and recompense” (Deuteronomy 32:35); and His people are taught to address Him in that character (see Psalms 94:1); and shall we say that “God is unrighteous who taketh vengeance”? (Romans 3:5). The sinner, in fighting against God, is labouring for his own destruction.

II. THE CERTAIN SALVATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS.

1. If this means those whom God shall find naturally righteous, when He comes to take account of such as shall be saved, then the whole human race must be excluded from its benefits, for never since the day of Adam’s fall, was there a man, woman, or child on the earth whom God would or could admit to be righteous in themselves

2. No inspired writer, either of the Old or New Testament, has failed to describe man as a sinner, and far from righteousness.

3. And yet have God’s righteous ones, in every generation, had a place and a mission in the earth. God speaks of them as actually existing human beings. The Bible is full of their history, position, character, proceedings, and prospects.

III. THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD TOWARDS THE WICKED, FOR THE SAKE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, Under this head we are called upon to consider--

1. That God has a people whom He calls peculiarly His own, mingled among the mass of dead, ignorant, and ungodly human beings composing what is called the world; just as righteous Lot was placed in Sodom, in the city, but not of it, residing in the midst of its depraved inhabitants, yet not identified with their wicked ways or deeds of darkness, “but rather reproving them.” We have a perfect illustration of the external mingling, yet spiritual separation, that exists between Christ’s redeemed ones and the subjects of Satan’s rule in this world, in the parable of the tares and wheat, supplied by our Lord for the instruction and consolation of His people in their present state. And in referring to the value of intercessory prayer for our beloved country at such a time as this. Abraham pleaded for Lot. He remembered him when God announced to him the overthrow of Sodom, where Lot dwelt.

Observe:

1. Lot was dear to the heart of Abraham. He called him his brother Genesis 13:8; Genesis 14:14); and he probably thought there would have been found at least ten righteous persons in his household, for whose sake Sodom would be spared. Thus our Divine Mediator loves those whom “He is not ashamed to call His brethren “ (Hebrews 2:11), and claims for their sake the suspension of Almighty judgment pronounced against an apostate world.

2. Lot had accompanied Abraham out of the land of idolatry into the land of promise. He was, therefore, identified with him in his pilgrimage state, and this formed a link between them, which, notwithstanding their present local separation, rendered them objects of tenderest interest to each other. Thus Jesus included in Himself, on the cross, and at the sepulchre, all that the Father had given to Him. They were crucified with Him, and they are risen with Him (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:12). Thus they are one with Him, and He is one with them.

3. But the tie between Abraham and Lot had been drawn still closer by the devoted affection exhibited by the former in rescuing his kinsman from the hands of the spoiler. Sodom had been attacked by the confederate kings, taken, and pillaged. Lot and his family were carried away captives, and his property fell into the hands of the conquerors. Abraham pursued the captors, and at great risk to himself succeeded in delivering the objects of his fraternal interest, and all that belonged to them, out of their hands. Our Divine Champion has done more than this. He has sacrificed His precious life to redeem His beloved ones from eternal captivity, and their inheritance from the confiscation of Almighty justice. The link cannot be more close or inseparable that binds them to their Deliverer and their Head.

4. Abraham obtained all that he desired--not impunity for the guilty citizens of Sodom, but safety for righteous Lot. The Lord was merciful to Genesis 19:16). “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me; for they are Thine,” and ascribe their salvation from present and eternal evil to the principle of unconditioned grace embodied in that prayer; while feeling satisfied that, as regards God’s dealing with nations or individual members of the human family, merely as such, “the Judge of all the earth will do right” (Genesis 18:25). (S. A. Walker, M. A.)

