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. Secondly, That Abraham stood to Isaac in the relation of a father, that is, he voluntarily became the instrument of bringing Ifaac into being ; and from hence he became naturally obliged to guard and prote&t that life, which he had, by a voluntary act, been the instrument of introducing. For, as life to Isaac was a natural good, so it must be right and fit that every person, but more especially he who introduced it, should guard and secure that good to him, provided Isaac did nothing to forfeit his title to life, and consequently his title to that protection ; and whilst no circumstance attended his case, which might render his life injurious to the common happiness, or any other way render it fit that he should die. This I take to be a self-evident proposition. By natural obligation, I mean that it was right and fit, in the natur Abraham should guard and protect the life of Isaac, as aforesaid. Which obligation as it is founded in nature, so it is independent of, and antecedent to any
is antecedent to the confideration of a Deity, because it must and would be the same, if there were no such thing as a Deity. Now if this be the cafe, then I think it will unavoidably follow, that no divine command could possibly cancel or take off the aforesaid natural obligation; ic being a manifeft absurdity, and a contradiction in terms, to say, that a natural obligation arises from, or is destroyed by a divine command; for if it depends upon a divine command, then it is not natural in the sense I here use that term. And, if the divine command could not make void the natural obligation which Abraham was under, then, I think, it will follow, that the giving such a command, with an intent that it should be obeyed, must be wrong; and consequently, that obedience to such a command must be wrong also. But God did not intend that the command given to Abraham should be obeyed, as is evident by his recalling it. This I take to be the state of the case. Again, I obferve,
Thirdly, That as life is a natural good, as it renders us capable of tasting those pleasures, which the present state of things has furnished us with; fo consequently, death is a natural evil, whilst we are capable of those pleasures. Now, if this be the case, as most certainly it is, then it will follow, that the taking away of life, caufelesly, is, in the nature of the thing, morally unfit; because it is a bar to the enjoyments of life: and therefore, if Abraham had not been obliged to guard and protect the life of his son, yet it would have been unfit that he should take it away. And if such an action would, in the nature of the thing, have been morally unfit, then no divine command can possibly change its nature, and make it otherwise.
If it should be urged, that God has originally a property in all his creatures, and as he gives life to them, so it must be right and fit that he should take it from them, when and in what way he pleases: I answer, first, what was fit for God to do, and what was fit for Abraham to do, are plainly two distinct questions or cases. God's relation, and Abraham's relation to Ifaac, are here suppofed to be different; which relation is likewise supposed to be the ground of the fitness or unfitness of their actions, in either case. And therefore suppofing God's having a property in Ifaac render'd it fic that he should take away Ifaac's
life, when and in what way he pleased; yet it will not follow, that it was fit thar Abraham should do the like, seeing it is not here supposed that Abrakam had any such property in Ifaac, as aforesaid.
If it should be said, that tho Abraham had no right to take away Isaac's life, upon the account of property; yet it was fit that he should do it, when under a divine command, leeing be who gave the command had erty in Isaac, as aforesaid: I an/wer, if Abraham had not been under a natu tion to guard and protect the life of his son, antecedent to the divine command; and, if life had not been a natural good, and the taking it away, caufelesly, a moral evil, antecedent to that command, then there might have been some reason to infift, that it was fit for Abraham to take away Isaac's life, when commanded, as aforesaid. But this is not the case; for aš Abraham became obliged, by his relation to Isaac, to guard and protect his life, antecedent to any divine command; and, as the taking away of life, causelesly, was, in the nature of the thing, morally unfit; so God's property in Isaac could not possibly make void Abraham's obligations, nor change the nature of things, by making that action fit, which, in the nature of the thing, is otherwise. Again,
I answer, fecondly, that property in any subject does not lessen or destroy the natural obligations of the proprietor; and therefore it must be right and fit for him either to exert or suspend his power, with regard to that subject, when the circumstances of the cafe render it fit and proper so to do. Thus my ability to convey my mind to another, by words, is my natural property; and yet I am obliged, in the nature of the thing, either to exert or fufpend the exercise
that power, as the circumstances of the case render it fit and proper that I should speak my mind, or be silent. In like manner, if by my labour and industry I acquire a proferty in a plentiful estate, my property in that estate vould not letlen or take off the natural obligations I am under to promote the kappiness and well-being of the rest of my
