THE FOUNDING OF A CHRISTIAN FAMILY.
519. According to the chronology of the O. T. ordinarily in use (Usher's), Abraham was born in 1996 B.C., and Sarah was ten years younger (Genesis 17:17). This household of faith lived, then, about as long before Christ as we live after Christ. The same chronology places Eve's day, when the promise of the conquering Seed was given, at 4004 B. C., thus reckoning the time of Abraham and Sarah as about midway between this memorable promise and the birth of woman's Seed.
520. From the days of Eve to Abraham (at first called Abram), God had apparently taken no account of the seed of the male, as having part in the progenitress of the coming Messiah. In the meantime humanity, at least in that part of the world, had abolished the reckoning of posterity as to female descent; and much that characterized the early female dignity was vanishing. By some method trace must be kept of the coming Messiah, otherwise than the general designation that he would be the Seed of woman; and now the light begins to dawn as regards what nation He will be joined to when He appears. At the same time, it was in the purpose of God to prepare that nation to receive Him.
521. Abraham, and his wife Sarah, were called away from their idolatrous relatives (Genesis 12:1-5; Joshua 24:2-3). Having arrived in Canaan, God began their religious training, and to elevate their hopes and fix them upon their future posterity. We will do well to study closely this preparation of a previously pagan family as the head of all households of the true faith for all time to come. This family may well be designated the first Christian family, for it was in training to believe in a coming Christ (as Eve did),¾just as we believe in a Christ who has come and will come again.
522. We have often watched the erection of the very tall buildings which are so numerous in the large cities of America, and which are now appearing in increasing numbers on both sides of the water. Their construction is quite unlike that of smaller buildings. First of all, a far greater amount of earth is dug away, to make room for a deeply laid and strong foundation; then every beam and rafter is of iron, well riveted together, after the style of bridge building. God wished to found and erect the first household of faith as a pattern for Christian homes for all time. He dug deep; laid firmly His great foundation stones; and riveted all the beams of His building well together. Let us study how He operated.
523. God was promising Abraham a progeny as great as the number of the stars of the heavens, and at the same time not allowing Sarah to bear even one child. He took one hundred years to get Abraham ready to become a father, and ninety years to fit Sarah for motherhood. "The ungodly are like the chaff which the wind driveth away," God says; and "That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” There is no building of a respectable family on mere chaff. The Bible teaches us that when God wishes a numerous progeny He takes the regulating of the begetting of offspring into His own control. Everything depends upon quality; a great family of Ishmaelites or Philistines are no blessing to the world; and such a family is short-lived, anyway; vice and crime and war soon bring it near destruction.
524. "Sarah, Abram's wife, bare him no children" (Genesis 16:1). On the one side was the promise of "seed as the dust of the earth" (Genesis 13:16) in multitude; on the other, a barren wife. What did it mean? Just this: quality is everything with God, even when quantity is the desired end. There had been, probably, first of all in Abraham, merely the sensuous delight in Sarah's beauty (Genesis 12:11-14), behind which lurked the desire of the flesh which had led the pagan Abram to marry his half-sister; then that had become mingled with a looking into the future, inspired by God's leading and promises, and Abraham desired an heir to whom he could bequeath the wealth he had acquired, and who would perpetuate his name (Genesis 13:2; 15:3). Then God lifted his longings to fairer worlds than Canaan,—to "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God; (Heb. 11:10), and then, after his flesh was "dead" (Romans 4:19) to all sensual desire, a son was born,¾of the holy desire to bless the world, in fulfillment of God's promise, as to his seed (Genesis 12:3; 22:18), which holy desire met God's own desire to bless the world through Abraham and Sarah.
525. The case is a striking one, and reminds us that when Isaac married, Rebekah was allowed to bear no children, again, until fleshly desire was displaced by holier aspiration. The heir of the promises of Abraham, Isaac, "intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord was intreated of him" (Genesis 25:21), ¾and so Esau and Jacob came. In their turn, the promise made to Abraham, to bless all the families of the earth, was reposed in Jacob; and the wife of Jacob's choice, Rachel, likewise, found herself unable to bear children until she prayed for them; something more than sensual desire, or human ambition, must enter into the birth of promising offspring. "God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her." (Genesis 30:22), and she bare that one against whose character no fault is recorded, Joseph, a notable person, who saved his entire family from starvation; whose sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were heads of the two tribes about which clustered the other eight which constituted the ten tribes of Israel; so that "Israel," as distinguished from "Judah," is often called "Ephraim" in the prophets of the later periods of O. T. history (Jeremiah 31:18, etc.).
526. And thus it was again when God desired a deliverer for Israel. Samson's mother "was barren, and bare not," and as an angel finally appeared to her and gave instructions as to the coming child, we have reason for inferring that she and her husband had prayer about this matter,¾especially as we know Manoah, the father, prayed for more definite guidance as to the rearing of the expected child (Judges 13:8). Then we come to that rarely beautiful character, the founder of the schools of prophets, Samuel. He came, not in answer to fleshly desire, but in answer to Hannah's fervent prayers (1 Samuel 1:20). God, in this case also, hindering her from bearing children until her desire had become a sanctified one. Such may have been the experience of many other mothers, though not specially recorded, who bore great children in past times.
527. Now we go into the New Testament, to learn the same lesson from the experience of Elisabeth. God was about to make ready the Forerunner for Christ's entrance into the world. He chose the family of Zacharias and Elisabeth, and at once closed the way against a child of the flesh, that Elisabeth might give birth to one born of holy, unsensual desire. He waited long,¾until all fleshly desire had ceased; then the angel was sent to announce: "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son. He shall be great in the sight of the Lord¾and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:13-15). Thus are great men born into the world; that is, men who are great in the sight of God though the world may despise them, as Herod despised John the Baptist, imprisoning him first, and then beheading him.
(To be continued.)
There is a most striking contrast between God's purpose in His dealings with these parents of holy offspring, and the purposes served by the modern devices for "birth-control." Two phases of desire struggle for expression, and God decrees that for holy offspring the fleshly desire shall decay, and desire for offspring, spiritually expressed in prayer and supplications, shall supervene. On the contrary, the modern human devices would curtail expression of longing for offspring, and give full rein to irresponsible fleshly desire. "Base-born" indeed would be offspring of such unions, when finally permitted to come to birth.