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SERMON X X VI.
TRIAL OF ABRAHAM.
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. -- GENESIS, xxii. 2.
This is the most extraordinary command which we find in scripture. In order to set it in the most intelligible and instructive light, I shall make the following inquiries.
I. Let us inquire, whether God had a right to give this command to Abraham. The enemies of divine revelation allege this command, as an unanswerable objection against the inspiration of the Mosaic history. They challenge all the divines in the world, to reconcile this command with the law of nature written in every human heart. They say, it is a plain violation of that rule of right which is founded in the nature of things, for any man to imbrue his hands in the blood of his child. They say, if such an action be not wrong, it is impossible to prove any action to be so; for it is nothing less than murder, which is repugnant to every dictate of justice, benevolence and humanity. But however plausible these objections against the divine command may appear, at first view, they are entirely groundless. For,
In the first place, God did not command Abraham to murder Isaac, or to take away his life from malice prepense. He required him only to offer him a burnt sacrifice; and though this inplied the taking away of life, yet it did not imply any thing of the nature of murder. God required Abraham to take his son, his only son, whom he loved, and in the exercise of love to him, to offer him a burnt sacrifice. This was essentially different from requiring him to slay his son, as Cain slew his brother Abel, from malice prepense. It is impossible to see that there was any thing morally evil, or in its own nature wrong, in the divine command to Abraham. God required nothing of Abraham but what he could do in the exercise of that love which is the fulfilling of the law. It was no more intrinsically wrong, for God to require Abraham to sacrifice his son in the exercise of pure benevolence, than it was to require him to leave his country, his kindred, and his father's family, and sojourn in a strange land.
None can object to this command as being wrong in the nature of things, without first perverting the plain and obvious meaning of it. According to both the letter and spirit of it, it was entirely consistent with the moral rectitude of the Deity, to require Abraham to sacrifice his son.
In the next place, it must be allowed that God himself had an original and independent right to take away that life from Isaac, which he had of his mere sovereignty given him. It is a divine and self evident truth, that he has a right to do what he will with his own creatures. And this right God not only claims, but constantly exercises, in respect to the lives of men. He taketh away, and who can hinder him? And he takes away when, and where, and by whom he pleases. He sometimes takes away with a stroke of his own hand, and sometimes by the stroke of the assassin, and murderer, and the executioners of justice. He commanded Samuel to hew Agag in pieces before the Lord. His own right to take away the life of man, gives him full right to command whom he pleases to take away the life of another. He had, therefore, an absolute right to command Abraham to take away his son's life. And his command to take away his son's life, no more required him to murder Isaac, than his command to Saul to slay Agag, required him to murder that captivated king.
Farthermore, God has a right to require men to do that at one time, which he has forbidden them to do at another. Though he had forbidden men to offer human sacrifices in general, yet he had a right to require Abraham, in particular, to offer up Isaac as a burnt sacrifice. And after he had required him to sacrifice Isaac, he had a right to forbid him to do it, as he actually did. Though God forbid Balaam, at first, to comply with the request of Balak, and go with the messengers whom he sent to him, yet afterwards he told Balaam to go with them. God has a right to countermand his own orders. As there was nothing morally evil in God's commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, so there was no inconsistency in his commanding him to do it; notwithstanding his general prohibition to mankind to offer human sacrifices. If we only view the
command in the text in its true and obvious import, we cannot discover any thing in it contrary to the light of nature, or the moral character of God; and, consequently, must be convinced that he had an absolute right to give such a command to Abraham. Let us now inquire,
II. Whether Abraham could know that this command came from God. Those who deny that God could consistently give such a command to him, deny that he could rationally know and believe that he actually gave him such a command. This they say was so different from, if not contrary to all other commands of God, and so singular, extraordinary, and unaccountable, that he could not have so good reasons to believe, as to disbelieve, that it came from God. Now it must be granted
all, that if Abraham did sacrifice Isaac, or offer him upon the altar, he really thought God did require him to do it; and, if he did really think so, it must have been owing either to his own heated imagination, or to the delusion of some evil spirit, or else to some real evidence of God's requiring him to sacrifice his son.