ell-being of the rest of my fellow-creatures; and therefore it would be fit that I should use and employ the estate which I had thus acquir'd a property in, to promote the common happiness, as aforesaid. The case is the same with respect to every kind of property, whether it be original, natural, or acquired. But, that I may give a case more directly to the present purpose, I will suppose, that God had called a creature into being, and had given it a constitution which might run out to the age of fixty years in a fiate of bappiRess; and that he had likewise made a plentiful provision of all things, necessary and conducive to that happiness: now the question is, whether it would be right and fit, in the nature of the thing, for God, from mere fovereign pleafire, to cut off that creature in the midst of his days, when no ill consequence nor inconvenience attended that creature's enjoyment of life. And the answer to this question is most evident, namely, that such an action, in the nature of the thing, would be morally unfit, seeing it would be a barring that creature of thirty years felicity : for as the letting such a creature live out its time would be an instance of wisdom and true goodness; so the taking life from it would be a manifest instance of the contrary. And, to say in this case, that God had a property in that creature, would be to urge what does not alter the case at all. If it should be farther urged, that it is equally as fit for God dire&tly and immediately to take away such a creature's life, as it is for him to do it by an earthquake, or a tempest, or the like: I answer, this is putting a case which is not to be admitted, because, in strictness, God does not take away the life of those creatures who die by earthquakes, &c. death, in these cases, being an accidental evil, which arises from the natural frame and constitution of the world, and which could not be prevented, in the present state of things, but by breaking in upon those laws by which the natural world is governed.
If it should be urged, that God could have recompensed the loss of life to Ifaac an hundred-fold in another world, or he could have raised him again from the dead, and placed him in a much better state than he was in before, and that in these cases Isaac would have been no further a sufferer than barely the pain he felt in dying by the hand of his father; so that upon the whole, death would have been a benefit to him, and consequently, it would have been an instance of divine goodness in taking life from him: Í answer, supposing God should at any time (as an instance of his sovereign pleasure) take away the life of any of his creatures, and then recompense that loss to them, as aforesaid; yec this would not affect the case with respect to Abraham, whose relation and obligations to Isaac would be still the same. And therefore supposing it be admitred, that God might, if he pleased, have taken away the life of Isaac, as aforesaid ; yet it was most unfit that he should do it by the hand of Abraham. God may, if he pleases, use various ways of calling men out of this world; he could, by an immediate operation, or an exerting of his power, have so flagnated the blood and fluids in Isaac's body, or thrown them into such a rapid motion, or taken a variety of other methods, that would effectually and speedily have put an end to Ísaac's life: and therefore for him to require Abraham to kill his son, which action in Abraham (supposing the case to be as I have stated it above, and which I think is the present case) would have been a breaking thro an obligation that no divine command could possibly cancel or make void; which would have been a very bad precedent to others, and have reflected great dishonour upon the moral character of him who required it. All these reasons, I think, make it perfectly unfit that Ifaac should die by the hand of his father; and, consequently, that God should give such a command with an intent that it should be obeyed, or that Abraham Thould yield obedience to it.
I am sensible that it is some men's opinion, that if God had commanded Abraham to bate his son, such a command would, in the nature of the thing, have been morally unfit; and yet those men insist, that it was right and fit for God to require Abraham to take away Isaac's life. This makes it necessary to enquire, what it is which renders the passion of hatred vicious; and, consequently, what it is that would render such a command unfit. And here I presume it will be admitted, that the viciousness of hatred consists in its being indulged beyond its due bounds, or in its being exercised upon a wrong object; and
that therefore it would have been wrong in Abraham to hate that object, :which, in the nature of the thing, he ought to love. Now, if this be the case with respect to our passions, then, I think, it must be the same with respect
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to our aftions, that is, it would have been equally as wrong for Abraham to take away that life, which, in the nature of the thing, he ought to preserve, as it would have been for him to hate that person whom he ought to love. Again, I observe,
Fourthly, That I think Abraham could not, in the nature of the thing, have any rational fatisfaction that the aforesaid command was divine. For, supposing he received information, in the present case, either by a strong impression upon his own mind, or by a dream, or a vision, or a voice from heaven, or by the report of a person whom he esteemed an angel, or the like ; as he could not be absolutely certain that he might not be deluded, nor imposed upon in any of these ways; fo, in the nature of the thing, the moral unfitness of the action (as in the present case it must appear to be) was a stronger reason against the divinity of that command, than any of those extraordinary ways in which that command was conveyed to him could possibly be for it.
If it should be urged, supposing that Abrahan received his information in the present case, in the same way in which he had received several divine revelations before; and lupposing this revelation had been backed with a miracle or miracles, in like manner as the former divine revelations had been confirmed or proved to him to be such; in this case, surely, there would have been a just and rational foundation for him to conclude that the command was divine. I answer, admitting this to be the case, then I think that Abraham would have been more liable to be deluded or imposed upon, than otherwise he might have been. But it would by no means justify in argument, or render such a conclusion rational, viz. that the aforesaid commandment was divine. For,
First, Suppofing that Abraham had before received divine revelations in or by dreams a hundred times; yet surely it will not follow, by a just consequence, that he could not be mis-led by dreaming; but, on the contrary, he became so much the more in danger of being deluded. In this way his receiving frequently divine revelations, by dreams, might render him the le/s upon his guard, and he might hereby be more easily led to think, that every dream was a divine revelation. The case is the same in any other way in which he might receive his informations: his not being imposed upon, in many instances, is not a good argument to prove that he was not, or could not be imposed upon in the fame way in one ; because the latter will not follow by a just consequence from the former. Again,
Secondly, Supposing that the command for Abraham, to kill his son, had been backed with a miracle, or miracles, in like manner as several divine revelacions had before been confirmed or proyed to him to be such; yet this does not prove the fore-mentioned command to be divine. Miracles are directly and immediately evidences only of the power, and not of the veracity or goodness of the agent that performs them. So that when any thing farther is to be concluded from them, that conclusion must arise from the purposes, that the power which is shewn by those miracles is made subservient to. And therefore as Abraham justly concluded, that those former revelations backed with miracles were divine, because the purposes were good which those revelations and that
power were made fubservient to; so by a like way of reasoning it would follow, that there was a strong probability that the command, in the present case, was not divine, because this revelation, and the miracles wrought in its fas vour, were (to appearance at least, and as far as he could judge) made subfervient, not to a good, but to an evil purpose.
If it should be urged, that what I have said seems to be contrary to what is said of Abraham, and contrary to the commendation given of him both in the Old and New Testament. I answer, what is said of Abraham in the present case is as follows. Gen. xxii. 16, 17, 18. Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not witheld thy fon, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy feed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore. And thy feed shall possess the gate of bis enemies; and in thy feed Mall all the nations of the earth be blelled, because thou hast obeyed my voice. Heb. xi. 17, 18, 19. By faith Abraham when he was tried, offered up Ifaac; and he that bad received the promises, offered up his only begotten Son; of whom it was said, that in Ifaac shall thy seed be called : accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead, from whence also be received him in a figure. James ii. 21, 22, 23. Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works, when he had offered up Isaac bis fon upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfeft? And the scripture was fulfilled, which faith, Abraham believed God, and it was accounted un righteousness : and he was called the friend of God. This, I think, is all that is faid in the Bible, with regard to the point in hand: from all which it evidently appears, that Abraham's first trust and confidence in God, that he would make good his promise to him, and his strict honesty and integrity, which were îhewn by his steady resolution to do what he judged to be his duty in such a trying instance; these alone are what Abraham stands in the Bible so highly commended for, and which are made the ground of God's extraordinary favours to him. As to the goodness of Abraham's judgment, or the justness of his reasoning, the Bible takes no notice of it; neither does it once meddle with those questions, viz. whether Abraham had or had not any rational satisfaction that the command was divine, or whether the action was fit or unfit; but leaves them to be discovered from the nature of the subject. But to conclude, I observe,
Fifthly, and lastly, What great difficulties men are thrown into, in order to excuse and justify the conduct of Almighty God, and of his servant Abraham, in the case I have been considering. Men’s inventions have been put upon the wrack, in order to find out ways to reconcile the divine command with the principles of morality; and they have been led almost to give up the natural diftinction of good and evil, and to resolve it all into the arbitrary will of God. Whereas the case is not so desperate as this supposes it to be; for tho God did give such a command, yet it was not with an intent that it should be obeyed, as t vent shewed. And tho Abraham thought it was right to yield obedience to the command, yet (supposing him to be mistaken) this only shewed the weakness of his judgment in that particular, but not that he had a vicious mind; and