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GEN. xxii. 1, 2.
"And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
"And he said, 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 burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
THE history recorded in this chapter is a very remarkable one: and as such it is several times referred to in the New Testament. I shall endeavour, in my present discourse, to explain to you the chief particulars of it, making some reflections upon them as I go along.
The subject of the history is God's trial of the faith and obedience of his servant Abraham. The order of it leads me to consider,
I. First, the manner and circumstances of the trial.
III. Lastly, the event or issue of the whole transaction.
I. And, first, the manner and circumstances of the trial. "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham."
The words, "after these things," refer us to Abraham's previous history. The Almighty, in his great mercy, had called Abraham from among his idolatrous kindred, saying unto him, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed "." So Abraham, confiding on the promises, departed as the Lord had spoken to him. By faith he cheerfully forsook kindred and country and possessions, cast himself upon God's providence, took the Lord for his portion, and became, both literally and spiritually, what a Christian ought to be, a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth.
After this, we find it was with Abraham, as it was afterwards with his descendant Joseph; "the Lord was with him, and he was a prosperous man 3." He was called indeed to trials, but whithersoever he went God protected him; fighting for him against all his adversaries, and evidently blessing the houses of his friends for his sake. For it is written, "Them that honour me I will honour ;" and Abraham had honoured God by his faith.
At length, according to a special promise made to him to that effect, Sarah, Abraham's wife, bare him a son in his old age. This son's name was called Isaac; and from him the Lord declared expressly the promised Seed, in whom all nations of the earth were to be blessed, should descend. "In Isaac shall thy seed be called 5."
The full persuasion which Abraham felt that this son should indeed be born to him, and which never forsook him during the great length of time in which the promise remained unfulfilled, was the second remarkable act of faith by which he glorified God. "Against hope"
2 Gen. xii. 1-3.
3 Gen. xxxix. 2.
Gen. xxi. 12.
(says St. Paul) he "believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform "."
We might perhaps have imagined that now Abraham had been proved sufficiently. But God saw good to ordain it otherwise. The sharpest trial of all yet remained behind. After these things, God did tempt Abraham. Hence we learn that our life is to be a warfare to the last; and we must be prepared to find it so. Indeed, the more mercies we have received in times past, the greater consolation we have experienced in communion with God, the rather may we look forward to services of danger and difficulty hereafter. Neither may we hope to escape being called to conflict and to self-denial, because we have already stood upright in many conflicts. For if we did so, it was God's gift to us, not our gift to Him. What profit is it to the Almighty that thou art righteous? But to thyself the gain of stedfastness wrought in God's strength is great. By the trial you have gained experience, and in the victory have tasted mercy; but "to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required"." After these things, therefore, God may yet tempt you watch and pray lest you fall by the temptation when it comes. Be not high-minded because of past achievements, but still "trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
But I return to the narrative; "God called unto Abraham, and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom 6 Rom. iv. 18-21. 7 Luke xii. 48. 8 Prov. iii. 5, 6.
thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of "."
The trial, I said, was sharp: and the manner in which it is imposed seems specially intended to aggravate the sharpness of it; to search the soul of Abraham, as it were, to the very quick.
We may well suppose, that when God spake, Abraham attended most minutely to every word. Consider then the substance and the manner of the Lord's address. He requires no costly sacrifice of the customary kind; Abraham could easily have sacrificed every goat in his fold; have parted with all his goods, and left himself destitute of such things for God. But He says, Take now thy son and sacrifice him; and, as if He would have his servant to obey in deliberate opposition to all a father's feelings, and with the fullest possible conviction upon his mind of the pain and difficulty of the surrender he was called to make, He reminds him what a son he was about to part with, and bids him recollect how tenderly he regarded him: "Take now thy son, even thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest." Not Ishmael, but Isaac, that very Isaac who is so dear to thee, that very seed of thine in whom all families of the earth should have been blessed. Take him, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering. Offer him, not by deputy, but lay thine own hand upon him; shed his blood thyself; and slay him, not in a hurry, not immediately, before thy astonishment at such a command, which at present may overpower thy faculties and suspend the acuteness of thy feelings, shall subside; but carry him to a place at three days' journey distance, and having thus had full time to recollect thyself, offer him there.
What shall we say to this? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord. If Abraham had killed his son, he had been guiltless, and God had been righteous. However, weak as we are,
9 Gen. xxii. 2.
we have cause to bless God, that our trials are not so sharp. But at the same time we must all remember this; that if we would be God's servants and God's children, we must be prepared to surrender our best beloved for his sake. Every created comfort must be sought and valued in subordination to his will. He must have the first place in our affections; otherwise He is not our God, and his favour will not be our portion. For, saith our Lord, "he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me."
II. We come now to consider Abraham's conduct. This is related from the third to the tenth verse, "And 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. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son." See here the holy decision of a child of God. Abraham never hesitates an instant. He never once
1 Matt. x. 37, 38.