« AnteriorContinuar »
For this reason, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, in the eleventh chapter, mentions a noble catalogue of Old Testament saints and martyrs, “who subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions, &c. and are gone before us to inherit the promises.” A sufficient confutation, I think, of their error, who lightly esteem the Old Testament saints, and would not have them mentioned to Christians, as persons whose faith and patience we are called upon more immediately to follow. If this was true, the apostle would never have produced such a cloud of witnesses out of the Old Testament, to excite the christians of the first, and consequently purest age of the church, to continue steadfast and immovable in the possession of their faith. Amidst this catalogue of saints, methinks, the patriarch Abraham shines the brightest
, and differs from the others, as one star differeth from another star in glory; for he shone with such distinguished luster, that he was called the friend of God, the father of the faithful ; and those who believe on Christ, are said to be sons and daughters of, and to be blessed with, faithful Abraham. Many trials of his faith did God send this great and good man, after he had commanded him to get out from his country, and from his kindred, unto a land which he should show him ; but the last was the most severe of all, I mean, that of offering up his only son. This, by the divine assistance, I propose to make the subject of your present meditation, and, by way of conclusion, to draw some practical inferences, as God shall enable me, from this instructive story.
The sacred penman begins the narrative thus; verse 1. “And it came to pass, after these things, God did tempt Abraham." “ After these things,” that is, after he had underwent many severe trials before, after he was old, full of days, and might flatter himself perhaps that the troubles and toils of life were now finished ; "after these things, God did tempt Abraham.” Christians, you know not what trials you may meet with before you die; notwithstanding you may have suffered, and been tried much already, yet, it may be a greater measure is still behind, which you are to fill up. "Be not high-minded, but fear.” Our last trials, in all probability, will be the greatest : and we can never say our warfare is accomplished, or our trials finished, till we bow down our heads, and give up the ghost. “And it came to pass, after these things, that God did tempt Abraham.”
“God did tempt Abraham.” But can the scripture contradict itself? Does not the apostle James tell us, that God tempts no man; and God does tempt no man to evil, or on purpose to draw him into sin; for, when a man is thus tempt
ed, he is drawn away of his own heart's lust, and enticed. But in another sense, God may be said to ternpt, I mean, to try his servants; and in this sense we are to understand that passage of Matthew, where we are told, that “ Jesus was led up by the Spirit (the good Spirit) into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil.” And our Lord, in that excellent form of prayer which he has been pleased to give us, does not require us to pray that we may not absolutely be led into temptation, but delivered from the evil of it; whence we may plainly infer, that God sees fit sometimes to lead us into temptation, that is, to bring us into such circumstances as will try our faith, and other Christian graces. In this sense we are to understand the expression before us, “God did tempt or try Abraham."
How God was pleased to reveal his will at this time to his faithful servant, whether by the Shechinah, or divine appearance, or by a small still voice, as he spoke to Elijah, or by a whisper, like that of the Spirit to Philip, when he commanded him to join himself to the Eunuch's chariot, we are not told, nor is it material to inquire. It is enough that we are informed, God said unto him, Abraham ; and that Abraham knew that it was the voice of God: for “he said, behold, here I am.” O what a holy familiarity (if I may so speak) is there between God and those holy souls that are united to him by faith in Christ Jesus ! God says, Abraham; and Abraham said, it should seem without the least surprise, “Behold, here I am.” Being reconciled to God by the death and obedience of Christ, which he rejoiced in, and saw by faith afar off; he did not, like guilty Adam, seek the trees of the garden to hide himself from, but takes pleasure in conversing with God, and talketh with him, as a man talketh with his friend. O that Christless sinners knew what it is to have fellowship with the Father and the Son! They would envy the happiness of saints, and count it all joy to be termed enthusiasts and fools for Christ's sake.
But what does God say unto Abraham; verse 2. “ Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burntoffering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell thee of.”
Every word deserves our particular observation. ever he was to do, he must do it now, immediately, without conferring with flesh and blood. But what must he do? Take now thy son. Had God said, take now a firstling, or choicest lamb or beast of thy flock, and offer it up for a burnt-offering, it would not have appeared so ghastly: but for God to say, “ Take now thy son, and offer him up for a burnt-offering," one would have imagined, was enough to stagger the strongest faith. But this is not all : It must not only be a son, but thine
only son Isaac, whom thou lovest. If it must be a son, and not a beast, that must be offered, why will not Ishmael do, the son of the bond-woman? No, it must be his only son, the heir of all, his Isaac, by interpretation laughter, the son of his old age, in whom his soul delighted; whom thou lovest, says God, in whose life his own was wrapped up: And this son, this only son, this Isaac, the son of his love, must be taken now, even now without delay, and be offered up by his own father, for a burnt-offering, upon one of the mountains of the which God would tell him.
Well might the apostle, speaking of this man of God, say, that against hope he believed in hope, and, being strong in faith, gave glory to God : For, had he not been blessed with faith which man never before had, he must have refused to comply with this severe command. For how many arguments might nature suggest to prove that such a command could never come from God, or to excuse himself from obeying it? “What ! (might the good man have said) butcher my child! it is contrary to the very law of nature: Much more to butcher my dear son Isaac, in whose seed God himself has assured me, that all the families of the earth shall be blessed. But supposing I could give up my own affections, and be willing to part with him, though I love him so dearly, yet, if I murder him, what will become of God's promise ? Besides I am now like a city built upon a hill; I shine as a light in the world, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation: How then shall I cause God's name to be blasphemed, how shall I become a by-word among the heathen, if they hear that I have committed a crime which they abhor! But, above all, what will Sarah my wife say? How can I ever return to her again, after I have imbued my hands in my dear child's blood ? O that God would pardon me in this thing, or take my life in the place of my son's !" Thus, I say, Abraham might have argued, and that too seemingly with great reason, against complying with the divine command. But, as before by faith he considered not the deadness of Sarah's womb, when she was past age, but believed on him, who said, “Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed ;": so now being convinced that the same God spoke to, and commanded him to offer up that son, and knowing that God was able to raise him from the dead, without delay he obeys the heavenly call.
O that unbelievers would learn of faithful Abraham, and believe whatever is revealed from God, though they cannot fully comprehend it! Abraham knew God commanded him to offer up his son, and therefore believed, notwithstanding carnal reasoning might suggest many objections. We have
sufficient testimony, that God has spoken to us by his son ; why should we not also believe, though many things in the New Testament are above our reason? For, where reason ends faith begins. And, however infidels may style themselves reasoners, of all men they are the most unreasonable: For is it not contrary to all reason, to measure an infinite by a finite understanding, or think to find out the mysteries of godliness to perfection ?
But to return to the patriarch Abraham. We observed before what plausible objections he might have made; but he answered not a single word. No, without replying against his Maker, we are told, ver. 3. that “ 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 clave the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up and went unto the place of which God had told him.”
From this verse we may gather that God spoke to Abraham in a dream, or vision of the night: For it is said, he rose up early. Perhaps it was near the fourth watch of the night, just before break of day, when God said, Take nou thy son ; and Abraham rises up early to do so; as I doubt not but he used to rise early to offer up his morning sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving: It is often remarked of people in the Old Testament, that they rose early in the morning; and particularly of our Lord in the New, that he rose a great while before day to pray. The morning befriends devotion : and if people cannot use so much self-denial as to rise early to pray, I know not how they will be able to die at a stake (if called to it) for Jesus Christ.
The humility, as well as piety of the patriarch, is observable. He saddled his own ass (great men should be humble ;) and to show his sincerity, though he took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, yet he keeps his design as a secret from them all : nay, he does not so much as tell Sarah his wife : for he knew not but she might be a snare unto him in this affair; and, as Rebecca afterwards, on another occasion, advised Jacob to flee, so Sarah also might persuade Isaac to hide himself; or the young men, had they known of it, might have forced him away, as in after ages the soldiers rescued Jonathan out of the hands of Saul. But Abraham sought no such evasion, and therefore, like an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile, he himself resolutely “clave the wood for the burnt offering, rose up and went unto the place of which God had told him. In the second verse, God commanded him to offer
his son upon one of the mountains which he would tell him of. He commanded him to offer his son up, but would not then direct
ly tell him the place where. This was to keep him dependent and watching unto prayer: For there is nothing like being kept waiting upon God; and, if we do, assuredly God will reveal himself unto us yet further in his own time. Let us practice what we know, follow providence as far as we can see already; and what we know not, what we see not as yet, let us only be found in the way of duty, and the Lord will reveal even that unto us. Abraham knew not directly where he was to offer up his son; but he rises up and sets forward, and behold now God shows him; and he went to the place of which God had told him. Let us go and do likewise. Ver. 4. Then on the third day, Abraham lifted up
eyes, and saw the place afar off.
So that the place, of which God had told him, was no less than three days' journey distant from the place where God first appeared to him, and commanded him to take his son. Was not this to try his faith, and to let him see what he did, was not merely from a sudden pang of devotion, but a matter of choice and deliberation ? But who can tell what the aged patriarch felt during these three days ? Strong as he was in faith, I am persuaded his bowels often yearned over his dear son Isaac. Methinks I see the good old man walking with his dear child in his hand, and now and then looking upon him, loving him, and then turning aside to weep. And perhaps, sometimes he stays a little behind to pour out his heart before God; for he had no mortal to tell his case to. Then, methinks, I see him join his son and servants again, and talking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, as they walked by the way. At length, on the third day, he lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. And, to show that he was yet sincerely resolved to do whatsoever the Lord required of him, he even now will not discover his design to his servants, but said, verse 5. to his young men, (as we should say to our worldly thoughts when about to tread the courts of the Lord's house) “abide you here with the ass; and I and the lad will go up yonder and worship, and come again to you." This was a sufficient reason for their staying behind; and, it being their master's custom to go frequently to worship, they could have no suspicion of what he was going about. And from Abraham's saying, that he and the lad would come again, I am apt to think he believed God would raise him from the dead, if he permitted him to offer his child up for a burnt offering. However that be, he is yet resolved to obey God to the uttermost; and therefore,
Ver. 6. “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son ; and he took the fire in his hand,