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by Dr. Robert Hymers

A sermon preached on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“Cast out this bondwoman and her son” (Genesis 21:10).

“And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (Genesis 21:19).

This passage of Scripture shows us a clear picture of law and gospel operating in the conversion of Hagar and Ishmael. It is plain from this chapter that the law of God must come down hard on a lost sinner before his eyes are opened and he sees his need for Christ, the

“well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).

The old way of preaching the gospel showed men and women their sin and depravity by the law clearly and pointedly, before presenting them with the gospel. One of the great errors of modern evangelism, over the last one hundred and twenty-five years or so, has been to reverse the order, and present the love and mercy of Christ first, and only then present the terrors of the law if they reject Christ. This reverses the order of preaching given throughout the Bible, and it reverses the order given by the great classical evangelistic preachers of the centuries. Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, Bunyan, and all the classical preachers of the three Great Awakenings, started where the Bible starts, by confronting lost sinners with their terrible condition, their awful state, their doomed future.

The lost people in the churches today do not want this classical presentation of gospel preaching. They want the love and acceptance by Christ preached, followed by an altar call of one sort or another with a call to repent at the end of the sermon. By reversing the order from what is taught throughout the Bible, most “decisions” for Christ are superficial at best, and few are truly converted in any Biblical or lasting way.

The vast majority of pastors in our day are deeply afraid of this classical method of evangelistic preaching. They are as afraid of it as the Roman Catholic church was afraid of Luther’s preaching. They are as afraid of it as the established English church was afraid of the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley, and locked them out of virtually all the churches for preaching this way, until they were driven out into the fields to preach under the open sky. Modern pastors are afraid of “law before gospel” preaching today as much as they were in the eighteenth century, when great Whitefield and Wesley said again and again in their journals, “I must preach there no more.”

And many preachers today are as frightened as the timid clergymen in that day, for the same reason. Many of them, never having been converted themselves, see no need for this classical, Biblical way of preaching evangelistically. Others, who may be converted men, have been led astray in their preaching by modern trends, such as ecumenical “crusades,” dry-as-dust doctrinialistic Calvinism, the invitation system, charismatism, progressivism, and the purpose-driven life. These trends seem to be “successful,” and so many pastors copy them, instead of going back to the old Biblical way of preaching law before gospel. They simply see no need of it.

A third group of pastors who reject the old, Biblical way of preaching are men who have never experienced a clear, supernatural call to preach. Having received no call from God, they simply do not understand why people should be made upset by “preaching so hard” at the beginning of a sermon. They want conversions to come smoothly and easily, with no struggle, no intense conflict, no one upset. They imagine that the lost can simply be presented with facts about God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice and, when they have heard these pleasant doctrines, they will naturally “make decisions” for Christ.

I say that such sermons are of no help at all to the unconverted. I say that our churches are in disarray and confusion, filled with vast multitudes of lost people today, because uncalled men, standing in their pulpits, give out wishy-washy palaver, twaddle, senseless prattle, in verse-by-verse comments that challenge no one, annoy no one, convict no one, and convert no one!

But I come back tonight to Genesis, chapter 21, to show you the old, Bible way that God dealt with men. And that is the way I am going to preach to you tonight.

I. First, Hagar and Ishmael were cast out and made miserable.

Sarah said sharply,

“Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac” (Genesis 21:10).

Luther saw in this a picture of a lost soul brought under the law,

Those who, like Ishmael and his mother, have been thrust out of their home and fatherland, who are nearly famished with hunger and thirst in the desert, who groan and cry to the Lord, and are on the brink of despair. [Only] such people are proper hearers of the Gospel (Commentary on Genesis).

Luther pointed out that Hagar and Ishmael had to be brought to a state of misery to be broken of their pride. Human beings are by nature conceited. They think they are not sinful enough to be damned. In their self righteousness they stand unashamed before God. Their pride must be broken. Luther said,

I knew that Ishmael must first be cast out and made despondent before he can hear the comforting words of the angel. Accordingly, I have followed the rule not to minister comfort to any person except to those who have become contrite and are sorrowing because of their sins - those who have despaired of self-help, whom the law has terrified… Ishmael had not been reduced to this strait [condition] before he was expelled from Abraham’s home; he was proud and secure…Because he had been born before Isaac, he would say: I am lord and heir in this house; Isaac and Sarah shall have to yield to me. Now, was his pride to be praised and tolerated, or was he to be rebuked for it? If the latter, in what other way could he have been rebuked than by being driven from the house with his mother and not being permitted to take anything with him out of Abraham’s house except the wages of the Law, bread and water?...But at last there is no more water, and nothing remains to do but to die. More than this the Law never does. Let us then learn the lesson, then, that God is an enemy of every proud person; but those who have been humbled and have felt the power of the Law He comforts… for He does not want such people to perish. On the other hand, He will not suffer [allow] the secure and proud to abide in Abraham’s house (ibid.).

It ought to crush you, and humble you, that you are not permitted to take the Lord’s Supper. It ought to crush you, and humble you, that you are not permitted to be Scripturally baptized. It ought to crush you, and humble you, that others come into the church and are converted, while you remain a castaway.

“Cast out this bondwoman and her son” (Genesis 21:10).

“And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs…and she sat…and lift up her voice, and wept” (Genesis 21:15-16).

She had been cast out. The water was spent. She lifted up her voice and wept.

You must also be brought to such an inward state - or the gospel will mean nothing to you! The gospel of Christ will seem like nothing but words until you feel cast out, until your water is spent, and you lift up your voice and weep!

II. Second, Hagar and Ishmael were only then comforted.

Please stand and read verse 19 aloud.

“And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (Genesis 21:19).

You may be seated.

The well was already there, but Hagar could not see it. When she was finally broken down and in a hopeless state, then “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.” The well had been there all the time, but she could not see it until God opened her eyes. Great Spurgeon said,

Now, this is a graphic representation of the position of many a…sinner…Look unto the Son of God and live: what can be more simple? And yet nobody ever did understand the doctrine of “believe and live” till God opened his eyes. The well is there, but the thirsty soul cannot see it. Christ is there, but the sinner cannot see him. There is a fountain filled with blood, but he does not know how to wash in it…till the eternal light flashes upon the darkened eyeballs of the sinner, he cannot, and he will not perceive the self-evident truth…There are many who cannot see because of self-conceit. When great self feasts his eyes upon his own good works or religious performances, of course he cannot see the way of salvation by Christ alone. The Lord take these scales away from thy eyes, poor sinner, for self is a great maker of darkness. Nothing more surely holds a soul in gloom than a conceit of its own powers…I have upon me a strong impression that I am speaking to some young man whose future depends upon his prudent pausing and careful consideration before he puts his foot down again. One step more, and you fall. I beseech you, stand still and hear what God would speak to you now. Turn thee, turn thee from thy sin and seek thy Saviour now, and he will be found of thee at once…and it may be said of thee, “God opened his eyes” (C. H. Spurgeon, “Eyes Opened,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 25, Pilgrim Publications, 1972 reprint, pp. 129-131).

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Genesis 21:9-21.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Amazing Grace” (by John Newton, 1725-1807).



by Dr. Robert Hymers

“Cast out this bondwoman and her son” (Genesis 21:10).

“And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (Genesis 21:19).

(John 4:14)

I.   Hagar and Ishmael were cast out and made miserable,
Genesis 21:10, 15-16.

II.  Hagar and Ishmael were only then comforted, Genesis 21:19.