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God did tempt Abraham
The trial of Abraham
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF ABRAHAM WHEN THIS TRIAL CAME. His hope was set on Isaac as the medium through which God’s promise could be fulfilled, and he had been encouraged by observing him rising year after year to the age and stature of manhood.
II. GOD’S CONNECTION WITH THE TRIAL. He subjected Abraham to a testing trial in order to prove his faith.
1. There was no attempt in the action of God, bearing upon Abraham, in the least to diminish the patriarch’s affection for his son.
2. In the command binding Abraham to offer up his son there was an assertion of Jehovah’s right to be regarded as the supreme object of His creatures’ love.
III. ABRAHAM UNDER AND AFTER THE TRIAL.
1. His fear of God was tested by this trial.
2. His faith in God was tested by the trial. But the result was blessed to him in these four ways:
(1) He obtained an attestation from heaven of his fear and of his faith.
(2) He obtained a new revelation of Messiah as the atoning Surety.
(3) He brought back with him alive his only son, whom he loved.
(4) He held “Jehovah-jireh” in the grasp of his faith, and had Him pledged to care for him always.
1. Learn that true faith is sure to be tested faith.
2. Learn that all love must be subordinated to love for God.
3. Learn that the only way to be truly strong is to have faith in God.
4. Learn that God will never fail under the leanings of faith.
5. Learn from this text that no one need expect an attestation of his fear and faith except when these are revived and exercised. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
It is by trial that the character of a Christian is formed. Each part of his character, like every part of his armour, is put to the proof; and it is the proof that tests, after all, the strength both of resistance and defence and attack.
I. The voice of God to Abraham was NOT HEARD IN AUDIBLE WORDS; it was a voice in the soul constantly directing him to duty and self-sacrifice. The voice told him, as he thought--I do not for a moment say as God meant--that his duty was to sacrifice his son. The memories of olden days may have clung and hovered about him. He remembered the human sacrifices he had seen in his childhood; the notion of making the gods merciful by some action of man may still have lingered in his bosom. We have here the first instance of that false and perverse interpretation which made the letter instead of the spirit to rule the human heart.
II. As Abraham increases in faith HE GROWS IN KNOWLEDGE, until at last more and more he can hear “Lay not thy hand upon thy son.” “God will provide Himself a sacrifice” bursts from his lips before the full light bursts upon his soul. In this conflict Abraham’s will was to do all that God revealed for him to do. In every age and in every station faith is expressed in simple dutifulness, and this faith of Abraham is, indeed, of the mind of Christ. We may be perplexed, but we need not be in despair. When we arrive on Mount Moriah, then the meaning of the duty God requires of us will be made clear. And as we approach the unseen, and our souls are more schooled and disciplined to God, we shall find that to offer ourselves and lose ourselves is to find ourselves in God more perfect. (Canon Rowsell.)
The birth of Isaac brought Abraham nearer to God; though he had believed in Him so long, it was as if he now believed in Him for the first time--so much is he carried out of himself, such a vision has he of One who orders ages past and to come, and yet is interested for the feeblest of those whom He has made. Out of such feelings comes the craving for the power to make some sacrifice, to find a sacrifice which shall not be nominal but real.
I. The Book of Genesis says, “God did tempt Abraham.” The seed did not drop by accident into the patriarch’s mind; it was not self-sown; it was not put into him by the suggestion of some of his fellows. It was his Divine Teacher who led him on to his terrible conclusion, “The sacrifice that I must offer is that very gift that has caused me all my joy.”
II. Abraham must know what God’s meaning is: he is certain that in some way it will be proved that He has not designed His creature to do a wicked and monstrous thing, and yet that there is a purpose in the revelation that has been made to him; that a submission and sacrifice, such as he has never made yet, are called for now. He takes his son; he goes three days’ journey to Mount Moriah; he prepares the altar and the wood and the knife; his son is with him, but he has already offered up himself. And now he is taught that this is the offering that God was seeking for; that when the real victim has been slain, the ram caught in the thicket is all that is needed for the symbolical expression of that inward oblation.
III. When this secret has been learnt, every blessing became an actual vital blessing; every gift was changed into a spiritual treasure. Abraham had found that sacrifice lies at the very root of our being; that our lives depend upon it; that all power to be right and to do right begins with the offering up of ourselves, because it is thus that the righteous Lord makes us like Himself. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
A temptation had come upon Abraham; he thought that it was the right thing to do, and that he was called to do it; so after brooding over it intently for several days, he was irresistibly drawn to take the knife for the purpose of slaying his son.
I. Since the child of promise had been born to him, his natural tendency had been to repose on Isaac rather than on God. After a while he would awake to the troubled consciousness that it was not with him as in other days; that he had sunk from the serene summit on which he once stood. Brooding thus from day to day he came to feel as if a voice were calling him to prove himself by voluntarily renouncing the son that had been given him. He was driven wild, fevered into madness, through the fervour of his desire to maintain trust in the great Father, even as now men sometimes are by the lurid burning of distrust.
II. But did not God tempt him? you say. Is it not so recorded? Yes, undoubtedly; in the patriarch’s mind it was God tempting him. The narrative is a narrative of what took place in his mind; the whole is a subjective scene, portrayed objectively. The old Canaanite practice of offering human sacrifices suggested to Abraham the cultivation and manifestation of trust by immolating his son.
III. Although God did not suggest the crime, yet He was in the trial--the trial of maintaining and fostering trust without allowing it to lead him by perversion into crime.
IV. We see God penetrating and disengaging the grace in Abraham which lay behind the wrongness. He divided between the true motive of the heart and the false conclusion of the weak brain. He notes and treasures every bit of good that blushes amidst our badness. (S. A. Tipple.)
The crucial test
I. THERE COME TIMES IN HUMAN LIFE WHEN MEN MUST UNDERGO A CRUCIAL TEST. A man can have but one trial in his lifetime; one great sorrow, beside which all other griefs dwindle into insignificance.
II. THE CRUCIAL TEST CAN ONLY TAKE PLACE IN REFERENCE TO THAT WHICH WE LOVE AND VALUE MOST. DO we so hold that which is dearest to us upon earth, that we could surrender it at the Divine bidding?
III. Abraham’s answer, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb,” IS THE SUM OF ALL MEDIATORIAL HISTORY; it is the main discovery of love. After all, what has the world done but to find an altar? It found the Cross; it never could have found the Saviour.
IV. The narrative shows WHAT GOD INTENDS BY HIS DISCIPLINE OF MAN. He did not require Isaac’s life; He only required the entire subordination of Abraham’s will. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Lessons from the trial of Abraham
1. We learn from this passage the lesson that God taught Abraham that all souls and all beings are His, and that our greatest and dearest possessions are beneath His control and within His grasp.
2. We learn also a lesson of obedience. Abraham was called upon to make the greatest possible sacrifice, a sacrifice that seemed to clash with the instinct of reason, affection, and religion alike, and yet without a murmur he obeyed the command of God. We learn, too, that for wise reasons God sometimes permits the trial of His people’s faith--not to weaken, but to strengthen it, for He knows that if it be genuine, trial will have the same effect which the storm produces on the kingly oak, only rooting it more firmly in the soil.
4. We learn that God’s provisions are ever equal to His people’s wants. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. He giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not. (J. W. Atkinson.)
Abraham offering Isaac
All the elements of piety were in this act. The voice of the Lord heard and obeyed is essential to religion. The unshaken conviction that all He requires is best, though one lose thereby all but Himself, is the substance of religion. Abraham heard and did and trusted. Thus he became our worthy example.
I. His TRIAL. What could it mean? Abraham had the traditions and prejudices of his time. No man can be much above them. With all the manifestations of Jehovah to him, there yet lingered in his mind the common ideas of God and of His requirements which the common people had. He was in conflict between the two. The sense of sin and guilt was universal; the hope of propitiation as well. Human sacrifice was common. It represented the most stern exaction by the offended deity and the greatest gift which the transgressor could make. Popular custom helped the conceit in the patriarch. While heathen were so ready to show their faith in the false god, much more must he exhibit as great for the true. Could he withhold the choicest thing while imagining the Almighty asked for it, then his was a partial, not a single and complete, fealty. Isaac must not rival Jehovah in his affection. More and more plain the issue became, till his intense impressions seemed the solemn accents of his Maker, bidding him take the precious life. So far, at least, must he be willing to blot out every means by which his darling desire might be gained. Was not this an early illustration of the crucial test: “He that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me”?
II. HIS OBEDIENCE. “Doubtless,” one says, “while Abraham lifted up the knife to slay his son, the sun was turned to darkness to him, the stars left their places, and earth and heaven vanished from his sight. To the eye of sense, all was gone that life had built up, and the promise had come actually to an end for evermore; but to the friend of God all was still as certain as ever--all absolutely sure and fixed. The end, the promise, nay even the son of the promise--even he, in the fire of the burnt-offering--was not gone, because that was near and close at hand which could restore: the great Power which could reverse everything. The heir was safe in the strong hope of him who accounted that God was able to raise him up even from the dead.” The offering, so far as the offerer was concerned, had been made. His obedience to the word he thought to hear was perfect. God’s will and his were one.
III. His ACCEPTANCE. From that lofty summit in the land of Moriah there went up to heaven the sweet savour of acceptable sacrifice before any fire was kindled on the altar. So in the grossest darkness it may be still, where they who know not of the true God bring as perfect a gift. But piety and humaneness alike impel all who have heard the protest from the lips of Jehovah to speed with it to them whose sacrificial knives are about to be bathed in the blood of their firstborn. Thus again Christ arrests the devout and teaches them His righteousness.
IV. HIS DELIVERANCE. The place was “Jehovah-jireh “ indeed, for the Lord bad provided Himself the lamb for the burnt-offering. The sacrifice in its outward form should not fail. Here was the Divine sanction of the method of substitution. Here was foreshadowed the ritual of Tabernacle and Temple, and, most dimly, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Isaac need not die, but the animal must. We need not perish, but the Christ must give His flesh and blood for the life of the world. The victim was God’s choice in the first instance: He was in the last. In the smoke and flames of this first sacrifice ascended not only the tribute of a penitent and adoring soul, but also the unutterable gratitude for a life given back as from the dead. (De Witt S. Clark.)
Abraham’s trial, obedience, and reward
I. ABRAHAM’S TRIAL.
1. Purpose of this trial. Not to discover something unknown; but to test the strength of a recognized faith. To illustrate the gift of Christ; whose day Abraham saw afar off.
2. The nature of this trial.
(1) The sacrifice of a son. An only son. A well-beloved son.
(2) By the father’s own hands.
(3) A son of promise.
Through whom was expected the fulfilment of the covenant. In whom this great believer’s hopes centred. What is the trial of our faith as compared with this? How little does our faith in God call us to surrender. Yet the “trial of our faith is more precious than of gold which perisheth.”
II. ABRAHAM’S OBEDIENCE.
1. He did not wait for the repetition of the command, nor demand additional evidence concerning it. Did not imagine he might have mistaken its nature. Did not question the love or wisdom of God. Did not wait till he perfectly understood its purpose.
2. It was prompt. To hear was to obey. Rose early. Prepared at once.
3. It was ruled by precedence. Told no one his purpose. What might Sarah and Isaac have done or said to hinder the execution of the plan? Conceals it from his young men. The wood was cleft at home and taken with him. There might be none on the spot. That might be a hindrance.
4. It was marked by great self-control. Does not by manner express a mental burden. The affecting conversation with Isaac by the way.
5. It was distinguished by an heroic confidence in God. The Lord will provide. He fully believed he should return to the young men with Isaac. Expected he would be raised from the dead (Romans 4:16-22).
III. ABRAHAM’S REWARD. Having built an altar, he bound his son. Non-resistance of Isaac (“Jesus, the Son of God, became obedient unto death.” “No man taketh My life from Me,” &c. Isaac, at twenty-five years of age, might have resisted, but did not). Learn--
1. Receive with submission the trial of our faith.
2. Cheerfully and promptly obey God.
3. The Lord has provided. Jesus died willingly. (J. C. Gray.)
Temptation a trial
When a person took the first Napoleon a shot-proof coat of mail, the emperor fired many shots at it, whilst the inventor had it on. Finding it answered, the emperor gave the maker a reward. Storms of trial, sacrifices to be made, obedience required, or loving services demanded, will test us. Constantine thus tested the Christians in his household, when he required them to give up their religion under a heavy penalty. Those, however, who were faithful he took into his particular favour and service.
Trials reveal God to us
It is the mission of trouble to make earth worth most and heaven worth more. I suppose sometimes you have gone to see a panorama, and the room has been darkened where you were sitting--this light put out, and that light put out, until the room was entirely darkened where you sat. Then the panorama passed before you, and you saw the towns and villages, the cities and the palaces. And just so God in this world comes to us and puts out this light of joy, this light of worldly prosperity, and this light of satisfaction; and when He has made it all dark around us, then He makes to pass before our souls the palaces of heaven and the glories that never die. (Dr. Talmage.)
Abraham’s faith tried and triumphant
The significance of the transaction is rooted in the fact that Abraham was not a mere private individual, but in a very special sense a representative man. God’s communications to him were made, not for his own sake alone, but also for that of those who should come after him. There was a revelation through Abraham as well as to him; and in this transaction God was seeking not only to develop Abraham’s faith to its highest exercise, but at the same time to instruct him and all his spiritual children in their duty to their covenant Lord. It was literal fact, but it was also acted parable. I would say that the whole story was meant to reveal the universal law to this effect, that what is born of God must be consecrated to God; that the children of promise are at the same time the children of consecration, and so there is no more difficulty in the command to sacrifice Isaac than there is in the injunction to cast out Ishmael. Both alike arose out of the representative character of Abraham and his seed, and through both alike a revelation has been made for all time. The one says to unbelievers, “Ye must be born again”; the other says to believers, “I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The whole transaction, therefore, literal fact as it was, was at the same time the acted hieroglyphic of a spiritual revelation foreshadowing the self-sacrifice of the Christian to his Lord. But now leaving the merely expository for the time, let us take with us one or two practical lessons suggested by the whole subject.
1. And in the first place we may learn that the people of God should expect trial on the earth’. Here is one of the greatest saints subjected to the severest of tests, and that not as an isolated experience but as the last of a series which began when he was called to leave his country and his kindred in the land of the Chaldees. So when we are required to pass through ordeals that seem to us inexplicable let us not imagine that some strange thing has happened to us. And Tholuck is right when he says: “I find in all Christians who have passed through much tribulation, a certain quality of ripeness which I am of opinion can be acquired in no other school. Just as a certain degree of solar heat is necessary to bring the finest sorts of fruit to perfection, so is fiery trial indispensable for ripening the inner man.” Nor is this all: trial may come upon the believer for the sake of others rather than for his own. The chemist darkens the room when he would show some of his finest experiments; and when God designs to let others see what His grace can enable His people to endure, He darkens their history by trial. So God, by our trials, may be seeking to show through us what His grace can do; may be making manifest the reality of His presence with His people in the fire, in such a way as to bring others in penitence to His feet. Thus we too may vicariously endure, and so enter into what Paul has called “the fellowship” of the Saviour’s sufferings. What a sting does that take out of many of our trials!
2. But we may learn in the second place, that if we would stand trial thoroughly we must meet it in faith. Tribulation by itself will not improve our characters. The patriarch did not know the way God was taking with him; but he knew God. He had received such proof of His tenderness, His faithfulness, and His wisdom in the past that he could trust Him now; and so putting his hand in the Divine grasp, he was once more upheld by God’s strength. Andrew Fuller has well said that a man has only as much faith as he can command in the day of trial.
3. Finally, we may learn that faith triumphant is always rewarded. At the end of this dreadful ordeal the Lord renewed the covenant with Abraham; and in the belief of many writers, it was on this occasion that he was permitted to see Christ’s day and to rejoice in the assurance thereby given him that his hope should never be belied. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
I. ITS LEGALITY. Would God command to kill who saith, Thou shalt not kill?
(1) The supreme Lawgiver, who made that law, can out of His uncontrollable sovereignty, dispense with His own law.
(2) God did not command Abraham to do this, as it was an act of rebellion against His own moral law (which was not now promulgated, as after by Moses) nor against the law of nature, which is writ in every man’s heart, and so in Abraham’s (Romans 2:14-15), but as it was an act of obedience to the great Lawgiver; and therefore it was necessary that Abraham should well know it was God, and not the devil, who tempted him to this act, which in itself seemed so unnatural for a father to kill his own son, and wherein God seemed so contrary to Himself, and to His own positive precepts and promises; this Abraham knew well,
(a) from special illumination;
(b) from familiar experience of God’s speaking to him, whose voice he knew as well as the voice of his wife Sarah’s.
(c) This voice came not to him in a dream (which would have been more uncertain, and less distinguishable from the devil’s deceit), but while Abraham was awake; for it is not said that he stayed till he was awaked out of sleep, but immediately he rose up and addressed himself to his business, which intimates he understood his author from the plainest manner of speaking to him, without any ambiguity in so arduous an affair.
II. What were the DIFFICULTIES of Abraham’s duty under this command of God?
1. God saith not to him, Take thy servants, but thy son. Oh then what a cutting, killing command was this to Abraham, Take (not thy servant, but) thy son!
2. Thy only son. Had he had many sons, the trial had been more bearable. Here was another aggravation; for a tree to have but one branch and to have that lopped off; for a body to have but one member, and to have that dismembered.
3. Yet higher, Whom thou lovest (Genesis 22:2). Isaac was a gracious and dutiful son, obedient both to his earthly and to his heavenly Father, and therefore Abraham did love him the more; had he been some graceless son, his grief had been the less.
4. Higher than that, Isaac was the son of God’s promise--In him shall thy seed be called. So he was the son of all his father’s hope of posterity, yet his expectation hereof, and of the accomplishment of God’s promise (given to relieve him, when his mouth was out of taste with all His other mercies), as victory (Genesis 14:1-24.), protection and provision (Genesis 15:1): he could take no joy in his former conquest or present promise, because childless (Genesis 5:2)--must by this means be cut off in the offering up of Isaac.
5. But the greatest conflict of all was, that the Messiah was promised to come of Isaac, and so the salvation of the world did seem to perish with Isaac’s perishing.
Notwithstanding all these difficulties, Abraham acts his part of obedience--
1. With all alacrity and readiness to obey, he rose up early (Genesis 22:3), making no dilatory work about it. Thus David did, saying, I made haste, and delayed not (Psalms 119:60).
2. The constancy and continuance of this his ready obedience it is a wonder how his heart was kept in such an obedient frame for three days together, all the time of his travelling from Beersheba to Mount Moriah.
3. Abraham’s prudence in leaving his servants and the ass at the foot of the hill (Genesis 22:5).
4. Abraham’s confidence herein.
(1) Speaking prophetically, we will both of us come again to God Genesis 22:5), and
(2) God will provide Himself a lamb (Genesis 22:8). Abraham believed to receive his son again from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Yet this cannot be the genuine sense. As Abraham did, so every child of Abraham ought to evidence their fear and love to God (Genesis 22:12). (C. Ness.)
Trial of Abraham
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.
1. 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 implied the taking away of life, yet it did not imply anything of the nature of murder.
2. 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.
3. 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.
II. WHETHER ABRAHAM COULD KNOW THAT THIS COMMAND CAME FROM GOD. Now it must be granted by 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 everything 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. 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.
III. WHY GOD COMMANDED ABRAHAM TO SACRIFICE HIS SON.
1. 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.
2. God meant, by the command in the text, to try or prove whether Abraham loved Him sincerely and supremely.
IV. WHETHER THIS COMMAND TO ABRAHAM ANSWERED THE END WHICH GOD PROPOSED IN GIVING IT. And we find that Abraham did actually and punctually obey both the letter and spirit of the command; by which he gave an infallible evidence that he loved God sincerely and supremely.
1. He obeyed, in contrariety to all the natural feelings and affections of the human heart.
2. The cheerfulness and promptitude with which he obeyed the Divine command increase the evidence of the sincerity and supremacy of his love to God.
3. His obedience to the command to sacrifice his son was obedience to the mere will of God; which renders it, in the highest possible degree, evidential of his real and supreme love to Him.
