The Call of Abraham – Flesh Against the Spirit

The Present Truth : June 11, 1896 

By: Dr. Ellet Waggoner

“Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children; and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing; I pray thee go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened unto the voice of Sarai.” 

This was the great mistake of Abraham’s life; but he learned a lesson from his mistake, and it was recorded for the purpose of teaching that lesson to all. We will presume that the reader is acquainted with the sequel— how the Lord told Abraham that Ishmael, the son of Hagar was not the heir that He had promised, but that Sarah his wife should bear him a son, and how Hagar and Ishmael were sent away, after Isaac was born. So we may proceed at once to some of the important lessons that are suggested by this transaction. 

In the first place, we should learn the folly of man’s trying to fulfill the promises of God. God had promised to Abraham an innumerable seed. When the promise was made, it was beyond all human possibility that Abraham should have a son by his wife, but he accepted the word of the Lord, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness. This in itself was evidence that the seed was not to be an ordinary seed, but that it was to be a seed of faith. 

But his wife had not the faith that he had. Yet she thought that she had faith, and even Abraham doubtless thought that in carrying out her advice he was working in harmony with the word of the Lord. The mistake was in harkening to the voice of his wife, instead of to the Lord. They reasoned that God had promised them a large family, but that since it was impossible for her to have children, it was very evident that He intended that they should devise some other means of bringing it about. Thus it is that human reason deals with the promises of God. 

Yet how shortsighted the whole thing was. God had made the promise; therefore He alone could fulfill it. If a man makes a promise, the thing promised may be performed by another, but in that case the one who made the promise fails to carry out his word. So even though that which the Lord had promised could have been gained by the device, which was adopted, the result would have been to shut the Lord out from fulfilling His word. They were therefore working against God. But His promises cannot be performed by man. In Christ alone can they be performed. It is easy enough for us all to see this in the case before us; yet how often, in our own experience, instead of waiting for the Lord to do what He has promised, we become tired of waiting, and try to do it for Him, and thus make failures. 

Spiritual and Literal 

Years afterwards the promise was fulfilled in God’s own way, but it was not until both Abraham and his wife fully believed the Lord. “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” Hebrews 11:11. Isaac was the fruit of faith. “For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise.” 

Many people overlook this fact. They forget that Abraham had two sons, one by a bondwoman, and the other by a free woman; one born after the flesh, and the other born after the Spirit. Hence the confusion with respect to the “literal” and the “spiritual” seed of Abraham. People talk as though the word “spiritual” were opposed to “literal.” But this is not the case. “Spiritual” is opposed only to “fleshly,” or carnal. 

Isaac was born after the Spirit, yet he was as real and literal a child as Ishmael was. So the true seed of Abraham are only those who are spiritual, but that does not make them any the less real. God is Spirit, yet He is a real God. Christ had a spiritual body after His resurrection, yet He was a real, literal being, and could be handled the same as other bodies. So the bodies of the saints after the resurrection will be spiritual, yet they will be real. Spiritual things are not imaginary things. Indeed, that which is spiritual is more real than that which is fleshly, because only that which is spiritual will endure forever. 

From this case, therefore, we learn most conclusively that the seed, which God promised to Abraham, which should be as the sand of the sea and the stars of heaven for number, and which should inherit the land, is a spiritual seed. That is, it is a seed, which comes through the agency of the Spirit of God. The birth of Isaac, like that of the Lord Jesus, was miraculous. It was supernatural. Both were brought about through the agency of the Spirit. In both we have an illustration of the power by which we are to become sons of God, and thus heirs of the promise. 

The seed of Abraham after the flesh are Ishmaelites. He was a wild man, or, as the Revised Version has it, “A wild ass among men.” Genesis 16:12. Moreover, he was the son of a bondwoman, and therefore not a freeborn son. Now the Lord had already signified, when speaking of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, that the seed of Abraham were to be free. Therefore if Abraham had only remembered the words of the Lord, instead of harkening to the voice of his wife, he would have been saved much trouble. 

It is worthwhile to dwell at length upon this phase of the subject, for it will save much confusion as to the true seed of Abraham, and the true Israel. Let the points be stated once more. 

Ishmael was born after the flesh, and could not be the seed. Therefore those who are only of the flesh cannot be the children of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise. 

Isaac was born after the Spirit, and was the true seed. “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Therefore all the children of Abraham are they alone who are born of the Spirit. “We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” Galatians 4:28 

Isaac was freeborn; and none but those who are free are the children of Abraham, “So, then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” Galatians 4:31. What this freedom is, the Lord showed in His talk to the Jews, recorded in the eighth of John. “If ye abide in My word, then are ye truly My disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered unto Him, We are Abraham’s seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man; how sayest Thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily; I say unto you, every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin. 

And the bondservant abideth not in the house forever; but the Son abideth forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Verses 31-36, R.V. And later He declared to them that if they were really the children of Abraham, they would do the works of Abraham. Verse 39 

Here again we see that which we learned from the promise in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis that the promised seed was to be a righteous seed, since it was promised only through Christ, and was sure to Abraham only through his faith. 

The sum of the whole matter is that in the promise to Abraham there is the Gospel, and only the Gospel; and any attempt to make the promises apply to any other than those who are Christ’s through the Spirit, is an attempt to nullify the promises of the Gospel of God. “If ye are Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” Romans 8:9. So if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit by which Isaac was born, he is not a child of Abraham, and has no claim to any part of the promise. 

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