During our last meeting we shared a very important topic. Do you remember what it was? Let Me repeat it. The topic of our last fellowship was: God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself. Is this an important topic to you? Which part of it is most important to you? God’s work, God’s disposition, or God Himself? Which one interests you most? Which part do you want to hear about most? I know it’s difficult for you to answer that question, because God’s disposition can be seen in every aspect of His work, and His disposition is revealed in His work always and in all places, and, in effect, represents God Himself; in God’s overall management plan, God’s work, God’s disposition, and God Himself are all inseparable from each other.
The content of our last fellowship about God’s work was accounts in the Bible that occurred long ago. They were all stories about man and God, and they happened to man and simultaneously involved the participation and expression of God, so these stories hold particular value and significance to knowing God. Just after He created mankind, God began to engage with man and talk to man, and His disposition began to be expressed to man. In other words, from when God first engaged with mankind He began to make public to man, without cease, His substance and what He has and is. Regardless of whether earlier people or the people of today are able to see or understand it, in short God speaks to man and works among man, revealing His disposition and expressing His substance—which is a fact, and undeniable by any person. This also means that God’s disposition, God’s substance, and what He has and is are constantly issued forth and revealed as He works and engages with man. He has never concealed or hidden anything from man, but instead makes public and releases His own disposition without holding anything back. Thus, God hopes that man can know Him and understand His disposition and substance. He does not wish for man to treat His disposition and substance as eternal mysteries, nor does He want mankind to regard God as a puzzle that can never be solved. Only when mankind knows God can man know the way forward and be able to accept God’s guidance, and only a mankind such as this can truly live under the dominion of God, and live in the light, and live amid God’s blessings.
The words and disposition issued forth and revealed by God represent His will, and they also represent His substance. When God engages with man, no matter what He says or does, or what disposition He reveals, and no matter what man sees of God’s substance and what He has and is, they all represent God’s will for man. Regardless of how much man is able to realize, comprehend or understand, it all represents God’s will—God’s will for man. This is beyond doubt! God’s will for mankind is how He requires people to be, what He requires them to do, how He requires them to live, and how He requires them to be capable of accomplishing the fulfillment of God’s will. Are these things inseparable from the substance of God? In other words, God issues forth His disposition and all that He has and is at the same time as making demands of man. There is no falsity, no pretense, no concealment, and no embellishment. Yet why is man incapable of knowing, and why has he never been able to clearly perceive the disposition of God? And why has he never realized God’s will? That which is revealed and issued forth by God is what God Himself has and is, and is every shred and facet of His true disposition—so why can’t man see? Why is man incapable of thorough knowledge? There is an important reason for this. And what is this reason? Since the time of creation, man has never treated God as God. In the earliest times, no matter what God did with regard to man, the man that had just been created, man treated Him as nothing more than a companion, as someone to be relied upon, and had no knowledge or understanding of God. Which is to say, he did not know that what was issued forth by this Being—this Being whom he relied upon and saw as his companion—was the substance of God, nor did he know that this Being was the One who rules over all things. Simply put, the people of that time didn’t have the slightest knowledge of God. They didn’t know that the heavens and earth and all things had been made by Him, and they were ignorant of where He came from, and, moreover, of what He was. Of course, back then God did not require man to know Him, or comprehend Him, or understand all that He did, or be informed of His will, for these were the earliest times following mankind’s creation. When God began preparations for the work of the Age of Law, God did some things to man and also began making some demands of man, telling him how to give offerings to and worship God. Only then did man acquire a few simple ideas about God, only then did he know the difference between man and God, and that God was the One who created mankind. When man knew that God was God and man was man, there became a certain distance between him and God, yet still God did not ask that man have a great knowledge or deep understanding of Him. Thus, God makes different requirements of man based on the stages and circumstances of His work. What do you see in this? What aspect of God’s disposition do you perceive? Is God real? Are God’s requirements of man fitting? During the earliest times following God’s creation of mankind, when God had yet to carry out the work of conquest and perfection on man, and had not spoken very many words to him, He asked little of man. Regardless of what man did and how he behaved—even if he did some things that offended God—God forgave it all, and overlooked it all. Because God knew what He had given man, and knew what was within man, thus He knew the standard of requirements that He should make of man. Even though the standard of His requirements was very low at that time, this does not mean that His disposition was not great, or that His wisdom and almightiness were but empty words. For man, there is only one way to know God’s disposition and God Himself: by following the steps of the work of God’s management and salvation of mankind, and accepting the words that God speaks to mankind. Knowing what God has and is, and knowing God’s disposition, would man still ask God to show him His real person? Man will not, and dare not, for having comprehended God’s disposition and what He has and is, man will have already seen the true God Himself, and will have already seen His real person. This is the inevitable outcome.
