ŇThrough 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.Ó Hebrews 11:11.
Next to Abraham, who is called the father of our faith, or of faithful men, followeth Sarah, who was also mystically, the mother of believers. Next to the husband followeth the wife; nay, AbrahamŐs faith is commended both before her and after her; and hers enclosed in the midst.
By the way here observe how God honours holy marriage, and observes the decorum and dignity of it. He not only allows, or commends the faith of Abel, who it may be was unmarried; but as we see of married men also. And it is worthy of our observation that of all these whom the Holy Ghost here records for their faith and holiness, they were all married except Abel; of whom, it is not certain whether he were or no.
It appears therefore that God, as He ordained holy marriage, so he always honoured it, both with His grace on earth, and His glory in heaven; as well, if not better, than any other state of life. They therefore do spit in the face of God Himself, who any way disgrace it, and they especially who allow fornication or adultery in any sort of men, rather than it, as some papists do. But here we may observe further, how God maintains dignity and decorum of it; He placeth Abraham and Sarah together, and puts none between them, to shew the inseparable unity that is to be between them; so far, as that even in story, they are to be set together; and how heinous their presumption is that dare in any way to attempt to separate or part that unity.
He placeth Abraham first, to shew the dignity and pre-eminence of the man, whom for her sin God hath set over her; not only for her head, but for her guide and governor; and to teach the man that he and his example should be first, and should be a light unto her; to shame them who come behind their wives in faith and holiness. He placeth Abraham both before and after her, and her in the midst; to teach her that her glory and honour, every way, is the virtue and worthiness of her husband, her head under God; who is to go before her to give her good example; and to come after, to oversee her courses, and on all sides to be a shelter and defence unto her.
These things may not unfitly be noted in this context. Now let us come to the words, which are in these points:
I. Who believed: Even Sarah.
II. What she believed: GodŐs promise to bear Isaac.
III. The impediments of that faith, which were two:
1. Her age.
2. Her barrenness.
IV. The effects of this, her faith, which were three:
1. Thereby she conceived seed.
2. Brought forth Isaac.
3. Had a great issue and posterity by him.
V. The ground of her faith: She judged Him faithful which had promised.
All these are laid down in this verse or the next.
I. The first point is, the person of whom this story is; Sarah a woman; even she believed. We have heard some examples of notable men, but behold here, a woman chronicled for her faith and holy obedience, as well as men.
Where we learn, that saving faith, and consequently salvation itself, is not proper to one sex, but to both men and women. The woman indeed was the first that brought in sin; and being deceived herself by the devil, she deceived man. In which sense the apostle saith (1 Tim. 2:14), The man was not deceived, but the woman; and she was in the transgression. And for that cause, grievous calamities and much bitterness was laid upon that sex, in bearing and bringing up children, and in subjection. In which regards they might think themselves forsaken of God for their fault. For the preventing whereof, the apostle here, or rather the Holy Ghost by him, teacheth us that true faith and salvation by the Messiah belongeth to Sarah as well as Abraham; to women as well as to men. And St Peter also most plainly teacheth us (1 Pet. 3:7), that they are heirs together with their husbands of the grace of life. The use whereof, as it discovereth the monstrous and unnatural madness of some men, who have called into question the possibility of their salvation; yea some whether they have souls or not; so it giveth encouragement to women to serve that God in zeal and sincerity, which hath been so merciful unto their sin; and who, though he hath subjected them in body unto their husbands, yet hath made their souls partakers with them, of the same hope of immortal life.
Yet withal we may observe, how few the Holy Ghost here recordeth; namely, but one or two women, amongst many men. For so it hath been in all ages, those that have been good, were excellent; but they were few in comparison of men; which, as it is the more commendation to them that are good, so it must stir up all women professing religion, to labour in the imitation of the faith of their grandmother Sarah; that so they may be some of those few.
1. But let us enter into further, and more particular consideration, who this Sarah was; especially seeing she is the only woman of the Jewish nation whose faith is here remembered.
