The Call of Abraham
Minister: Revd Dr. Ian Tutton
‘Go from your country to the land that I will show you’ (Genesis 12:1)
Any attempt to be precise with regard to the geography, history and religion of the part of the world described in the story containing the call of Abraham is fraught with danger. Yet at the centre of the story is a simple but world transforming moment; the moment when God called Abraham away from where he was to go to a place where God wanted him to be. It is the perfect example of the twin pillars of our faith acting together for the good of all humankind, mediated in and through the life of the one individual – the Sovereign Power of God and the Sovereign Grace of God – and the truth is, without the other neither makes any sense. However, the truth for us is this; we are very comfortable when contemplating the ‘Sovereign Grace of God’, we are much less comfortable when confronted by the ‘Sovereign Power of God’.
“Nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed. Here is a foundation of faith. Here is a resting place for the intellect. Here is an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or Devil, but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory.”
(Arthur W Pink: ‘The Sovereignty of God’).
Does that make you feel uncomfortable? It should, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. With all that is happening around us, does such a claim stand up to scrutiny? I fear not, but neither should it, God’s Sovereign Power is not unbridled to such an extent as this; to believe it to be thus is to deny room any room for Sovereign Grace. There is much that is happening in our world today that is ‘otherwise than God has eternally purposed’ – from the very beginning we have been making choices for ourselves unknowingly yet directly aimed at frustrating the eternal purpose of God. And God is gracious enough to allow us the room to make such choices, even to the extent of making it possible for that which would otherwise frustrate God’s eternal purpose to be transformed in such a way that though we once might have sought to frustrate God, now we, by God’s Sovereign Grace can know our frustration redeemed that yes, eventually, ultimately, all things will be seen to have been ‘for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to His purpose’ – ‘Sovereign Power tempered by Sovereign Grace – this is how we understand the Sovereignty of God to be exercised: The Grace of God is not to set over against the Sovereignty of God; the Grace of God is of itself an expression of Divine Sovereignty. “Behind Calvary’s cross is the throne of heaven.” (James Stewart). And so, as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower this last week, as the fires of hell raged around and about, the Sovereign God, the Christ of Calvary descended into a hell of our own making in order that even there something of redemption might be evident; not yet maybe because for now, by God’s grace we are free to vent our frustration, demonstrate our anger, express our condemnation, demand judgement; but sooner or later, even in that place, that small corner of God’s world, something of the Grace of God will manifest itself – how, who knows for none of us knows the mind of God – but we know enough to dare believe that it will be so. God, the Sovereign God, Sovereign in Power and in Grace has afforded us a role in the unfolding drama of creation, and we have to play our part for that is our calling, as it was for Abram and for all who follow in his footsteps. The script was written before ever the story was begun, “God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me specifically into the story, and He put us in specifically with the sunsets in the rainstorms as though to say, “Enjoy your place in My story, the very beauty of it means it’s not about you, and in time that will give you comfort.” (Donald Miller: ‘A million miles in a thousand years). The call of Abram was framed within a promise, a promise so fantastic as to be unbelievable, that through him and those who come after him, the whole world would be blessed; through him and those who come after him God’s Sovereign Power and God’s Sovereign Grace would find its fullest expression and in so doing dares to confront the limited vision that we have for ourselves, “His Kingship, precisely because it is so broad, so total, is doomed to be rejected by anybody who is still into tribalism, or small belonging systems. We don’t really like the big Kingdom if it gets in the way of our smaller kingdoms, and it always does.” (Richard Rohr: ‘Adam’s Return, The Five Promises of Male Initiation). The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews remarks that God was ‘not ashamed’ to be Abraham’s God. It may well be that in these days, more than any other days, the call of God, issued by Sovereign Power, initiated by Sovereign Grace, needs to be heard, and we the Church, followers of Jesus, the posterity of Abraham, the faithful under God, that we have to be ensured that we are that which we are called to be; now more than ever God desires of people of whom God can be rightly proud. The Cross of Calvary needs must be lifted up that all people everywhere might be drawn to it, a Cross behind which always and forever is the throne of Heaven – symbol of a God who is both Powerful and Gracious – a Sovereign Lord.