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should offer their children in sacrifice to this pretended deity: these worshippers were superstitious; this god was cruel. . But that our merciful Father, who willeth only the happiness of his creatures, should impose such a trial as this upon a tender parent; that this parent should so overcome the strongest feelings of nature as to comply with it without murmuring; these are events which fill me with admiration, till I recollect on the one hand the wise ends which God hereby accomplished, and on the , other the power and strength of that faith which upheld the pious Abraham. But cold admiration is not the only sentiment which this history should excite; it is calculated to awaken the tenderest feelings, and to afford us the most useful lessons. I propose, that this purpose may be answered, to review the circumstances of this event, and then to inquire what practical instructions may be derived from it.
God of Abraham and of Isaac, eternal Father of that Saviour whom Isaac weakly prefigured! let our meditations on this subject tend to increase our holiness, and to inspire us with that faith, which will make us victorious not only over the world and sin, but also over the improper indulgence of those powerful feelings of nature, which become criminal only through excess.
It is pleasing and useful to contemplate pious men, supported in the midst of difficulties and distresses by the consolations of religion, and the exercise of faith. From such examples we are taught more compendiously and forcibly than we could be by precept, the value of piety, the duty of submission to the will of God. Such instructions we may derive from this event in the life of the patriarch Abraham
He had now arrived to an advanced old age,
and living in strict communion with his God, hoped to descend in peace to the house of silence. He was surrounded by temporal enjoyments; he had received from the Almighty that noblest and most endearing of titles, the “ friend of God;" he saw his memory about to be perpetuated, in a son dearly and deservedly beloved, a son given him by miracle, a son in whose seed the nations were to be blessed. But, human bopes, how fallacious are you! Earthly bliss, how easily art thou destroyed! God will not suffer his children to remain in this world without afflic. tions and sorrows, lest they should forget that this is not their abiding city, lest their desires after the heavenly inheritance should be cooled or extinguished. It was thus that he acted towards Abraham: “ And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham.” The word, to tempt, is generally used in an ill sense, signifying to incite to sin; in this sense, God cannot, as St. James asserts, tempt any man: when he is said to tempt his children, the meaning is, that he so orders events in his providence, that their piety may be strongly attacked, and its warmth and sincerity attested by a victory over dangerous assaults. It would be better perhaps to translate the original word, did try; which is its primitive signification. God then “did try Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham, and he said, Behold, here I am.” We are ignorant in what precise manner the Lord revealed himself to this his faithful servant; he did it however in such a manner as to assure Abraham that he was addressed by God. It was a 'voice that was familiar and dear to the patriarch; he had often been blest by such intimate intercourse with his Master; the most
precious promises bad in this manner been made to him; he listens to it now with eagerness, expecting perhaps new favours. . What is it then which the Lord announces ? “ Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest.” Ah! when Abraham heard only these words, his attention became more fixed; he supposed doubtless that this dear object of his affection was about to partake of new mercies from his Lord, was to receive either new promises, or to obtain the confirmation of those that had already been made to him. What a stroke was this order which follows! Take this son, so dearly, so justly beloved by thee, “ and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains that I shall tell thee of.", Holy Abraham! what a trial was this; how great, was that faith which could triumph over it!
It would have been much, had the pious patriarch merely been told that Isaac must die; it had been much to relinquish all those fond hopes which he had cherished, and which he had believed that he was authorized to entertain from the promises of God. But then his grief would be mitigated by watching around the sick bed of his son, by assuaging his pains, and performing for him the last offices of affection : but this feeble consolation must be denied him, for Isaac must be slain, must die by violence. Even then it might be possible that Abraham might remove at a distance from this bloody spectacle, and avoid beholding the last agonies of his son: No! this alleviation is not granted to him; he must not only behold Isaac struggling with the : pangs of death, but must himself inflict the mortal blow; the hand that, it would seem, should only be employed in his defence, must be dyed with his gush
ing blood ; the final groans of an only son must vi. brate through the ears of a parent who has wounded him; and after he is cold and senseless, this must light the wood on which he is extended, and behold the body of his offspring slowly reduced to ashes. Ah, holy patriarch! hadst thou been less devoted to God, what various pleas mightest thou have urged to excuse thy compliance with this painful duty. But, my brethren, Abraham was not of the number of those persons who suppose that they may violate the laws of God, because they cannot perfectly comprehend the reasons of them: as soon as he knew the will of God clearly and explicitly, he prepared not to argue, but to obey it without hesitancy or delay. He stilles the feelings of nature; he suppresses the suggestions of doubt; he goes to perform the command of his Lord, and says with resignation, “ Not my will, but thine be done." 66 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass,” (for this, in the earlier ages of the world, was the manner in which persons of the greatest distinction travelled,) “ 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 towards the place of which God had told him: and on the third day he lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off.” What sorrows must have wrung the heart of the parent during these three mournful days. Whilst Isaac was addressing him with filial affection and tender·ness, or speaking of the wonders that had been wrought in their behalf by the God whom they worshipped, what keen regrets must have agitated the afflicted father in reflecting that in so short a period this affectionate child must be sunk in the grave by his arm. Nevertheless, he still prosecutes his journey with a determined soul. His trial was indeed great; but he was not crụshed by it, for God who inflicted it upon him, always wisely proportions the trials of his children to the strength of grace which they have received. Having arrived at the foot of the mount, he left the servants there," and 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.” What force is there in this tender address and this simple question of Isaac ! “ The heart alone can comment upon these words." 66 And Abraham said, my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt-offering : so they went both of them together.”
Having ascended the mount and built the altar, Abraham “ bound Isaac his son, and laid him upon it.” It will be recollected that Isaac had now arrived to years of discretion, and was probably about the age of thirty-three; he must of consequence have been bound by his own consent. Nothing then could be more affecting than their interview when, having arrived to the appointed place, Abraham informed his son of the orders he had received from God; and forgetting the Father in the believer, urges him unreservedly to submit to the will of the All-merciful. Isaac yields, submits without a murmur, and prepares to lay down his life with calmness at the command of God.
The final embrace has been given and received; the solemn and affecting farewell has been mutually pronounced ; Isaac is extended upon the wood; the