"When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son…."
When the fullness of time came! It is not difficult for us to see in the case of Abraham how his faith was brought into relation to God's time. The time factor with Abraham was a very real one and was perhaps one of the keenest and most acute factors for his faith.
Again and again we come upon a test of Abraham's faith along the line of the timing of God. Indeed, from one standpoint, we may summarize the whole of his life and say that it headed up at last to the triumph of faith upon that particular factor. In the full Divine sense he never received the promises in his lifetime. At the end of his life he was still looking for the fulfilment of the promise. If his faith had given way he would naturally have taken the attitude that, since the thing had not been fulfilled in so long a time and in his lifetime, it all represented perhaps a big mistake on his part, a false expectation, some mis-guidance, and so on. But right at the end, if the letter to the Hebrews is to be taken as revealing the actual position, he still believed. He believed, therefore, that God had His time for fulfilling His purpose… and that, although it might not come in his own lifetime, it nevertheless would come. But during his lifetime – within the compass of the whole range of Divine purpose – there were instances of testing on the time factor; and, having been tested on that factor, the promise was fulfilled.
It is the principle that we want to get hold of. We have it illustrated supremely, perhaps, in connection with the promise of Isaac. It seems that it was at least fifteen years before the promise was fulfilled. It was fourteen or fifteen years at least, but how much more we cannot say, as the Hebrew is very uncertain in this matter.
Now, taking every other circumstance into consideration… promise, age, and so on… you can see that this was a real matter of faith – this time factor. The time is getting on. We are getting farther and farther away from any possibility of fulfilment.
Moreover it was a deliberate and definite movement of God. Why did not the Lord, knowing what He would do, wait until He was about to do it and just come and say, "Abram, this shall be!" – and bring it about? But no! He came, announced it, and went away, and year after year passed by. Then He came again and ratified His promise… and upon that there was still more waiting.
The Lord has strange ways. He deals with us like that. He must bring His instruments into oneness with Himself. There is a little phrase in the New Testament which runs like this: "When once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah." If that word means anything, it means that delay, in a case like that of Abram's, is not a pleasant thing for a man – not a thing that he would choose for himself. It would at least imply that if the Lord could have His way, He would perfect His purpose at once. Long-suffering, forbearance, patience, endurance – these things on God's part are not the things He would choose in carrying out His purposes, seeing all the suffering and the distress and the pain that there is. But He suffered… and suffered long, and His instruments must come into oneness with Him – oneness with His heart.
The point is that it lifts this thing on to a certain level. It is not that the Lord is just dealing with you and with me like a schoolmaster, trying to get something in us. It may be the Lord wants moral qualities developed in us – patience, long-suffering, and so on; there is no doubt that is true, but it is not just that. The Lord is saying, "I am not going to do this until you show signs of certain qualities." The Lord is lifting us right up on to the same level as Himself, bringing us into actual oneness with Himself, so that we have the same feeling toward others and toward the situation – toward the need – that He has.
I believe that when the Lord can get a corporate cry in His Church which is His own cry, then His time has come. The Lord is not just waiting for a time. There is something bound up with that time, and He is seeking to produce in the heart of His instrument that which is in His own heart, so that it cries one cry with Him. The Church has to cry and it has to cry God's cry… and that one cry is not in the Church. There are many voices – conflicting voices; and by the agony of delay, and the agony of the growing impossibility of the situation, and the agony of the need for that which is of God as over against all this other, the Church will be brought to cry that cry. At midnight there shall be a cry! Now that is oneness with God in His time.
Yet it is true that God has His time. There is a fullness of the time in respect of every Divine movement, and we cannot take things out of God's time. Perhaps we have learned that. We cannot precipitate things, we cannot hurry God, we cannot bring things about for which the time is not ripe. This knowledge is with the Lord, and He would bring us in spirit into oneness with Him on that point – to be one with Him in His time – that when His time does come He has us ready to His hand as those through whom He can move. Whatever be the purpose that is bound up with His time, the Lord must have an instrument through which He may move to its accomplishment.
And when the Lord's time comes, how we know it in our hearts! I think we all know something about this. Oh, how we have cried and groaned and agonized and striven… and done all that we could do to get God to do certain things; but His time had not come. We have been tested in faith, and we have come at length to the place where we definitely and strongly stand with God for that thing and hold on.
Then God's time comes; and we know in our hearts that the time has come, and in a wonderful way it just happens. All that it has cost of prayer and anguish would perhaps lead us to expect that, when it happens, the world will know all about it; but it just happens, and you hardly recognize from the outward indications that the thing has come about. God's time came, and it was so easy; it just transpired.
But we can never say – we are forbidden to say – that our holding on to the Lord, our prayer, our standing with Him, our getting through on that matter was unnecessary; that it would have happened in the appointment of God at His time, whether we agonized or not. You dare not take that position over anything in the way of God. Isaac may have been predetermined before ever there was a world, and yet Abram's faith was the essential factor to the bringing in of Isaac. The whole Word of God bears down upon that – that God Himself demands the cooperating faith of His own people, even to bring through the works which were foreordained.