1. It appears from Abraham’s ready obedience to the command in the text, that those who are willing to obey God, can very easily understand the real meaning of his commands.
2. Did Abraham exhibit the highest evidence of his sincere and supreme love to God, by obedience to His command? Then we learn that this is the only way for all good men to exhibit the highest evidence of their sincere and supreme love to God.
3. It appears from the obedience of Abraham to the Divine command, that all true obedience to God flows from pure disinterested love to Him.
4. It appears from God’s design in giving the command in the text, and from the effects of it, that Christians have no reason to think it strange concerning the fiery trials which they are called to endure. God has a good design in all their trials. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
1. This trial is wholly unexpected. For several years the patriarch has been the recipient of great and uninterrupted prosperity. Instead of going through the bleak and barren desert he has been walking in the garden, which is smiling with the flowers of richness, fertility, and hope. How speedily may the heart be bereft of all joy and filled with poignant sorrow!
2. This trial is wholly unprecedented. Abraham is not a foreigner to suffering. He had been separated from his country and friends at the age of seventy-five. He had been driven by famine from the land of promise into a distant country. The companion of his youth and the affectionate partner of all his fortunes had been forced from him again and again. You may say, “I am the man that hath seen and felt affliction;” yet sterner calamities may be coming upon you than any you have ever experienced.
3. This trial is an assault upon the object which the patriarch loves and values most. He loves and values his son Ishmael. He loves and values his wife Sarah. He loves and values his own life. Isaac, however, is the son of promise, the root from which the final blossom is to be the Messiah, and on this account he must love and value him most of all. To slay him with his own hand, this is the climax of trial to Abraham--it cannot ascend higher. A man can only have one such trial in his lifetime. But if no such surrender has been demanded from us; then our trials have been only secondary. They have scattered a few blossoms, and swept away a little fruit, but they have not touched the root; the tree remains as healthy and vigorous as ever. Let us not heave one rebellious sigh, lest, instead of the wind, the whirlwind should come to us in all its terrific fury. (A. McAuslane, D. D.)
Trial of Abraham’s faith
I. The AUTHOR of the trial (Genesis 22:1). What has God to do with my trials? is the first question which wisdom always asks. When that is settled, we know where we are and what to do.
II. The NATURE of the trial (Genesis 22:2). It was no ordinary requirement. Any father’s heart would sink within him at such a command. The history of the future of which hope had dreamed was a fable. The book of life was to be closed when nothing but the title-page had been written.
III. The PROGRESS of the trial (Genesis 22:3-10). It was not one downright blow of trouble, but protracted trial. Days came and went, and found it unconcluded. Good men never graduate from trouble. Christian life itself, in one view, is trial--an escaping from old conditions, a breaking of fetters, a climbing to higher levels--all accomplished with pain and cost. Life is a race for life. Life is a battle for life. And so likewise its incidental troubles have a self-perpetuating power. Long after the gale has gone down the ocean keeps its restlessness, and under the serenest sky the after-surge of the storm moans upon the beach. It is so in human life. The shock of sorrow comes and passes, but the soul is not at rest. The old grief comes back in thought and dreams, and life can never again be what it was.
IV. The ENDING of the trial (Genesis 22:11-14). The long agony was over, and the issue was all the sweeter for the bitterness which had preceded it. Accepting this story of Abraham’s trial as a type of human life, we find certain practical truths emphasized.
1. Men make mistakes in their judgment of experience. What they think the best, may be the worst possible for them; what they think the worst, may be the best. Humanly judging, the command to sacrifice Isaac was the end of Abraham’s hopes; in fact, it was the beginning of his prosperity. It is so always. God plans behind and works through a cloud, but always for the best.
2. Clearly, also, in the practical conduct of life, faith is superior to reason. We can trust, and are wise in trusting for some things which can never be argued.
3. In our dealings with God, obedience is safety. Men are not to stop to calculate chances, nor wait until they think they see their way clear. Whatever God appoints is to be undertaken at once and without question. Men ruin themselves sometimes with what they call their prudence. There is no prudence in anything that limits exact obedience to the Divine requirements. (E. S. Atwood.)
The trial of Abraham’s faith
I. IT WAS A TRIAL FOR WHICH ABRAHAM HAD BEEN CAREFULLY PREPARED.
1. By his spiritual history.
2. By a life of trial.
II. IT WAS A TRIAL OF REMARKABLE SEVERITY.
1. The violence done to his natural feelings.
2. The violence done to his feelings as a religious man.
III. THIS TRIAL WAS ENDURED IN THE SPIRIT OF AN EXTRAORDINARY FAITH. His obedience was--
3. Marked by humility.
4. Inspired by trust in a personal God.
IV. GOD REWARDED HIS FAITHFUL ENDURANCE OF THE TRIAL.
1. By taking the will for the deed.
2. By renewing His promises.
3. By turning the occasion of the trial into a revelation of the day of Christ.
(1) He sees represented the sacrifice of the only-begotten and well-beloved Son of God.
(2) There is suggested to him the idea of substitution.
(3) The resurrection of Christ and His return to glory are also represented.
1. That the most distinguished of God’s servants are often subjected to the greatest trials.
2. That trials test the strength and spirituality of our faith.
3. That trials well endured set spiritual truths in a clearer and more affecting light. (T. H. Leale.)
Abraham offering Isaac
The crowning test of Abraham’s life, in which all preceding trials culminated. The greatness of the test appears in the exceptional character of the demand. It appeared as a direct contradiction of God’s promise. Abraham’s obedience was--
1. Prompt. The command came in the night. Early next morning, Abraham “rose up . . . and took . . . Isaac,” &c.
2. Persistent. He had the sustaining force which enabled him to maintain his purpose unwaveringly during the period of suspense between the command and the full obedience to it.
3. Perfect. He accepted the command as meaning the unreserved and unconditional offering up of Isaac, with the faith that God would say “enough” when the obedience came up to the measure of the demand. When that would be, it was for God, not Abraham, to decide. It was for him to obey; and he did obey. When he lifted up the knife, the sacrifice was complete. Isaac bad already been sacrificed upon the altar of a father’s heart. All the agony of giving up had been endured. Only the tragedy, and not the real sacrifice was prevented. (D. Davies.)
I. THE DIFFICULTY AND ITS EXPLANATION. God seems to have required of Abraham what was wrong. He seems to have sanctioned human sacrifice. My reply is--
1. God did not require it. You must take the history as a whole, the conclusion as well as the commencement. The sacrifice of Isaac was commanded at first, and forbidden at the end. Had it ended in Abraham’s accomplishing the sacrifice, I know not what could have been said; it would have left on the page of Scripture a dark and painful blot. My reply to God’s seeming to require human sacrifice is the conclusion of the chapter. God says, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad.” This is the final decree. Thus human sacrifices were distinctly forbidden. He really required the surrender of the father’s will. He seemed to demand the sacrifice of life.
2. But further still. God did not demand what was wrong. It did not seem wrong to Abraham. It is not enough defence to say God did not command wrong. Had God seemed to command wrong, the difficulty would be as great. Abraham’s faith would then have consisted in doing wrong for the sake of God. Now it did not. Abraham lived in a country where human sacrifices are common; he lived in a day when a father’s power over a son’s life was absolute. He was familiar with the idea; and just as familiarity with slavery makes it seem less horrible, so familiarity with this as an established and conscientious mode of worshipping God removed from Abraham much of the horror we should feel.
II. THE NATURE OF THE TRIAL.
1. We remark, first, this trial was made under aggravated circumstances. The words in which God’s command was couched were those of accumulated keenness. To subdue the father in the heart, that a Roman has done, and calmly signed his son’s death-warrant; but to subdue it, not with Roman hardness, but with deep trust in God and faith in His providence, saying, It is not hate but love that requires this--this was the nobleness, this the fierce difficulty of Abraham’s sacrifice; this it was which raised him above the Roman hero.
2. We remark, secondly, Abraham was to do this; his son was to die by his own hand, not by a delegate. He was to preclude escape. We do our sacrifices in a cowardly way; we leave loopholes for escape. We do not with our own hand, at His call, cut asunder the dearest ties. We do not immediately take the path of duty, but wait till we are forced into it; always delaying in the hope that some accident may occur which will make it impossible. Them conscience says, with a terrible voice: “You must do it and with your own hand. The knife must be sharp and the blow true. Your own heart must be the sacrifice, and your own hand the priest. It must not be a sacrifice made for you by circumstances.”
III. HOW THE TRIAL WAS MET.
1. Without ostentation.
2. Abraham was in earnest.
If you make a sacrifice, expecting that God will return you your Isaac, that is a sham sacrifice, not a real one. Therefore, if you make sacrifices, let them be real. You will have an infinite gain: yes; but it must be done with an earnest heart, expecting nothing in return. There are times, too, when what you give to God will never be repaid in kind. Isaac is not always restored; but it will be repaid by love, truth, and kindness. God will take you at your word. He says, “Do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return.” Lessons:
1. The Christian sacrifice is the surrender of will.
2. For a true sacrifice, there must be real love.
3. We must not seek for sacrifices.
You need make no wild, romantic efforts to find occasions. Plenty will occur by God’s appointment, and better than if devised by you. Every hour and moment our will may yield as Abraham’s did, quietly, manfully, unseen by all but God. These are the sacrifices which God approves. This is what Abraham meant when he said “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The greatest trial of all
Satan tempts us that he may bring out the evil that is in our hearts; God tries or tests us that He may bring out all the good. The common incidents of daily life, as well as the rare and exceptional crises, are so contrived as to give us incessant opportunities of exercising, and so strengthening, the graces of Christian living.
I. GOD SENDS US NO TRIAL, WHETHER GREAT OR SMALL, WITHOUT FIRST PREPARING US.
II. GOD OFTEN PREPARED US FOR COMING TRIAL BY GIVING US SON, IN NEW AND BLISSFUL REVELATION OF HIMSELF.
III. THE TRIAL CAME VERY SUDDENLY.
IV. THE TRIAL TOUCHED ABRAHAM IN HIS TENDEREST POINT.
V. IT WAS ALSO A GREAT TEST OF HIS FAITH.
VI. IT WAS A TEST OF HIS OBEDIENCE.
VII. THIS TEST DID NOT OUTRAGE ANY OF THE NATURAL INSTINCTS OF HIS SOUL. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Faith tested and crowned
A life of faith and self-denial has usually its sharpest trials at or near its beginning. The stormy day has generally a calm close. But Abraham’s sorest discipline came all sudden, like a bolt from blue sky. Near the end, and after many years of peaceful, uneventful life, he had to take a yet higher degree in the school of faith. Sharp trial means increased possession of God. So his last terrible experience turned to his crowning mercy.
I. THE VERY FIRST WORDS OF THIS SOLEMN NARRATIVE RAISE MANY QUESTIONS. We have God appointing the awful trial. The Revised Version properly replaces “tempt” by “prove.” The former word conveys the idea of appealing to the worst part of a man, with the wish that he may yield and do the wrong. The latter means an appeal to the better part of a man, with the desire that he should stand. God’s proving does not mean that He stands by, watching how His child will behave. He helps us to sustain the trial to which He subjects us. Life is all probation; and because it is so, it is all the field for the Divine aid. The motive of His proving men is that they may be strengthened. He puts us into His gymnasium to improve our physique. If we stand the trial, our faith is increased; if we fall, we learn self-distrust and closer clinging to Him. No objection can be raised to the representation of this passage as to God’s proving Abraham which does not equally apply to the whole structure of life as a place of probation that it may be a place of blessing. But the manner of the trial here presents a difficulty. How could God command a father to kill his son? Is that in accordance with his character? Well, two considerations deserve attention. First, the final issue; namely, Isaac’s deliverance was an integral part of the Divine purpose, from the beginning of the trial; so that the question really is, Was it accordant with the Divine character to require readiness to sacrifice even a son at His command? Second, that in Abraham’s time, a father’s right over his child’s life was unquestioned, and that therefore this command, though it lacerated Abraham’s heart, did not wound his conscience as it would do were it heard to-day.
II. THE GREAT BODY OF THE STORY SETS BEFORE US ABRAHAM STANDING THE TERRIBLE TEST. What unsurpassable beauty is in the simple story! It is remarkable, even among the Scriptural narratives, for the entire absence of anything but the visible facts. There is not a syllable about the feelings of father or of son. The silence is more pathetic than many words. We look as into a magic crystal, and see the very event before our eyes, and our own imaginations tell us more of the world of struggle and sorrow raging under that calm outside than the highest art could do. The pathos of reticence was never more perfectly illustrated. Observe, too, the minute, prolonged details of the slow progress to the dread instant of sacrifice. Each step is told in precisely the same manner, and the series of short clauses, coupled together by an artless “and,” are like the single stroke of a passing bell, or the slow drops of blood heard falling from a fatal wound. The elements of the trial were too: First, Abraham’s soul was torn asunder by the conflict of fatherly love and obedience. The friend of God must hold all other love as less than His, and must be ready to yield up the dearest at His bidding. Cruel as the necessity seems to flesh and blood, and especially poignant as his pain was, in essence Abraham’s trial only required of him what all true religion requires of us. Some of us have been called by God’s providence to give up the light of our eyes, the joy of our homes, to Him. Some of us have had to make the choice between earthly and heavenly love. All of us have to throne God in our hearts, and to let not the dearest usurp His place. The conflict in Abraham’s soul had a still more painful aspect in that it seemed to rend his very religion into two. Faith in the promise on which he had been living all his life drew one way; faith in the latter command, another. God seemed to be against God, faith against faith, promise against command. We, too, have sometimes to take courses which seem to annihilate the hope and aims of a life. The lesson for us is to go straight on the path of clear duty wherever it leads. If it seems to bring us up to inaccessible cliffs, we may be sure that when we get there we shall find some ledge, though it may be no broader than a chamois could tread, which will suffice for a path. If it seem to bring us to a deep and bridgeless stream, we shall find a ford when we get to the water’s edge.
III. So WE HAVE THE CLIMAX OF THE STORY--FAITH REWARDED.
1. The first great lesson which the interposition of the Divine voice teaches us, that obedience is complete when the inward surrender is complete. The will is the man, the true action is the submission of the will. The outward deed is only the coarse medium through which it is made visible for men. God looks on purpose as performance.
2. Again, faith is rewarded by God’s acceptance and approval. “I know that thou fearest God.” Not meaning that he learned the heart by the conduct, but that on occasion of the conduct He breathes into the obedient heart that calm consciousness of its service as recognized and accepted by Him, which is the highest reward that his friend can know.
3. Again faith is rewarded by a deeper insight into God’s word. That ram, caught in the thicket, thorn-crowned and substituted for the human victim, taught Abraham and his sons that God appointed and provided a lamb for an offering. It was a lesson won by faith, Nor need we hesitate to see some dim forecast of the great substitute God provided, who bears the sins of the world.
4. Again, faith is rewarded by receiving back the surrendered blessing, made more precious because it has been laid on the altar.
5. Lastly, Abraham was rewarded by being made a faint adumbration, for all time, of the yet more wondrous and awful love of the Divine Father, who, for our sakes, has surrendered His only-begotten Son, whom He loved. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The temptation of Abraham
1. Trials increase with time.
2. There is a gradation in service, and the trial is in proportion to the rank.
3. God’s servants are tested most severely at their strongest point.
4. In proportion to the uses to be made of a thing, so is it tested.
5. In the Bible history individual virtues are tried in turn.
I. GOD TESTED ABRAHAM’S POWER OF SIMPLE OBEDIENCE.
II. GOD TESTS THE POWER OF PERFECT SURRENDER.
III. IN ALL GOD’S DEALINGS WITH MEN THERE IS A REVELATION, AND THE GREAT TRUTH UNFOLDED AT THE CROSS IS HERE IN GERM AND SEED. (Anon.)
Abraham’s great trial
1. No narrative in Scripture more solemn and affecting, more graphic in its delineation, than this.
2. Profound instruction here as to the power and reward of faith.
I. THE TIME AT WHICH THE TRIAL CAME. “After these things”--after all his rich and ripe experience, after all that be had done and suffered, after all that he had gained and lost, in his repeated trials, after all Divine promises and Divine manifestations. There is no guarantee that our worst trials are over, till we have sighed out our spirits upon the bosom of our great Father.
II. THE NATURE OF THE TRIAL ITSELF. What could be a greater contradiction than this, that the child in whose seed mankind was to be blessed, was now to be slain? Only let us yield implicit obedience to Divine commands, and contradictions will explain themselves; the mysteries of providence, of life and death, shall all be unfolded; for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.”
III. THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH THE TRIAL OCCURRED. It was the final and grand development of the patriarch’s faith; that was the end sought and attained. Not the sacrifice of Isaac, but of Abraham himself. When this was complete, it was enough (Homilist.)
I. THE TRIAL.
1. An unexpected trial.
2. A trial between the present and the future.
3. A trial without any precedent.
4. A trial between man and God.
II. THE VICTORY.
1. A victory after a long struggle.
2. A complete victory over self.
3. A victory revealing the trust God had placed in him.
4. A victory which obtained fresh tokens of the Divine love.
1. That a religion without sacrifice is worthless to us.
2. The shadow directs our attention to the reality--the Saviour’s Cross. (Homilist.)
I. THE TESTING OF FAITH.
II. GOD’S MANIFEST APPROVAL OF PERFECT FAITH.
1. God manifests His approval by abstracting the pain consequent on obedience to the command.
2. God manifests His approval by providing a sacrifice which shall be at once vicarious and a thank-offering.
3. God repeats His promise of blessing, and confirms it by a solemn covenant. (F. Hastings.)
I. HE SACRIFICED HIS OWN REASON. No argument. Simply faith.
II. HE SACRIFICED HIS OWN AMBITIOUS DESIRES. His only son was to be slain.
III. HE SACRIFICED NATURAL AFFECTION. TO murder an only child in cold blood required a strong nerve and a wondrous fixedness of purpose.
IV. HE SACRIFICED HIS OWN GOOD REPORT. Was willing to be branded as a murderer, for the sake of winning the approval of God. (Homilist.)
Faith’s trial; or, Abraham’s example practically applied
I. THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL. Example is an invariable element in every man’s education. More or less he is sure to be shaped by it.