But it is evident that it could not be owing to his own heated imagination; because there was nothing in nature to lead him to form such an imagination. The command was contrary to every thing that God had before required of him; it was contrary to what God had revealed in respect to human sacrifices; and it was contrary to all the natural instincts, inclinations, and feelings of the human heart. Though men are apt to imagine things which are agreeable to their natural and selfish inclina. tions, yet they are never apt to imagine things which are totally contrary to all these natural feelings. It is absurd, therefore, to suppose that Abraham's imagination would lead him to think that God did require him to sacrifice his only beloved son, if he did not actually require it. It is especially absurd to suppose this of Abraham, who in no other part of his conduct ever discovered a wild or enthusiastic imagination, but exhibited a mind of superior strength, penetration, and discernment. But supposing that he was actually under the influence of a heated imagination: Why did he stop short of his purpose? Why did he not execute his original design, and take away the life of his son? He had three days to reflect upon the extraordinary action. He had prepared the wood, laid it upon the altar, bound his son, and lifted his hand to give the fatal stroke. Can it be supposed that imagination should carry him so far, and then vanish in a moment ? Certainly his conduct cannot
a be accounted for, upon the supposition of imagination.
Nor is there any better reason to think that he was under the delusion of some evil spirit. We can by no means suppose
that God would suffer such an excellent man as Abraham to be deluded in such an extraordinary case, by the great deceiver; nor that Satan would be disposed to tempt Abraham to do what he really thought would be for the glory of God. Nor can we suppose, if Satan viewed it as a criminal action, that he would have restrained him from committing the crime. But if Abraham was not led to think that God required him to sacrifice his son, by a wild imagination, nor by the delusion of an evil spirit, then we are constrained to conclude that he had clear and conclusive evidence of the command's coming from God.
If God did speak to Abraham, and command him to sacrifice his son, he could undoubtedly make him know that it was he who spake to him. God is able to speak in a manner peculiar to himself, and to distinguish his voice from the voice of any created being. To deny that God could make Abraham know that he spake to him, would be to deny the possibility of divine revelation; and that God is as able to speak to his creatures, as they are to speak to one another, in an intelligible manner. And if he did speak to Abraham, and require him to sacrifice his son, he would certainly speak in a manner that Abraham could and would understand. Besides, Abraham was under peculiar advantages to know the voice of God, who had frequently appeared to him, and conversed with him before. If this had been the first time that God had spoken to him, he might not have known his voice. Samuel did not know the voice of God, the first time he spake to him. But Abraham was an old prophet. We have an account of God's speaking to him no less than six times before this. He called him from Haran to go to Canaan. He twice renewed covenant with him. He promised to give him Isaac, before he was born. He conversed with him concerning Ishmael. And could be not know the voice of God in this instance, as well as in all the other instances which have been mentioned ? He had no doubt whether the command came from God or not; for it is said, “ He rose up early in the morning, and saddled bis ass, and took two young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up and went unto the place which God had told him.”
This leads us to inquire,
III. Why God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. It seems to be strange that God should require any man to sacrifice his child; and still more strange that God should require Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, whom he had given him in covenant love, and in the same covenant had promised to bestow upon him and upon his posterity great and distinguishing blessings. Though God knew that the command must tenderly and painfully affect the heart of Abraham, yet it does not appear that he gave it as a mark of his displeasure, or as a punishment for any deviation from duty. And though God gave no reason to Abraham why he required him to sacrifice his son, yet we must suppose he had some good reason for laying such a peculiar command upon him. It is evident that Abraham's offering Isaac upon the altar, was a lively type or representation of God's offering Christ as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. There was a great resemblance between Isaac and Christ. Isaac's birth was miraculous, and so was Christ's. Isaac was a beloved son, and so was Christ. Isaac was about thirty-three years old when he was offered upon the altar, and so was Christ when he was made a sacrifice for sin. Isaac carried the wood for sacrifice, and so did Christ carry his cross. Isaac was bound upon the altar, and so was Christ fastened to the cross. Isaac voluntarily offered up himself, and so did Christ. It is very probable that Abraham viewed Isaac as a type of Christ; for we read that he saw Christ's day and rejoiced. And when is it more likely that he saw Christ's day, than when he offered Isaac? And this seems to be confirmed by the prornise which immediately followed, that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed.
But whether one design God had in view, in commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, was to make him a type of Christ, or not; we are assured that he had another very important design in view. And what that design was, we are told in the verse before the text. “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,” &c. By tempting here, we are to understand the same as trying or proving. God meant, by the command in the text, to try or prove whether Abraham loved him sincerely and supremely. Such a command to sacrifice his son, was directly calculated to draw forth the real feelings of Abraham's heart towards God; and to try, and prove, and infallibly determine, whether he loved God more than his son, or any other object upon the face of the earth. This was trying the sincerity of Abraham, just as he allowed Satan to try the sincerity of Job. This trial of Abraham's affection, therefore, appears to have been the principal, if not the only end God had in view, in commanding Abraham to offer his son a burnt offering on the altar. It only remains to inquire,
IV. Whether this command to Abraham answered the end which God proposed in giving it. And we find that Abrahain did actually and punctually obey both the letter and spirit of