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sible that a merciful and righteous God should command a father to imbrue his hands in the blood of a beloved son? This command cannot come from him who denounced a curse against Cain, and declared he should be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, because he had killed his brother Abel : it cannot proceed from him who hath decreed, that Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.' Besides, if I sacrifice Isaac, shall I not thereby oppose the accomplishment of God's own gracious promise, that in my seed all the farnilies of the earth shall be blessed? O! how will future generations, groaning under accumulated woes, execrate me a miserable man for having prevented the completion of Heaven's gracious design by an act of unequalled cruelty; cruelty to a beloved son; cruelty to millions of immortal souls, which no man can number. On my return from this bloody act, Sarah's first inquiry will be, Where is Isaac ?' It will be impossible to conceal the fact. I must acknowledge that he fell by the hands of his father; and the melancholy tidings will bring down her gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. Such a complication of crime and misery can never be effaced from my guilty conscience; for wherever I turn, by night or by day, the idea of a son, most tenderly beloved, expiring under the bloody knife of his father, and the maternal pangs of Sarah, the best of wives and the fondest of mothers, will still recur to my memory, and make existence an intolerable burden.” ,
That Abraham should rise above these perplexities, and instantaneously proceed to the execution of the divine command, is a circumstance which cannot fail to excite a considerable degree of admiration, and leads to an inquiry, how it was possible for a father to enter upon the work of offering in sacrifice a son who was dearer to him than his own life.
Abraham, notwithstanding the agitation of his mind, had the fullest assurance that the command was absolutely from God himself. Had an angel delivered it, he would not have obeyed; because it would have been in direct opposition to the authority of Him who had said, “ Thou shalt not kill.” Paul, whose piety was not superior to that of Abraham, felt such a holy indignation against every injunction inconsistent with the revealed will of Heaven, that he denounced an anathema against any creature who should have the temerity to attempt a reversion of the divine decree. “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any othergospel unto you, than that which we have preached, let him be accursed.” Had not Abraham felt a divine assurance that it was Jehovah himself who demanded the life of Isaac, the command of an angel from heaven would have been rejected. - When Abraham had attained the age of seventy-five years, the Lord promised that in him should all the families of the earth be blessed. (Gen. xii. 3, 4.) This promise was renewed, and more particularly expressed, at two different times. (Gen. xv. 5, xviii.
18.) Yet Isaac was not born till twenty-five years after the time when the promise first was made; but Abraham was “not weak in faith; he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." He now knew that Isaac had been given by a miraculous interposition of Providence; he had no doubt that God would accomplish his promise, that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed; and he “accounted also that God was able to raise up Isaac even from the dead, from :) whence also he received him in a figure.”
We may further account for the promptitude and unreservedness of Abraham's obedience by the extraordinary aids which he received from above. During three days, the father, son, and two servants, were travelling towards the awful mount where Isaac was to be slain; at length he saw the very place of which God had told him; (the place where, according to the opinion of learned commentators, Jesus, the antitype of Isaac was crucified;) yet, during these three days, his soul was not shaken in its purpose. He ordered the servants to abide with the ass, till he should return from the mount; he then laid the wood, which the ass had hitherto carried, upon Isaac, and took the fire in his hand, with a knife; and thus they both proceeded. Isaac, now seeing him intent on sacrifice, said, “My father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the larb for a burnt-offering ?” Had the heart of Abraham been made of flint, possibly he might have borne this; but when we consider the more than ordinary affection, parental and filial, which subsisted between them, we must conclude that God only could give strength adequate to such a trial. His answer to this affecting question shows the fortitude of a mind unsubdued, yet exquisitely tender, and also the unlimited and immutable confidence which he reposed in the divine veracity : “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt-offering." According to the lowest computation, Isaac was now twenty-five years of age, and Abraham consequently a hundred and twenty-five. Was it possible, then, that a man bowed down with a weight of years, and with an anguish of mind which none can fully conceive, because not called to the trial which occasioned it, was it possible that he should be able to bind and lay upon the altar Isaac, now arrived to a state of maturity vigorous and active? Certainly not. Besides, what could induce the son to submit to such an unnatural and unprecedented death? If we could suppose that he was totally inattentive to the preservation of his life, yet is it not reasonable to imagine, that he would expostulate with his father, and hinder him from bringing distress upon a most amiable fam. ily by a deed which, to the world, would appear cruel beyond expression ?-When, therefore, we consider the amazing intrepidity which Abraham manifested, and behold him stretching forth his
hand to slay his son with the sacrificial knife, and when we consider the no less amazing submission of Isaac, we are constrained to acknowledge that the divine power was evidently displayed in this transaction, and must believe that Heaven looked down with admiration and delight on Abraham's obedience to his heavenly Father, and on Isaac's non-resistance to his earthly father.
Just at the very moment when he was going to give the fata) stab, the ANGEL OF THE LORD called from heaven and said, “ Abraham, lay not thine hand upon the lad.; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.” At the sound of this heavenly voice, Abraham lifted up his eyes, and beheld a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, which he immediately took and offered up for a burntoffering, in the stead of his son. Then 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 heaven, and as the sand wbich is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” The Angel mentioned here is unquestionably that glorious person Immanuel, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; for this Divine Being, who swore by himself that he would bless Abraham, is called in the original Jehovah, (Gen. xxii. 16,) that incommunicable naine never applied to any created being.
The important instructions which this narrative was intended to convey, and which indeed are obviously deducible from it, are the following.
