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replies against God. The command is peremptory, and he is all submission.
God gives no reason for his orders, which makes the trial much harder. He does not tell Abraham what He meant by such a decree, or in what way his glory was to be promoted by it. And Abraham asks no reason. He puts no question to his Maker. We are not our own, but God's; our goods are not our own, but God's. The Judge of all the earth cannot but do right. These things we know; and therefore, the plain command of God ought always to be to us (as it was to Abraham) reason sufficient to determine our conduct.
The command given to Abraham, however, was grievous to flesh and blood; it seemed a hard saying. But to him, this makes no difference. The holy man does not say, How shall I part with him whom I love so well? How shall I shut up my compassion for my own flesh and blood? How shall I endure to look upon the sufferings of my child; yea, to be myself the instrument of them? He neither expostulates nor complains, nor do we see him bringing forward one of those objections which, to a half-believer, would have seemed so plausible. He does not ask, What should he say, upon his return, to Sarah his wife? How reply to the reproaches of a mother, when he should appear before her as the murderer of her only son? How should his character be vindicated among the Canaanites with whom he sojourned? How should the true religion be had in honour any more, if such were to be esteemed the fruits of it? How should not the great name of Jehovah Himself be blasphemed among the heathen? What could ever blot out so foul a scandal, as the sacrifice of Isaac would appear to be, or put to silence the malevolent misconstructions of ungodly men? does not even require an answer to that which must have been the greatest difficulty of all, namely, how a seed should spring from Isaac, in whom all nations should be blessed, if Isaac himself was to be put to death, whilst as yet he had no child. Abraham leaves
all this to God. He could take care of his own honour, and could take care of him. He could and He would make good his gracious promise in despite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacle which was now to be thrown in the way of its fulfilment. It was Abraham's part not to dispute, but to obey. Therefore he consults not with flesh and blood, with his natural wishes or affections. But, rising up early in the morning, he prepares himself for obedience firmly and composedly. Isaac, as it should seem, makes no resistance. The warrant for his death is from God. The cup which the Lord puts into his hand he will freely drink. Like Him of whom (as delivered to the slaughter by his own Father) he was a type, "he openeth not his mouth 2." So Abraham binds him, and lays him upon the altar, and, stretching forth his hand, has, in mind and purpose, slain him. The powerful principle which produced this wondrous act of self-denial an inspired Apostle has pointed out: "By faith (says St. Paul) Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead 3." And a faith it was, working by love. Because Abraham was fully persuaded in his own mind that God would indeed make good to him his most gracious promise of giving him a seed in whom all nations should be blessed; and would still make it good, though Isaac should be slain; because he believed this, he loved the Lord his God who had done and was about to do such great things for him, with all his heart; and therefore though he could not know that Isaac should be raised from the dead in his time, or that his eyes should behold him more, yet would he freely surrender him at his beloved Lord's requirement. "Ye see then (says St. James) how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only ." That is, though (according to St. Paul, who takes a different though not a contrary view of the subject,) faith is the act of the mind, which 4 James ii. 24.
Isa. liii. 7.
3 Heb. xi. 17-19.
lays hold of God's promises made to us through Abraham's seed, and so by its instrumentality in uniting us to Christ is the means through which we are justified in the sight of God: yet the fruits which faith produces are those things which must justify us in the sight of the assembled world, and at God's judgment-seat at last, because they alone can demonstrate to such as see not the heart, that the inward principle of faith is alive and genuine; "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also "." Brethren, let us pray that we may be enabled to follow the faith of Abraham, to give implicit credence to God's precious promises, and never to distrust his faithfulness, because of the difficulties which may beset our path; but let us not presume that we possess that living principle, except it have evidently produced in our hearts a sincere love to Him who has loved us first; and, in our lives, a habit of self-denial, and a respect unto all his commandments.
III. I proceed to the event and issue of the transaction.
Faithful Abraham, taking the knife, was in the act of stretching forth his hand to slay his son; but at that very instant, by a divine interposition, Isaac was rescued; a sacrifice was provided in his stead, and, that being offered, the promise was renewed to Abraham, together with a gracious declaration of God's approbation of his conduct.
"The angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me." Observe here, you have the best prospect of keeping your earthly comforts, when your minds are in such a frame as to be ready to surrender them at God's bidding. If God sees that your love of them is not brought into due subjection to the love of Himself, then his kindness to your souls may induce Him to take them from you, lest
5 James ii. 26.
they become your idols, and so the means of ruining your souls. But, so long as you value them with a just proportion of regard, decidedly preferring your God before them, and seeking his kingdom first, He will be less likely to resume them. In this case they are no hindrances; the comfort which you have in them will rather draw you nearer to your Maker, that you may praise Him on account of it. And He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the children of men; He does not call upon us to give up any thing from which we might derive lawful enjoyment, without some merciful, or in other respects good intent.
"And Abraham (the history proceeds) lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son." Here the good man's words to Isaac were fulfilled in a very unexpected manner. The Lord, by a method which Abraham had not thought of, did provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering, and the transaction did not conclude without a religious rite. And here, too, we have a lively prefiguration of the method of our Redemption. Isaac, who (in his father's delivering him to death) had before prefigured the Son of God delivered for our offences, now in that he is rescued, and a sacrifice is substituted in his stead, may be considered as a type of the sinner rescued from eternal death by the sacrifice of Christ; whilst the ram caught in the thicket typifies the spotless and unoffending Saviour, who, when we were devoted to death by justice, bound, as it were, hand and foot, and ready to be cast into the consuming fire of Divine vengeance without possibility of helping ourselves, did efficaciously interpose on our behalf, and pouring out his soul unto death, was wounded for our transgressions, and accepted by his Father in our stead. "Other foundation, brethren, can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ"." Let this shadow of good things to come draw your attention to the substance now revealed; and there be your confidence 7 1 Cor. iii. 11.
6 Gen. xxii. 13.
for ever fixed. Consider yourselves as being rightfully devoted to destruction, and never think a moment of any way of escape, except by simple reliance upon Him who suffered for you. Leave your vanities and your delusions, and all false dependencies of all sorts and kinds, and "behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world 8."
"And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself .have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice "." "Good works," says our Church, "which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, though they cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment, yet are they pleasing and acceptable unto God in Christ'." An evidence of the truth of this we have in the case of Abraham. Inasmuch as he had obeyed God's voice, and so had evinced the sincerity of his faith, God testified his acceptance of him by a renewal of his former promise. The meaning of the promise I suppose you understand. The Jewish nation sprang from Abraham. They were a light in a dark world. Among them the knowledge of the One True God and of the way of salvation, so far as it was then revealed, was preserved. From them, in the fulness of time, sprang Jesus Christ. He was wounded indeed by his enemies, but He triumphed over them. He was nailed to a cross, but He is risen from the dead. He hath led captivity captive, and received gifts for men. His Gospel has travelled from Jerusalem even unto our houses; yea, I would hope even to our hearts. The gates of hell have never prevailed against it. Thousands and tens of thousands, for eighteen hundred years, have been raised by it from 8 John i. 29.
9 Gen. xxii. 15-18.