She was the wife of Abraham, the grand patriarch of the age between the flood and the giving of the law. And of her we read this story amongst others (Gen. 18:13). God by His angel appearing to her husband and her, made a promise that within the year they should have a son; both heard it, and both laughed to hear it; Abraham in joy and admiration, and therefore was not reproved; and she in doubtfulness, and a conceit of almost impossibility, and was for it sharply reproved of the angel. Yet behold this Sarah, that even now laughed to hear such a promise, as being a fond conceit and merely impossible; yet afterward believeth, and in so good a measure, as her faith is here registered to all posterity.
In her example, we may learn a good lesson. It was a bad thing in Sarah to laugh at GodŐs word, though it seemed never so high above her conceit; but it was good and commendable that she correcteth her fault, and testifieth her amendment by believing. We all follow SarahŐs fault, but few her repentance. Many in our church are mockers of our religion, and of the ministers and professors thereof; and all religion that standeth not with their humours, is no mere regard of them than toys or devices; and they are counted fools or hypocrites that think otherwise. But alas, these men know not how vile a sin they commit, while they laugh at GodŐs word. For if her fault was such, who laughed at that which seemed to her almost impossible, and yet without any profaneness; what shall become of them, that out of their carnality and fleshly profaneness, do make but a sport at all GodŐs ordinances, promises and commandments; and at all religion, more than serveth their own turn? Let such men be warned, to cease mocking, and lay aside reviling of others, and begin soberly and seriously to believe; else they will find it sharp kicking against the pricks; and dangerous, playing with edge-tools.
Furthermore, Sarah that laughed in doubting, yet (withal) believes. This teacheth us, that true faith is joined always with doubting in all GodŐs children. If any object, that that followeth not here; for she first doubted, and then believed; when she doubted, she believed not, and when she believed, she doubted not.
I answer, It is not so, but the contrary, as I will prove. For Sarah was no infidel, utterly to deny and gainsay GodŐs Word when she heard it; but only finding it in all reason impossible, she therefore presently yielded not to it, but laughed at it as a matter past ordinary course, yet withal she regarded who spake it; namely God, and therefore forthwith judged it possible with God, though impossible in reason, and so at last constantly believed it, yet still her reason gainsaying it; so that she never doubted so, but that she in some part believed it. And when she believed it most steadfastly, yet she something doubted of it; reason said it could not be, faith said it might be. Therefore, as when reason overruling, yet she had some sparks of faith; so when her faith was predominant, there remained some relics of doubting; for as reason cannot overthrow true faith, so the best faith in this world cannot fully vanquish reason.
This is the doctrine of GodŐs Word (Mark 9:24). Jesus bidding the father of the child possessed to believe; and then his child should be dispossessed; he answered crying with tears, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. There is faith and unbelief in one soul at one time, in one action, upon one object, and what is unbelief, but doubting or worse?
And Christ often reproveth His disciples for their doubting; for He calls them, O ye of little faith; and ye all know that they then had true faith; yea St Peter himself, most famous for his faith, is reproved in the same words, O thou of little faith, wherefore dost thou doubt? (Matt. 14:31). He had a little faith, therefore some faith; a little faith, therefore much doubting; therefore it is apparent, a man may have in his soul at once, both faith and doubting; yea, commonly, we have a grain of mustard seed, or a mite of faith, and a mountain of doubting.
The use of this doctrine:
(1). First, discovereth the nakedness of many professing themselves Christians, who care not how they live, yet say they believe in Christ, and look to be saved by Him. Ask how they know it; they answer, they know no other; Ask when they began, they say they did ever so; Ask if they doubt, they answer they would be ashamed so to do. But alas, here is nothing but ignorance and presumption. Our religion can never be disgraced by such men; for they have it not, they know it not; for if they did, they would shame to answer so. These men have no faith at all; for where it is, doubting doth always shew itself. And he that knows he believes, knows also he doubts; and the more he believes, the more he knoweth and feeleth his doubting; for where these two are, they are always opposite, and shew their contrary natures; the one is the spirit, the other is flesh and corruption. And these, saith the apostle, do lust one against another (Gal. 5:17). He therefore that thinketh he is wholly spirit, and hath no flesh or corruption in him, is nothing but corruption; and he that imagineth that he hath perfect faith, and no doubting, hath no faith at all in him, but carnal presumption.
(2). Secondly, here is comfort to all such as have faith and grace, and yet are daily troubled with temptations; let not such be dismayed, though they find in themselves much doubting and diffidence. For Sarah believed, and yet she doubted; yea, notwithstanding all her doubting, she believed so excellently, as her faith is here made a pattern to all holy matrons for ever. He therefore that is even buffeted by Satan with temptations of doubting, let not him be dismayed, as though he had no faith; but let him be assured, his doubting doth not bewray itself, but that faith makes the opposition; and therefore let him strive with tears and prayers to God, and say, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.
2. Thus we see the person, Sarah; but what is the action which she did? It is implied in these words:
Through faith, Sarah &c.
Her action is, she believed. This virtue of faith, and this action of believing is the matter of all this chapter. These holy men and women had other holy virtues; but their faith is that alone which is here commended.
Now particularly for SarahŐs faith, here is one notable thing to be observed: the very same Word of God, which she believed, and for believing whereof she is here registered, at the same she also laughed; but behold, her faith is recorded, her laughing is not; her faith is commended, her fault silenced. In which holy and merciful practice of God, we learn:
(1). First, that God accepteth true faith, though it be attended with many infirmities. As a king is content to give a beggar an alms, though he receive it with a hand shaking with the palsy; so, God is well pleased with our faith, though diseased with infirmities, and bestoweth grace on a believing soul, though shaken with many temptations.
In a word, God accepteth soundness of faith, though it be but small, and more looks at (in His mercy) a manŐs little faith, than his many faults. He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax (Isa. 42:3). When a man is broken in heart and dejected in soul, in sight of his many sins and little grace, God will not break this bruised reed, but will comfort and strengthen him. And when any life of grace appears in a man (as flax that smoketh, but will not burn out), God will not quench it, but will rather kindle it, and give life unto it.
Let this teach us to take in good part, the holy and honest endeavours of our brethren, though they cannot do so well as they would, or should. Let us not exact too much, and too hastily upon them, but expect in meekness the working of GodŐs grace; and in the meantime, think well of SarahŐs faith, though it be with laughing.
(2). Secondly, here we may learn that God rather observes and regards good things in His children, than their faults and imperfections; He writes up SarahŐs faith, He nameth not her laughing. This is from the goodness of His nature, being goodness itself, and therefore most easily apprehendeth and takes notice of the least goodness, wherever He finds it.
Thus should we deal one with another; what good thing we see in any man, we should observe and commend it; his faults we should not see, but cover and omit them. But the course is contrary; the common table talk of the world is nothing but of menŐs faults, and to rip up their imperfections. But if they have never so many good properties, we can bury them all, and pass them over in silence. This argueth the malice and naughtiness of our nature; which, being evil, doth delight in nothing but evil; and being corrupt, feeds, as doth the filthy horse fly, on nothing but corruption. But let us remember the practice of God, and learn to conceal faults, and of our tongues to talk of the good things and virtues in our brethren. So shall we resemble the Lord, who though Sarah laughed (not in an holy admiration, but in unbelief), yet, forasmuch as afterward she believed; God hath matched her with the noblest believers, and holiest men that have been in the world.
Thus much for the first point, the person and her action: she believed.
II. Now the second is, what she believed. This is included and necessarily implied in the last words of the verse, She judged Him faithful, which had promised.
The thing she believed, was the word or promise of God; particularly His promise that she should bear Isaac in her old age; of which promise, and the circumstances of it, we may read (Gen. 18:13ff.).
Here the only question is, By what faith did she believe this?
And the answer is, by true saving faith. And it is proved thus: Abraham believed this promise by the faith that justified him (Rom. 4:10,11). But Abraham and Sarah believed it both by one faith, therefore Sarah believed that promise by the faith that also justified her. Where we learn, that saving faith apprehendeth not only the great promise of redemption by Christ, but all other inferior promises that depend upon it. For here we see Abraham and Sarah take hold of the promises of a temporal blessing, by the same faith whereby formerly they had laid hold on the promise of eternal salvation by the Messiah; so that the object of true faith is:
1. Principal: The promise of salvation by Christ.
2. Secondary: All inferior promises annexed thereunto.
The main promise is: God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, to the end that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Now true faith, first of all, directly and plainly fasteneth itself on this; but after, and with this, on all other promises that concern soul or body. In the LordŐs Prayer, we are bid to pray for temporal blessings, health, peace, competency of wealth, and all other, under the name of daily bread; and we are bound to believe that God will give them, if we ask in faith. Neither is this faith constrained, but free and voluntary, and on a good foundation. For being persuaded that God accepteth us in Christ for salvation, we cannot but withal be persuaded that God will give us all things else needful for us.
This we here note again, because we are wrongfully charged by the papists to hold that faith apprehendeth the promise of salvation alone. But we pass it over, for that we have already spoken something of it.
III. Now followeth the third point; namely, the impediments of her faith, in these words:
When she was past age.
The promise was to have a child; she believed it. Now against childbearing, there are two impediments:
If one be aged, or past the ordinary time, it is hard and unlikely; but if one be very aged and far past it, it is impossible she should conceive and bear a child; thus it stands in reason. Besides, though one be not past age, yet if she be barren (as some by secret reasons in nature are), it is not to be expected she should conceive. Now, both these lay in SarahŐs way, for here it is said, she was past age; and another place (Gen. 16:1,2) saith, she was barren.
But is may be objected against SarahŐs age, that in the old time they had children till they were of great age. Eve had her son Seth at 130 years old (Gen. 5:3). For Adam and Eve must needs be both of the same age; and after that, Eve bore many sons and daughters. Therefore it may seem that Sarah was not past age at ninety years old. But we are to know that they who began to bear at that age, lived eight or nine hundred years; but Sarah lived after the flood, when ages were brought down to 200, and for the most part to 100 years. Abraham lived but 175 years, and Sarah but 127. She therefore who lived 127 years, and died an old woman, must needs be past age of childbearing at ninety years old.
And besides her age, she was also barren by her natural constitution (as many are and have been), and brought Abraham no children. Yet unto this woman comes a word from God, Sarah shall bear a son. And behold, this same aged and barren woman doth not object desperately these her two hindrances (the one whereof in reason is sufficient against childbearing), but beyond all impediments, and above reason, believeth it shall be so, resting and relying only and wholly on GodŐs word for it.
The use of which notable and faithful practice (so wonderful in a woman) must teach us to rest on GodŐs word and promise, though we have no reason so to do; for example,
When we see our friendŐs or childrenŐs bodies cast into the earth to feed worms, burnt by fire, or eaten by fishes, reason saith that they are gone, they can never be again. We have GodŐs word and assured promise, The dead shall rise; with their bodies shall they rise (Job 19:26; 1 Thess. 4:16). We must therefore believe it, if we will be of the faith of Sarah. God said to her, Age and barrenness shall have a child; she believed it. He saith to us, Dust and rottenness shall live again; nay, He hath often said it; and shall not our faith acknowledge the voice of our God, and believe it as she did?
But let us come to personal promises, as hers was (for this is general); God hath promised grace and pardon to every penitent and believing soul; yea, no man is partaker of the sweetness hereof, without the bitterness of many temptations to the contrary, giving him occasions of doubting, and often even despairing of GodŐs favour. What must a man do in this case? Even believe, though he feels no reason why to believe; and hope above hope. Such was AbrahamŐs and SarahŐs faith. And for it, as they were registered in the story of Genesis, so both here, and also Rom. 4, remembered again, and commended for it. Now, suppose that after thy coming to God by faith and repentance, fall into temptations of desertion, wherein, to thy feeling, GodŐs heavy hand and wrath hath seized on thee, and the devil layeth thy sins to thy charge, and tells thee thou art a damned wretch, for thou wert ever an hypocrite, and never hadst faith, and that therefore God is thy enemy. In this case, wherein in reason or in feeling, there is not the least hope of salvation; what must thou do, despair? God forbid. For that is the downfall into hell. No, but hope when there is no hope, keep faith when there is no feeling.
And to strengthen us herein, remember the faith of Job (tried and sifted, though as few have been), who though the arrows of the Almighty stuck in him, and the venom thereof drunk up his spirit (Job 6:4), yet even then he believed, and would not give over, nor let go his hold, and said, Though thou bring me to dust, yet will I not forsake thee; no, though thou kill me, yet will I trust in thee (Job 13;15). So in the fury of temptations, when the venom of GodŐs wrath seems to drink up our spirits, then must we believe; and in the pangs of death, when God seems ready to kill us, then must we trust in Him. In such cases is the life of faith to be shewed; when reason and feeling say, God is a terrible judge, faith must say, He is a merciful Father.
In our health and welfare and feeling of GodŐs favour, this exhortation may seem tedious; but if we belong to God, if it be not past already, the time is sure to come, when this doctrine will be needful for the best of us all.
Thus we see the excellency of this womanŐs faith; which is the more commended, by reason of these two so great hindrances.
IV. Now follow the effects of her faith, which are divers; some laid down in this verse, and some in the next.
Received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child.
In these words are two effects:
1. First, by power of her faith she was enabled to conceive; which before she did not, though there were the same reasons in nature why she should.
2. Secondly, she was delivered of a child in her old age, and that child was Isaac; who is therefore called the promised seed, and the child of the promise.
Out of the consideration of these two, we may learn divers good instructions; for seeing they are so near akin in their natures, we will speak of them both jointly together.
(1). First, here we may see that nothing is so hard or difficult which God hath promised, but faith can compass it, and bring it to performance. Christ bad the blind see, the lame to go; He spake, they believed, and they were healed. So here God promiseth a barren, old woman a child. She believeth, and lo, she conceiveth and bringeth forth a son.
The use of this doctrine is for two sorts of people:
(i) First, many in our church being ignorant; when they are moved to learn religion, answer; Alas, they are simple, or not book-learned, or they are dull, and heavy-witted, or they be old and weak, and therefore they can learn nothing; or if they do, they cannot remember it. But here is nothing but vain excuses; for they want not wit to learn religion, if they have wit to buy and sell, to know a fair day from a foul, good meat from ill, dear from cheap, winter from summer. If they have wit to practice the civil actions of the world, they have wit enough to conceive the grounds of religion, and to get so much knowledge as may suffice for a ground of that faith which will save their souls; so that they want nothing but grace and diligence to use the means. To them therefore here is matter of good advice. Let such men learn but one promise of God out of the Holy Scripture, as this: Seek first the kingdom of God, and all things also shall be given unto you (Matt. 6:33). Or this: Cast all your care on Him, for He careth for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Or this: He that cometh unto me, I cast him not away (John 6:37). Or but this: Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find (Matt. 7:7). Let them learn but one of these, and when they have learned it, believe it, and let their souls daily feed on that faith; and they shall see what will follow: even a wonderful blessing upon that poor beginning. This their faith will so content and please their hearts, that it will urge them forward to get more, and will make them both desirous, and capable of more knowledge and grace; and will make them even hunger and thirst after knowledge and grace (whereas, he that knoweth no promise, nor believes it, contents himself in ignorance and error). And this shall everyone find, that will carefully use the means that God appoints, and will begin to learn but one lesson at the first. For as old, barren Sarah, believing GodŐs promise, conceives and brings forth; so old, simple, plain, dull countrymen, believing but one promise of GodŐs Word, shall conceive and bring forth daily more and more fruits of knowledge and grace.
(ii) Secondly, others who have made better proceedings in religion, do see their sins, and do much bewail them, but they cannot overcome their corruptions; yea, many there are, to whom their sins and inward corruptions are more grievous and burdensome than all bodily wants or miseries in the world; yet see they not how to conquer their corruptions; but, alas, are oftentimes foiled by them, to their great discomfort.