1. Sin is so abominable in the sight of God, and so destructive to the peace of individuals and communities, that he, as the supreme Governor of the Universe, cannot give it the least countenance, without violating the attributes of holiness and justice, the continued exercise of which is essential to the happiness of creatures. Therefore, the voice of God is, “Without shedding of blood is no' remission.” · Abraham knew well that beasts were offered in sacrifice for human offences, and that such an institution would have been irrational and unavailable, unless it had reference to some future sacrifice, infinitely meritorious and efficacious, which God himself would provide and accept. And doubtless, whenever he performed the duty, he could not but reflect on sin as an insult offered to the Majesty of Heaven, and as the only source of misery; neither could he contemplate this peculiar institution without deeply regretting that it thus became necessary for guilty man to destroy an innocent creature, in order that he himself might be saved from eternal destruction. But how was the aggravated nature of sin enhanced in his view, and how was his righteous indignation inflamed against it, when he heard from the mouth of God himself, that Isaac must be slain for a sin-offering! In that moment of inexpressible distress, we may conceive what was the language of his heart. “O my God! take all my cattle, the whole of my property, my, health, my life, if these will satisfy the demands of justice; only spare Isaac. O do not enjoin on me the execution of a command, which the world will not believe to have come from thee; a command, my compliance with which will fix an endless stigma on my character, break the heart of my beloved Sarah, and give a finishing stroke to the calamities of a man sinking under the infirmities of old age.
O my God! my God! do with me what thou wilt, take from me · what thou pleasest, only spare Isaac.-Yet I retract these petitions, and bow to thy command. Thy holy indignation has been called forth by the impious rebellion of thy favourite creature, man. I know, that what thou requirest must be holy, just and good. Heaven demands Isaac, and let the will of Heaven be done. O sin, what hast thou done! Isaac must die, and I, in obedience to God's own command, must strike the deadly blow!"
In moments of temporal prosperity and mental dissipation, carnal propensities are indulged, and religious duties are either performed in a heartless and indevout manner, or wholly neglected. The transition from such a state to actual transgression, is obvious and unavoidable: and as sin thus advances, its concomitants, darkness and insensibility of mind, become proportionably progressive. And although the man who is thus departing from the living God, may sometimes look upon his sins, and feel a degree of compunction, yet the look is so superficial and momentary, that the investigation is terminated by a soft whisper, “Is it not a little thing? Tush, God regardeth it not." How necessary that a gracious God, whose every dispensation is directed to the purification of our nature, should call back our attention to those truths recorded for our admonition;." It is a bitter thing to sin against * God. Without shedding of blood is no remission,” This he does by such corrective dispensations of Providence, and such impressive instructions of his Spirit and Word, as cause us to feel shame and sorrow; and frequently the divine chastisements have such an obvious connexion with the sin that caused them, or so naturally flow from it, that in the visitation we may read the offence.
Abraham was the friend of God, a holy man, and consequently to him, these remarks are not strictly applicable: yet it was necessary that even his detestation of sin, and fear of offending the Almighty, should become yet more exquisite ; and doubtless the command which enjoined a father to slay a beloved and only son for a sin-offering, was the most effectual that can be conceived to produce those salutary effects.
But when his mind was brought to a full determination, and he was in the very act of stretching out his hand to execute the sanguinary deed, at that tremendous moment his attention was arrested by a voice from heaven, and his eyes were turned to an object far more valuable than the gold of Ophir, the precious onyx, or the sapphire,-a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, doubtless by the immediate hand of God. This ram Abraham took, and offered him up for a burnt-offering instead of his son: and certainly if there ever was a time in which the Saviour's words had a peculiar and complete accomplishment, that was the very moment: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, he saw it, and was glad.” Divine justice demanded Isaac for a sin-offering; Divine mercy provided a ram for a typical substitute ; and the Divine Spirit illumined the mind of Abraham, and showed him the antitype of that ram, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. And it is more than probable that the Patriarch had, in this joyous moment, such a prospective view of the Redeemer's death, resurrection, and ascension, of his intercession, of his universal and eternal reign, of the gifts which he should receive for men, and of the glory which should follow, as was not granted even to the angels; for they still desire to look into these things. At least, if his views of God's redeeming plan were not more luminous than those of superior beings, the ecstatie and grateful feelings of a father, who had thus received his son in a figure from the dead, as a pledge of eternal redemption to himself and to a lost world, must have been more ardent than any which they could feel.-Thus also with regard to us, when, through a recollection of our past offences, and a consciousness of that carnal mind whence they proceeded, we are reduced to a state of absolute self-despair, how are we astonished and encouraged when we hear a voice from Calvary, a voice from the excellent glory, saying, “ Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” If we hesitate, through fear of being rejected in consequence of our accumulated and long-protracted transgressions, let us behold a greater than Abraham or Isaac here. Behold Him who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all! Look unto Him who gave himself for us ! Jesus died not for his friends, but for his enemies. Abraham intentionally offered his son, in obedience to the command of that God who had the most indisputable and unalienable right to demand hiin when and how he pleased. Jesus voluntarily and actually gave himself up to suffer the most ignominious and cruel death that devils incarnate could inflict; and then ascended to the throne of his heavenly Father, where he ever lives to intercede for us, and from whence he sends his Holy Spirit to prepare even the rebellious for that heaven which stands open for their reception. In virtue of this unexampled love, the most profligate and hardened