II. ABRAHAM’S EXAMPLE ATTAINABLE. Abraham is a favourite subject for the artist’s pencil. But in most of the paintings we behold a figure erect and commanding, his countenance ploughed with stern lines of determination, an eye which makes resistance quail and tremble, and features which display a natural decision of character capable of pursuing its object at any cost. You would think love an easy sacrifice for such a being; you would say at the very first glance, “I could tell beforehand that man would give up his all to accomplish his purpose; I can understand his offer of Isaac.” I recollect seeing a painting the very opposite of all this. Before me stood the Patriarch, a decrepid and weak old man; he had lost his stature, for years had bent him down; there was a shrinking back from the deed, a rebellion in every joint; his face harrowed with grief, wearing an expression of intense agony, and evidently appalled by the act it was contemplating; his arm half lifted up, and apparently questioning whether he should do the deed or not. My first impression was, “It is wrong, utterly wrong.” And yet there was something on that canvas which kept me gazing, and at last altered my opinion entirely. There was a certain speech about the uplifted eye which you could not mistake; there was a peculiar and inexplicable expression overshadowing the agony of feature; there was a heavenly something about the countenance which told you that, after all, the deed would be done, and that the struggles you saw were but the weakness of man contending in unequal and unavailing effort with the might of the Spirit. The man would evidently draw back, but the God would as evidently triumph. Human power was all directed to avoid the sacrifice; but heavenly power--God working in that refractory heart to will and to do of His good pleasure--would certainly consummate the offering. That painting was a faithful likeness. I recognized Abraham. The Patriarch was not by nature a firm man; much less was he a stern man of cold heart. There are facts of his previous life which prove him to have been originally of a somewhat shrinking and cowardly disposition. We look in vain for moral firmness in the case of Sarah’s sojourn in Egypt. He resorted to a falsehood as a safeguard against his fears lest strangers should slay him to obtain his wife; and notwithstanding he saw the evil and mischief resulting from this deception, he again practised it on Abimelech with the same purpose. His domestic life altogether indicates a pliant and yielding disposition. The short narration of Sarah’s imperious and overbearing conduct in Ishmael’s case (Genesis 13:8-10) is very significant. The division of land with Lot goes to prove the same point; there is no stern demand of strict justice; he does not insist upon his due; he does not even award the nephew his portion of territory; but he gives up his right of adjudication, which he possessed by seniority and patriarchal title, and meekly does he allow his younger relative to select his own land and pasturage. Even in his prayer for Sodom, there evidently is seen the pitying and earnest, yet fearful and undecided suppliant: he does not sternly leave the city to its doom; he does not put forth one general supplication for mercy; but the ground of his petition is moved and shifted in a way, which, to say the least, is not the act of a firm unyielding nature. Yet if these proofs do not establish the contrary of constitutional boldness, there is at least no proof of its existence; there is nothing to indicate that the parent’s sacrifice had any sort of origin or support in natural disposition. We know that one who was weak in bodily presence, and in speech contemptible, was chosen out of the rest as the very chiefest of the apostles; and the probability is that one of the most infirm and naturally unlikely of all the Patriarchs was made strong out of weakness, and distinguished above many physical and mental Samsons, as a Father in grace. We are apt to consider such examples far above, out of our reach. We reckon them as giants from the womb, instead of giants by grace. We attribute to them natural powers which we have not. In fact we treat them as superhuman beings of a different race, and moving in a different sphere, But though the power provided is amply sufficient to enable us to emulate the faith of Abraham, yet you object, that you will not have the same scope for the exercise of that power; your circumstances are different; you are never likely to be commanded to take a son of special promise and slay him as a sacrifice to God. True, the deed is great, and probably, as a single act, it stands and will stand alone and unequalled; but there is often, as it were, a congeries of trials, which may even surpass, in its sum total, the amount of suffering which Abraham endured. A long succession of lesser sacrifices, following one on the heels of another, and keeping you in a state of constant depression for years, may call for more than the strength of faith required for Isaac’s sacrifice. Sustained labour--sorrow scattered over a large surface--is far more difficult to bear than any crushing but momentary load. A strong man may easily walk twenty-four miles a day for a fortnight together; but break up this distance, and distribute it over the entire day and night; compel him to walk half a mile in each half hour. The distance is the same, but the effect is altogether different. The harassed traveller cannot bear this unceasing drain on his strength; he has no unbroken rest, no time for nature to recruit before her energies are again taxed; and often has such an attempt ended in almost fatal exhaustion. There is an analogy between body and soul; a number of little trials are more than equal to a great one; like the half mile to each half hour, they keep the moral bow continually strained and bent, and thus tend to destroy its elasticity. You may kill a man with drops of water as well as by immersing him in a flood.
III. THE NATURE OF FAITH’S TRIAL. God tries men; Satan tempts them. God sits as a refiner of silver, to purify it; Satan as a base coiner, to alloy it.
Both often use fire; but the fire of heaven burns out the dross, whilst the fire of hell amalgamates more and more base metal with the lump. The two operations are diametrically opposed, though the means are often the same. God sits as a refiner of His people; His object is to purify and not to punish; and hence our surest escape from sorrow is not to struggle against the sorrow itself, but against the sin which demanded it. But since God alone gives trial efficacy, why cannot He give the efficacy without the trial? of what use is trial? how does God employ it? Some speak of the believer’s trial as though it were a means employed by God, for His own information, to find out the qualities of our heart and the strength of our faith. But the Lord knows such facts without trial. Our Creator is not a mere spiritual experimentalist, who needs a long course of practical tests before He can arrive at the truth. His science is not inductive, but intuitive. A mere volition on His part is more searching than the most careful analysis of the chemist, or all the combination, separation, and comparison of the philosopher. A look of God can resolve the intricate mesh-work of the human heart into single strands, and make every spiritual pulse as apparent as though it were the heaving of a volcano. The Lord “knoweth our flame “--every part as well as all--every weakness as well as every faculty; andeven the unconceived thought--the “thought afar off “--is understood by Him. It is not necessary, then, that we should be put to the proof, in order that God may estimate our amount of faith and love; neither is it needful for our Maker to try our strength by actually piling burdens upon our shoulders, for He can tell to the very grain what we can bear, and what will crush us. The promise that He “will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to bear,” clearly implies a previous knowledge of the extent of our ability, Yes! God can weigh in the delicate balances of His Omniscience every power, bodily, mentally, or spiritual; a mere glance reveals to Him every weakness of our soul; and therefore trial is not intended to usurp the province of Omniscience, or to teach that which the Lord knows without teaching. Why, then, does God try His people? How does He employ trial? He aims, not at a knowledge of their condition, but at development of it. His object is to open out to your own eye the book of your heart, to display before you the letters which He Himself has already seen, and to pour such a light upon them that their true meaning and character may be understood by you. The frequent aim of sorrow is to “show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” At other times trial is sent, not so much to point out actual sin, as to expose some internal weakness--some latent tendency to evil. There is a flaw in the metal, and since it has escaped your notice, God puts the lump in the proof-house, and that flaw is soon made visible--David’s impure affections, and Peter’s “fear of man,” were thus brought to the light. Or, perhaps, there is some muscle of the soul shrunken for the want of use--some talent buried and wrapt in a napkin--and temptation is to us as a gymnasium, strengthening that which was weak by athletic exercise, and gradually developing that “which was attenuated even to deformity, until the might of the Spirit has by trial so completely matured our strength that the babe in Christ stands forth in all the gnarled muscle and staining sinew of spiritual manhood.
IV. THE REALITY OF TRIAL. Abraham’s offer of Isaac was not “a solemn farce,” as a scoffer has said; but it was a real sacrifice--real, as God who searches the heart counts reality. The father’s entire plan bears the impress of a fixed conviction that Isaac must die, and die by his parent’s hands. There are many who can behave most heroically with trial in the far and uncertain distance. So long as self-denials and sacrifices are indefinitely shadowed in the dim future, so long as they are problematical, who so ready as these pseudo-Abrahams to meet them! There have been sad instances of this spiritual dealing in promissory notes, given under the impression that no call for the money would ever be made, and that men may live, and satisfy both their neighbours and themselves, on the credit of this mere paper sacrifice. God does not require from us loud assertions of what we would do under circumstances which we never expect to occur; He does not desire us to tell the world how unflinchingly we would bear the tortures of persecution, and die in the flames for the sake of Christ; but He requires some practical and real proof of our obedience. Conditional faith is very easy; gifts ungiven do not cost much; zeal, without a field for work, is readily kindled; but the true proof that you possess the spirit of Abraham is this--are you ready in act or deed to give up this or that jewel as he gave up Isaac? Are you willing to surrender any possession, or endure any suffering, in the full belief that God will ask and receive it from you?
V. FAITH TRIED BY DUBIOUS OR CONFLICTING COMMANDS.
VI. FAITH TRIED BY A CONFLICTING PROMISE AND COMMAND. The command to slay Isaac seemed to be given in the very face of previous promise. On Isaac was the covenanted future of Abraham built. “But My covenant will I establish with Isaac.” What a strange and mysterious contradiction! Here is the forefather of the Redeemer--the boy from whom Christ is hereafter to be born; and he is to die as a sacrificial lamb--a burnt-offering--a type of Christ. As though God with one fell blow would destroy the hope of Israel, and in the very act of destruction mock His servant with the sign He had established as a guarantee that the hope would be fulfilled. It was like using the earnest of our inheritance to sweep away and devastate our inheritance itself. It was like employing the seal of the covenant as an instrument wherewith to cancel the covenant itself. This alone was a fearful trial of faith. And can our circumstances ever resemble these? We believe they can, and often do. God may have placed you in a position of great spiritual peril. Your soul seems to be endangered. He has promised to save you, and yet has surrounded you with such a complication of snares and dangers, that salvation appears impossible. Cares “like a wild deluge “ sweep over you; your business is all-engrossing; it demands your closest attention; it calls you early from your bed, and only allows you to retire when it has thoroughly drained the energies of mind and body; your family is increasing around you; you dare not slacken your labours; starvation or this drudgery lies before you. Now such a case appears to be utterly incompatible with the growth of piety; it seems a fiat contradiction of the promise, “Peace I leave with you.” Yet it is clear that God has put a necessity upon you to remain in this employment; He has so contrived circumstances that you cannot escape without violating duties on all hands. If you abandon your calling, then a much worse condition threatens. You dare not lay down and die; this were suicide, and if you have lives depending on you, it were murder too. If your employment were in itself wrong and immoral, then it would be different; in such a case God calls you out, and at all risks, even though you had a thousand Isaacs to leave, you must go. But as it is, your occupation is right in itself, yet owing to your own weakness and infirmities, it has an influence, as all business has, to draw your soul from Christ, and plunge it in a sea of anxieties. Your companions also may be among those spiritual fools who say in their hearts there is no God, and laugh at your scruples. You cannot rid yourself of them; they may be employed by your master; or they may be a part of your necessary stock-in-trade; at all events, for some reason or other, escape from their society may be as impossible as giving up your calling altogether. Or perhaps your very family may be profane; the father who begat you may look coldly on you as a saint; your piety may wean you even from a mother’s heart; for Christ’s sake you must remain like a leper in your family--alone, and when not alone, still worse--a butt for mockery, or a thing to be loathed. And all these grievous spiritual stumbling-blocks, or some of them, or other which we have not named, may stand in your way to heaven, and there is no possible turning by which you may rightly avoid them. In fact, to stay or to go seems fraught with your soul’s peril. How then can you be saved? Now such a position may appear hostile to your soul’s welfare; it may seem like handing you over to the wiles and power of Satan; it may wear the aspect of imminent peril; but if only you go on your way as Abraham journeyed with the doomed Isaac to Moriah, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, you will eventually find that this road right through the enemy’s camp was really your safest road after all; your mind and your habits may be so formed, that nothing but constant “fightings without” keep up the necessary fightings within; like many a soldier after the flesh, you may not be fit for peace service; the luxuries of repose may prove more fatal to you than the enemy’s whole park of artillery; so that war is actually your safest occupation; resisting strong temptations may be the securest employment for you. Or perhaps God has some work for you to perform in the world’s heart--some poor half-wrecked bark to draw out of the whirling sucking vortex--some soul to be converted from the error of his ways, and to shine at last as your joy and crown of rejoicing before the presence of Christ. At all events, you may be quite sure that though every possible spiritual danger were accumulated round you, yet is that position nought but a master-piece of strategy, planned by the Captain of your salvation for your safety. Only trust in the Lord’s wisdom, and lean upon His strength, and the very spear of the foe shall be your defence, warding off some more dangerous and unseen weapon; the sharp bosses of the world’s buckler shall be the steel on which you sharpen your own sword; the number of your enemies shall be but an index of your imparted graces; the fierceness of the fight shall only predicate the splendour of your triumph and the brightness of your everlasting crown.
VII. FAITH SACRIFICING AFFECTION. The heart of the Patriarch was the primary point of assault in his trial of faith. The flocks of the Patriarch were not asked. It had been a great sacrifice to give up those large possessions of which we are told, some years previously to Isaac’s offer, that “Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” But though the command left them untouched, what would they be when the heir was gone? And Isaac was now Abraham’s only son. Ishmael was gone--gone at God’s command (Genesis 21:13). And how painfully must the dear boy’s name have struck on the father’s ear, when he was told to take “thine only ISAAC”--“thy Laughter!” Oh! God touched more than one sensitive cord of Abraham’s heart when He said, “Take Isaac.” It told the father of that ungrateful mockery with which he heard the promise of a son pronounced; it told him how a forgiving God had pardoned the offence, and turned the laughter of mockery into the laughter of joy; it told him of the many years he had spent with this Isaac--this “Laughter”--to wipe away his tears and wreath sorrow itself into smiles. And now he is to take this Isaac--and God, when He dooms the son to death, and the father to kill him, calls him “Thine only Laughter.” And then to complete this array of the son’s claims on his father’s heart, the Lord terms him thy son, “whom thou lovest “--as though there were any occasion to tell Abraham that. The reason of all this is obvious; it was to make manifest the Divine purpose; it was to say in plain language, “Lovest thou Me more than these?” God is not contented if you only give Him what you can easily spare; He will not be satisfied with a mere secondary treasure; but often He demands your chief delight, and bids you surrender the most precious thing you have. There is to be no reserve--no treasure kept back--no bidding God to take anything except that. There are many ways in which your faith is thus tried, and your love is called to give up its treasures. True, you are not told to offer up an Isaac on the altar; but there are other things which are “Isaacs” to you, and which God requires you to surrender; the” great possessions” were the young ruler’s Isaac, pharisaism was that of Paul, and expected worldly greatness was that of all the apostles who followed Christ in the days of His flesh. Everything dear to us, whether within or without, may be our Isaac; and oftentimes we find that the most hidden of our idols is our dearest. What can be dearer to you than your own will--that inbred desire to walk where you list, do as you like, and live for yourself? it is your nature; it is like the instinctive love of life; it is that for which the carnal man craves. And God invariably says with respect to this Isaac; “Take him, dear though he be, and offer him up in a place that I will show thee”--that place is Calvary. But frequently this cherished will assumes some more special form; it appears as some particular disposition or tendency of nature; there is some pleasure in which your tastes lead you to indulge, some unholy employment which mere avarice induces you to continue, some bad companion whose image has crept into your heart. Or it may be that some object, good in itself, stands between you and your God--between your love and your duty. And this trial is often heightened by God’s selecting a particular mode of giving, as well as by His choosing a gift we prize. God not only demanded Isaac, but He also fixed upon the most trying process of surrender. “Give Me thy son, and offer him up.” Abraham knew what that meant. If Isaac had been sent, like Ishmael, into the wilderness, and there left to perish of thirst, still had it been a gift of the child to God. But a mere gift was not all which God demanded; the means of bestowment were as essential as the gift itself. Abraham must sacrifice Isaac like a mere sheep on the altar. How many pangs did that act require l Even the mere preparations demanded more than a martyr’s fortitude. Knife and fire! Just the two things from which affection most abhorrently recoils. So fearful in their operation! So violent in their work! So terrible for memory to dwell upon. It is related of an ancient painter that he once chose for his subject the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father, and over Agamemnon’s face he painted a veil, thus rendering the features invisible. The artist’s friends remonstrated on this singular omission. “You have obscured,” said they, “the chief personage in your group; you have concealed the father.” “Ah,” said the painter,” “I could not describe his features”; and so he thought the veil more significant than any impotent attempt to depict agony, which no canvas nor words can convey. We must adopt the same wise plan; silence is the best comment upon the anguish of Abraham; the heart alone can paint it. But, however painful the operation which God selects, we must adopt it; for to change the mode of sacrifice, or to murmur at it, is just as much a proof of deficient faith, as to withhold the object. Alas! This impatience of the Lord’s mode of trial is all but universal. We seem contented with submitting to the bare loss of some treasure, and appear to think this meagre submission entitles us to find fault with the way in which that loss befel us. The merchant does not pine under his ruin, but impatience overmasters him when he thinks of the fact that a son’s extravagance, or a friend’s treachery was the agency which God permitted; if only he had miscalculated his expenses, overrated his profits, or been defrauded by strangers, and thus being ruined, he could have submitted; at least he thinks he could. The parent loses his child; perhaps the stroke fell upon him with appalling suddenness, or the visitation was attended with severe pain, and long continued struggles with death; he fancied that he could have given up his boy in any other way without a murmur; if only time to say farewell had been granted, or if he had seen his darling sink into death as into a calm and painless sleep, he could have said, “Thy will be done”; but oh! that violent wrenching apart of soul and body, that pillow unwatched and unsoothed, that far distant grave unwatered by a tear, untold by an epitaph, or unadorned by a flower; these are the food on which a murmuring spirit feeds; these are the excuses to which want of submission clings. Or perhaps the sacrificed Isaac may be of quite a different kind; some privilege is taken away, some means of usefulness removed, and it is possible that all this may have been brought about by the authority of those dear to you; they care not for religion, they are taken up with business, they compel you, as far as possible, to relinquish what they call your weakness and absurdity, and since you will not go with them to the same excess of riot and worldliness, they throw every obstacle they can in the way of your progress; the taunt, the sneer, the profane jest, and the positive prohibition are all tried in turn; your heart is almost broken as it views such barriers reared by such hands. Oh l if the sword were to be the instrument which cut you and your privileges asunder; if a dungeon were to shut you out from your means of grace, instead of that parlour and that circle of loved hearts which like a chain surround you; if the edicts of some bloodthirsty ruler or some savage council were to utter your sentence of banishment from your means of grace, and not those words spoken by lips which have kissed you, and by tongues which have soothed you even as a babe, then you could bear your sad lot. All this is wrong; our faith is seriously defective; we have not learnt to say, “Thy will be done,” until we can give not only what the Lord wills, but as the Lord wills.
VIII. FAITH OPPOSITE AFFECTION. One half of the Patriarch’s sacrifice is frequently forgotten--men see the father surrendering the son, but they overlook the husband giving up the wife; they do not remember that the same weapon which slew the child would inevitably divide asunder the parents. Abraham was called to pierce one heart and break another; and the same blow would certainly do both. How could Sarah survive Isaac’s death stroke? The probability is that the command was purposely kept from her, lest she, who had imperiously sent Ishmael away against her husband’s wish, should now step in like a robbed lioness, snatching Isaac from his father’s hands, and thus preventing obedience. Besides, the account tells us that God’s purpose was to try Abraham--not Sarah--and therefore to him alone was the afflicting command given, and from him alone was this sacrifice of faith required. With Sarah in this state of unconsciousness, what a terrible awakening was before her! And supposing Isaac were at length given back, would Sarah’s love for Abraham recover from such a shock? Could she ever bear to be supported or fondled with that hand which had once been spotted with her Isaac’s blood? But in any case what a trial of the heart was here! We speak truth when we say that a large share of the Patriarch’s sacrifice consisted in opposing, as well as surrendering, his affections--in wounding Sarah as well as killing Isaac. God calls you frequently to thwart your heart, and to oppose things and persons you love. He does not always require you to give up the object; but He leaves it in your possession and bids you contend against it. It is not enough to resist love’s influence against God, nor will it suffice that it should lie passive and submissive beneath the Saviour’s power; but we must even strive to make it an active and influential agent in Christ’s work of winning souls. Love must not be drummed out of the regiment as a vagabond sin, but it must be disciplined into a “good soldier of Jesus Christ”--a recruiting sergeant for the Lord’s army. Love must turn preacher, and “persuade men.”
IX. FAITH DARING THE WORLD’S REPUTE. What will the servants of Abraham say? How will the Canaanite mock? Even if Isaac be restored, yet what will they say, should the bare purpose of that journey to Moriah ever transpire? And if the Patriarch should return alone; what then? What a difference between the Patriarch and many of us I He had reproaches awaiting him of such a character as to make the firmest man stagger--reproaches founded on principles which were true in the general way, and only false in his special case; and here are we hesitating at every step, however slight, wondering and fearing what this friend, or that neighbour, may say. “How strange it will seem” is our excuse for omitting many a duty, and perpetrating many a sin. I have but to quote to you half-a-dozen opinions against your obedience to God; I have but to show you that this or that act of discipleship will incur a laugh, or a sneer, or a curse, from your acquaintance, and you draw back; I have but to prove that open profession of Christ will be followed by your being cast out from some privileged “Synagogue of Satan,” and you timidly hide your Saviour, you content yourself with a hole-and-corner piety, your discipleship is only an invisible dress, you come to Jesus by night, the fear of man is your snare. Abraham must have expected to draw down upon himself the reproaches even of those who loved God; Melchisedec the priest, and Sarah the wife, and Eliezer the servant, would probably all unite in upbraiding him. And the name, too, how hard to hear--“Murderer!”