Let these men know the want of faith is the cause hereof; for that they do not sufficiently ruminate, and consider the promises of God made in that behalf, nor use the means God hath appointed; to the use whereof He hath annexed His promises of help against sin. Let them therefore lay GodŐs Word and promises unto their consciences, in holy and frequent meditations. Let them carefully use the means that God hath appointed, hearing and reading His Word, receiving the holy communion, earnest and frequent prayer, craving also the prayers of others; and let them sharpen these holy exercises by fasting, watching, holy conferences with others, visitations of others afflicted like themselves, oft revealing their estate to their godly pastors. Let them continue thus doing, and rest confidently on the Word and promise of God, with the steadfast foot of faith, and they shall see that old Sarah shall have strength to conceive; that is, that their poor souls shall receive strength to tread upon Satan, to conquer their corruptions, and to conceive and bring forth many worthy fruits of holiness, to their joy and comfort in their latter experience; as Isaac was to Sarah in her elder age.
(2). The next doctrine we may learn is; that whereas Sarah, by her faith in GodŐs promise, conceives and brings forth; therefore children are the immediate blessing of the Lord; for Sarah bare Isaac, not by any ordinary strength or power of nature, but through faith she received strength to conceive. Neither is this so in her only (wherein there was a miraculous work of GodŐs power), but in all. Some are indeed barren by constitution, and these cannot conceive, unless by GodŐs power as Sarah did. But some have no children, who in all natural reason might conceive. For as God gave the law, and thereby a gift and power to increase and multiply (Gen, 1:22), so he reserved the execution of it to Himself, and power to alter or dispense, to add or diminish, as it pleaseth Him. Therefore saith the psalmist (Psa. 127:3), Lo, children are the inheritance of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward. And speaking of them (Psa. 128:4), Lo, thou shalt be blessed that feareth the Lord.
The use is, to teach parents therefore to bring them up as GodŐs blessings, and not only to give them corporal necessities (for so they do their beasts), but to nurture them in holy discipline, by sowing the seeds of religion in their hearts. If this they want, they have nothing, though you leave them earldoms. And herein is the saying true, Better unborn than untaught. The law and power to increase and multiply is given to beasts in their kind; all as well as to us (Gen. 1:22). Therefore unless we do more than provide for their bodies, we differ little from them; but make them know God, and so we make them fellows with the angels. If parents did thus, it cannot be expressed what blessings would come thereby to church and commonwealth.
(3). Thirdly and lastly, let us here know and learn that this holy matron Sarah figureth unto us mystically the spiritual Jerusalem, the church of God. Allegories are sparingly to be taught, else much unsound doctrine may cumber menŐs consciences; but this is sound and sure, for it is the apostleŐs (Gal. 4:23ff.); By Hagar and Sarah other things are meant; for these two mothers are two testaments; Hagar, Sinai which gendereth unto bondage, and Sarah, Jerusalem which is free, and from above, the mother of us all. Now the resemblance between natural Sarah the wife of Abraham, and mystical Sarah, the spouse of Christ the church of God, stands in this: that as she not by power in herself, but by GodŐs power and faith in His promise, bare Isaac; so the church our mother bringeth forth children to God, only by the power of GodŐs Word and Spirit. And therefore as Isaac is called the child of promise, and said to be born by promise (Gal. 4:23), so men regenerate and born to the church are said not to be born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). And St James saith (Jam. 1:18); God of His own will begat us with the word of truth. Thus the Word of God and the will, that is, the Spirit of God, these two together beget children to the church.
The use is to teach us all to honour the church as our mother; but to worship God alone, who is the father of our soul. The church cannot make herself our mother, nor us her children, when she will; but it is God that must speak the word, and then we are made; He must beget us by the power of His Spirit and ministry of His Word. And further, let us learn here what account we are to make of GodŐs holy Word, which is the immortal seed of our regeneration, whereby we are made GodŐs children and heirs of immortality.
Thus much of the two first effects of our faith.
3. The third is laid down in the next verse; which because it is much stood upon by the Holy Ghost, we will put it off till then, being therefore worthy of our deeper consideration.
V. And now followeth in the end of this verse, the fifth and last point, which is the ground of her faith:
Because she judged Him faithful which had promised.
The foundation whereon she built this her faith, that she should have a son, being barren and past age, was not the bare promise of God, so much as the conceit or opinion she had of Him that promised. For promises are not of value so much by the things promised, though never so great or excellent (for they may promise much, who can perform nothing; or though they can, yet will recall their word lightness and inconstancy), as by the worthiness of the party promising. We say in this world, we had rather had some manŐs word than other menŐs bond; and rather have a little promised of some, than much of others. Now, such was the judgment that Sarah held of Him that promised; namely, God: She judged Him faithful which had promised.
Faithful: That is, she judged Him able and willing to accomplish whatever He promised to her. So that the grounds of our faith in God and all His promises, must be a sure apprehension and knowledge of these two things in God:
1. His ability to make good whatever passeth Him in word.
2. His carefulness to do it when He hath said it.
Some will promise anything though their abilities stretch not to perform; others are able enough, but have no care of their word. But both these are in God; all-sufficient ability and most careful willingness. So Sarah judged of God and therefore she believed against reason; and so must we do, if we will believe GodŐs Word aright. We may read and hear, and know GodŐs Word, and have the points therein swimming in our heads; but if we will constantly believe with our hearts His blessed promises, and in our consciences fear His threatenings, we must be fully persuaded of these two to be in Him.
So are we taught by Christ (the wisdom of God) in the LordŐs Prayer (before we pray for anything), to be resolved of GodŐs power and will to hear and help us. He is Our Father, therefore careful and willing; He is in heaven, and therefore able to hear us and to give us all things (Matt. 6:9).
And the same commendation here given to Sarah is also given to Abraham (Rom. 4:20,21). He doubted not, but believed above hopeÉ.being fully assured that He which had promised was also able to do it.
The use hereof unto us is double:
1. First, to advise and guide us for our promises; not to be too reckless, as some are, what we promise; but to consider beforehand, and if it be beyond our power, not to speak the word (for Christian menŐs words must not be in vain); and if we have promised anything lawful and in our power, to be careful to perform it. Thus to do is to be a faithful man, and is a good sign of an holy man, and GodŐs child; provided this be so, first of all towards God, that we make conscience of performing the great vow we made in our baptism, and all other serious and holy purposes of heart made to God. For otherwise, he that breaks his vow to God carelessly, by living profanely, he may in worldly policy keep his word, but he cannot do it in conscience.
The church of Rome is foully faulty in this point, making no conscience of breaking promise and faith with us, or any of our religion; their nakedness herein is discovered in the face of all Christendom; let them that are wise be warned of it. They make great ostentation of their vows, and of their care to perform them above any other religion; but it appears hereby to be vile hypocrisy. For if they were conscionably, and not politically and formally, careful of their vows of chastity, poverty, and others made to God, they could not but be likewise careful of their promises made to men; for the one of these is the fountain and root of the other. But the neglect of the one, sheweth the formality and hypocrisy of the other.
Let all that fear God learn to make conscience of both these in their religion and service of God, and in all their dealings with men in the world; that so the world may judge us faithful men who have promised.
2. Secondly, let us here learn how to help and strengthen our weak faith in the great promises of God. We have a promise of salvation, Whosoever believeth in Christ, shall not perish, but have life everlasting (John 3:16). Of our resurrection, They that sleep in the dust shall rise again (Dan. 12:2). The Lord Jesus shall change our vile bodies, and make them like to his own glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Of a new world, We look for new heavens and a new earth, according to His promise (2 Pet. 3:13).
These be, as St Peter calls them, great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4). And surely it must be a great and precious faith that can constantly believe these. No better helps of our faith can there be, than often and seriously to consider of the mercy and power of Him that made them; if He be willing and able, what can let the performance of them? Let us therefore often say with holy Paul, Faithful is He which hath promised, who will also do it (1 Thess. 5:24); and with Sarah here, We judge Him faithful which hath promised.
Now followeth the last effect in the next verse: