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from whence they had come out, they refused to do so, and preferred living as strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land, testifying plainly to all around them, that they regarded not this world as their home, but were in pursuit of a better, that is, an heavenly country". The Apostle, having shewn us this, returns to the case of Abraham, of whose faith he had already spoken in terms of high commendation, but whose principal act of faith remained yet to be noticed, as being the most illustrious exercise of that grace which the world had ever seen. This we are now to consider: and it will indeed be found profitable to mark,
I. The wonderful transaction here recorded
God issued a command to Abraham to offer up his son
[This was such a command as was sufficient to confound his reason, and to excite in his mind a doubt whether it could proceed from a God of truth and love. The account is given. us in the 22d chapter of Genesis, where all the circumstances that attended it are recorded. Abraham had had a son given to him in his old age, when neither he nor his wife, according to the common course of nature, could hope for any progeny. This son was constituted the appointed medium for bringing into the world "the Seed, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed." Yet this son was Abraham to take, and with his own hands to offer him up a burnt-offering to the Lord. Upon the delivery of this command, we might suppose him almost of necessity to say, Can this proceed from God? Can he not only take away thus the life of an innocent youth, but require me, the father of that youth, to be his executioner? Surely the suggestion comes rather from Satan, who seeing that this youth is to be the progenitor of the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world, would take advantage of my desire to please God, and make me his instrument to defeat the purposes of the Almighty, by destroying the very person to whom the promises are made. But he had no doubt whence the voice proceeded; and therefore]
This command he instantly set himself to fulfil
[He "conferred not with flesh and blood:" he listened not to the dictates of carnal reason, nor consulted for a moment the judgment of his wife; but addressed himself to his arduous
duty with readiness, with perseverance, and with a fortitude that was invincible. "He 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." But so distant was the appointed place, that he reached it not till the third day. What a time was here for meditation and reflection! and what conflicts may we suppose him to have experienced in his soul between parental love and duty to his God! Yet he persevered: yea, when the beloved youth, seeing in his father's hands the knife that was to slay the sacrifice, and the fire that was to consume it, put to him the touching question; "My father, behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?" still he maintained his resolution; and, waving any direct answer to it, proceeded to the place. There, no doubt, he revealed the matter to his son, who acquiesced in the Divine appointment; and then, having laid the wood in order, and bound his son, raised the knife to inflict the fatal wound. With what more than human firmness must he have been endowed, to execute an act so revolting to all the feelings of his nature, and so likely to transmit his name with infamy to the remotest posterity! How was it that he acquired strength to perform the act? We are told,]
In the execution of it he was animated and upheld by faith
[To this principle his obedience is expressly ascribed : By faith he offered Isaac." Mere reason would suggest to him, that, in destroying his son, he would annihilate the hopes of the whole world, founded as they were on the progeny that should hereafter spring from his loins. But by faith he was so persuaded both of the truth of God in his promises, and of his power to accomplish them, that he hesitated not to obey the Divine mandate; assured that, though his son were slain and burnt to ashes, God would rather raise him up to life again than suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail. What though no instance of such an interposition had ever yet existed? that was no reason that it should not exist, if it were necessary to the performance of the Divine promises. Indeed an interposition little short of that, had already existed in the very birth of Isaac, who had been given to him, when neither he nor Sarah could, according to nature, have any hope of an offspring: and as Omnipotence had given that son in accomplishment of a promise, so the same Almighty Power both could, and would, restore him even from the dead.
b Gen. xxii. 3.
Nor was he in this respect disappointed of his hope: for, in the moment his hand was lifted up to slay his son, God arrested his arm, and forbad the execution of his purpose, accepting the will for the deed, and accounting that as actually done which in an instant of time would have been irrevocably done, if the same authority that enjoined it had not interposed to prevent it so that Abraham is always spoken of as having actually offered up his son; and as having, "in a figure, received him again from the dead."]
Now, as in this transaction there are several different points to be attended to, so will there be a corresponding diversity in,
II. The instruction to be derived from it
We may learn,
1. From his trial, the use and intent of trials
[God is said to have "tempted Abraham." But we are not to understand from this that he did any thing with a view to lead Abraham to the commission of evil: in that sense "God never tempts any man: and if any man be drawn to the commission of sin, it is only through the influence of his own in-dwelling corruptions." But God gave him this command, in order that it might be seen, both by Abraham himself and by the world at large, whether he had grace to execute it. God, in all his dispensations towards the Jews in the wilderness, had the same object in view, as Moses informed them at the commencement of their journeying in the wilderness, and afterwards reminded them just previous to their entrance into Canaan. He warned them also that at all future periods they must be on their guard not to be drawn aside from Jehovah by persons pretending to a divine authority, even though they should work miracles in confirmation of their word, or utter prophecies that should eventually come to pass; for that God would suffer such impostors to arise, in order to put their fidelity to the test, and to give them an opportunity of evincing what was in their hearts'. God himself indeed needed not for his own information such events; for he knew what was in man, whether it was brought forth into act, or not: but they themselves could know it only by seeing the actual operation of their own principles: and therefore, for the comfort of some, and the humiliation of others, he suffered their principles to be brought to the test, and afforded by his own dispensations an occasion for their internal graces or
e Jam. i. 13, 14.