X. PROMPT FAITH. The difference between an excuse and a reason is, that the former is the offspring of desire, the latter is the result of judgment; one is forced into being by self-justification, the other is deliberately conceived by conviction; one is a mere invention, the other is a discovery. Now Abraham had no reason for delay; yet had he many possible excuses. Why not take some days or at least some hours to make his preparations for almost a week’s journey; food must be obtained, tents must be packed, wood must be hewn, and arrangements must be made for so long an absence. Affection might have lingered over a thousand so-called necessaries, and multiplied its preparations, in order to lengthen out the span of Isaac’s life. The youth himself must be allowed time to get ready; and, above all, Sarah’s mind must be prepared for his absence, or else what will she say to his sudden and mysterious journey? True, the servants may tell her, “He is gone to do sacrifice”; but will not her obvious answer be, “Why should he conceal such a deed from me? why should he so suddenly conceive such a purpose? why disappear like a thief in the night?” Surely the husband may spare her this woe I surely he may lull her suspicions by giving her a few days’ warning that he and Isaac are about to go and offer sacrifice in a place which God will show him, and thus reconcile her to the journey! The heart might easily have seized on any or all these excuses to prolong the son’s life, and defer the dreadful slaughter. And to facilitate this immediate obedience, we find the Patriarch using the most simple preparations, and actually sharing in the labour of making them. With servants in abundance, he yet saddles the ass with his own hands; he then takes Isaac and two young men, and the four cleave the wood--i.e., the dry fuel which it was necessary to carry with them in order to kindle the damp wood they might find near the place of sacrifice. A tardy and hesitating commencement of Christian duty is so utterly opposed to the spirit of the gospel that the bare existence of reluctance is a just cause for doubting the genuineness of our faith. One of the most hopeless forms which ungodliness takes is the pseudo-obedience of unbelief, and fear, and hesitation. Oh! there is a force in prompt obedience which completely baffles the enemy of souls; he has no time to manufacture snares; he has no opportunity of throwing down stumbling-blocks before you; but there you are in possession, so to speak, of the heights, and too firm and strongly entrenched for him to disturb your position. Promptitude is the very strategem Satan employs so successfully against us; he anticipates our obedience with his rebellious suggestions; he is throwing up barricades before us while we are questioning whether we will go forward or not. Alacrity is thus the very weapon specially adapted to foil him. History tells us that promptness and rapidity of movement were the keys to Napoleon’s most splendid victories; he no sooner conceived a plan of campaign than his whole army was in swift march to execute it; his adversary’s outposts, driven in by what appeared to them a mysterious and omnipresent antagonist--his artillery, flashing and booming from heights which the foe thought it useless and absurd to occupy--these were the couriers who made the first announcement of his approach to the enemy. At times this prompt appearance in the field served of itself to force the opposing army into a hasty and full retreat; and if this effect did not follow, then did the conqueror’s columns move with the same swiftness to the attack as they had shown on their march, and they fell upon the surprised and panic-struck foe as though they had been transformed into a literal “thunderbolt of war,” hurled by a second Mars. And why may not we use the same tactics in spiritual warfare with the same success?
XI. DELIBERATE FAITH. True diligence begins her work by earnest inquiry; she first looks, and then runs; she first prepares, and then sets out; neither is her course, when commenced, like an arrow from a bow--slower and slower, as she goes on, but it is like iron attracted towards a loadstone--faster and faster as she approaches it. She does not move like some showy ensign on a flagstaff--flapping and waving in all directions, yet always confined to one point--but like the sails of some gallant ship, she catches and keeps the wind, her canvas filled with the heavenly breeze, and pressing onwards towards port. She has an eagle’s eye and an eagle’s wing--looking and soaring to the sun--and not a swallow’s uncertain flight,now skimming the water, now gliding along the ground, now circling in the air, and yet never flying towards a given point. The desire of true diligence is, not motion, but motion towards an object; she runs, looking to Jesus; she presses to the mark. First of all, deliberation is needed to ascertain the fact and the genuineness of the Divine command; for until that is known, true faith can do nothing. Abraham was sure of this fact at once, but, as we have seen, it is different with us, and often much doubt surrounds the question. Diligence, therefore, begins by seeking Divine illumination; for no time is gained which is gained at the expense of God’s teaching--no time is wasted which is spent in supplication of the Spirit. Yet there must be no manufacture of doubts for the sake of waiting to have them removed; there must be no halting of unbelief after the Lord has uttered a reply quite clear and definite enough for a ready faith to hear, In fine, your questions must be like those of the child who has lost its way, and pants for home--not like those of the sluggard, who, when he is called, still lies rubbing his eyes, and asking a score of inquiries as to the time, and weather, and temperature, just to delay the act of rising, and, if possible, to discover an excuse for further sleep. And then, while this earnest and sincere inquiry of the Lord is going on, and we are learning what we knew not, a second purpose will be attained; we shall be strengthened as well as taught; the answer to our prayer for teaching will include might as well as instruction; the Lord will add power to knowledge; the Spirit will at the same time mark out our road, and prepare us for it. True obedience does the Lord’s will at the Lord’s time; it is neither before nor after; it is neither rash nor slow. But what has all this to do with Abraham’s example? he did not tarry, but set out almost immediately; two or three hours after the vision he was on his way. Yet, notwithstanding this early start, the deliberate character of the Patriarch’s faith was most thoroughly tested by the three days’ journey to Moriah . . . It had been comparatively., easy for him to leave his couch under the immediate influence of the vision, rouse Isaac from his bed, take him to some neighbouring hill, and there sacrifice him before the morning had dawned. But God required him to be a burning and shining light, and not a mere flashing meteor; He resolved to expose the flame to rough winds, and to sustain combustion, in order to give us an example of that holy fire kindled by the Spirit, which no wind can blow out, and no time can burn out. At first the full extent of Isaac’s loss might not present itself to Abraham’s mind. He was probably carried beyond himself by the abundance of the revelation given unto him. The first excitement of the Lord’s sudden appearance to him was cooled down; his obedience was clearly not the result of entrancement; he could stand, as it were, calmly in God’s presence for three long days, holding Isaac in his extended and untired arms for the Lord to take him when He chose. And then this period of suspense served not only to try the real and enduring character of Abraham’s faith, but it also gave time for that necessary and painful work of counting the cost. In fact, he had time to estimate what the Lord’s will really was in all its extent and consequences, and thus to obey God with his eyes open. The Saviour is not contented that He should know the value of what He asks; we must know it too. Christ will have an intelligent surrender of all you have. You must reckon what you give to Him, not with a purse-proud spirit, but with the steady purpose of a man who makes over all his property to another, and numbers up pounds, and fields, and houses, to see that nothing is wanting. Thus prepared by earnest inquiry, imparted grace, patience, and a foresight of sorrows, our obedience will not be that hybrid monster of a day, begotten from the adulterous union of so-called religion with excitement or fear; but it will be the calm, holy, long-lived offspring of the Spirit--obedience which can rise with the lark, and like a bird of passage on its migration, continue on the wing till the distant clime is reached--obedience so unchangeable, that even were it three years instead of three days, or three centuries instead of three years, still would God’s true servant bend his willing steps to the distant Moriah, and at last take the knife to consummate the act with as much holy strength of purpose as if he had rushed from the scene of the night vision to the place of sacrifice.
XII. FAITH CLEARING, THE WAY OF EXPECTED OBSTACLES. It is not enough to foresee a difficulty or to blunder onwards, encountering hindrances as they come, but, so far as we can, we must previously remove out of our path everything which may impede or stop us. Many obstacles are insurmountable and fatal when discovered after they are reached, and yet are mere trifles if seen and provided against at a distance. How easy for a general to dislodge the mere handful of enemies which lie in yonder wood in ambush; yet let him march his whole force past the ambuscade, and only take measures against it when his army is attacked, then are his troops thrown into most serious confusion, and perhaps driven back panic-stricken. The traveller across the desert may easily guard against the drought of his journey beforehand; he has nothing to do but to fill his water-skin, and sling it across his shoulders; but if he delays preparation till the moment of thirst, what agonies--perhaps agonies even to death--does it entail i It is self-confidence, and not faith, which despises precaution, and expects no obstacle till it comes; it is presumption, and not filial confidence, which will not anticipate the obstacles God has revealed, or use the means to overcome them which He has given. A foresight of difficulty, and precaution against future obstacles, are as much the Spirit’s work as is strength for the actual battle. What, if Abraham had not hewn the wood, or had left the fire or the knife at home, depending on the moment of sacrifice to provide him with these necessaries! Would that have been genuine faith? Would you not have questioned his sincerity if the Bible had told us that he took Isaac to Moriah, and lo! the wet wood of the mountain would not kindle? Would you not have suspected an obedience which was arrested by the want of a knife or fire? If Abraham had returned with an unslain Isaac on such grounds as these, you would have refused to own him as an example of faith. Another remarkable instance of this same careful forethought is seen when, at some distance from Moriah, Abraham stopped the servants who attended his journey, and bade them “Abide here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship.” It is clear that Abraham’s purpose was to secure himself against the certain interference of these servants. Without having received a direct command from God to submit, there is not a single right-minded man on earth who would, or could, or ought to, have quietly permitted such a deed to be done. They would certainly have interfered. “Well! if they did, was not Abraham’s purpose of obedience perfect? Could he not have said, “I was quite willing, but they prevented me”? Now, the faith of excitement would have gone carelessly on, without any forethought or precaution against this obstacle. Oh! what a contrary spirit often prevails among so-called disciples of Christ, and professors of Abrahamic faith. Instead of the Patriarch’s foresight and energy of purpose, they welcome difficulties as saviours from self-denial. They snatch at any obstruction, magnify it a thousand-fold, esteem it an impassable barrier, and call it an interposition of Providence.
XIII. ACTIVE FAITH The son must be given--and something more--the father must be the immediate giver. Behold a priest is even at hand! Why not send Melchisedec to me? he is Thy priest; the office is peculiarly his; let the work be his; let him slay my Isaac. No! Abraham, the Lord requires thy active faith, therefore “Take the knife.” How desirable such a plan must have appeared for many reasons! Melchisedec would share in the act; the priestly sacrificer would at once be a guarantee for the character of Isaac’s slaughter, and would in some measure silence the reproaches which such a deed would bring on the Patriarch. It would be evident to all that the deed was done from religious motives. But no! All this alleviation must Abraham forego; his faith must be active--not passive--he must take the knife. Faith must be active. She must not wait till houses, and lands, and friends are wrenched out of her possession, but when the Saviour’s cause requires it, she must forsake them; she must become the agent in her worldly loss; she must, so far as earth is concerned, be both ruiner and ruined. Are we to wait till accident robs us of them, or till God takes them from us by some signal calamity? No! The deprivation is to be our own act; we are to cut off the hand; we are to pluck out the eye; we are to amputate the foot. She is not like an unwilling child who requires the mother to rise up out of her place and force the toy from his hand; but she resembles the sweet and ready child, who, at a word, catches up the forbidden plaything, and runs with outstretched arms to put it in the mother’s lap. Thus, the believer must often be the executioner of his own joys--the slayer of his own Isaac. But there must be no mere self-torture, for torture’s sake; none of those lashings, and horse-hair shirts, or hot iron floor, or beds of thorns, or starving, which are often prescribed as trials of faith. If you act on your own judgment and responsibility, you are a presumptuous tormentor; your sacrifice has no relationship to that of Abraham, for if he had done as you do, he would have taken Isaac without any Divine command to Moriah, he would have slain him upon the altar, he would have been a murderer. Faith, then, must not walk alone: she must not mark out her own course; her activity must be that of obedience, and not of independent and self-prescribed action. Her first inquiry must be, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” and immediately she must set about doing it.
XIV. PASSIVE FAITH. There stands a weak and aged man, his form bent, and his hand trembling. And there, on the wood, lies a youth in all the bloom and power of bursting manhood, his age about twenty-five, his muscle developed, his form displaying all that wiry strength which ultimately endured the shocks of one hundred and eighty years. Why, Abraham would have shaken and staggered in such a grasp as Isaac’s hand could give. A blow from the son’s arm, and the father had rolled helplessly down the sides of Moriah. Doing often includes suffering; but suffering does not in itself always include doing; there is a suffering which is strictly passive; we have solely to endure. Yet when we speak of any part of Christian character or conduct as passive, it must be a very contrast to apathy.
XV. FAITH REWARDED. The reward of faith is so named because it is given to faith, and not because it is given for faith. The relation therefore of faith to blessing is not the relation of a price to a purchase, but that which the excavation of a channel bears to the water which is afterwards to flow into it. And what of the reward itself? What was it in Abraham’s case? One part of that reward was the restoration of Isaac. Yet what was this more than the father would have enjoyed if the son had never been taken to Moriah? Was not Isaac returned, the same Isaac as Isaac given? No! he was not; Isaac after being offered and restored, could not be the same to Abraham as if he had been unoffered and unrestored; he was a different son--a more precious son--a thousand-fold more precious. Could Isaac be the same boy to him? Supposing by some fearful accident I had almost destroyed the child of my love; for days I watched him as life seemed rapidly ebbing; but suddenly a change appeared, and the physician told me he was out of danger; what would be my future feelings to that child? Why! under such circumstances even hatred has been known to warm into affection; and how much more will a father’s ready heart be kindled into an intensity of fondness! Our Saviour Himself founds some of His most beautiful parables on the principle that a thing lost, but restored, is dearer far to the finder than a thing never lost at all. Isaac restored was literally a reward--a thing given to faith--a thing which Abraham never possessed before. And then what a hallowed and sacred association would ever after cling to that boy! he had actually been solemnly offered to God. Isaac was an ever-present image of God’s favour--a living memorial of the Lord’s faithfulness--he was grace incarnated--grace “manifest in the flesh.” A trial sanctified is always a trial rewarded; it always sweetens the true believer’s blessings; and though he may have no more outward causes of happiness than before--yea, though he may have even fewer--yet has the soul’s palate been so freshened and improved that his actual perception of joy is tenfold greater; the change is not in the food, but in the quickened appetite of the eater. But the consummation of faith’s reward in Abraham’s case was when, for the first time, he gazed on that incarnate Saviour born of his Isaac’s seed. Great must have been his joy when he saw the Eternal Son in all the glory of His Godhead; but when he beheld his Lord becoming in very deed a child of Isaac and a Redeemer of the whole world, oh then he could understand in all their fulness and their depth those promises which were confirmed and enlarged on that mount where his faith was so tried--then could he estimate in all its unmerited richness the infinite value of faith’s reward. And doubtlessly Abraham’s constant and eager eye was fixed on that great consummation of faith. And if faith thus keeps her constant eye fixed on this bright, holy, and Christ-pervaded consummation of her reward, the result is certain--our efforts will all take the direction of our heart, our steps will follow our eye, our thoughts and actions will tend upwards, and we shall gradually be “changed into the same glory” we contemplate, “from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (D. F.Jarman, M. A.)
The claims of Divinity and humanity reconciled
On Mount Moriah the religious life of Abraham reached its maturity, and his knowledge of the Divine nature attained its greatest spiritual depth. On Mount Moriah, the type of the future Mount Calvary, we may see the synthesis of the infinite truths, the light of which has streamed in its meridian fulness from the Cross of the God-man. Let us proceed to consider:--
I. God’s first commandment, ENFORCING THE CLAIMS OF DIVINITY. “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.”
II. God’s second commandment, ORDAINING THE CLAIMS OF HUMANITY. “And 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 anything unto him.”
III. The scene of DIVINE REVELATION. “Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen. “I. THE VOICE OF DIVINE TRUTH, we are clearly told, called upon Abraham to sacrifice the natural life of his only son. The destiny of man, as revealed to us throughout Holy Writ, is to share the attributes of God’s eternal life. The words spoken through Moses in Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”; and the words of 2 Peter 1:4, “That by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature”; and the words of St. John the Divine, “Having His Father’s name written in their foreheads,” all express the same great truth, that man was created to be a partaker of the attributes of God. It follows, therefore, that the attributes of the uncreated Divine life are the laws of the human life, and that every revelation or glory of God imposes an obligation and a duty on man. The sovereign attribute in the life of God is consequently the ruling principle in the true life of man. What, then, is that sovereign attribute? “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Sacrifice on earth in human life is the analogue of love in the Divine life. Consequently the same supremacy which belongs to love among the attributes of God, also belongs to sacrifice among the duties of man. Hence throughout the history of religion, from the earliest passages of the book of Genesis to the visions of the eternal life in the heavenly mansions, unfolded to us in the revelation of St. John the Divine, sacrifice is the highest effort of the human soul, in the exercise of which man finds the approach to God, and the blessed rest of his own nature. Hence it fellows, that the difference between a high-principled and an unprincipled life is simply the difference between a life of love and a life of selfishness; a life of self-indulgence, in which no altar is erected on the low ground; and a life of self-sacrifice, in which man rises above the lower, baser instincts of his being in obedience to the Divine call. This one central law of the Divine kingdom was revealed to Abraham at the first, when he was summoned by the call of principle to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. The faith of Abraham, whereby he obeyed that voice, was simply the submission of his soul to the ruling principle of love expressed in self-sacrifice. The growth in his soul of the power of that Divine principle was the development of his faith. That development was progressive throughout his life, as it is still in the history of every individual soul. In his conduct towards Pharaoh, and towards Abimelech, we see the temporary lapse from the high ground of faith and self-sacrifice to the low level of earthly selfishness and expediency. As time went on, and the patriarch’s vision of Divine truth became clearer and fuller, and the new letters were added to his name, significant of a higher destiny and a wider influence, he was inspired by God to express in the outward rite of circumcision that inward and spiritual principle which was the governing law of his life. Circumcision of the heart, in the spirit, and not of the letter, was the expression of the deep truth that man is to reflect the Divine love by self-sacrifice Throughout his career the power of this principle had become stronger and stronger in the soul of Abraham. He had yielded his whole soul in obedience to “the first and great commandment: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’” The mighty significance of this general principle had overpowered his entire being. The first and great commandment, although it is the sun of human righteousness, has other commandments revolving in the spiritual system, not in antagonism to it, but in harmony with it and deriving their light from it. In ascending Mount Moriah Abraham saw nothing in the universe but the one great principle: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” Whatever sacrifices were necessary in order to give expression to that love, he was ready to make. The firmly-grasped knife and the outstretched arm represent the strong, resolute self-surrender of the soul that has, in obedience to the call of Divine truth, risen to the heights on which it shrinks not from the sharpest pangs of inward agony, that are necessary in order to offer to God the sacrifice which He asks. The great truth taught in this passage is the absolute sovereignty of the love of God over the human soul. The destiny of man is to bear in his being the image of God, in which he was created. That is the highest principle which must reign over all other forces in human life. In the command to sacrifice Isaac, the eternal Spirit is still teaching Abraham the same great principle in a different form of practice. As he had been taught at first to subordinate the love of country and clanship to the love of God, so he is now commanded to bring the love of family under the dominion of the same sovereign principle. The ascent of Mount Moriah, and the sacrifice of Isaac, are an eternal obligation laid upon man. We can inherit no land of spiritual promise without recognizing it. The nation, the family, the individual, is called upon to make this sacrifice. There is no high future promise to the nation that withholds from God the natural life of its Isaac, by regulating its national action in obedience to low temporal expediency, instead of hearkening to the voice of the unseen eternal life. The voice of earthly wisdom, on the level plain of mere natural reason, bids the nation value only the out, ward form of its future life. Its command is: “Give to the young life that secular knowledge which will enable it to answer the questions, ‘ What shall I eat? what shall I drink? wherewithal shall I be clothed?’ extend commerce, multiply possessions, and heap up the means of luxury, and then the national future will be great--Isaac will obtain that rich and good land of promise. But if you act on high principles--giving education in the spiritual truths that reveal the love of Christ; maintaining the ministry of the mysteries of God; going even to war for the rescue of the weak nations carried captive by the strong; losing the profits of commerce; and expending the fat of the national frame in the adventurous toils imposed by the behests of national honour and good faith--you will impoverish the earthly future that lies before your posterity.”The policy of shrinking from war at the expense of principle is not noble or Christian. There are times in which God demands the greatest sacrifice which a nation can make, namely, the blood of its youth shed upon the field of battle in obedience to an idea. No nation, which resolutely determines to remain upon the low grounds of selfish ease and shameful peace, can inherit a great future, for it is guilty of withholding from the altar the lower life of Isaac, and thereby forfeiting the higher destiny of his spiritual being. The nation which never rises into the high ground of principle to erect an altar of national sacrifices; which never prepares the wood for the burnt-offering, and is fired by no generous enthusiasm, but coldly and calculatingly barters its honour for the extension of its trade; which shrinks from considering itself bound by the obligations of solemnly plighted national faith; which lets the knife of sacrifice fall from its nerveless hand, rather than imperil the ease and luxury of its life--is a nation which is finding its life for the moment, in order to lose it for ever. In the life of the family, God still calls upon the heirs of the land of promise to sacrifice, as the condition of rising into possession of life’s noblest blessing. The ancient voice, “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,” is appealing to the conscience of the fathers of England to-day. The man of the world loves his Isaac, and desires to further his prospects, and to see him the heir of a rich future. Without Christ, deaf to the call of the spiritual voice, he lives the low-toned life of the world’s level; his heart knows nothing of the wood of burnt-offerings, or of the fire of spiritual enthusiasm; he coldly calculates his gains, and multiplies his silver and gold; he recognizes no cords of Divine love, but casts away from him the constraining bands of spiritual motives, and relaxes all the higher obligations of the inner life; he performs no sacrifice of homage to the unseen majesty of the King of Life; offers no prayer, no praise, no alms, and never extends a single effort of his soul in painful self-denial. He has the reward of cold, selfish expediency, and low-toned, short-sighted worldly prudence. He becomes rich, and has saved the life of his Isaac to inherit the fat plains of his earthly prosperity. But there is really no land of promise on the plain which he has inherited. That life of low-toned, selfish, prayerless, cold-hearted money-getting, carries within itself a power that disinherits his descendants. The low tone, and the moral feebleness of his career, ensure to his family after him social decay and poverty of destiny. The man who will not ascend the Moriah of the Cross, by living a life of self-sacrifice and obedience to the Divine voice, cannot hope to secure a real Canaan for his race. On the other hand, there are families who, when they seem to be destroying the life and prospects of their Isaac, are in obedience to God’s voice preparing for the certain entrance into Canaan. The noble-hearted, highly-educated young missionary in the Church’s distant fields of labour; the young clergymen of brave energy and keen intellect, toiling in voluntary poverty and noble obscurity amid the haunts of vice and sin in our great cities; the student who, seeking to enlighten his fellow-men, gives himself to the ungainful pursuits of science or literature; the young soldier who devotes his life to the loyal duties of ill-requited service to his country--all these to the vulgar eye of worldly expediency seem to be offered, as Isaac, in obedience to an unpractical idea, and in wanton forfeiture of the Canaan of worldly prospects. To the individual soul, as to the nation and the family, the call to ascend the Moriah of sacrifice comes with authority. To the unspiritual man of the world the obedience of the soul to this strange command seems as great a mystery as the offering of Isaac. To him every hour spent in prayer, in meditation, in gathering the materials that fire the enthusiasm of Christian love, in tightening the cords of religious obligation, and wielding the instrument of searching self-denial, seems wasted, vainly spent in shedding the vital energy that should live to enter that Canaan of the world and the flesh, which is the only land of promise that he can realize. But the true spiritual seed of Abraham for ever acknowledges the love of God as the highest rule of life.