A contrast, and a resemblance

No scene in English history is more familiar to us from our childhood than that of Queen Philippa kneeling at the feet of Edward III. to plead for the lives of the six burgesses of Calais, who had brought the keys of the city to the conqueror, barefooted and with halters round their necks, ready, by their own deaths, to save the town from the sword. It is chiefly by contrast that this scene illustrates the wonderful narrative now before us; but there is one point of resemblance upon which I wish to lay stress. We may well contrast the cruel ferocity of King Edward, as he cries, “Call the headsman! Cut off their heads!”--sending to death venerable citizens whose only fault was that they had too bravely defended their hearths and homes--with the mingled justice and mercy of God, devoting to well-merited destruction the foulest city on earth, and yet first going down to see (Genesis 18:21), and even willing to spare it if ten good men could be found there. We may contrast Queen Philippa’s petition that six willing martyrs might be spared, with Abraham’s petition that fifty--nay, ten--righteous lives might avail to save thousands of the ungodly. But the point of resemblance is this--that the queen’s intercession was accepted because she was the queen, and was dear to her fierce husband, and that Abraham’s was accepted because he was in a peculiar sense the friend of God. The petitioner in each case had access to the throne, and could draw near to Him that sat on it. (E. Stock.)

The tone of Abraham’s intercession

The tone of Abraham’s intercession may teach us how familiar the intercourse with the heavenly Friend may be. The boldest words from a loving heart, jealous of God’s honour, are not irreverent in His eyes. This prayer is abrupt, almost rough. It sounds like remonstrance quite as much as prayer. Abraham appeals to God to take care of his name and honour, as if he had said, If Thou doest this, what will the world say of Thee, but that Thou art unmerciful? But the grand confidence in God’s character, the eager desire that it should be vindicated before the world, the dread that the least film should veil the silvery whiteness or the golden lustre of His name, the sensitiveness for His honour,--these are the effects of communion with Him; and for these God accepts the bold prayer, as truer reverence than is found in many more guarded and lowly sounding words. Many conventional proprieties of worship may be broken just because the worship is real. “The frequent sputter shows that the soul’s depths boil in earnest.” We may learn, too, that the most loving familiarity never forgets the fathomless gulf between God and it. Abraham does not forget that he is “dust and ashes”; he knows that he is venturing much in speaking to God. His pertinacious prayers have a recurring burden of lowly recognition of his place. Twice he heralds them with “I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord”; twice with “Oh let not the Lord be angry.” Perfect love casts out fear and deepens reverence. We may come with free hearts, from which every weight of trembling and every cloud of doubt has been lifted. But the less the dread, the lower we shall bow before the loftiness which we love. We do not pray aright until we tell God everything. The boldness which we as Christians ought to have, means literally a frank speaking out of all that is in our hearts. Such “boldness and access with confidence” will often make short work of so-called seemly reverence, but it will never transgress by so much as a hair’s-breadth the limits of lowly, trustful love. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Abraham’s persistency

Abraham’s persistency may teach us a lesson. If one might so say, he hangs on God’s skirt like a burr. Each petition granted only encourages him to another. Six times he pleads, and God waits till he has done before He goes away; He cannot leave His friend till that friend has said all his say. What a contrast the fiery fervour and unwearying pertinacity of Abraham’s prayers make to the stiff formalism of the intercessions one is familiar with! The former are like the successive pulses of a volcano driving a hot lava stream before it; the latter, like the slow flow of a glacier, cold and sluggish. Is any part of our public or private worship more hopelessly formal than our prayers for others? This picture from the old world may well shame our languid petitions, and stir us up to a holy boldness and insistence in prayer. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

A good man the protection of his country

It was the poet’s vain and groundless conceit of Hector, that so long as he lived Troy could not be destroyed, terming him the immovable and inexpugnable pillar of Troy. But well it may be said of a faithful man that he is a mighty stay and strength, a main defender and upholder of the place where he liveth; for whose sake, for whose presence and prayers, out of the Lord’s abundant kindness to all His, even the wicked are often within the shadow of God’s protection, and spared. (J. Spencer.)


Verse 25

Genesis 18:25

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
--

God in human history

I. GOD WORKS IN HUMAN HISTORY.

1. He originates all the good.

2. He controls all the evil.

II. GOD WORKS RIGHTEOUSLY IN HUMAN HISTORY. Abraham meant either that God ought to do right, or that He will do right. Both are true. (Homilist.)

The Judge of all the earth doth right

I. THE LORD IS JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH.

1. The Lord is a judge.

2. He is the Judge of all the earth.

3. He will finally judge the world in the last great day (Acts 17:31). That judgment will be solemn, grand, awful, equitable, and final.

II. IT IS CERTAIN THAT THE JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH DOTH RIGHT,

1. There is nothing wrong in any voluntary action, but what may be traced up to the following principles: it proceeds, in all instances, either from ignorance or from wickedness.

2. He cannot do wrong for want of knowing better. Speaking after the manner of men, all things, whether past, present, or future, are fully known to Him.

3. He is perfectly holy, and cannot do wrong from any evil principle. “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with Psalms 5:4). Viewing His infinite wisdom, and His transcendent purity, we are constrained to say, He cannot do wrong.

4. He doth what is right to men, in all their temporal affairs.

5. He doth right to men in all their spiritual concerns. All men fell in Adam, and all have been redeemed by Christ.

6. He will do right in the eternal rewards and punishments of men.

III. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THIS IMPORTANT SUBJECT.

1. Pious men, of widely different sentiments on the purposes and decrees of God, meet on this ground, and, while they sincerely acknowledge that the Judge of all the earth doth right, may cordially embrace each other in the arms of Christian love.

2. While we are piously impressed with the great truth, that the Judge of all the earth doth right, we shall submit ourselves to Him, in all the varying circumstances of life.

3. We should walk before the Judge of all the earth with circumspection, carefully avoiding everything that is offensive in His sight, and steadily pursuing those things which He approves.

4. While we conduct ourselves on this plan, and at the same time rely on the merits of Christ for salvation, we may safely leave all our affairs in the hands of our Judge.

5. This is matter of great joy to holy men. They may be accused and slandered, hut God will vindicate their character; and they may suffer with Christ, but they shall also reign with Him.

6. But this subject is truly awful and alarming to the wicked. They may be suffered to prosper in this world. There are weighty reasons for this in the

Divine mind; but they stand in slippery places, and ere long will be cast down into destruction. (Sketches of Sermons.)

The moral rectitude of God

I. GOD IS A BEING OF MORAL RECTITUDE.

1. God ought to be a Being of moral rectitude. He knows what is right and wrong respecting His own conduct, and respecting the conduct of all other moral beings in- the universe. He ought therefore to feel and act according to His moral discernment of what is right in the nature of things. And as He feels much more sensibly His obligation to moral rectitude than any other being, so we have far more reason to believe that He possesses moral rectitude, than that any other being in the universe does.

2. God claims to be a Being of moral rectitude. “When Moses requested Him to show him His glory, The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.”

3. God has made His rational creatures capable of discerning His moral as well as natural attributes. He has implanted in their minds a moral sense, by which they can distinguish moral beauty from moral deformity in moral characters. But can we suppose that He would have done this, if He knew that His own moral character would not bear examination?

4. God has not only made us capable of judging of His moral rectitude, but commanded us to do it. “Judge, I pray thee, between Me and My vineyard.” “Are not My ways equal? are not your ways unequal? saith the Lord.” His knowledge of His own moral perfections is the only ground upon which He can, with propriety, or even safety, appeal to us in respect to His moral rectitude.

5. God has not only commanded His intelligent creatures to judge of His moral rectitude, but has placed them under the best advantages to judge. He has placed them all in a state of trial, and in different parts of the universe, where they have had great opportunities and strong inclinations to examine His conduct with the strictest scrutiny. Now, if the greatest and best of God’s intelligent creatures, after their strictest scrutiny of His conduct in the various parts of the universe, have not been able to discover the least moral defect or imperfection in His character and conduct, we may confidently believe that He possesses the perfection of moral rectitude. And to close this connected train of reasoning, I would observe--

6. That God has appointed a day for the very purpose of giving all His intelligent creatures the best possible opportunity of judging of His moral rectitude. The day of judgment is called the day of “the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

II. How ABRAHAM COULD KNOW THAT GOD IS A BEING OF MORAL RECTITUDE.

1. Abraham could not know the moral rectitude of God by knowing what God would do to promote the highest happiness of the universe.

2. Abraham could not know the moral rectitude of God by knowing that the punishing of the innocent would not promote the highest good of the universe.

3. Though Abraham could not know what would be right or wrong for God to do, either by knowing what had a direct tendency to promote the highest good of the universe, or what had an indirect tendency to promote that great and important object, yet he could know what was right or wrong for God to do to answer any purpose whatever, by knowing that right or wrong or moral good and evil are founded in the nature of things. Moral good, which consists in true benevolence, is morally right in its own nature. And moral evil, which consists in selfishness, is morally wrong in its own nature.

IMPROVEMENT.

1. If God be a Being of moral rectitude, then He can never do evil that good may come.

2. If God be a Being of moral rectitude, then He can never approve of His creatures’ doing evil that good may come.

3. If God be a Being of moral rectitude, then He will not punish the finally impenitent the less, on account of the good they have done in the world.

4. If God be a Being of moral rectitude, then it is morally impossible that He should ever injure any of His creatures.

5. If God be a Being of moral rectitude, then all the objections which have been made or can be made against His conduct are altogether groundless. For He has always acted agreeably to the moral rectitude of His nature.

6. Since God is a Being of perfect moral rectitude, all His works will eventually praise Him. They will deserve and receive the approbation and praise of all His holy creatures.

7. If God be a Being of moral rectitude, then the weight of His wrath will be insupportable to the finally miserable. They will know that He does not punish them from malice, revenge, or malevolence, but from true, pure, disinterested benevolence and justice. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Justice

I. Notice the grand fundamental truth that the ways of God are ways of righteousness.

II. That the impartiality of God’s dispensations is evident from the fact that the entire field of judgment is subject to His control, “all the earth.”

III. That God’s dealings with men are not partial in this life; i.e., they do not involve injustice here to be counterbalanced and rectified by the judgment which is to be hereafter.

IV. That while justice must be tempered with mercy, every appeal for mercy should be grounded on an underlying principle of justice. (The Lay Preacher.)

The moral government of God

I. By the moral government of God is meant His GOVERNMENT OF INTELLIGENT AND ACCOUNTABLE CREATURES ACCORDING TO PRINCIPLES OF MORAL RECTITUDE. It implies a government similar to that which a civil magistrate exercises over his subjects. All government supposes a law, together with an obligation on the part of the governed to obey it, and power lodged with the magistrate to enforce the obligation. In moral governments it is essential that the law should be righteous, and its administration just. An arbitrary and lawless government may inflict punishment where it is undeserved, and confer rewards where they are unmerited; but a righteous governor will regulate his conduct towards his subjects by the moral quality of their characters. He will reward the good; he will punish the wicked. The law of his empire will have its foundation in righteousness, and his subjects will know that instead of being liable to the effects of misrule and caprice, they will be treated with a uniform regard to truth and justice. Such is the notion we form of the moral government of God.

II. And now, having thus explained what is meant by His moral government, I may proceed to point out to you SOME OF THOSE PROOFS AND ILLUSTRATIONS OF ITS EXISTENCE AND ADMINISTRATION WHICH MAY SERVE THE PURPOSES OF GENERAL IMPROVEMENT.

1. Man is a moral agent. A moral agent is a being capable of those actions which are properly the subjects of commendation or of censure, which are either laudable or worthy of blame. He is endowed with intellectual and moral powers. He can distinguish between good and evil. He has a capacity of choice, guided by understanding and reason; a will governed by moral motives and inducements; and a power of acting according to his determination and pleasure. These are some of the most essential and distinguishing attributes of moral agency. Such a being is man. Since, then, the natural constitution of man is so framed--since there is obviously everything in his mental character to render him a fit subject for moral government, it is reasonable to conclude that such a government is actually established over him.

2. The same thing is to be inferred from the supremacy of conscience. It is the office of conscience to preside over and control all the other faculties of our moral nature. To direct the will, to curb the passions, and to regulate the conduct, belongs to conscience. To conscience also it belongs to judge what propensities may be indulged, and in what degree, and which ought to be restrained. Conscience is set up within us as the arbiter of our actions, the superintendent of our senses, affections, and appetites; and the judge who shall bestow commendation or censure on all our principles and motives.

3. The tendency of mankind to institute moral governments among themselves is an argument in favour of the moral government of God. Such a tendency, from its almost universal development, may be considered as among the original properties of our nature. It seems to fall in with man’s natural perceptions of the fitness of things, not only that he should live in society with his fellow-men, but that society should be so framed as to involve moral subordination and supremacy--that, in other words, there should be governors and the governed.

4. The course of events in the present dispensation of Providence, is upon the whole so ordered as to indicate on the part of the Supreme Disposer a preference for virtue in distinction from vice. In this constitution of things, therefore, we have a declaration from Him who orders all the arrangements of providence, and presides over the course of natural events, which side He is of, and what part He takes in the great conflict between moral good and evil. In the struggle which is carrying on between these opposite and contending principles, He determines to give no countenance to vice. The worker of iniquity shall have no sanction from Him; but if a man will be true to virtue, to veracity and judgment, to equity and charity, and to the right of the case in whatever he is concerned, he shall have the righteous God to be the Protector of his integrity, and the whole weight of His moral administration to countenance and uphold it. For the voice of nature, and the events of providence, concur to proclaim aloud that the Lord loveth the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked He turneth upside down.”

5. The moral government of God is the only proper basis upon which religion can be made to rest with security. If men can once discard from their minds the fact of their responsibility to their Creator, nothing will remain upon which to build any sense of piety, or by which to enforce the claims of religious faith and duty.

6. The moral government of God has received its grand proof and establishment in the scheme of human redemption. True it is, that the prevailing character in the mediatorial economy is mercy. It is a dispensation of grace. Its design is to pardon the guilty, to save the lost. But, in making its wonderful provision for the spiritual exigencies of man, it does no violence to the righteous claims of God. If it had, such a circumstance would have been conclusive against it. It would then have been a method of salvation upon which no satisfactory or enlightened dependence could be placed. But it is now “ worthy of all acceptation,” being alike honourable to justice and mercy. “If grace reigns,” “it reigns through righteousness.” (E. Steane.)

The principles of God’s government

I. In the first place, THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD PROCEEDS ON PRINCIPLES OF PURE COMPASSION AND LOVE.

II. THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD IS NOT LESS MARKED BY PRINCIPLES OF PURITY AND JUSTICE THAN BY THOSE OF COMPASSION.

III. THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT GOES ON THE PRINCIPLE OF PREVENTION.

IV. Observe THE SPIRIT OF REFORMATION AND AMENDMENT WHICH PREVAILS THROUGHOUT THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. (J. W.Cunningham, M. A.)

Abraham’s intercession, or, doubt and confidence

Observe the great honour which the Lord conferred upon His faithful servant. Surely this signal recognition of personal worth and faithful service speaks volumes of the esteem in which the Lord holds His servants. Observe, again, the unselfish use which Abraham made of the wonderful interview with which he was honoured. Men of the world, when ushered into the presence of royalty, only think of their own interest; they consider well how such an opportunity may be improved for their own personal advantage. How very different the conduct of Abraham! Observe, again, the nature of the plea which Abraham sets up for the preservation of the city. He points out the claims of righteousness, which the Lord, as a righteous judge, could not less than respect. “Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” And the Lord readily admitted the validity of his plea, for He said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then will I spare all the place for their sakes.” Thus the only thing which God values in man is righteousness, purity of character; compared with this, the accidents of birth, possessions, attainments, are utterly insignificant in His eyes. In the conversation which followed, Abraham not only showed his intimate knowledge of God’s merciful disposition, but showed also that this intimate knowledge was far from being perfect. Let us contemplate the words--

I. As AN EXPRESSION OF DOUBT. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” With regard to what the Judge of all the earth ought to do, there can be but one opinion. The position of any judge is one of dignity, authority, and responsibility; he cannot, therefore, maintain his position for a single day unless he do right, and execute justice, and act impartially. Nevertheless, a superficial view of the condition of this world--a world so full of confusion, disorder, and lawlessness--have led some to doubt the righteousness of its great Judge and Governor. Let us now glance, for a moment, at some of the circumstances which give rise to these distressing thoughts.

1. When right is defeated, and wrong is triumphant. In this world, it is might that triumphs, and not right. Read the records of the past, and see how empires grew, waxed strong, and acquired wealth. In very many instances it was the work of the sword, the result of military skill, valour, and power. What was Alexander the Great? What was Julius Caesar? What was Napoleon Buonaparte? What was the nature of the work which they severally accomplished? They were neither more nor less than conquerors; men who established the dominion of might. They may have sometimes been the champions of right, and used their splendid victories for the best purposes. Look at individuals. The mighty, the powerful, the strong, have it all their own way; while the weak are ruthlessly trampled under foot. And many a down-trodden weak one, knowing the righteousness of his cause, whispers in the bitterness of his soul, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

2. When wickedness prospers and virtue fails. There can be no dispute whatever as to which ought to prosper, and which ought to fail. It is only reasonable to suppose that the order of things established by a Creator who is infinitely wise and good, should discountenance vice and favour virtue.

3. When what we conceive to be strict order is displaced by what seems to be utter confusion. Can you look back upon the experience of a single day, and say that all things have been conformable to your own notions of propriety? Does not the most superficial review suggest many improvements? It was strange to see King Edward the Sixth, under whose beneficent reign England began to enjoy the blessings of freedom, enlightenment, and true religion, cut off a tender youth, to make room for the tyrannical and bloodthirsty Mary, who brought upon the land darkness, oppression, and despair. The only child of rich parents, who have more possessions than they can possibly use, is carried away by death, while their poor neighbour, who finds it a difficult matter to earn the bare means of existence, is allowed to rear a numerous family. Is this the way we should have arranged matters?

II. As AN EXPRESSION OF CONFIDENCE. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” There can be no doubt whatever that Abraham used them in this sense--to express his unlimited confidence in the wisdom and righteousness of God. Having trusted God, he trusted Him altogether; and never allowed even the shadow of a doubt to darken the brightness of his faith. Many considerations might be suggested here which are adapted in the highest degree to hush our doubts, and to inspire our confidence. Consider--

1. That in this world we know God’s ways only in part. What may be the entire bearing, or the ultimate issue of any event, we have no means of ascertaining.

2. That whenever we have understood the whole bearing of mysterious events, we have been compelled to admit their wisdom.

3. That things which are apparently evil and unnecessary, may be really good and necessary. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)

God makes no mistakes

There is here a young man of about thirty, of fine talents and capabilities for active life, but for years a cripple, paralytic and helpless. He would starve if left alone, A friend was commiserating his condition, when, with deep earnestness, he exclaimed, as he slowly raised his withered hand, “God makes no mistakes?” How noble the sentiment! “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” This is piety. Only a heart divinely taught could thus speak. (Dr. Talmage.)


Verse 27

Genesis 18:27

But dust and ashes

Abraham interceding

I.
THE TRUE POSTURE FOR A SINNER, AT THE THRONE OF GRACE. He must lie low, and aim high. You see this in the behaviour of Abraham on the present occasion. Though honoured by a fresh token of the Lord’s confidential friendship, he has--

1. Low thoughts of himself. He cannot forget who and what he is: “I am but dust and ashes!” The expression is singular. It alludes, I think, first to the meanness of his origin. What was Abraham--what are all men--but “dust”? But this expression of Abraham may allude, secondly, to the corruption of his nature. “Dust” is what God made it: but “ashes” have had a value, which is now departed from them. Thus man, however mean, was yet not offensive, till he “corrupted his way” before God.

2. High thoughts of God: high thoughts, first, of His equity; “The Judge of all the earth,” he is persuaded, must and “will do right.” Any other supposition, indeed, were an affront to the Lord. But, secondly, let Abraham teach you also to entertain equally high thoughts of His mercy. Be not backward to ask of God, what you are unable to claim.

II. THE GENEROUS CHARACTER OF TRUE GODLINESS. For whose welfare does Abraham make this urgent intercession? Two parties were included in it, neither of whom had very greatly deserved such kindness at his hands.

1. Lot his nephew, though not named, had (we may suppose) the foremost place in his good wishes. He was a pious person; and “wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

2. The people of Sodom, on the other hand, are expressly named. Abraham knew that they “were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” Yet even for them he prays.

III. THE EFFICACY OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER is another lesson taught us by this narrative.

IV. A FAINT TYPE OF OUR GREAT INTERCESSOR, JESUS THE SON OF GOD.

1. Was Abraham’s a generous interposition? That of Jesus is far more unmerited. He intercedes for enemies!

2. Did Abraham appear to have some weight, as “the friend of God”? Far more authoritative is the mediation of Jesus. He stands in His own name, and on His own merits; not as a servant, high in favour indeed at court--but as the King’s Son.

3. Did Abraham persevere, with an earnestness which, in his own eyes, seemed almost to border upon presumption? The event showed, notwithstanding, that he left off too soon. This will never be said of our Divine Intercessor. “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth”--till He have fully accomplished all His purposes of grace.

4. Once more: let Abraham intercede as he might, whether on this or on subsequent occasions, yet his good offices were sure to be terminated, sooner or later “not being suffered to continue, by reason of death.” After death--as the rich man in torments found--he neither can nor will interpose. But Jesus “ever liveth to make intercession for us.” (J. Jowett, M. A.)

How may we have suitable conceptions of God in duty?

That which we have more especially to take notice of is, with what apprehensions or conceptions of God Abraham did speak to God, did deport himself towards God, did manage this great undertaking with God: concerning which, four things present themselves for our observation:--

1. That those apprehensions or conceptions [which] Abraham had of God, did highly exalt and magnify the greatness and excellency of God in his heart: “Behold, now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord”; One who hath excellency, and sovereignty, and majesty, and dominion, and power, and glory.

2. That they were such conceptions of God as did humble, vilify, and abase Abraham in himself in comparison of God: “I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes”; a sinful, weak, worthless, frail piece of vanity and mortality.

3. That they were such conceptions of God as did represent Him gracious, propitious, benevolent to the creature, notwithstanding the greatness and excellency of God, and the meanness and unworthiness of the creature: thus much seems to be comprehended in the note of admiration, “behold!” O what admirable condescension is this in the great God! O what wonderful mercy and grace is this, that such a poor vile creature should have liberty to speak to Him, to parley with Him!

4. That they were such apprehensions of God as did beget in Abraham a faith of acceptation with God in the performance of that duty, without which it had been dangerous presumption in him, “who was but dust and ashes, to take upon him to speak unto the Lord.”

DOCTRINE: THAT SUCH AS SPEAK TO GOD OR SPEAK OF GOD, SUCH AS DRAW NEAR TO GOD OR HAVE TO DO WITH GOD IN ANY PART OF DIVINE WORSHIP, MUST MANAGE ALL THEIR PERFORMANCES WITH RIGHT APPREHENSIONS AND DUE CONCEPTIONS OF GOD.

1. The first proposition is this: That we cannot have any true, right apprehensions or conceptions of God, except we have a true knowledge of Him. Such as have not known God, have slighted Him: “Who is the Lord,” saith Pharaoh, “that I should obey His voice? I know not the Lord” Exodus 5:2). Such as know not God, nor desire to know Him, are so far from drawing near to God, that they drive Him as far from them as they can; they say unto the Almighty, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job 21:14).

2. The second proposition is: That we cannot know anything savingly of God, further than He is pleased to manifest and make known Himself to us. No man can make known God but God Himself. Moses, who had seen as much of God’s glory as any man, when he desired a further manifestation of God’s glory, in a higher measure or degree than formerly he had seen, he goes to God Himself for it: “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory” Exodus 33:18).

3. The third proposition is: That the clearest manifestations of God to us, and such as can beget in us right apprehensions and due conceptions of Him, are made out to us in and by Jesus Christ. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). Therefore no man ever did or canapprehend anything of God truly, that is, upon a saving account, but in and by Jesus Christ. The Divine Essence or Godhead “no man hath seen, nor can see” in itself (1 Timothy 6:16). In the works of creation, God is a God above us; in His works of providence, a God without us; in the law, a God against us; in Himself, a God invisible to us. Only in Christ He is Emmanuel, “God manifested in our flesh,” God in us, “God with us,” God for us.

4. Hence follows the fourth proposition: That the manifestations of God to us in Christ are those which alone can beget those due apprehensions and right conceptions of God, with which we must draw near to Him, and perform all our worship to Him. As Abraham is held forth to us a pattern of faith; so he may be to us a pattern of worship, inasmuch as all true worship to God is performed by faith, by faith in Christ.

6:16.

1. Without due apprehensions and conceptions of God, we cannot perform any part of that natural worship we owe to God. We cannot love Him, fear Him, trust in Him, pray unto Him, praise Him, &c.

2. Without the right apprehensions and due conceptions of God in Jesus Christ, we cannot perform aright any part of His instituted worship.

This is expressed: “Having boldness to enter into the holiest,” where the Divine glory appeared between the cherubims on the mercy-seat, “by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20). (T. Mallery, D. D.)

Dust and ashes

1. The first thing that occurs, is the lamentable folly of those who cry up the dignity of human nature: for neither revelation nor reason discovers any nature to us, but such as is mortal and sinful; and there is no dignity either in sin or mortality.

2. Secondly, the fearful effects of sin are displayed to us by this subject in a very particular manner. Why does the body, so wonderfully formed by the Divine wisdom, return again to its original dust, but because that which has taken root in it cannot otherwise be extracted? Why are we under condemnation, and liable to be reduced to ashes, but because sin has kindled the flames of the Divine wrath? How odious then must sin be in itself, and how contrary to the nature of God, if it compels His justice to destroy the work of His hands! Lastly, they who have ears to hear, will learn from this subject, not to set their affections upon a world, which is under sentence of condemnation, and whose end is to be burned. (W. Jones, M. A.)

Necessity of humility

The grandest edifices, the tallest towers, the loftiest spires, rest upon deep foundations. The very safety of eminent gifts and pre-eminent graces lies in their association with deep humility they were dangerous without it. Great men do need to be good men. Look at this mighty ship, a leviathan on the deep. With her towering masts, and carrying a cloud of canvas, how she steadies herself on the waves, and walks erect upon the rolling waters, like a thing of inherent, self-regulating life! When the corn is waving, and trees are bending, and foaming billows roll before the blast and break in thunders on the beach, why is she not flung on her beam ends, sent down foundering into the deep? Why, because unseen, beneath the surface, a vast well-ballasted hull gives her balance, and taking hold of the water, keeps her steady under a press of sail, and on the bosom of a swelling sea. Even so, to preserve the saint upright, erect, and safe from falling, God gives him balance and ballast, bestowing on the man to whom He has given lofty endowments, the grace of a proportionate humility.

Humility in prayer

Artabanus, one of the military officers of the Athenians, was applied to by a certain great man, who told him that he desired an audience of the king. He was answered that before it was granted, he must prostrate himself before him, for it was a custom of the country for the king to admit no one to his presence who would not worship him. That which was an arrogant assumption in an earthly king, is a proper condition of an approach to the King of kings. Humility is the foundation of an intercourse with Him. We must bow before His throne. No sinner who is too proud to yield obedience to this law need expect any favours from His hands.


Verse 32

Genesis 18:32

I will not destroy it for ten’s sake

The incalculable worth of good men

This narrative teaches--

1.
The highest development of genuine philanthropy. Importunate intercession with Heaven on behalf of humanity.

2. The mysterious power of intercessory prayer.

3. The incalculable worth of good men, however few in number.

I. That good men in a community, however few, are HIGHLY ESTEEMED OF GOD.

1. Because of the tender relationship they sustain to Him. His children.

2. Because of the critical position in which they are placed in this life.

3. Because of the beneficent influences they are capable of exercising upon the race.

II. That good men in a community, however few, are of INEXPRESSIBLE SOCIAL WORTH.

1. Prize good men more than all others.

2. Seek to multiply good men.

God’s willingness to save

Those who censure this narrative, asserting that it represents God as wavering and undetermined, should observe that His resolution was not yet taken (Genesis 18:21); and even if this had been the case, that it is indeed always open to the repentance and prayer of those whom it concerns; God has no delight in punishing and destroying; He tried the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh by ten successive plagues; He accepted the repentance of the wicked Ninevites; and He ordered a systematic ritual of sacrifices, solely intended to furnish to man the means of restoring his peace with Himself. If we banish this “vacillation” from the attributes of God, man may tremble before His will; but he can never love Him. But the truth, that the principles on which His government is based are eternal and unalterable, is expressed many times with singular emphasis: “God is no man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent.” God is, indeed, said to have repented that He had created man, and that He had appointed Saul king over Israel; but these are strong expressions denoting how unworthy the former had proved to bear the

Divine image; and the latter, to be the representative of Divine sovereignty. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 18:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/genesis-18.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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