As God’s work and plan ceaselessly progressed onward, and after God established the covenant of the rainbow with man as a sign that He would never again destroy the world using floods, God had an increasingly pressing desire to gain those who could be of one mind with Him. So, too, did He have an ever more urgent wish to gain those who were able to carry out His will on earth, and, moreover, to gain a group of people able to break free from the forces of darkness, and not be bound by Satan, and able to bear testimony to Him on earth. Gaining such a group of people was God’s long-held wish, what He had been waiting for ever since the time of creation. Thus, regardless of God’s use of floods to destroy the world, or of His covenant with man, God’s will, frame of mind, plan, and hopes all remained the same. What He wanted to do, which He had yearned for long before the time of creation, was to gain those among mankind whom He wished to gain—to gain a group of people able to comprehend and know His disposition, and understand His will, a group who were able to worship Him. Such a group of people is truly able to bear testimony to Him, and they are, it can be said, His confidants.
Today, let us continue retracing the footsteps of God and following the steps of His work, so that we might uncover the thoughts and ideas of God, and everything to do with God, all of which have been “kept in storage” for so long. Through these things we will come to know the disposition of God, understand the substance of God, we will let God into our hearts, and every one of us will slowly come closer to God, reducing our distance from God.
Part of what we talked about last time related to why God established a covenant with man. This time, we will fellowship about the passages of scripture below. Let us begin by reading the scriptures.
1. God Promises to Give Abraham a Son
(Gen 17:15-17) And God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her: yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell on his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
(Gen 17:21-22) But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year. And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.
2. Abraham Offers Isaac
(Gen 22:2-3) And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him.
(Gen 22:9-10) And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar on the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
No One Can Hinder the Work That God Resolves to Do
So, you’ve all just heard the story of Abraham. He was chosen by God after the flood destroyed the world, his name was Abraham, and when he was a hundred years old, and his wife Sarah ninety, God’s promise came to him. What promise did God make to him? God promised that which is referred to in the Scriptures: “And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her.” What was the background to God’s promise to give him a son? The Scriptures provide the following account: “Then Abraham fell on his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” In other words, this aged couple was too old to bear children. And what did Abraham do after God made His promise to him? He fell on his face laughing, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to him that is an hundred years old?” Abraham believed that it was impossible—which meant that he believed God’s promise to him was nothing more than a joke. From man’s perspective, this was unachievable by man, and likewise unachievable by and an impossibility for God. Perhaps, to Abraham, it was laughable: God created man, yet it turns out that He doesn’t know that someone so old is incapable of bearing children; He thinks He can allow me to bear a child, He says that He will give me a son—surely that’s impossible! And so, Abraham fell on his face and laughed, thinking to himself: Impossible—God is joking with me, this can’t be true! He did not take God’s words seriously. So, in God’s eyes, what kind of a man was Abraham? (Righteous.) Where did you learn that he was righteous? You think that all those whom God calls upon are righteous, and perfect, and people who walk with God. You abide by doctrine! You must see clearly that when God defines someone, He does not do so arbitrarily. Here, God did not say that Abraham was righteous. In His heart, God has standards for measuring every person. Though God did not say what kind of person Abraham was, in terms of his conduct, what kind of faith did Abraham have in God? Was it a little abstract? Or was he of great faith? No, he wasn’t! His laughter and thoughts showed who he was, so your belief that he was righteous is but a figment of your imagination, it is the blind application of doctrine, it is an irresponsible appraisal. Did God see Abraham’s laughter and his little expressions,[a] did He know of them? God knew. But would God alter what He had resolved to do? No! When God planned and resolved that He would choose this man, the matter had already been accomplished. Neither man’s thoughts nor his conduct would in the slightest bit influence or interfere with God; God would not arbitrarily change His plan, nor would He change or