II. God’s second commandment ORDAINING THE CLAIMS OF HUMANITY. The love of God, as a universal principle, demands the sacrifice of man’s all. Abraham felt this, and was willing to express the sincerity of his devotion by sacrificing the life of his son. But a corrective voice from heaven revealed to him a second qualifying commandment, not at variance with, but “like unto” and explanatory of the inner, deeper meaning of the first. The forms of sacrifice, which God imposes upon the soul, are not ends meritorious in themselves, but simply means of cultivating and expressing in the human being the energy of Divine love. As soon as the love has become perfect, the need of the sacrifice passes away. As soon as the principle of love has exacted the homage of perfect self-surrender from man, and acknowledged it in the words, “Now I know, seeing thou hast not withheld,” then the obligation of sacrifice is abrogated in the words, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him.” God required from Abraham an unreserved willingness to sacrifice his son, as an expression of obedience to the first law of life, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” But God equally forbade the slaughter of Isaac, in obedience to the second commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Every form of life existing is an expression of Divine love. The sacrifice of physical life is, therefore, for ever inconsistent with the love of God, except when it is required for the creation or preservation of some higher form of life. The consecration of murder, as a means of expressing love to God, would have led to the mutual destruction of mankind, and the extinction of that life in the universe which it is the highest purpose of God to create and sustain. It is true that the expression of the infinite love of God upon the Cross of Calvary was given at the cost of a human life voluntarily laid down. The self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ seems to the superficial the destruction of a human life, and inconsistent with that love of life which flows from the love of God. But the work of Christ and the revelation of God did not end upon the Cross. The second commandment, enforcing the claims of humanity, likewise in the purpose of the Father required obedience. “Therefore doth My Father love Me, not simply, because I lay down My life,” but “because I lay down My life that I might take it again.” In the power of the resurrection following upon the sacrifice of Calvary, and loosing the pains of death, we see the operation of that second law, the authority of which arrested the hand of Abraham, saying, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him.” The fruitless sacrifice of life, which is not justified by a subsequent resurrection of life in a higher form, is based upon an imperfect interpretation of the great commandment, and contrary to the full truth of God. The risen life is the proof of the accepted sacrifice. “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore.” A sacrifice which is a mere expenditure of life, leading on to no renewal, is contrary to God’s will. Sacrifices that lead on to no raising of life into a higher form are forbidden by the second voice of God. That there should be in every land witnesses to the supreme claims of God’s love, in the persons of those who forsake the secular toils of the world, and give themselves up entirely to the religious life, is essential, in order to enable the nation to rise to the heights of principle upon which God manifests Himself. In the entire devotion of such lives the nation ascends the Mount Moriah. Where such devotion is withheld, God’s presence is not realized. But it is hardly necessary to point out that, although God demands the submission of human life to His rule in sacrifice, He does not require all men to give themselves up to that unceasing devotion of outward, physical, liturgical sacrifice, which would arrest the growth and healthy progress of society. To injure human society, and cramp the lawful energies of the state in the name of religion, as the Roman Church has often striven to do, is to slay the Isaac of progressive hopeful humanity, the heir of the Promised Land of the future. So also the state and society led into the high places of devotion, bound in willing submission by the cords of religious obligation, and recognizing the penetrating power of the principle of sacrifice, is for ever an offering acceptable to God, and passes on in the career of its history, fitted by its high self-devotion to inherit the land of the promises. But the state and society weakened, maimed, bleeding, dying, under the fruitless, senseless, purposeless bondage of superstitiously tightened restrictions, and the fatal stroke of fanatical self-torture, is a victim slain in defiance of the protestant voice, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad.” In the same manner the lessons of this passage are applicable to the sacrifices of the individual soul. Prayer and fasting must not be withheld. In them the human being offers to God on his altar its mental and bodily energies in self-sacrifice. When the offering has not been withheld, the soul rises to a nobler walk, stronger existence, and a clearer vision of God. But there is a tendency in the human being to pervert self-sacrifice into self-slaughter. It is possible so to pray and fast as to make the body unhealthy, the mind feeble, and the will morbid and unstrung. They who carry religions exercises into that extreme, which is injurious to the growth and health of true human life, are losing the balance of truth, and are deaf to the Divine protest, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad.”
III. THE SCENE OF THE DIVINE REVELATION OF TRUTH. “Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh; as it is said to this day, In the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” The Mount Moriah, the mount on which the Lord reveals Himself, is the type of the supernatural life of the Church of Christ. As it was upon the mount that Abraham received the teaching of the Divine voice which enabled him to recognize the harmony of the two commandments seemingly contradictory, so it is only the guidance of the Spirit of God in the Church that enables men to reconcile the two great principles opposed to each other in modern life--law and liberty. The old freedom of the plain is not the same as the freedom of the Mount of God. The freedom of the natural man, who knows not the claims of the Divine law of love, is very different from the freedom of the crucified but risen life of man, who ban received the spirit which makes him love God and obey Him, not in the servile fear of the bondsman, but in the glorious liberty of the child. The guidance of the Holy Spirit, which abides in the Church, can alone give us the enjoyment of this blessed freedom, that comes not from the defiance, but from the fulfilment of the law of life in Jesus Christ: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” This realization of blessedness, of power, of widely-extended beneficence to others; this foretaste of the glories of an endless life in the future, only comes to those who have striven to climb the steep, toilsome mount of Christian self-dedication, on which the air of pure life is breathed, and from which the true views of a soul elevated and enlightened are obtained. To nations no less than to individuals is this revelation necessary. The nation which banishes the name of God from the schools of its youth, and from its organism of government, in the hope of increasing human happiness and power, has no promise. That liberty which expresses the love of our neighbour has its root in the love of God, National religion is the guardian of the national liberty. Until the nation has learnt to obey the command of religion enjoining self-denial and self-sacrifice--saying: “Take thy growing life and offer him unto Me,” it can never hear the true charter of liberty: “Lay not thine hand upon the lad.” (H. T. Edwards, M. A.)
I. THE TRIAL OF ABRAHAM’S FAITH AND OBEDIENCE, AND THE CONDUCT OF THE PATRIARCH UNDER IT.
1. The trial. Fearfully severe.
2. The conduct of the patriarch under the trial. He did not consult with flesh and blood, but listened to the voice of faith, which assured him of the perfect wisdom and unchangeable love of God (Hebrews 11:17-19). The issue of the trial.
II. THE INCIDENTS RECORDED HERE ARE TYPICAL OF THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST. Application:
1. The subject teaches us to cultivate resignation to the Divine will.
2. The time of trial is the time for the exercise of faith in God.
3. Those who believe in Christ, and trust in His vicarious sacrifice, shall be saved; saved from all temporal evil, for nothing shall by any means hurt them; but above all, they shall be saved flora spiritual and eternal death, and enjoy life eternal in heaven. (The Evangelical Preacher.)
The trial of Abraham
I. THE PATRIARCH’S PAINFUL TRIAL.
1. The subject of requisition.
2. The prescribed manner of compliance.
II. THE PATRIARCH’S EXEMPLARY CONDUCT.
1. The promptness of his obedience.
2. The prudence of his measures.
3. His inflexible perseverance,
III. THE BLESSINGS OF WHICH IT WAS PRODUCTIVE.
1. Isaac was spared.
2. A testimony of Divine approbation was experienced.
3. A gracious repetition of promise was received.
IV. THE INSTRUCTIVE TENDENCY OF THE WHOLE.
1. The will of God revealed to man is a sufficient reason for prompt obedience.
2. Our greatest earthly blessings may be productive of very painful exercises.
3. Severe trials are strictly consistent with the enjoyment of Divine favour.
4. A lively faith in God manifests itself by a regular course of cheerful obedience. (Sketches of Sermons.)
The tried of Abraham’s faith
I. THE PERSONAL TEST AND DISCIPLINE.
II. THE GREAT MORAL AND RELIGIOUS LESSON HERE TAUGHT. God was loved better than Son--loved even though He slew.
III. THE FACT BECOMES A TYPICAL PROMISE. God has provided (W. H.Davison.)
I. HIS TRIAL.
II. HIS OBEDIENCE.
III. HIS REWARD.
1. A numerous seed, instead of one Son.
2. To be the progenitor of the Messiah, because willing to give up Isaac.
3. He also received the most express and gratifying assurance of Jehovah’s approval and friendship.
1. God tries the faith of all His people. The principle is, that we are not fit to possess any treasure unless we are ready to give up that treasure at God’s command at any moment. You say you love God; but you also love your child, friend, property, life. Which do you love most?
2. Let our obedience be like Abraham’s. As soon as you know God’s will, submit to it.
3. God will reward the patience of faith. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
Trial of Abraham’s faith
I. THE SEVERITY OF THIS TRIAL.
1. It was a trial that put the severest possible strain upon him in the tenderest relations of his natural life. Isaac was his son, his only son.
2. It was a trial that put the severest possible strain upon him in the tenderest relations of his spiritual life.
(1) In respect to the promise of God (Genesis 17:19).
(2) In respect to the covenant of God.
3. The severity of this trial is unparalleled, save in the experience of Abraham’s God (Romans 8:32; John 3:16).
II. ABRAHAM’S CONDUCT.
1. In obedience he was prompt, believing, perfect.
2. His obedience was inspired by faith.
3. His obedience was perfect (Genesis 22:9-10).
III. GOD’S INTERPOSITION.
1. God did interpose.
2. God’s interposition was timely.
1. It is God’s plan to test the faith of His children (1 Peter 1:7).
2. God’s children should rejoice when their faith is tested.
3. The more cheerfully we bear the tests of faith, the more we honour God.
4. No one will be tried beyond what he is able to bear. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Abraham’s temptation and obedience
I. WHAT THIS TRIAL WAS.
1. It came from God Himself.
2. It comprehended the loss of a child, and of a peculiarly dear and precious child. He was his Isaac too; and how much does that word comprehend! the son of his old age; his beloved Sarah’s child; one who had been promised him and whom he had looked for with eager expectation, not months but years, before he came; a child of miracle, born out of due time, to be regarded as an almost immediate gift from heaven!
3. And he is to lose him, not as we generally lose our children, by sickness, but by a violent death, and that death to be inflicted by his own hand--Abraham is to slay him. And, moreover, he is to be a burnt-offering. This includes more than the slaying of him--a dismembering of him when slain and the consuming of his mangled body in the flames.
4. And the time, too, when this trial fell on Abraham must have made it worse. “After these things”--i.e., just after losing Ishmael, he is called upon to give up Isaac.
II. His CONDUCT UNDER IT.
1. Prompt obedience.
2. Determined, unflinching obedience.
3. His obedience was also calm.
III. Let us now see what lay at the bottom of all this; WHAT THAT MIGHTY PRINCIPLE WAS WHICH ACTUATED ABRAHAM IN IT. And we are not left in doubt of this point. It was faith. “By faith,” says St. Paul, “Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac.” And by faith, as we apply the term here to Abraham, we mean, not a belief in this or that great gospel-truth only, but a belief in the Divine character and word generally, a faith embracing all the glorious perfections of Jehovah and all the glorious promises and declarations of his lips. This led Abraham to sacrifice his son. There are three things which commonly actuate mankind in their conduct-reason, feeling, and interest. All these we find in this case put aside. Abraham did not act from either of them, but from a principle which was in opposition to them all. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The appointed sacrifice; or, Abraham’s faith
I. THE TRIAL OF FAITH. Very heavy must have been Abraham’s heart when he heard God’s strange message. But he would not refuse to trust God. Job 23:8-12; comp. 1 Peter 1:5-7.)
II. THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH. Not a base profession. He obeyed promptly, and without murmuring.
III. THE REWARD OF FAITH.
1. He won God’s approval.
2. He received God’s explanation of what had seemed so strange.
3. He gained God’s solemn assurance to comfort and gladden him.
IV. THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC AS TYPICAL OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST.
1. It was an appointed sacrifice.
2. It was a willing (self-) sacrifice.
3. It was a mystery of salvation. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
Abraham tempted to offer up his son
I. THE TRIAL ITSELF.
1. The time of it. The same things may be more or less trying as they are connected with other things. If the treatment of Job’s friends had not been preceded by the loss of his substance, the untimely death of his children, the cruel counsel of his wife, and the heavy hand of God, it had been much more tolerable; and if Abraham’s faith and patience had not been exercised in the manner they were anterior to this temptation, it might have been somewhat different from what it was. It is also a much greater trial to be deprived of an object when our hopes have been raised, and in a manner accomplished respecting it, than to have it altogether withheld from us. It was “after these things that God did tempt Abraham”--that is, after five-and-twenty years waiting; after the promise had been frequently repeated; after hope had been raised to the highest pitch; yea, after it had been actually turned into enjoyment; and when the child had lived long enough to discover an amiable and godly disposition.
2. The shock which it was adapted to produce upon his natural affections is also worthy of notice. The command is worded in a manner as if it were designed to harrow up all his feelings as a father: “Take now thy son, thine only son (of promise), Isaac, whom thou lovest”--or, as some read it, “Take now that son . . . that only one of thine . . . whom thou lovest . . . that ISAAC!” And what! Deliver him to some other hand to sacrifice him! No; be thou thyself the priest; go “offer him up for a burnt-offering!” But the shock which it would be to natural affection is not represented as the principal part of the trial; but rather what it must have been to his faith. It was not so much his being his son, as his only son of promise; his Isaac, in whom all the great things spoken of his seed were to be fulfilled.
II. THE CONDUCT OF ABRAHAM UNDER THIS SHARP TRIAL. We have here a surprising instance of the efficacy of Divine grace, in rendering every power, passion, and thought of the mind subordinate to the will of God. There is a wide difference between this and the extinction of the passions. This were to be deprived of feeling; but the other is to have the mind assimilated to the mind of Christ, who, though He felt most sensibly, yet said, “If this cup may not pass from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done!”
III. THE REWARD CONFERRED UPON HIM. A repetition of the promised blessing.
IV. THE GENERAL DESIGN OF THE WHOLE.
1. Though it was not the intention of God to permit Abraham actually to offer a human sacrifice, yet He might mean to assert His own right as Lord of all to require it, as well as to manifest the implicit obedience of faith in the conduct of His servant. Such an assertion of His right would manifest His goodness in refusing to exercise it.
2. But in this transaction there seems to be a still higher design; namely, to predict in a figure the great substitute which God in due time should see and provide. The very place of it, called “the mount of the Lord” (verse 14.), seems to have been marked out as the scene of great events; and of that kind, too, in which a substitutional sacrifice was offered and accepted.
3. One reason of the high approbation which God expressed of Abraham’s conduct might be its affording some faint likeness of what would shortly be His own. (A. Fuller.)
Temptation a test
Temptation is that which puts to the test. Trials sent by God do this. A test is never employed for the purpose of injury. A weight is attached to a rope, not to break but to prove it. Pressure is applied to a boiler, not to burst it but to certify its power of resistance. The testing process here confers no strength. But when a sailor has to navigate his ship under a heavy gale and in a difficult channel; or when a general has to fight against a superior force and on disadvantageous ground, skill and courage are not only tested but improved. The test has brought experience, and by practice is every faculty perfected. So, faith grows stronger by exercise, and patience by the enduring of sorrow. Thus alone it was that “God did tempt Abraham.” (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest
I. THE SACRIFICE DEMANDED BY GOD.
1. That which was prized the most.
2. That which tested faith the most.
3. That which God gave Himself.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH THIS SACRIFICE WAS RENDERED BY ABRAHAM.
1. It was rendered promptly. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning.”
2. It was rendered prayerfully. “Abide ye here, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship.” Prayer prepares for sacrifice.
3. It was rendered heroically (Genesis 22:8-9).
4. It was rendered observantly. “The place which God had told him of.” “Laid the weed in order.”
III. THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE ACCEPTED BY GOD.
1. It was substitutionary.
2. It was sufficient. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
The offering of Isaac
I. THAT WE ARE OFTEN EXPOSED TO GREAT TRIALS WITHOUT ANY REASON BEING ASSIGNED FOR THEIR INFLICTION.
II. THAT EVEN IN OUR SEVEREST TRIALS, IN THE VERY CRISIS AND AGONY OF OUR CHASTISEMENT, WE HAVE HOPE IN THE DELIVERING MERCY OF GOD (Genesis 22:5; Genesis 22:8). It is often so in human life; the inward contradicts the outward. Faith substitutes a greater fact for a small one. “You will get better,” we say to the patient, when perhaps we mean that he will be healed with immortality; and when we meet him in heaven, he will tell us that we were right when we said he would live.
III. THAT WE ARE OFTEN MADE TO FEEL THE UTTERMOST BITTERNESS OF A TRIAL IN ITS FORETELLING AND ANTICIPATION. Sudden calamities are nothing compared with the lingering death which some men have to die.
IV. THAT FILIAL OBEDIENCE ON OUR PART HAS EVER BEEN FOLLOWED BY SPECIAL TOKENS OF GOD’S APPROVAL (Genesis 22:16). More than mere Hebrew redundancy of language in the promise. It reads like a river full to overflow. “Because thou hast done this thing,” &c. I call upon you to witness whether you yourselves have not, in appropriate degrees, realized this same overflowing, and all-comforting blessing of God, in return for your filial obedience.
