Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Thoughts On Deuteronomy 30:6

No. II.

(Continued From Issue #1)

Dear Friend,

We now come to consider the covenant with the patriarchs,—the most comprehensive, grand and merciful of all God’s dispensations. Does this covenant show us how, according to the precise meaning of the above verse, the circumcision of the heart is attributable. to divine agency? Does this covenant exhibit it as entirely the work of God, to save from ruin in sin, to renew and sanctify the heart, to form a people for himself, to preserve them loyal in the midst of rebellion, pure amid fatal corruption, alive amid universal death? This is a subject of transcendent importance: we now consider the first covenant, the foundation and grand compend of all subsequent promises. In this covenant are involved those promises and hopes of which the restoration of Israel in the latter days will be only a glorious development and fulfillment. Without any farther introductory remarks we proceed to the following statements.

1st. We venture to say that a careful examination of the first record of the covenant in Gen. 12, must lead every honest inquirer to the conviction that the blessings there mentioned, are not merely the just and due reward of a righteous man, but blessings which in their excellence, their extent and duration, rise infinitely above all human merit. The Lord visited Abraham, and assured him that he should receive very peculiar favour. The Same who said “Let there be light,” and there was light, who speaks and it is done, whose word is always effectual, said to Abraham in the language of command, “Be thou a blessing.” No word of omnipotence is ever more necessarily and gloriously accompanied with effect. This commanded blessing implied that Abraham should be free from the condemnation of sin, and be the peculiar favourite of heaven; that God, with infinite parental kindness, would direct and defend him, and provide for all his wants; that his heart should be perfect with the Lord; that his joys and hopes should be in the present help, and the promises of God; that through life he should walk with God, in the clear path of commanded obedience; that he should enjoy peace of conscience; that his life should be a life of faith and holiness and benevolence; that, as it was afterwards expressed, he should live to a good old age, and die in honour and peace; and that his name and life should be a blessing to unborn generations. This covenant presented him before all men, as the chosen and beloved of God, so that He blessing, Abraham was blessed, and He cursing, Abraham was cursed. These same blessings were made sure in this covenant to his seed—the blessings of faith, pardon, favour with God, sanctification of heart, peace of conscience, holiness of life, and consolation in death. To the patriarch and his seed, numerous, according to the promise, as the stars of heaven, the blessing was not limited. All the famines of the earth had part in the promise,—were destined to rejoice in the sanctification and glory of Abraham’s seed.

Now can we find either in the righteousness of Abraham, or in that of his seed, or in that of the families of the earth, or in all put together, a foundation of human merit, commensurate with these blessings, and on which this covenant rests? Or can no adequate foundation for these infinite blessings be found except in infinite divine love? What was the righteousness of Abraham? If he had been visited with the sins of his fathers, would he not have been consumed? In Joshua we read, “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the river in old time: even Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.” They fell into that sin which, according to the law given to Israel, was to be punished with death. It may be said that Abraham before the promise believed in the unity of God. We answer that mere belief in the unity of God—the assent of the intellect to commanding evidence, is not in itself deserving of reward. The most unholy spirit in the universe may have the strongest conviction of the unity of God. To know that God is one does not necessarily imply that God is our portion. In the history of Abraham we have first an account of his ancestors and family; and then, without anything in relation to his previous character, we are told that the Lord appeared to him, and gave him the promises. Examine the whole narrative, and then inquire, Have we not here the clearest representation of a man wonderfully preserved by divine mercy from the ruin of idolatry, and appointed to give the knowledge and worship of the living God to coming generations? Abraham may always have been a worshipper of the living God; yet doubtless his humble piety always felt itself undeserving of the least of God’s mercies. We cannot suppose that God looked forward to the righteousness of the seed of Abraham, and gave the blessing as the reward of their righteousness. The words of Moses to the children of Israel settle this point. “Understand therefore that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness, for thou art a stiff-necked people.” And, assuredly, this covenant, in its most interesting relation to the families of the earth, exhibits, with the greatest possible clearness, the features of unmerited favour. These nations were left for ages to worship innumerable idols, and to sink into the most hopeless corruption. Nations given up to idols do not deserve the favour of God. The light of Israel, as it visits the gentiles, is an inestimable blessing to the unworthy. There is no truth which the humble pious gentile is more ready to admit. Where then is the human merit on which this covenant rests? We cannot prove its existence in Abraham, and we prove it entirely wanting in his seed and in the gentiles.

No principle of common sense can be more clear than this, that nothing can be the cause of itself; and if we have given above the proper explanation of the promises, the application of this principle settles the question. If it constituted an essential part of the promise that Abraham’s life should be a life of holiness and faith and benevolence, it is evident that his holy obedience, his faith and benevolence could not have been the cause of the promise. If it was involved in the promise that his seed should walk in the path of holy obedience, their walking so, that is, their righteousness, could not have been the foundation, the cause or reason of the promise. It was involved in the blessing that the nations of the earth, through the teaching and example of Abraham’s seed, should be made obedient to the living God; and it is not the meaning that having made themselves obedient, they will receive the reward of their righteousness in the blessing which must come to them from Abraham.

2d. Faith in God was the righteousness of Abraham. This brings us to an examination of the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. The word of the Lord came to Abraham, “Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”* Here you will excuse me if I stop to inquire, Is not God a reward infinitely transcending what man deserves? Abraham on this occasion replied to God, that he had no son to be his heir. The Lord then promised that he should have a son, and led him out, and showed him the stars of heaven, and promised him, “So shall thy seed be.”

* We deem it necessary in this place, although at first resolved not to add note or remark to the articles of our correspondent, who is an Episcopal clergyman, but to leave his papers to be replied to, when completed, by one of our own people, through whom Talmid has been introduced to us, to state that this version of Genesis 15:1, is not accepted among us; the Hebrew text is not ושכרך אשר גדול מאד, which then would mean, “I am thy shield and thy reward, which is exceeding great,” but it seems to contain a twofold promise, first אנכי מגן לך “I (am) thy shield,” and secondly שכרך הרבה מאד “thy reward (shall be) exceeding great.” This is the idea entertained among others by Onkelos and Rashi, authorities, as all know; of the highest degree.—Ed. Oc.

Immediately after this promise follow the words,והאמין בה׳ ויחשבה לו צדקה, “He believed in the Lord, and God accounted it to him for righteousness.” Few verses in the Pentateuch are more concise and full of important meaning than this. It is clear that his faith was in the word of the Lord,—in the promise that he should have a son, that his seed should be numerous as the stars, and that his seed should communicate spiritual knowledge and consolation to all the families of the earth. God, as revealed in these promises, was the object of Abraham’s faith. Such was this faith in God, that Abraham was willing to leave the land of his birth and his kindred, and follow God,—that he was willing to give up everything in the world that he might inherit the promise,—that he was willing to sacrifice his son upon the command of God. His obedience was the manifestation and fruit of his faith. Now was his faith in divine justice rather than in divine mercy? Did he believe in God as just to reward him according to his righteousness? or did he believe in God as disregarding, and infinitely surpassing, human merit, in his manifestations of mercy? If Abraham was not a sinner, his good works, his personal holiness, rather than his simple trust in God, would have constituted his righteousness. There was no great merit in his faith, if it was merely the belief that God would dispense to him a just reward for his righteousness. Let us see if we cannot, in a few words, prove from this passage, with all the precision of mathematical demonstration, that the blessing was not the reward of Abraham’s obedience. His faith was his righteousness: this is indisputable. His faith and righteousness being one must have had one and the same foundation. The only foundation of his faith were the promises of God: therefore the promises were the foundation of his righteousness. Now if the promises were the foundation of his righteousness, they could not have been the consequence or reward of his righteousness.

If this view is correct, the great sin of Israel at present is unbelief. Happy for thee, O Israel, if thine were now the faith of Abraham; if thou wert sufficiently humbled to cast thyself entirely on the mercy and promises of God; if thou wert willing, with Abraham, to make any sacrifice that thou mayest receive the promises. These are recorded before thee, and God says, Take me at my word. Believe me thy God, and suddenly all the light of the promises shall break upon scattered, weeping and oppressed Israel.

3d. The obedience of Abraham contributed instrumentally, rather than meritoriously, to the fulfillment of the promises. He left the land of the Chaldeans, that, in the unknown land to which God intended to bring him, he might receive on himself, and preserve for his seed, the promised blessings of Heaven. He went to Egypt that he might not die by famine, without receiving the promise. He often built his altar, and made his offerings; because he believed that the offering of sacrifice was a divine ordinance for obtaining pardon and acceptance with God. He tools his heifer, she-goat and birds, and sacrificed them according to the direction of God, and remained near them as night came on, that he might receive some assuring token that he should possess the land of Canaan. His circumcision was a sign of that sanctification of his heart, with which he had long before been blessed, and, by this outward mark, he and his seed were separated that they might receive the promises. In his bringing up of his family, in all his domestic arrangements, in all his journeys, it was his great object to make use of the best means for bringing upon himself and his seed all the blessings of the covenant.  Hence, when God was about to destroy Sodom, he expresses his confidence in Abraham, that he would use all possible means in his family, to secure and magnify and hasten the fulfillment of the promises. “I know him,” says God, “that he will command his children and his house after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord in doing righteousness and judgment, to the end that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he  hath spoken concerning him.” He bound his son, laid him on the wood, and prepared himself for the fatal stroke, because he believed that this most trying sacrifice was required that he might obtain the promises. He made provision that he and his might be buried in the land of promise. He provided a wife for Isaac from his kindred, that marriage with the idolatrous nations might not be an obstacle to the fulfillment of the promise. With his eye always fixed on the promise, he gave all that he had to Isaac. Forming all his plans as the fulfillment of the promise seemed to require, he sent all his other sons from him to the east. Even his faith, which was his righteousness, and which produced these fruits of obedience, is not to be viewed as meriting and so securing the promises, but rather as indispensable in the receiving of the promises. Without faith Abraham could not have enjoyed the hopes and consolations of the promises. We cannot receive the fulfillment of God’s promises of love, while, in unbelief, we disregard and reject them. Let me ask every son of Abraham whose eye these lines may meet, Are you indeed a follower of Abraham in this spirit of obedience? and are you thus intent upon the fulfillment of the promises? Do all the families of Israel live with a constant reference to the promises? Are they endeavouring, in every possible way, to contribute to the fulfillment of the pro­mise that the heart of Israel shall be circumcised in the latter days?

4th. Abraham felt that his dependence was on the gracious forbearance and help of God. Humble and penitent mourner in. Israel, meditate on this proposition, and examine whether you may not find in Abraham himself the same penitence, and the same humbling sense of insufficiency and dependence on God. Was not Abraham a sinful, weak and dying man? As he fled from famine to Egypt, and resolved to call Sarah his sister, because he was afraid that he should be killed on her account, and thus exposed her more than once to wretched abuse, did he not show an improper distrust of the providence of God? Did he not evince weakness of faith, when he asked a sign or proof that he should inherit Canaan? As in deep sleep, mysterious and indescribable horror fell upon him, was there no struggle of unbelief and sin? Can this be the condi­tion of a perfect man? As he sacrificed his victims, did he not feel his need of an atonement and pardon and divine favour, and his dependence on divine forbearance? As he early in the morning gazed upon the ascending smoke from the plain, did he not feel as one wonderfully preserved by divine mercy? As he retires from the cave where he has just taken his last view of Sarah, do we not hear him, in bitter grief, and yet with entire submission, acknowledging that sinful man is justly visited with bereavement and death? Did he not at last himself fall into that cave, as a sinner; and does not his dust there remain to this day, under the penalty of the first transgression?

The same promises were twice made to Isaac. If the view which we have been defending is correct, we must explain in accordance with it, and we can do so without any difficulty, the references to the righteousness of Abraham in the promises to Isaac. Simple faith in God is the highest and the only possible personal righteousness of fallen man; and eternal love, in wonderful condescension, stamps its favours, which infinitely surpass our obedience, our faith, and even our desires, as the reward of our faith.

Jacob before his birth was the chosen heir of the promises; and Esau, though destined to be the elder, was rejected. It may be suggested here that their respective characters were foreknown, and that Jacob’s selection was founded on his foreseen moral excellence. Assuredly, however, this choice of God between the sons of Isaac before their birth, involved a predestination of moral influences and events in providence, not under their control, which produced this difference of character. Observe the means by which Jacob obtained the blessings of the covenant. It was by falsehood and deception practised on his father. Never let Jacob speak of the blessing as the reward of his regard to truth.

Light from heaven,—the light of long-cherished hope,—suddenly, mysteriously, gloriously, shines in the countenance of the dying patriarch. “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord!” said Jacob, as he blessed his sons. That was an expression of piety and humility, of distrust in self and trust in God. During all his life, through many trials, he had been waiting for the salvation of God, and now he felt that he was about to attain this salvation. It was salvation from sin and suffering, salvation coming from the hand of God, and undeserved, and not reward, in the near approach of which the patriarch rejoiced.

Yours, very truly,


(To be continued.)