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Reviews | Abraham: Father of the Faithful

Abraham: Father of the Faithful

Harry Whittaker

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

120 pages

Abraham: Father of the Faithful

The Christadelphian review (from June 1966)

Abraham: Father of the Faithful

“THE scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham …” Paul’s words open up many lines of thought. How did “scripture” foresee? How did “scripture” preach to Abraham?

If “the scripture” here is a personification for God—as in some sense it must be, since only God “foresees”—why is God mentioned distinctively in the very next phrase as the source of justification? Must not “the scripture” serve also as a metonymy for “the word”, the promise, afterwards embodied in writing? In that case the fact that the word uttered and the word written can be so equated in the language of Paul is significant, and throws light on his doctrine of the Word.

Yet this, valuable as it may be, is a sidelight; the real burden of the passage is that the covenant with Abraham lays the foundation of the covenant in Christ, and is at the root of God’s work of redemption. Do the promises to Abraham hold as big a place in the belief, thought and preaching of Christadelphians as they did? For preaching a difficulty arises in the growing ignorance of the Bible, and a good deal of groundwork may need to be done before we can get home to hearers that Abraham has any relevance for faith in Christ or for life today. But for ourselves? If our grasp of the covenant with Abraham weakens then our hope will cease to be “the Hope of Israel” for which Paul was bound with a chain.

Much as the old and standard works have to say on them, no single book so far has been devoted to a study of the promises within the setting of the life of the patriarch. Now bro. Harry Whittaker has supplied the need in a study given at the Oxford Conference of 1965, and now offered both as paperback and bound books.

Tracing the story through the chapters of Genesis with light thrown from other scriptures, and meditating upon each stage and turn of events, the author sees Abraham as a man of human failings and even, at times, lapses which are not to be glossed over, whose faith developed under trial. The Abraham who in a time of famine “went down into Egypt” and there tried to save himself at the risk of his wife’s honour would not have been the man to stand the great final test in the offering of Isaac. The man who resorted to the same expedient at Gerar—had his faith been temporarily shaken by seeing the smoke ascending from Sodom without knowing that “God had remembered Abraham, and had sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow”? Certainly Abraham grew in the experience of his long encounter with God, and to bro. Whittaker he is no mere static and monumental figure chiselled in print. The patriarch is seen as a living, striving man, sometimes falling, rising again and at last reaching the heights which make him “father of the faithful”. The author is not afraid to face the many questions raised in the course of the account, and to confess when he knows no convincing answer. But all such problems fall into their place as details in the grand sweep of the unfolding of the promises.

It is the detailed study of the promises and covenants, and their implications, which forms the core of the book. Here bro. Whittaker meets a lasting need for those who would lay hold of the Gospel, and especially, it may be, a need for our generation.

Sufficient acquaintance is shown with the findings of modern archaeology to touch in the background where necessary, and to show how satisfyingly it fills out the picture provided by the Bible account.

L. G. SARGENT

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