V. OTHER POINTS OF COINCIDENCE as between the old experience and the new will occur on reading the text, such as--
1. The unconscious aggravations of our suffering made by inquiries such as Isaac’s (Genesis 22:7).
2. The wonderfulness of the escapes which are often made for us by Divine Providence (Genesis 22:13).
3. The sanctification of special places by sweet and holy memories of deliverance and unexpected joy (Genesis 22:14). (J. Parker, D. D.)
An educational command
Abraham must have been conscious that the way that led to the perfecting of his faith was the way of renunciation and self-denial. The sight of the Canaanite sacrifices of children must have led Abraham to self-examination, whether he would be strong enough in renunciation and self-denial to do what these heathen did, if his God desired it of him. But if this question was once made the subject of discussion in Abraham’s heart, it had also to be brought to a definite and real decision. That was the substratum for the Divine demand in Abraham’s soul. Objectively, the following are the deduction from this point of view. The culminating point of worship in the religions of nature was human sacrifice. The covenant religion had to separate itself in this respect from heathenism; the truth in it had to be acknowledged, and the falsehood denied. In the command to offer up Isaac, the truth of the conviction that human life must be sacrificed as an unholy thing, is acknowledged, and by the arresting intervention of God, the hideous distortion of this truth which had arisen in heathenism is condemned and rejected. (Kurtz.)
Human sacrifices among the heathen
No reader of the Old Testament needs to be informed that this hateful kind of offering defiled the religious rites of the Canaanites several centuries later. But there are probably few readers who have sufficiently realized how ancient or how widespread among primitive religions was a custom which has come to be associated only with the lowest type of barbarism. Yet traces of it, reliable enough, though dimmed now through lapse of ages, meet the inquirer among the primitive population of far-sundered localities, and in stages of civilization which even we should call advanced. Its prevalence among all men of Hamitic race who observed the same type of religion as the tribes of Canaan is a fact well known. This of itself fastens the dark stigma on some of the most polished and powerful states of antiquity; on Tyre, for example, and on all the great Punic colonies, such as Cyprus, Rhodes, and Carthage. Egypt itself was not exempt. But what is less generally noticed is, that among Aryan peoples a similar custom widely obtained in the earliest periods, and sprang out of a similar nature-worship. It has left its mark on several of the most familiar legends of Greek literature. It was practised in the Mithras cult of Persia, which lingered to the age of Hadrian. It is found among the ancient Pelasgians, as at Eleuis in the worship of Demeter; in Attica and Arcadia, in that of Artemis; in Tenedos and Chios, in that of Bacchus. It is probable, indeed, that the immolation of a human victim to divinities like Bacchus or Demeter was reserved for great occasions. Among the milder Pelasgians, it did not become so regular a part of worship as those sacrifices, for example, which annually appeased the tutelary sun-god of Carthage, or the massacre of infants by passing them through the fire to the Chemosh of Moab or the Molech of Phoenicia. The general results of research on this painful subject, however, goes to show that even the milder faiths of early Greece sprang out of, or were grafted on, the same original idolatry of the generative and productive forces in nature which found favour among older races in Babylon, Phoenicia, and Canaan. Wherever the influence of that dark religion stretched, it bore of necessity two ghastly fruits--cruelty and lust: the orgies of the grove and the sacrifice of human blood. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Mature faith--illustrated by Abraham’s offering up Isaac
I. THE TRIAL ITSELF. Every syllable of the text is significant. If George Herbert were speaking of it, he would say the words are all a case of knives cutting at Abraham’s soul. There is scarce a single syllable of God’s address to him, in the opening of this trial, but seems intended to pierce the patriarch to the quick. Look. “Take now thy son.” What! a father slay his son! Was there nothing in Abraham’s tent that God would have but his son?
II. THE PATRIARCH UNDER THE TRIAL. In Abraham’s bearing during this test everything is delightful. His obedience is a picture of all the virtues in one, blended in marvellous harmony. It is not so much in one point that the great patriarch excels as in the whole of his sacred deed.
1. First notice the submission of Abraham under this temptation.
2. Abraham’s prudence. Prudence may be a great virtue, but often becomes one of the meanest and most beggarly of vices. Prudence rightly considered is a notable handmaid to faith; and the prudence of Abraham was seen in this, that he did not consult Sarah as to what he was about to do.
3. Abraham’s alacrity. He rose up early in the morning.
4. Abraham’s forethought. He did not desire to break down in his deeds. Having cleft the wood, he took with him the fire, and everything else necessary to consummate the work. Some people take no forethought about serving God, and then, if a little hitch occurs, they cry out that it is a providential circumstance, and make an excuse of it for escaping the unpleasant task. Oh, how easy it is when you do not want to involve yourselves in trouble, to think that you see some reason for not doing so!
5. Abraham’s perseverance. He continues three days in his journey, journeying towards the place where he was as much to sacrifice himself as to sacrifice his child.
III. THE BLESSING WHICH CAME TO ABRAHAM THROUGH THE TRIAL OF HIS FAITH. The blessing was sevenfold.
1. The trial was withdrawn; Isaac was unharmed.
2. Abraham had the expressed approval of God. “Now I know that thou fearest God.”
3. Abraham next had a clearer view of Christ than ever he had before--no small reward. “Abraham saw My day,” said Christ. “He saw it and was glad.”
4. More than that, to Abraham God’s name was more fully revealed that day. He called Him Jehovah-jireh, a step in advance of anything that he had known before. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.”
5. To Abraham that day the covenant was confirmed by oath. The Lord swore by Himself.
6. Then it was that Abraham had also a fuller promise with regard to the seed.
7. God pronounced over Abraham’s head a blessing, the like of which had never been given to man before; and what if I say that to no single individual in the whole lapse of time has there ever been given, distinctly and personally, such a blessing as was given to Abraham that day! First in trial, he is also first in blessing; first in faithfulness to his God, he becomes first in the sweet rewards which faithfulness is sure to obtain. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The gospel of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac
If the Messiah be anywhere symbolised in the Old Testament, He is certainly to be seen upon Mount Moriah, where the beloved Isaac, willingly bound and laid upon the altar, is a lively foreshadowing of the Well-beloved of heaven yielding His life as a ransom
I. First, THE PARALLEL. YOU know the story before you; we need not repeat it, except as we weave it into our meditation. As Abraham offered up Isaac, and so it might be said of him that he “ spared not his own son,” so the ever blessed God offered up His Son Jesus Christ, and spared Him not.
1. There is a likeness in the person offered. Isaac was Abraham’s son, and in that emphatic sense, his only son; hence the anguish of resigning him to sacrifice. Herein is love! Behold it and admire! Consider it and wonder! The beloved Son is made a sacrifice!
(1) Remember that in Abraham’s case Isaac was the child of his heart. I need not enlarge on that, you can readily imagine how Abraham loved him; but in the case of our Lord what mind can conceive how near and dear our Redeemer was to the Father?
(2) Remember, too, that Isaac was a most lovely and obedient son. We have proof of that in the fact that he was willing to be sacrificed, for being a vigorous young man, he might have resisted his aged father, but he willingly surrendered himself to be bound, and submitted to be laid on the altar. How few there are of such sons! “Though He were a Son yet learned He obedience.” It was His meat and His drink to do the will of Him that sent Him.
(3) It must not be forgotten, too, that around Isaac there clustered mysterious prophecies. Isaac was to be the promised seed through which Abraham should live down to posterity and evermore be a blessing to all nations. But what prophecies gathered about the head of Christ I What glorious things were spoken of Him before His coming! He was the conquering seed destined to break the dragon’s head. He was the messenger of the covenant, yea, the covenant itself.
2. The parallel is very clear in the preface of the sacrifice. Let us show you in a few words. Abraham had three days in which to think upon and consider the death of his son; three days in which to look into that beloved face and to anticipate the hour in which it would wear the icy pallor of death. But the Eternal Father foreknew and foreordained the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, not three days nor three years, nor three thousand years, but or ever the earth was Jesus was to His Father “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Remember, that Abraham prepared with sacred forethought everything for the sacrifice. But what shall I say of the great God who, through the ages, was constantly preparing this world for the grandest event in its history, the death of the Incarnate God? All history converged to this point.
3. We will not tarry, however, on the preface of the sacrifice, but advance in lowly worship to behold the act itself.
(1) When Abraham came at last to Mount Moriah, he bade his servants remain at the foot of the hill. Now, gather up your thoughts, and come with me to Calvary, to the true Moriah. At the foot of that hill God bade all men stop. The twelve have been with Christ in his life-journey, but they must not be with Him in His death throes. Eleven go with him to Gethsemane; only three may draw near to Him in His passion; but when it comes to the climax of all, they forsake Him and flee; He fights the battle singly.
(2) Do you observe that Isaac carried the wood!--a true picture of Jesus carrying His cross.
(3) A point worthy of notice is, that it is said, “that they went both of them together.” He who was to smite with the knife, and the other who was to be the victim, walked in peaceful converse to the altar. “They went both together,” agreeing in heart. It is to me delightful to reflect that Christ Jesus and His Father went both together in the work of redeeming love. In that great work which we are saved, the Father gave us Christ, but Christ equally gave us Himself.
(4) They proceeded together, and at last, Isaac was bound, bound by his father. So Christ was bound, and He saith, “Ye could have no power against Me unless it was given to you of My Father.”
(5) The parallel goes still further, for while the father binds the victim, the victim is willing to be bound. Isaac might have resisted, but he did not; there are no traces of struggling; no signs of so much as a murmur.
(6) Yet the parallel runs a little further, after having been suspended for a moment--Isaac was restored again. He was bound and laid upon the altar, the knife was drawn, and he was in spirit given up to death, but he was delivered. Leaving that gap, wherein Christ is not typified fully by Isaac, but the ram, yet was Jesus also delivered. He came again, the living and triumphant Son, after He had been dead. Isaac was for three days looked upon by Abraham as dead; on the third day the father rejoiced to descend the mountain with his son. Jesus was dead, but on the third day He rose again.
(7) What followed the deliverance of Isaac? From that moment the covenant was ratified.
(8) Isaac, also, had that day been the means of showing to Abraham the great provision of God. That name, Jehovah-jireh, was new to the world; it was given forth to men that day from Mount Moriah; and in the death of Christ men see what they never could have seen else, and in His resurrection they beheld the deepest of mysteries solved. God has provided what men wanted.
II. I have to HINT AT SOME POINTS IN WHICH THE PARALLEL FALLS SHORT.
1. Isaac would have died in the course of nature. When offered up by his father, it was only a little in anticipation of the death which eventually must have occurred. But Jesus is He “who only hath immortality,” and who never needed to die. His death was purely voluntary, and herein stands by itself, not to be numbered with the deaths of other men.
2. Moreover, there was a constraint upon Abraham to give Isaac. I admit the cheerfulness of the gift, but still the highest law to which His spiritual nature was subject, rendered it incumbent upon believing Abraham to do as God commanded. But no stress could be laid upon the Most High. If He delivered up His Son, it must be with the greatest freeness. Oh! unconstrained love--a fountain welling up from the depth of the Divine nature, unasked for and undeserved! What shall I say of this? O God, be Thou ever blessed! Even the songs of heaven cannot express the obligations of our guilty race to Thy free love in the gift of Thy Son!
3. Isaac did not die after all, but Jesus did.
4. Isaac, if he had died, could not have died for us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A difficulty removed
How could God command Abraham to sacrifice his son? We reply: God never intended the death of Isaac. He saw the end from the beginning, and knew that the life of Isaac would not be taken. The command was only a severe test of the absolute faith and unswerving obedience of His servant Abraham. A story may illustrate this. In the Napoleon wars, it is said that once the emperors of Austria and Russia and the king of Prussia were discussing the relative absolute, unquestioning obedience of their soldiers. Each claimed the pre-eminence, in this regard, for his own soldiers. They were sitting in a room in the second story. To test the matter, they agreed that each in turn should call up the sentinel at the door, and command him to leap out of the window. First the Prussian monarch called his man. “Leap out of the window,” was the order. “Your Majesty,” said the soldier, “it would kill me.” He was then dismissed, and the Austrian soldier was called. “Leap out of that window,” commanded the emperor. “I will,” said the man, “if you really mean what you say.” He was in turn dismissed, and the Czar called his man. “Leap out of that window,” cried the Czar. Without a word in reply, the man crossed himself, and started to obey, but of course was stopped before he had reached the window. Were the sovereigns guilty of murder? Surely not, because their purpose was not to sacrifice their soldiers, but only to test their obedience. This anecdote may throw more light on the first difficulty than perhaps many a logical argument could do. God’s purpose must be judged, not by His command alone, but by the story in its completeness. Then only will our judgment be a correct one.
Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship
Helps and hindrances of a Christian life
In the path of faith, HUMAN HELP IS PROFITABLE.
II. In the path of faith, HUMAN HELP IS LIMITED.
III. In the path of faith, HUMAN HELP MUST RECEIVE A TIMELY DISMISSAL.
IV. In the path of faith, THE GRANDEST TRIUMPHS HAVE BEEN ACHIEVED ALONE. (H. T. Miller.)
1. Saints bent to the work of God will turn anything back that may trouble them in it.
2. Inferior things may and must be inhibited by souls above them in case of hindering from God.
3. Saints freed from incumbrances do speed to duties.
4. Humble submission to the hardest part of worship will God’s servants readily yield. Both Abraham and Isaac.
5. Return to relations, and relation duties is just after the worship of God.
6. Better events come after believing worship sometimes than saints are aware of. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
God will provide Himself a lamb
God’s provision of a lamb in Christ
This incident shows us in what lies the value of that sacrifice, and with what feelings we should regard it.
I. THE SACRIFICE WHICH GOD APPROVES MUST RE OF HIS OWN APPOINTING.
II. THE SACRIFICE WHICH GOD HAS PROVIDED IS SUPREMELY WORTHY OF ACCEPTANCE, AND GRACIOUSLY SUITED TO OUR CONDITION.
1. It has reconciled us to God.
2. It has procured the forgiveness of sins.
3. It opens the way to endless bliss.
III. THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE SACRIFICE GOD HAS PROVIDED IS THE TURNING POINT OF A MAN’S SPIRITUAL HISTORY.
1. It includes all the rest--repentance, faith, love, obedience.
2. It gives efficiency to all the rest.
3. It is the true test of spiritual character.
Abraham’s answer to his son’s question
I. THERE IS THE IDEA OF SUBSTITUTION. This is the pivotal fact in the scheme of redemption.
II. THIS WAS AN ACT OF DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY,
III. THE FUNDAMENTAL DEFECT IN THE RELIGION OF NATURE. It affords no lamb to complete the sacrifice.
IV. THE IMMINENCE OF ISAAC’S PERIL SUGGESTS THE DANGER IN WHICH UNGODLY SINNERS CONSTANTLY LIVE.
V. MUCH MIGHT BE SAID OF ISAAC’S FAITH IN THIS TRANSACTION--his weakness, his submission to parental authority, &c.
VI. HERE IS THE FIRE GOD’S UNAPPEASED JUSTICE; AND HERE IS THE WOOD: YOUR UNHOLY MEAT AND LIFE; BUT WHERE IS THE LAMB? God demands worship. A sacrifice He will have; but, with those two factors, justice and sin, no acceptable offering can be made. Bring the Lamb of God to the altar of worship, or expect yourself to be immolated on that altar, a victim of His offended justice and His broken law! (E. O. Frierson, D. D.)
Bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar
The love of the Father
Of all the many parts of the great truths concerning our redemption, which stand out in the history of Abraham and his son, there is one which seems to need especial consideration.
We have a very striking view, not only of the love of God the Son in consenting to go through, as man, the suffering of death, but also of the exceeding tender love of the Father towards us, who could consent to give His Son to death. We know, indeed, that, according to the mysterious decrees of God, it was the Son who suffered on the Cross, not the Father, though one with Him; that the Son died for our sins, that the Son came down from heaven, that the Son was nailed to the wood, that the Son went through the sorrows of death, that the Son gave Himself for us all. But can it have cost the Father nothing, to have sent the Son down from heaven, to have bidden Him go forth from His sight, and to tarry in this evil, wicked world? Can it have cost the Father nothing to have consented to that great task of suffering which the Son undertook? Can He have looked unmoved on the shame and scorn which fell on Him, even in the hour of His birth? Can He have looked unmoved on the Holy Child in the manger, and in His after scenes of reproach, When He was spoken against, blasphemed, hated, disbelieved? Can He, above all, have seen Him, unmoved, in those still more sorrowful acts, when He flung Himself down upon the ground in the garden, in the anguish of His soul, when His sweat was as it were great drops of blood, when He was dragged to prison and to death, when the crown of thorns was bound around His head, when He was scourged and spit upon, when He trembled beneath the weight of His cross, when He was lifted thereon, when the sharp nails were driven into His hands and feet, when the great thirst came upon Him, when the blood streamed down the Cross? Could an earthly father, with an earthly father’s love, have watched his son through such acts as these, without the keenest, sharpest grief, without the deepest sorrow, even though no hand was laid upon him, and he had no such acts of suffering to go through himself? And so does the Holy Ghost design, we must suppose, in picturing to ourselves Abraham’s sorrow as he walked by his son’s side, as he gazed upon him along that bitter road, as his heart swelled with grief, as he bound him with trembling fingers to the wood, as in an agony he lifted up the knife, that we should see in these things the grief of our heavenly Father in giving His Son to die. And so in seeing His grief, we see also His exceeding tender love towards us; and without lessening one jot or tittle--which God forbid--the love of our Saviour, love which is unspeakable, unfathomable, past knowing, past finding out, we yet get to raise the love of the Father to a greater height than we have ever been wont to give it. And in truth, as we get to observe more truly the proportion of faith, and to know the love of the Father, so shall we also get to learn more deeply the love of the Son. Instead of contrasting the love of the one with that of the other, we shall get to combine them in our minds without confusing them. All our thoughts will be of love; the love of God, of the one true God, of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Ghost, in their separate persons and offices, will engross our souls, and thus, our hearts being stirred within us in gazing on the mystery of Divine love, we shall, I trust, learn and show forth more and more of love ourselves; for this is the highest grace of all, this outlasts the world, this never faileth, this is the bond of perfectness, this is the very joy and occupation of heaven itself. (Bishop Armstrong.)
Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son
Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac
That we may properly ascertain the extent of Abraham’s virtue, we must consider THE RELATIVE SITUATION IN WHICH HE IS PLACED AT THIS CRITICAL PERIOD. Two Abrahams combated one against the other; but divine and heavenly principles raise him far above those which are carnal and terrestial. Grace triumphs over nature. Abraham makes a double sacrifice to God; an exterior sacrifice upon the mountain, and an interior sacrifice in the secret of his soul. In the one he takes his son and binds him; in the other he immolates to God the sentiments of his soul. Outwardly it is Isaac who is offered up, inwardly it is Abraham who suffers and who sacrifices himself. Abraham goes out of himself, and rises indeed to God. Never did the Deity regard the sacrifice with so much pleasure--never did heaven behold so delightful a spectacle.
II. In fact, the sacrifice of Abraham has been handed down to us as A GREAT AND SPLENDID TYPE OF THE SACRIFICE OF THE CROSS. Abraham immolates his only son. God also sacrifices His own Son. Behold the agreement which subsists between these two sacrifices, and which obliges us to consider one of these objects in the other as in the most perfect type; but behold the difference which distinguishes them, and which discovers to us how much the image sinks below the original. Go to Moriah, and you will there find a victim who follows the priest without knowing at first whither he is going, and who asks his father, where is the lamb for a burnt-offering? Turn your eye towards Calvary, and you will see Jesus Christ who exposes himself voluntarily to the sword of His Father, and who perfectly acquainted with His destiny, says to Him, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. There angels are sent from heaven to arrest the arm of Abraham; here devils issue from hell to hasten the death of Jesus Christ. In the sacrifice of Isaac, the fire, the knife, the sacrificer, are visible, but the victim does not at first appear; in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the victim appears first, but the knife, which is the sword of divine justice, and the fire, which consists in the ardour of his wrath and judgments, are invisible, are only seen by the eyes of faith. Upon the mountain of Moriah Abraham sacrifices his son to his Master, to his Benefactor, to his Creator, to his God; upon the mount of Calvary, God immolates his Son for the salvation of men, who are nothing but meanness, misery, and corruption. (Abbadie.)
