Abrahamic Bookends

Father Abraham

“Father Abraham has many sons, many sons has father Abraham…”. Amen! How many American evangelicals have sung that youth-group chorus without appreciating the implications of what they were singing?

The Apostle Paul writes,

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised (Romans 4:1–12; ESV).

Abraham is the father of all who believe in Jesus: to Gentile and Jewish Christians alike. Abraham was a Gentile when he first believed. He believed before he was circumcised. He continued to believe after he was circumcised and therefore he is the father of all Jewish Christian too. For all the attempts by some to rebuild the wall that Christ tore down (Eph 2:14), it has indeed been torn down and now, in Christ, there is now Jew or Gentile (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). Abraham really is the father of all New Testament Christians. This truth should be beyond doubt. Paul says,

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:16–17; ESV).

The New Covenant is the period of redemptive history, the last epoch before the end of all things and the bodily return of Christ, when those promises are being fulfilled.

Spiritual Promises

God is bringing to new life and true faith his elect in al the nations of the world. The Lord promised Abraham as many sons as there are stars in the heavens and sands on the shore and so shall it be when Jesus, the Son, returns (Gen 12:1–3; 15:5–6; 22:17; Gal 3:16)

The spiritual promises God made to Abraham were summed up in this one promise: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Gen 17:7; ESV). This formula is rehearsed throughout the Scriptures.

We know that these are spiritual promises because Scripture says so:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Heb 11:8–10;ESV).

Since the early 19th century, lots of evangelicals have (unfortunately) re-told Abraham’s story in ways he himself would not recognize. They have it that Abraham was looking for land and lots of biological sons. Scripture rejects both of these theories. Hebrews 11:15–16 says, “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Abraham is included in the word “they” of v. 15. Abraham was not looking for land. He was looking for heaven. According to Hebrews he was a Christian, saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Earthly sons? Hebrews addresses that too:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back (Heb 11:17–19; ESV).

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son because he believed in the resurrection of the dead. The Abrahamic covenant was not a covenant of works (as some Particular Baptists say) but an administration of the covenant of grace.

Echoes Of Abraham

The spiritual promise made to Abraham, “I will be your God and a God to your children” echoed through the period of types and shadows. Sometimes the echo occurs in unexpected places, e.g., Ruth 1:16, where the Moabitess Ruth declares to her mother-in-law Naomi, “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (ESV). The echo is more obvious in Jeremiah 30:22, “And you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (ESV). At the heart of the promise of the New Covenant is the Abrahamic promise: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33; ESV; emphasis added). Again, in Jeremiah 32: 32:37–39, the Lord again re-states the Abrahamic promise in the context of the New Covenant:

Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them (ESV; emphasis added).

Did you notice who is included in the promise? As in Genesis 17:7, when the Lord promises to be a God to believers, he also includes their children. He promised to bring his people back to “this place” after the exile and he has: in Christ. This is the New Covenant way of reading this promise. Read Hebrews 4. He is the rest. The land was also a pointer to Christ. Hebrews tells us that Psalm 95 says and means that the reason people did not enter the rest is because they did not believe.

New Testament Affirmations

This is the way the New Covenant writers interpreted the Abrahamic promise. We know so because Peter invokes the Abrahamic promise in Acts 3:39. The Jews who heard Peter preach the law and the gospel cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Why? On what ground could those Jews expect and understand this offer of salvation? Peter explains, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

The promise to which Peter referred is the promise that has been echoing through Scripture and the history of salvation since Genesis 12. Peter was saying to all those Jewish men gathered at Pentecost, “the reality has come. Jesus is the seed, he is the land, and he is the fulfillment of the promise. God has kept his promise to Abraham and now he is calling all the nations to faith in Jesus the Messiah. This is only the beginning.”

We know that it is only the beginning because the Apostle John, in the Revelation, at the end of the story says, “And I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them, their God’” (Rev 21:3; emphasis added).

The Abrahamic promise is not temporary, earthly, or legal. It is permanent, spiritual, and gracious. It is a major thread that runs through Scripture, unifying it. There really is one covenant of grace in multiple, wonderful administrations. They all point to one reality, which we blessed of men, have in Christ.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. Brother, Scott, I have enjoyed so much the reading of your blog these past months. Reformed theology has been such a blessing! I have been part my whole of a charismatic, arminian, baptist, moralistic and therapeutic kind of church. All the sermons tend to be about how to build successful careers and other things related to that. But now I know that Church is, or at least, should be heaven on earth, mount Zion as Hebrews says. I used to be anxious all the time because I couldn’t hear God’s still voice in my devotions, but now I know that God is where He has promised to be, His word, law and gospel, and sacraments. I used to believe that protestants who baptised their children as infants weren’t reformed enough! What a mistake! Now I know God has graciously welcomed believers’ children into his Church and what a comfort it is! God has never changed and His promise to be Our God and the God of our children is forever! Sadly, for me, there are no reformed churches in the city of Colombia where I live, so if I get married and have children, I won’t be able to see my children baptised. It’s really heartbreaking! Pray for me and my country that God in his mercy send faithful men to plant reformed churches, where psalm be sung, his word rightly divided, his sacraments administered purely, all for His Glory! I really wanna be part of that! God bless your for everything you have taught me dr Scott! Sorry for any mistake in my English.

    • Greetings from China! I am also studying Reformed theology. Churches in China are controlled by the Communist Party and Reformed theology is not welcome. It is hard to find a Reformed church here.

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