upset His plan because of man’s conduct, which might even be foolish. What, then, is written in Genesis 17:21-22? “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year. And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.” God paid not the slightest attention to what Abraham thought or said. And what was the reason for His disregard? It was because, at that time, God did not ask that man be of great faith, or that he be capable of great knowledge of God, or, moreover, that he be able to understand what was done and said by God. Thus, He did not ask that man fully understand what He resolved to do, or the people He was determined to choose, or the principles of His actions, for man’s stature was simply inadequate. At that time, God regarded whatever Abraham did and however he conducted himself as normal. He did not condemn, or reprimand, but merely said: “Sarah shall bear Isaac to you at this set time in the next year.” To God, after He proclaimed these words, this matter came true step by step; in the eyes of God, that which was to be accomplished by His plan had already been achieved. And after completing the arrangements for this, God departed. What man does or thinks, what man understands, the plans of man—none of this bears any relation to God. Everything proceeds according to God’s plan, in keeping with the times and stages set by God. Such is the principle of God’s work. God does not interfere in whatever man thinks or knows, yet neither does He forgo His plan, or abandon His work, because man does not believe or understand. The facts are thus accomplished according to the plan and thoughts of God. This is precisely what we see in the Bible: God caused Isaac to be born at the time He had set. Do the facts prove that the behavior and conduct of man hindered the work of God? They did not hinder the work of God! Did man’s little faith in God, and his conceptions and imagination about God affect God’s work? No, they did not! Not in the least! God’s management plan is unaffected by any man, matter, or environment. All that He resolves to do will be completed and accomplished on time and according to His plan, and His work cannot be interfered with by any man. God pays no attention to some of man’s foolishness and ignorance, and even ignores some of man’s resistance and conceptions toward Him; instead, He does the work that He must do without scruple. This is God’s disposition, and is a reflection of His omnipotence.
The Work of God’s Management and Salvation of Mankind Begins With Abraham’s Offering of Isaac
Having given Abraham a son, the words that God had spoken to Abraham were fulfilled. This does not mean that God’s plan stopped here; on the contrary, God’s magnificent plan for the management and salvation of mankind had only just begun, and His blessing of a son to Abraham was but a prelude to His overall management plan. At that moment, who knew that God’s battle with Satan had quietly begun when Abraham offered Isaac?
God Does Not Care If Man Is Foolish—He Only Asks That Man Be True
Next, let us look at what God did to Abraham. In Genesis 22:2, God gave the following command to Abraham: “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.” God’s meaning was clear: He was telling Abraham to give his only son Isaac, whom he loved, as a burnt offering. Looking at it today, is God’s command still at odds with man’s conceptions? Yes! All that God did at that time is quite contrary to the conceptions of man and incomprehensible to man. In their conceptions, people believe the following: When a man did not believe, and thought it an impossibility, God gave him a son, and after he had gained a son, God asked him to offer his son—how incredible! What did God actually intend to do? What was God’s actual purpose? He unconditionally gave Abraham a son, yet He also asked that Abraham make an unconditional offering. Was this excessive? From a third party’s standpoint, this was not only excessive but also somewhat a case of “making trouble out of nothing.” But Abraham himself did not believe that God was asking too much. Though he had some misgivings, and was a little suspicious of God, he was still prepared to make the offering. At this point, what do you see that proves Abraham was willing to offer his son? What is being said in these sentences? The original text gives the following accounts: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him” (Gen 22:3). “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar on the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (Gen 22:9-10). When Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son, were his actions seen by God? They were. The entire process—from the start, when God asked that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, to when Abraham actually raised his knife to slay his son—showed God the heart of Abraham, and regardless of his former foolishness, ignorance, and misunderstanding of God, at that time Abraham’s heart for God was true, and honest, and he truly was going to return Isaac, the son given to him by God, back to God. In him, God saw obedience—the very obedience that He desired.
To man, God does much that is incomprehensible and even incredible. When God wishes to orchestrate someone, this orchestration is often at odds with man’s conceptions, and incomprehensible to him, yet it is precisely this dissonance and incomprehensibility that are God’s trial and test of man. Abraham, meanwhile, was able to demonstrate the obedience to God within himself, which was the most fundamental condition of his being able to satisfy God’s requirement. Only then, when Abraham was able to obey God’s requirement, when he offered Isaac, did God truly feel reassurance and approval toward mankind—toward Abraham, whom He had chosen. Only then was God sure that this person whom He had chosen was an indispensable leader who could undertake His promise and His subsequent management plan. Though it was but a trial and a test, God felt gratified, He felt man’s love for Him, and He felt comforted by man as never before. At the moment that Abraham lifted up his knife to slay Isaac, did God stop him? God did not let Abraham offer Isaac, for God simply had no intention of taking Isaac’s life. Thus, God stopped Abraham just in time. For God, Abraham’s obedience had already passed the test, what he did was sufficient, and God had already seen the outcome of what He intended to do. Was this outcome satisfactory to God? It can be said that this outcome was satisfactory to God, that it was what God wanted, and was what God had longed to see. Is this true? Although, in different contexts, God uses different ways of testing each person, in Abraham God saw what He wanted, He saw that Abraham’s heart was true, and that his obedience was unconditional, and it was precisely this “unconditional” that God desired. People often say, I’ve already offered this, I’ve already forgone that—why is God still not satisfied with me? Why does He keep subjecting me to trials? Why does He keep testing me? This demonstrates one fact: God has not seen your heart, and has not gained your heart. Which is to say, He has not seen such sincerity as when Abraham was able to raise his knife to slay his son by his own hand and offer him to God. He has not seen your unconditional obedience, and has not been comforted by you. It is natural, then, that God keeps trying you. Is this not true? We’ll leave it there for this topic. Next, we will read “God’s Promise to Abraham.”
3. God’s Promise to Abraham
(Gen 22:16-18) … By myself have I sworn, said the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son: That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.
This is an unabridged account of God’s blessing to Abraham. Though brief, its content is rich: It includes the reason for, and background to, God’s gift to Abraham, and what it was that He gave to Abraham. It is also imbued with the joy and excitement with which God uttered these words, as well as the urgency of His longing to gain those who are able to listen to His words. In this, we see God’s cherishment of, and tenderness toward, those who obey His words and follow His commands. So, too, do we see the price He pays to gain people, and the care and thought He puts into gaining them. Moreover, the passage, which contains the words “By myself have I sworn,” gives us a powerful sense of the bitterness and pain borne by God, and God alone, behind the scenes of this work of His management plan. It is a thought-provoking passage, and one that held especial significance for, and had a far-reaching impact upon those who came after.
Man Gains God’s Blessings Because of His Sincerity and Obedience
Was the blessing given to Abraham by God that we read of here great? Just how great? There is one key sentence here: “And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” which shows that Abraham received blessings not given to any who came before or after. When, as asked by God, Abraham returned his only son—his beloved only son—to God (note: Here we cannot use the word “offered”; we should say he returned his son to God), not only did God not allow Abraham to offer Isaac, but He also blessed him. With what promise did He bless Abraham? The promise to multiply his offspring. And by how many were they to be multiplied? The Scriptures provide the following record: “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” What was the context in which God uttered these words? Which is to say, how did Abraham receive God’s blessings? He received them just as God says in the Scriptures: “because you have obeyed my voice.” That is, because Abraham had followed God’s command, because he had done everything that God had said, asked and commanded without the slightest complaint, thus God made such a promise to him. There is one crucial sentence in this promise that touches upon God’s thoughts at the time. Have you seen it? You may not have paid much attention to God’s words that “By myself have I sworn.” What they mean is that, when God uttered these words, He was swearing by Himself. What do people swear by when they make an oath? They swear by Heaven, which is to say, they make an oath to God and swear by God. People might not have much of an understanding of the phenomenon by which God swore by Himself, but you’ll be able to understand when I provide you with the correct explanation. Being faced with a man who could only hear His words but not understand His heart once more made God feel lonely and at a loss. In desperation—and, it can be said, subconsciously—God did something very natural: God put His hand on His heart and spoke the promise of a gift to Abraham to Himself, and from this man heard God say “By myself have I sworn.” Through God’s actions, you may think of yourself. When you put your hand on your heart and speak to yourself, do you have a clear idea of what you’re saying? Is your attitude sincere? Do you speak candidly, with your heart? Thus, we see here that when God spoke to Abraham, He was earnest and sincere. At the same time as speaking to and blessing Abraham, God was also speaking to Himself. He was telling Himself: I will bless Abraham, and make his progeny as numerous as the stars of heaven, and as plentiful as the sand on the sea shore, because he obeyed My words and he is the one I choose. When God said “By myself have I sworn,” God resolved that in Abraham He would produce the chosen people of Israel, after which He would lead these people forward apace with His work. That is, God would make Abraham’s descendants bear the work of God’s management, and the work of God and that expressed by God would begin with Abraham, and would continue in Abraham’s descendants, thus realizing God’s wish to save man. What say you, is this not a blessed thing? For man, there is no greater blessing than this; this, it can be said, is the most blessed thing. The blessing gained by Abraham was not the multiplication of his offspring, but God’s achievement of His management, His commission, and His work in the descendants of Abraham. This means that the blessings gained by Abraham were not temporary, but continued on as God’s management plan progressed. When God spoke, when God swore by Himself, He had already made a resolution. Was the process of this resolution true? Was it real? God resolved that, from then onward, His efforts, the price He paid, what He has and is, His everything, and even His life would be given to Abraham and the descendants of Abraham. So too did God resolve that, starting from this group of people, He would make manifest His deeds, and allow man to see His wisdom, authority, and power.
Gaining Those Who Know God and Are Able to Testify to Him Is God’s Unchanging Wish
At the same time as speaking to Himself, God also spoke to Abraham, but apart from hearing the blessings that God gave to him, was Abraham able to understand God’s true wishes in all of His words at that moment? He was not! And so, at that moment, when God swore by Himself, His heart was still lonely and sorrowful. There was still not one person able to understand or comprehend what He intended and planned. At that moment, no one—including Abraham—was able to speak to Him in confidence, much less was anyone able to cooperate with Him in doing the work that He must do. On the surface, God had gained Abraham, and had gained someone who could obey His words. But in fact, this person’s knowledge of God was barely more than nothing. Even though God had blessed Abraham, God’s heart was still not satisfied. What does it mean that God was not satisfied? It means that His management had only just begun, it means that the people He wanted to gain, the people He longed to see, the people He loved, were still distant from Him; He needed time, He needed to wait, He needed to be patient. For at that time, apart from God Himself, there was no one who knew what He needed, or what He wished to gain, or what He longed for. And so, at the same time as feeling very excited, God also felt heavy of heart. Yet He did not halt His steps, and continued to plan the next step of what He must do.
What do you see in God’s promise to Abraham? God bestowed great blessings upon Abraham simply because he listened to God’s words. Although, on the surface, this seems normal, and a matter of course, in it we see God’s heart: God especially treasures man’s obedience to Him, and cherishes man’s understanding of Him and sincerity toward Him. How much does God cherish this sincerity? You may not understand how much He cherishes it, and there may well be none who realize it. God gave Abraham a son, and when that son had grown up, God asked Abraham to offer his son to God. Abraham followed God’s command to the letter, he obeyed God’s word, and his sincerity moved God and was treasured by God. How much did God treasure it? And why did He treasure it? At a time when no one comprehended God’s words or understood His heart, Abraham did something that shook the heaven and trembled the earth, and it made God feel an unprecedented sense of satisfaction, and brought God the joy of gaining someone who was able to obey His words. This satisfaction and joy came from a creature made by God’s own hand, and was the first “sacrifice” that man had offered to God and that was most treasured by God, since man was created. God had had a hard time waiting for this sacrifice, and He treated it as the first most important gift from man, whom He had created. It showed God the first fruit of His efforts and the price He had paid, and allowed Him to see the hope in mankind. Afterward, God had an even greater yearning for a group of such people to keep Him company, to treat Him with sincerity, to care for Him with sincerity. God even hoped that Abraham would live on, for He wished to have such a heart accompany Him and be with Him as He continued in His management. No matter what God wanted, it was just a wish, just an idea—for Abraham was merely a man who was able to obey Him, and did not have the slightest understanding or knowledge of God. He was someone who fell far short of the standards of God’s requirements for man: knowing God, being able to testify to God, and being of one mind with God. And so, he could not walk with God. In Abraham’s offering of Isaac, God saw the sincerity and obedience of Abraham, and saw that he had withstood God’s test of him. Even though God accepted his sincerity and obedience, he was still unworthy of becoming God’s confidant, of becoming someone who knew God, and understood God, and was informed of God’s disposition; he was far from being of one mind with God and carrying out God’s will. And so, in His heart, God was still lonely and anxious. The more lonely and anxious God became, the more He needed to continue with His management as soon as possible, and be able to select and gain a group of people to accomplish His management plan and achieve His will as soon as possible. This was God’s eager desire, and it has remained unchanged from the very beginning until today. Ever since He created man in the beginning, God has yearned for a group of overcomers, a group that will walk with Him and are able to understand, comprehend and know His disposition. This wish of God has never changed. Regardless of how long He still has to wait, regardless of how hard the road ahead, no matter how far off the objectives He yearns for, God has never altered or given up on His expectations for man. Now that I’ve said this, do you realize something of God’s wish? Perhaps what you’ve realized isn’t very profound—but it will come gradually!