The perfection of Abraham’s friendship with God
God is to this man a friend to be trusted, even though He slay; to be loved better than an only son; to be obeyed where reason refuses its light to justify the command, and nature with all her voices can only exclaim against it. It is the perfection of a man’s friendship with God to be thus loyal. It puts the all-perfect Lord, Whose name is Love, in His just place. It pays Him such honour as is His due. Irreligious minds, it is true, cannot rise so high as to comprehend this. To them, such an absolute sacrifice of everything to the Supreme must sound both unreasonable and unnatural. Even religious men are apt to find the air upon this height of sacrifice too rare for them to breath with comfort. It is only at moments of somewhat similar trial, when the Christian is lifted above his usual self-indulgent level, that he can taste a similar blessedness, or feel his heart at one with that ancient saint upon Moriah. None the less does this act of Abraham express the kind of self-surrender which must be natural to any one who perfectly knows God, and is in close friendship with Him, and therefore can repose in Him an unfaltering trust that He will act like God. To souls made perfect and set free from the shadows of earth into that vision of the Eternal Face for which it is our present blessedness to long, such a temper of sacrifice as Abraham attained may prove to be not natural only, but easy, and even rapturous. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
A typical transaction
Isaac was eminently a type of Christ; but throughout the whole of this instance how beautiful and striking! Look at the father; can anything be more analogous than Abraham’s conduct and our heavenly Father’s? Why did God say to Abraham, “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”? Why did He make Abraham himself prepare all the materials? Why did He make him take the knife himself, and the fire in his hand? Because it was exactly what our heavenly Father Himself has done, and because it was to be an appeal to our feelings, that we might have some understanding of what our Father has done. Did not our Father take His Son, His only Son, whom He loved, and offer him up upon a Mount, as a burnt-offering for us? Did He not take the knife? Did He not say, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd”? Did He not Himself bruise that Son? “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” Did He not Himself lay on that Son all those afflictions, and Himself literally cause that death, that His own demands and justice might be satisfied for your transgressions and mine? The parallel runs entirely through the deed. Thus He prepared the Son; He prepared a body for Him; He sent Him into the world, sent afflictions on Him, bruised Him, grieved Him, unsheathed the sword against Him, and made Him a burnt-offering in the furnace of His own wrath. Where shall we find the Lamb? This is what perplexed Isaac, and what perplexed the whole universe. “My son,” said Abraham, “God will provide Himself a Lamb.” So He did. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotton Son”; and therefore, when He came, “Behold the Lamb of God.” said his precursor, “that taketh away the sin of the world.” (C. Molyneux, B. A.)
Prohibition of human sacrifice
Several Greek myths have been compared with this narrative; but the similarity exists but remotely in some external circumstances. Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter, was to be sacrificed to Diana, and the priest Calchas was on the point of performing the fearful ceremony, when the virgin was carried away by the goddess in a cloud, and an animal offering was presented in her stead. But the motive for the intended sacrifice was perverse and barbarous; Agamemnon had killed a stag sacred to Diana; and the incensed goddess would only be reconciled if the king’s eldest and dearest daughter were offered to her. The future fate of Iphigenia was enveloped in mystery; it was only many years later that her abode was accidentally discovered by her wandering brother Creates. Thus, the cruel command, devoid of purpose or moral end, was the result of divine wrath and caprice. But the trial of Abraham was as important as regards the doctrine which it involved, as it was pure in the motive from which it arose. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh
The Lord will provide
I. THE LORD WILL PROVIDE FOR THE BODY. Temporal blessings, no less than spiritual, come to us through the medium of the covenant of grace.
1. The Lord will provide food for the body. He will bring round the seasons without fail, and make corn to grow for the service of man.
2. The Lord will provide raiment for His people. For forty years in the wilderness, amid the wear and tear of journey and of battle, the raiment of the Israelites waxed not old because Jehovah provided for them; and doth He not still remember His own?
3. The Lord will provide for His people protection. Many times are they delivered in a most wonderful way, and to the astonishment of the world.
II. THE LORD WILL PROVIDE FOR THE SOUL.
1. Jehovah has provided a Lamb; in the gift of His Son we have the guarantee for the supply of every needed blessing.
2. The Lord will provide for you His Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit comes to us through the atonement of Christ, and the sufficiency of the Sacrifice entailed and implied the promise of the Spirit, so that He who hath provided the Lamb is confidently to be trusted for this also.
3. The Lord will provide for the soul an eternal home, as is clear from that word, “I go to prepare a place for you.” When the toils of life’s pilgrimage are over there remaineth a rest for the people of God. (J. Thain Davidson, D. D.)
This incident teaches--
1. God’s right to our greatest blessings.
2. Man’s duty in the highest trial.
3. God’s providence in the greatest emergency.
I. THE PROVISIONS OF THE DIVINE INTERPOSITION CORRESPOND EXACTLY WITH HUMAN WANTS,
II. ITS PROVISIONS ARE OBTAINED IN CONNECTION WITH INDIVIDUAL AGENCY,
III. ITS PROVISIONS ARE OFTEN STRIKINGLY MEMORABLE. (Homilist.)
In the season of extremity, God appears for the relief of His people.
1. Severe trials are intended to prove the strength and purity of our faith. The Christian must walk by faith, not sight.
2. And may not another reason be, to stir us up to fervency in prayer?
3. We may also add, that the hand of God appears more obviously when He delivers just at the crisis of danger. Lesson: We need never despair of
Divine help when we are pursuing the path of Christian obedience. (D. C. Lansing, D. D.)
The Lord our Provider, and none other
I. In the first place it is A FACT. God will provide. It is His province. It is His, as the Lord. Providing is not the child’s, but the father’s business. Work as I may, care as I may, it is still the Lord who provides. I work and the Lord provides.
1. God does all His business thoroughly. Nothing that He ought to do, does He ever leave undone; and all that the Lord does, He does as God; not as man would do the thing, but as God alone can do it. If God provide, it must be in harmony with an eye that never sleeps, with hands that are ever working, with arms that are never weary, with a heart of paternal solicitude that never, never can change.
2. Then, observe, while providing is God’s business, He does it in a Godly style. There is no doubt about God’s plans being carried out. God has not pleased you always in the provision tie has made; and yet the provision has been sure and good. In plain language God has never neglected anything which He ought to have done for you.
II. Now look at THE TIME. When will He do it? Why, “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” God allows you to come to the mount before tie provides for you; that is, before He shows the provision. The provision is made long beforehand, but He does not show it. What does this fact say? Why this simple fact says, “wait.” If you cannot do a right thing to meet your own difficulties, do nothing. If you can do a right thing, and God give you the ability and the opportunity, that act may be God’s instrument for meeting your wants; but if you can do nothing without doing wrong, then it is quite clear you are to do nothing, and you are to say, “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” Now, why does God thus sometimes try you? Why! because you think too much of your own providing. Why! because you think too much of your fellow-creatures’ providing. Why! because you make gods of His creatures. (S. Martin.)
The Lord will provide
I. Let us consider WHAT GOD HAD PROVIDED FOR ABRAHAM IN TIME PAST.
1. The Lord provided for him an unusual measure of faith.
2. God had provided for Abraham a ram for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son.
II. Let us consider THE INFERENCE WHICH ABRAHAM DREW FROM WHAT GOD HAD PROVIDED FOR HIM IN TIME PAST. “Jehovah-jireh,”said he, “the Lord will provide.” So much as to say, “What lie has done is a pledge and an earnest of what lie will do. Since He has shown so much of His grace and goodness to me in time past, He will show more in time to some.” Do you ask, What will He provide?
1. He will provide for us in the life that now is.
2. God will provide for us in that life which is to come.
1. How precious is the grace of faith.
2. How devoted should we be to the service of God.
3. And lastly, how firm and assured should be the Christian’s confidence in his God. (D. Rees.)
I. WHAT WILL GOD PROVIDE? Two answers may be given to this question. One is furnished by the direct teaching of the passage, and the other by its inferential teaching.
1. It is clear from the direct teaching of this passage that God will provide for the greatest necessities of His people. This was what He did for Abraham. And now the cross of Jesus stands before us as the grand illustration of the truth and meaning of this great covenant name, Jehovah-jireh. The Lord promised to provide a ransom; and the ransom is provided.
2. And then there is an inferential teaching from this name- that He will provide for our lesser necessities. Jehovah has bridged the great gulf that once lay between us and heaven, and He will certainly bridge all the smaller gulfs that may meet us on our way.
II. How WILL GOD PROVIDE?
1. Wisely. He seeth the end from the beginning, and is infallible in all His plans and purposes. “The work of the Lord is perfect.” An important part of His work is to provide for His people. And when we apply the word “perfect” to this work, what an assurance we have of the wisdom that marks it! It is only when we lose confidence in this feature of God’s work that our hearts are troubled. Not long ago a Christian merchant met, unexpectedly, with some very great losses. He began to doubt the wisdom of that Providence which could allow such trials to overtake him. He returned to his home one evening in a gloomy and despairing state of mind. He sat down before the open fireplace in his library, “tossed with the tempest” of doubt and destitute of comfort. Presently his little boy, a thoughtful child of six or seven years, came and sat on his knee. Over the mantel-piece was a large illuminated card containing the words--“His work is perfect.” The child spelled out the words, and pointing to them, said, “Papa, what does perfect mean here?” And then, before his father, who was somewhat staggered by the inquiry, could make a reply, there came another question from the little prattler: “Doesn’t it mean that God never makes a mistake?” This was just the thought that troubled father needed to have brought before his mind. If the angel Gabriel had come down from heaven to help him, he could have suggested nothing more timely. And then the father, clasping the little one to his bosom, exclaimed, “Yes, my precious darling, that is just what it means.” His confidence in God revived. The dark cloud that had settled down upon him was scattered.
2. Tenderly. He is the God of the dew-drop as well as of the thunder and the tempest. He is the God of the tender grass as well as of the gnarled and knotted mountain oak.
3. Faithfully. He will provide for His people, not the things that they would most like to have here--not those that are the most pleasant and agreeable--but those that are the best. The foundation promise of the covenant is--“No good thing will He withhold.”
II. WHY DOES HE THUS PROVIDE FOR HIS PEOPLE? Two motives operate with Him to do this. One of these has reference to His people; the other has reference to Himself.
1. The motive in His people which leads God thus to reveal Himself as their Provider is their need--their weakness, or their want.
2. The motive in Himself is because He has the fulness required to meet our necessities. In us is weakness, in Him is strength; in us is ignorance, in Him is wisdom; in us is poverty, in Him is riches; in us is emptiness, in Him is fulness. And it is from the blending of these two elements--this weakness in us and this strength in Him--that the resultant force is found which will lead us on to victory. Let us take a familiar illustration of this statement. Yonder is a little fly. It is walking over the ceiling of the room with its head downwards, and yet it walks as safely as you or I do on the floor of the same room with our heads up. And now let us take our stand near yonder massive rock, over which the waves of the ocean are dashing continually. See, there is a little mollusc clinging to the smooth side of that rock. The sea sends up its mighty billows to dash in foam and thunder on that rock. But they can no more move that mollusc that clings there, than they can move the rock itself from its firm base. And what gives to these feeble creatures the security that attends them in their positions of danger? Under the foot of the fly, as it walks over the ceiling, is a little vacant space, a point of emptiness. And there is the same under the shell of the mollusc, as it clings to the rock. The power of the atmosphere is brought to bear on that point of emptiness in the foot of the fly and the shell of the mollusc. This gives to the fly and to the mollusc all the security and support they realize. And the same principle applies to spiritual things. “When I am weak,” said St. Paul, “then I am strong.” When I feel my weakness, i.e., and take hold of the strength that is offered me, then I am strong. The fly and the mollusc make use of the weakness that is in them to draw strength from the atmosphere by which they are surrounded. This gives to the fly the strength of the ceiling over which it walks: and to the mollusc the firmness of the rock to which it clings. And in the same way the Christian who feels his own weakness and takes hold of God’s strength is made as strong--yes! tell it out with boldness, for it is the truth--is made as strong as the omnipotent arm on which he leans, and the Almighty Jehovah to whom he clings. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Jehovah will pvovide
I. Look at the words AS THEY BEAR ON THAT GRAND CENTRAL EVENT IN THE WORLD’S HISTORY TO WHICH THEY HAD A PROSPECTIVE REFERENCE, AND IN WHICH THEY WERE DESTINED TO FIND THEIR FULL ACCOMPLISHMENT. For in this same place nearly two thousand years after--on or near the spot to which Abraham gave the name of “Jehovah will provide”--Jehovah did provide a Lamb for a burnt-offering, whose death will be the theme of all heaven throughout eternity! God never knew another from the beginning. I doubt not that Isaac was a Divinely ordained type of Him. Was Isaac the child of the promise? The true Child of the promise was Christ. Was Isaac long promised and long waited for before his birth? Four thousand years elapsed, of promise and long expectation, ere Simeon took up the Child Jesus in his arms, saying, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Was Isaac’s birth supernatural? “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Did Isaac meekly submit to be bound to the altar on the wood? “He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.” But here the resemblances seem to stop. Or, if there be anything, as I doubt not there is much, in the semblance of Isaac’s death and resurrection, yet assuredly it is here but a shadow. For no sinner might ever die to expiate sin; and our God never would have a human sacrifice even to prefigure the true. But now behold, at last, “the Man that is God’s fellow!” Behold the Lamb for a burnt-offering--O yes, consumed by the fire of that Divine holiness and justice, of which the fire of all the burnt-offerings was but the shadow.
II. “HATH APPEARED.” Abraham used the future tense--will provide. Are you in deep perplexity as to your path, and fearful of taking a false step? Write Jehovah-jireh, the Lord will provide counsel. The name of this Lamb is Wonderful, Counsellor--“I will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way in which thou shelf go; I will guide thee with Mine eye.” Are you called to some arduous duty? Write Jehovah-jireh, the Lord will provide strength--“My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Are you straitened as to temporal provision? Write still this word, Jehovah-jireh, for “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” Do you anticipate painfully the conflict with the last enemy? Write Jehovah-jireh--“O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” And as for the eternity beyond, still write Jehovah-jireh, for “the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
God the provider
I. WHAT DOES GOD PROVIDE FOR HIS PEOPLE? For their wants:
II. WHEN IS IT THAT GOD PROVIDES FOR HIS PEOPLE? Just when He sees fit; just as it accords with His infinite wisdom, and not as it accords with our carnal conceptions. He has “a set time” to favour Zion.
1. In life.
2. In sickness.
3. In death.
III. HOW DOES GOD PROVIDE FOR HIS PEOPLE? Little do we know of the numberless expedients to which God has recourse in His providence. (R. Luggar.)
The Lord will provide
No man who will tread in the steps of Abraham, that is, believe God and obey Him, will ever want a place on which to write Jehovah-jireh. He who shall do this may inscribe Jehovah-jireh on his purse, his table, his cupboard, his trade, his temptation, his trials, his afflictions, his dying day, and his future immortality. Faith--Obedience--The Lord will provide, are three points in the economy of God, as inseparable as the attributes of the Divine nature. (J. Bate.)
Long before the establishment of Bible societies, the Rev. Peter Williams, a pious, distinguished clergyman of Wales, seeing that his countrymen were almost entirely destitute of the Bible, and knowing that the work of the Lord could not prosper without it, undertook, though destitute of the means, to translate and publish a Welsh Bible for their use. Having expended all his living, and being deeply involved in debt, with the work unfinished, he expected every hour to be arrested and imprisoned, without the means or hope of release. One morning he had taken an affectionate leave of his family for the purpose of pursuing his pious labours, with an expectation that he should not be permitted to return, when, just as he was mounting his horse, a stranger rode up and presented him a letter. He stopped and opened it, and found, to his astonishment, that it contained information that a lady had bequeathed him a legacy of £300 sterling. “Now,” said he, “my dear wife, I can finish my Bible, pay my debts, and live in peace at home.” (J. Bate.)
A lady, who had just sat down to breakfast, had a strong impression upon her mind that she must instantly carry a loaf of bread to a poor man, who lived about half a mile from her house, by the side of a common. Her husband wished her either to postpone taking the loaf of bread till after breakfast, or to send it by her servant; but she chose to take it herself instantly. As she approached the hut, she heard the sound of a human voice. Willing to hear what it was, she stepped softly, unperceived, to the door. She now heard the poor man praying, and among other things he said. “O Lord, help me! Lord, Thou wilt help me; Thy providence cannot fail; and although my wife, myself, and children have no bread to eat, and it is now a whole day since we bad any, I know Thou wilt supply me, though Thou shouldst again rain down manna from heaven.” The lady could wait no longer; she opened the door, “Yes,” she replied, “God has sent you relief. Take this loaf, and be encouraged to cast your care upon Him who careth for you,” and when you ever want a loaf of bread, come to my house.” (J. G. Wilson.)
The Lord has made full provision for every human being. Behold the fields of fertile earth! Count the millions of acres on which we can grow food for man and beast. There is enough for each, for all, and for evermore.
1. He will provide a path for our life. You have seen a book without a title-page, and may have thought, “My life is like this book; I came into the world by chance, as a mite is found on the cheese.” The Lord made provision for your life. He gave a body in which your spirit could live, eyes with which to see, the power of speech, the command of thought; and, having provided you with a beginning, He also prepared a path in the world for your life.
2. The Lord will provide us with love. When you came into the world, He looked upon you with love, and His heart never changes. God is said to be like a sun. You can open your door and let in the blessed sunlight; and in the same way, you may open the chambers of your soul and be filled with the love of God.
3. The Lord will provide us with pardon.
4. The Lord also provides salvation for us.
5. He has provided for us peace of soul. Yesterday, when coming down Oxford Street, I noticed a painter on the top of a very high ladder. People were passing to and fro continually, yet the painter did not look down, and he did not appear to have the slightest anxiety. I stood and heard him humming a song. He was in a dangerous position; on the top of a high ladder resting upon the flags with people passing who might jog against the ladder and knock it over; yet he sang forth in gladness, and when he saw me nodded with delight. What was the secret? I will tell you. At the foot of the ladder stood a man holding it firmly, and this man was his safeguard. The painter had perfect peace up there on the ladder; he knew that his friend at the bottom was holding it, and that if any one came near the ladder unawares, the man at the bottom of it would warn them off. Likewise, the Lord provides peace for all His people. He holds our souls in
His hands, and nothing shall happen to us unknown to Him. He orders our steps, directs our paths, and numbers the very hairs of our heads. The man who knows this fact enjoys a solid peace which nothing can shake.
6. Let me close by showing that He will provide us with the power of true manhood. (W. Birch.)
The cure for care
I. The first thing that God provides for His people is--PROTECTION IS DANGER. It is wonderful how many illustrations we find, both in the Bible and out of it, of the way in which God provides protection in danger for His people. When we open the Bible for these illustrations, they meet us everywhere--Noah, Joseph, Moses, Jonah, Daniel. The animal and the vegetable kingdom afford us plenty of illustrations of this same truth. Look at the scales of the crocodile, and the thick, tough hide of the rhinoceros, and the powerful trunk of the elephant, and the strength and courage of the lion. Look at the turtle, with the castle that it carries about with it, and the snail crawling along with its house on its back. When you see how God provides for the protection of all these different creatures, you see how each of them illustrates the truth which Abraham was taught on Mount Moriah, when he called the name of it Jehovah-jireh. A friend of mine has a very powerful microscope. One day he showed me some curious specimens through it. Among these were some tiny little sea animals. They were so small that they could not be seen with the naked eye. They are made to live on the rocks under the water; and, to protect themselves from being swept away by the force of the waves, they are furnished with the tiniest little limbs you ever saw. Each of these is made exactly in the shape of an anchor. This they fasten in the rock; and as I looked at them with wonder through the microscope, I thought. Why, even among these very little creatures we see Jehovah-jireh, too! The Lord provides for their protection. And every apple and pear and peach and plum that grows shows the same thing, in the skin which is drawn over them for their protection. And so does every nut, in the hard shell which grows round its kernel. And so does every grain of wheat, and every ear of Indian corn, in the coverings so nicely wrapped around them to keep them from harm. And God is doing wonderful things all the time for the protection of His people. A Christian sailor, when asked why he remained so calm in a fearful storm, said, “If I fall into the sea, I shall only drop into the hollow of my Father’s hand, for He holds all these waters there.”