d Exod. xvi. 4.
weaknesses to display themselves. It is for the same end that God at this day suffers obstacles of various kinds to be put in the way of his people; he does it, that their faith may be tried; and that, if it stand the trial, redoubled benefits may accrue unto them. Know ye then that these temptations, which are to so many an occasion of falling, are intended of God to be to you an occasion of approving your fidelity to him. The prospect of some advantage, or of the gratification of a forbidden appetite, presents itself to you: and by it God says, "Now, which will you prefer, my honour or your own lust? Look to it, that you be steadfast in your obedience to me." In like manner, when persecution arises becauses of the word, or when any who profess godliness make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, it is all permitted by God, as far as you are concerned, on purpose to detect your hypocrisy, if you are unsound at heart; or to evince the steadfastness of your faith in him. Make then this improvement of every temptation, that you may come out of it as gold from the furnace, and prove by means of it "the sincerity of your love."]
2. From the graces which carried him through it, the different offices of faith and fear
[The particular end of this temptation was, to discover whether Abraham truly "feared God:" and God acknowledges that that point was by the obedience of his servant clearly ascertained. Now by "fear," is meant such a reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, as swallows up all other considerations, and determines us to fulfil God's will at all events. It annihilates all other fear, and constrains the soul to reply to its persecutors, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye; for I cannot but proceed in my duty to him, though the whole world should combine to oppress me1." But fear alone would be ineffectual to prevail in so great a warfare: therefore faith comes to its aid; and presents to the mind the promises of God; the promise of effectual aid in the conflict, and of an abundant recompence after it. Without this succour, our spirit would soon fail: but under an assurance that God will fulfil his word, we are enabled to go forth "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might," and to defy the whole universe to separate us from the love of Christ." The two should always be united; the one to operate as a stimulus, and the other as an encouragement. If either be wanting, our obedience will be very imperfect: it will want that holy reverence which we should ever maintain even in the midst of our most exalted joys, or
2 Chron. xxxii. 31. k Gen. xxii. 12.
h 1 Pet. iv. 12, 13. i 2 Cor. viii. 8. 1 Acts iv. 19, 20.
that filial confidence which so peculiarly pleases and honours God. See then, brethren, that, however difficult the service be which God requires of you, it be performed resolutely and without delay. Let no consideration under heaven weigh with you, any more than the dust upon the balance, in opposition to any known command. And whilst you labour to obey God's precepts, hold fast his promises with a confidence that nothing can shake. Listen not to any carnal reasonings, however specious they may be, when once you know what the word of God requires. Duty is yours: events are God's. Labour you to execute your part; and leave him to fulfil his, in his own way, and in his own time. Let it suffice for your encouragement, that "he is faithful who hath promised;" and, that "what he hath promised he is able also to perform."] 3. From the issue of his trial, the benefit of approving ourselves faithful to our God—
["By this act of his he was justified." As a sinner, indeed, he had been accepted of God forty years before, as soon as ever he believed in that promised Seed who was to descend from him, and in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed:" and in that sense he was justified by faith onlym. But St. James says truly, that "he was justified by works also, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar";" for by that act he was justified in his own conscience, and justified before the whole world. A tree may be good: but how shall it be known to be good but by its fruit? It is then only perfect when it is laden with fruit, and thus demonstrated to be good. And Abraham, though previously pardoned and accepted by his God, was then proved and evidenced to be a righteous character, and in a state of acceptance with God, when by this astonishing act of obedience he displayed the reality and efficacy of his faith. From that time he was honoured with that glorious appellation, "The friend of God:" and, for his farther encouragement, God confirmed all his promises to him with an oath; that by these two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, he might have the stronger consolation. Nay more, his Isaac, whom, in his mind and purpose, he had sacrificed, was now restored to him and O! to what unspeakable advantage! What delight would he henceforth feel in a son so given, and so restored to him as from the dead!
And shall we find it in vain to sacrifice any thing to the Lord? Shall we not, in proportion to the greatness of our sacrifices, and the willingness with which they have been n Jam. ii. 21-23.
in Rom. iv. 3-5, 9—11, 20—22.
• Gen. xxii. 16.