II. The second thing that God provides for His people is--RELIEF IN TROUBLE. Here is a striking illustration of the way in which God can provide this relief, when it is needed. Some years ago there was a Christian man in England, who was in trouble. He was poor, and suffered much from want of money. A valuable property had been left to him. It would be sufficient to make him comfortable all the rest of his life, if he could only get possession of it. But in order to do this, it was necessary to find out some deeds connected with this property. But neither he, nor any of his friends, could tell where those deeds were to be found. They had tried to find them for a long time; but all their efforts had been in vain. At last, God provided relief for this man in his trouble in a very singular way. On one occasion, Bishop Chase, who was then the Bishop of Ohio, in America, was on a visit to the city of Philadelphia. He was stopping at the house of Mr. Paul Beck. One day, while staying there, he received a letter from one of the bishops of the Church of England. This letter was written to Bishop Chase, to ask him to make some inquiries about the deeds relating to the property of which we have spoken. The letter had been sent out first to Ohio, and then to Washington, where the bishop had been. From there it had been sent on after him to Philadelphia. If Bishop Chase had received this letter in Ohio, or in Washington, he would probably have read it, and then have said to himself, “I can’t find out anything about these deeds,” and would have written to his friend, the English bishop, telling him so. But the letter came to him while he was at Mr. Beck’s house. Mr. Beck was present when the letter was received. The bishop read it to him. When Mr. Beck heard the letter read, he was very much astonished. “Bishop Chase,” said he, “it is very singular that this letter should have come to you while you are at my house. Sir, I am the only man in the world that can give you the information asked for in this letter. I have the deeds in my possession. I have had them for more than forty years, and never could tell what to do with them, or where to find the persons to whom they belong.” How wonderful it was that this letter, after coming across the ocean, and going from one place to another in this country, should reach the bishop while he was in the house, and in the presence of the only man in the world who could tell about those lost deeds! And if the poor man to whom the property belonged, when he came into possession of it, knew about the singular way in which those deeds were found, he certainly would have been ready to write upon them, in big round letters, the words, “Jehovah-jireh--the Lord will provide.” God provided relief for him in his trouble.
III. But there is a third thing that the Lord will provide, and that is--SALVATION FOR THE SOUL. Here is an illustration of a man who was very much burdened with care on account of his soul, and who had this care cured by the salvation which Jesus provides. Many years ago there was a very celebrated preacher, whose name was the Rev. George Whitefield. He went travelling all over England and this country preaching the gospel, and did a great deal of good in this way. One day a brother of Mr. Whitefield’s heard him preach. The sermon led him to see what a sinner he was, and he became very sorry on account of his sins. He was burdened with care because he thought his soul could not be saved; and for a long time it seemed as if he could get no relief from this burden. And the reason of it was that he was not willing to believe the word of Jesus. It is only in this way that we can be saved. When we read the promises of Jesus in the Bible, we must believe that He means just what he says. We must trust His word, and then we shall be saved. Well, one evening this brother of Mr. Whitefield was taking tea with the Countess of Huntingdon. This was an earnest Christian lady, who took a great interest in all good ministers, and the work they did for Jesus. She saw that the poor man was in great trouble of mind, and she tried to comfort him as they took their tea by talking to him about the great mercy of God to poor sinners through Jesus Christ. “Yes, my lady,” said the sorrowful man, “I know what you say is true. The mercy of God is infinite. I am satisfied of this. But, ah! my friend, there is no mercy for me. I am a wretched sinner, a lost man.” “I am glad to bear it, Mr. Whitefield,” said Lady Huntingdon. “I am glad in my heart that you have found out you are a lost man.” He looked at her with great surprise. “What, my lady!” he exclaimed, “glad, did you say? glad at heart that I am a lost man?” “Why, certainly I am, Mr. Whitefield,” said she; “for you know, Jesus Christ came into the world ‘ to seek and to save them that are lost.’ And if you feel that you are a lost man, why, you are just one of those that Jesus came to save.” This remark had a great effect on Mr. Whitefield. He put down the cup of tea that he was drinking, and clapped his hands together, saying, “Thank God for that! Thank God for that!” He believed God’s promise then. That cured his care. It took away his trouble. It saved his soul. He was taken suddenly ill and died that same night, but he died happy.
Observe, as you read this chapter, that this was not the first time that Abraham had thus spoken. When he called the name of the place Jehovah-jireh he had seen it to be true--the ram caught in the thicket had been provided as a substitute for Isaac: Jehovah had provided.
But he had before declared that truth when as yet he knew nothing of the Divine action, when he could not even guess how his extraordinary trial would end. His son Isaac had said to him, “Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?” and the afflicted father had bravely answered, “My son, God will provide.” In due time God did provide, and then Abraham honoured Him by saying the same words, only instead of the ordinary name for God he used the special covenant title--Jehovah. That is the only alteration; otherwise in the same terms he repeats the assurance that “the Lord will provide.” That first utterance was most remarkable; it was simple enough, but how prophetic!
1. It teaches us this truth, that the confident speech of a believer is akin to the language of a prophet. The man who accepts the promise of God unstaggeringly, and is sure that it is true, will speak like the seers of old; he will see that God sees, and will declare the fact, and the holy inference which comes of it. The believer’s child-like assurance will anticipate the future, and his plain statement--“God will provide “--will turn out to be literal truth.
2. True faith not only speaks the language of prophecy, but, when she sees her prophecy fulfilled, faith is always delighted to raise memorials to the God of truth.
3. Note yet further, that when faith has uttered a prophecy, and has set up her memorial, the record of mercy received becomes itself a new prophecy. Abraham says, “Jehovah-jireh--God will see to it”; what was he doing but prophesying a second time for future ages?
I. When Abraham said “ Jehovah will provide,” he meant us, first of all, to learn that THE PROVISION WILL COME IN THE TIME OF OUR EXTREMITY. The Lord gave our Lord Jesus Christ to be the Substitute for men in view of the utmost need of our race.
II. Secondly, upon the mount THE PROVISION WAS SPONTANEOUSLY MADE for Abraham, and so was the provision which the Lord displayed in the fulness of time when He gave up His Son to die.
III. But, thirdly, we ought to dwell very long and earnestly upon the fact that for man’s need THE PROVISION WAS MADE BY GOD HIMSELF. The text says, “Jehovah jireh,” the Lord will see to it, the Lord will provide. None else could have provided a ransom. Neither on earth nor in heaven was there found any helper for lost humanity. I will only interject this thought here--let none of us ever interfere with the provision of God. If in our dire distress He alone was our Jehovah-jireh, and provided for us a Substitute, let us not think that there is anything left for us to provide. O sinner, do you cry, “Lord, I must have a broken heart”? He will provide it for thee. Do you cry, “Lord, I cannot master sin, I have not the power to conquer my passions”? He will provide strength for thee. Do you mourn, “Lord, I shall never hold on and hold out to the end. I am so fickle”? Then He will provide perseverance for thee.
IV. That which God prepares for poor sinners is A PROVISION MOST GLORIOUSLY MADE. God provided a ram instead of Isaac. This was sufficient for the occasion as a type; but that which was typified by the ram is infinitely more glorious. In order to save us God provided God. I cannot put it more simply. He did not provide an angel, nor a mere man, but God Himself. Come, sinner, with all thy load of sin: God can bear it; the shoulders that bear up the universe can well sustain thy load of guilt. God gave thee His Godhead to be thy Saviour when He gave thee His Son. But He also gave in the person of Christ perfect manhood--such a man as never lived before, eclipsing even the perfection of the first Adam in the garden by the majestic innocence of His nature. When Jesus has been viewed as man, even unconverted men have so admired His excellence that they have almost adored Him. Jesus is God and man, and the Father has given that man, that God, to be thy Redeemer.
V. Fifthly, THE PROVISION WAS MADE EFFECTIVELY. Isaac did not die: the laughter in Abraham’s house was not stifled; there was no grief for the patriarch; he went home with his son in happy companionship, because Jehovah had provided Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering. The ram which was provided did not bleed in vain; Isaac did not die as well as the ram; Abraham did not have to slay the God-provided victim and his own son also. No, the one sacrifice sufficed. Beloved, this is my comfort in the death of Christ I hope it is yours--that He did not die in vain.
VI. Turn we then, sixthly, to this note, that we may well glorify Jehovah-jireh because THIS PROVISION WAS MADE FOR EVERY BELIEVER. VII. But now I close with a remark which will reveal the far-reaching character of my text. “Jehovah-jireh” is true concerning all necessary things. The instance given of Abraham being provided for shows us that the Lord will ever be a Provider for His people. As to the gift of the Lord Jesus, this is A PROVISION WHICH GUARANTEES ALL OTHER PROVISION. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Lord will provide
A poor woman, holding the hand of her little boy, recently said to the preacher, “Sir, the word ‘Jehovah-jireh’ has been a great comfort to us through this child. Owing to my husband’s long illness we were in great want. But one Sunday Robert came running home and said: ‘Cheer up, father and mother, the Lord will be sure to provide; Jehovah-jireh!’ And often after that, when we have been in trouble, he has said: ‘Come, let us sing a verse of Jehovah-jireh--
‘“Though troubles assail and dangers affright,
Though friends should all fail, and foes all unite,
Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide,
The Scripture assures us--The Lord will provide.”’
“Once, when we had no food left, he again told us not to forget Jehovah-jireh. He went out, but came back in a few minutes holding up a shilling he had found on the pavement, and saying: ‘Here’s Jehovah-jireh, mother; I was sure He would provide!’” Who will say this betokened childish ignorance and not Christian wisdom? Might not our philosophy be more sound, if we were more as “little children”? We know who said, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.” Hast not help often come to the people of God as unexpectedly, giving rise to the proverb, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity”? Should we not gratefully acknowledge such “interposition of Providence”; such special help from Jehovah the Provider. (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen
1. The Lord will be seen. In His special providence to His servants in their afflictions.
2. The time when He will be seen. “In the mount,” i.e., when things are brought to an extremity; when we think there is no more help nor hope, that is the time when the Lord will be seen.
I. IT IS GOD’S USUAL MANNER TO BRING HIS CHILDREN TO EXTREMITIES.
1. And the first cause why the Lord doth so usually do it is, when He brings afflictions on His children; He lets it run along till they may think there is no more help nor hope, that so it may be an affliction to them. If a man were in a smoky house, and had a door opened, it were no difficulty for him to shift himself out of it; but when we are shut up, that is it which makes it difficult; and that it might be so, the Lord suffers it to come to an extremity.
2. Secondly, the Lord brings us to an extremity because the Lord might be sought to; for so long as the creatures can do us any good, we will go no further; but when they fail us, we are ready to look up to the Lord; as it is with men which are on the seas, when they are in an extremity, those that will not pray at any other time, will pray now, and be ready to say with these in the prophet Hosea, “Come and let us return unto the Lord; for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He wilt bind us up” Hosea 6:1); and the reason is, because where the creature ends, the Lord must begin, otherwise there can be no help at all.
3. Thirdly, the Lord doth it, because that hereby it comes to pass that the Lord may be known to be the helper; that when we are delivered He may have all the praise.
4. Fourthly, the Lord doth it, because all that we have, we may have as a new gift; therefore the Lord suffers us, as it were, to forfeit our leases, as it were, that He may renew them; otherwise we should think ourselves to be freeholders.
5. Fifthly, the Lord doth it because He may teach us by experience to know Him. But here some man will be ready to say, Why cannot that be without these extremities? To this I answer, you must know when a man goes on in a course, without any troubles or changes, his experience is to no purpose; for he hath no great experience of the Lord. But when a man is in tribulation, that brings experience; and experience, hope; for it is another kind of experience that is so learned, than that which comes without it; and indeed nothing is well learned till it be learned by experience.
6. Lastly, the Lord does it for proof and trial, as in the case of Abraham.
II. IN THE TIME OF EXTREMITIES WILL THE LORD BE SEEN, AND NOT BEFORE. Why?
1. Because the Lord knows this is the best way to draw forth the practice of many graces and good duties, which otherwise would be without use.
2. Because He would give a time to men to repent and meet Him in, which is good for His children; otherwise we would not seek unto the Lord.
3. To let us know the vanity of the creature. The use of it is to teach us not to make too much haste for deliverance in the time of distress, but to wait upon the Lord, yea, depend upon His providence when we seem to be without help. If we look upon the creature, yet then are we to depend upon the Lord, so as never to say there is no help, but on the contrary to say, “I will trust in Him though He kill me.”
III. GODLY MEN’S EXTREMITIES ARE BUT TRIALS, SENT FOR THEIR GOOD; NOT PUNISHMENT SENT FOR THEIR HURT AND RUIN. Ay, but what is that good? Why, this; first, it shall increase grace in your hearts; for as the gold which is tried loseth nothing but dross, and so is made the better thereby, so it is with our afflictions, for “the trial of our faith,” saith the apostle, “bringeth forth patience”; for the greater thy trial is, the more it strengthens thy faith, and so increaseth comfort; for when the afflictions of the apostle abounded, his consolation abounded also. Again, you shall have the greater wages; for when a man hath a friend that hath been employed about any great thing for him, why, the greater the trouble was which he did undergo for him, the more will he be beholden to him, and the greater reward will he bestow upon him; even so, the greater the trials are from the Lord, the greater benefit will come to us by them. (J. Preston.)
The celebrated Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, who rose from a humble station in life to the highest rank, and passed through strange and trying vicissitudes, used these words as his motto, and ordered them to be engraved on his tomb: “God’s providence is my inheritance.” (Old Testament Anecdotes.)
Trust in the Lord
Paul Gerhardt, the German poet and preacher, after ten years of pastoral work in Berlin, was deprived of his charge by the King of Prussia, and expelled from the country. He turned towards Saxony, his native land, accompanied by his wife and little children, all on foot, without means and without prospect. They stopped at a village inn to pass the night, and there the poor woman naturally gave way to a burst of sorrow and anxiety. Her husband endeavoured to comfort her, especially dwelling upon the words of Scripture, “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.” The same evening two gentlemen entered the inn parlour, and mentioned that they were on their way to Berlin to seek the deposed clergyman, Paul Gerhardt, by order of Duke Christian, of Merseburg, who desired to settle a considerable pension on him as a compensation for the injustice from which he had suffered. (Fifteen Hundred Illustrations.)
By Myself have I sworn
God Himself the foundation of our hopes
“By Myself have I sworn.
” By Himself God swears to us; by His power, His tenderness, His sympathy, He assures our hearts.
1. If we take up afresh any work for God, He is pledged--by Himself pledged to us--not to despise that work, to guide us in it, to accept it at our hands.
2. If we turn again to any cross--find the home darkened, or business difficult, or health still failing--if we find that holiday and rest do not sweep away the cloud: behind the cloud is God, strengthening for the cross is God, and by Himself He swears to us that, bearing that cross, it shall lead us to a crown.
3. If we are troubled by the dimness of the future, if perplexities thicken even as the years--and the responsibilities of the years--in-crease day by day, God is pledged--by Himself pledged--to guide every trustful follower. Only follow on to know the Lord. Why, beyond all that dim future there is heaven, our Father’s home and ours. And every step between the little now and that bright home is as sure as is that home and as is this now. (T. Gasqucine, B. A.)
The promise confirmed to Abraham by an oath
“Often before had God promised,” says Augustine, “but never sworn.” It was in recognition of the evidence which had just been afforded of His servant’s staunch loyalty to the covenant, that the Eternal was pleased in this unexampled manner to reduplicate securities for His own faithfulness, previous to this oath, Abraham had the word of God, and no more, on which to build his confidence. On that bare guarantee he had shown that he could build securely. Because he had judged it impossible for God to lie, therefore he had that day surrendered the one visible security which he possessed for the fulfilment of God’s word, by sacrificing the life on which its fulfilment turned. He trusted the All-truthful and Almighty to keep faith with His friend in His own way. For that very reason did a generous promiser vouchsafe to the man something more than a naked word. “To him that hath shall be given.” “Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only one, from Me, therefore by Myself have I sworn that in blessing I will bless thee.” Thenceforth, as the New Testament explains, the believer possessed, not one, but “two immutable things” on which to rest. Through Abraham’s obedience have we all obtained this “strong consolation.” (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed
Blessing in Abraham’s seed
There was to be a seed, a natural seed, including a spiritual seed, and this again including an individual seed.
2. The seed of Abraham is to have a relation to all the families of the earth. As Abraham was not a head of all mankind, like Adam or Noah, it was necessary to emphasize the universality of the blessing.
3. The benefit conveyed by the seed is here characterized by the word “blessed.” Blessing is like mercy in this: that it sums up in one word the whole salvation of which the Bible is the gospel. It involves redemption and regeneration, both of which are necessary to salvation. (Prof. J. G. Murphy)
A great promise
1. This promise
(1) narrows down previous Messianic anticipations, inasmuch as it points to the family instead of the race, as the source whence the Great Benefactor should arise;
(2) vastly widens them, inasmuch as it indicates that the beneficent work of that Benefactor will be universal.
2. We conclude that this is an anticipation of Christ, because
(1) it has proved to be an accurate description of Him;
(2) it is only true of Him;
(3) New Testament distinctly applies the Scripture to Him. This warranted, we look for the advent of Christ as for--
I. THE ADVENT OF A BENEFACTOR FROM AMONG THE JEWS. This suggests-
1. The proper interest we should take in the Jewish people.
2. The solemn warning that contact with what is most sacred does not ensure blessing.
II. THE ADVENT OF A BENEFACTOR FOR THE WORLD. We may adoringly notice--
1. The way in which Christ has already been a universal blessing.
2. The future that there yet must be for Christianity. (Homilist.)
All nations blessed in Abraham’s seed
I. SOME OF THE REASONS FOR GIVING THIS DESCRIPTION OF THE MESSIAH: “The seed of Abraham.”
1. Christ is called the seed of Abraham because He was to assume human nature; to be truly man; a man like ourselves.
2. Christ was called the seed of Abraham, that additional evidence of His claims as Messiah might be given when He came into the world.
3. There is a third reason why He is called, why, in fact, He was made, the seed of Abraham. There is, after all, a peculiar relation between Christ and the Jews, as His brethren after the flesh.
II. Let us now consider THE IMPORT OF THE DECLARATION, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
1. In the first place, there is its Divinely revealed truth.
2. The religion of Christ is calculated to produce human happiness, because it exhibits the Divinely-prescribed method by which the guilty may obtain pardon; in other words, that great doctrine of human hope and joy, that of justification by faith in the atonement and intercession of the Saviour.
3. In further examining this Divine system, to discover its adaptation to human happiness, we find the great, the singular, promise of the Holy Spirit.
4. Another adaptation to human happiness in Christianity is found in its explicit enforcement of those relative duties on which the welfare of society so much depends.
5. The last of these adaptations is, the kind and merciful spirit of the Gospel. (R. Watson.)
Abraham dwelt at Beersheba
Man’s first hour in heaven, illustrated by the probable feelings of Abraham at Beersheba, immediately on his return from the offering up of Isaac
ABRAHAM NOW AT BEERSHEBA HAD THE SATISFACTION OF HAVING PRACTICALLY RECOGNIZED GOD’S ABSOLUTE CLAIM UPON HIM.
1. An immense claim.
2. Yet righteous.
II. ABRAHAM AT BEERSHEBA HAD THE SATISFACTION OF HAVING PURSUED THE PATH OF RECTITUDE THROUGH THE GREATEST TRIALS.
1. In relation to the period at which it occurred.
2. In relation to the sentiment of his age.
3. In relation to his theological creed.
4. In relation to his domestic association.
5. In relation to his own nature.
III. ABRAHAM AT BEERSHEBA HAD THE SATISFACTION OF KNOWING THAT HE HAD OBTAINED THE APPROBATION OF HIS MAKER--expressed in three ways.
1. By a signal interposition.
2. By an unequivocal assurance.
3. By the unfolding of a glorious future. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 22". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany