« PreviousContinue »
there was an evidence of such undeviating obedience to the commandment of Heaven, a testimony of such firm and unalterable faith, as few of thy sons, however nearly resembling thee in these excellent gifts, have happily been called upon to bear. It was such a trial to human wisdom and to human feelings ; it was such a trial to religious principle and to parental tenderness: to shed the blood of him to whom thou hadst communicated bis being, seemed so to contravene the very rudiments of the law of nature; to cut off out of the land of the living him upon whom rested all the promises of blessing upon the human race, seemed so to render the accomplishment of those promises impossible, that nothing but an irresistible conviction of the reality of a commandment to do the deed, a commandment originating in him whose will is law,—could either have suggested, or sanctified, or carried thee through the scene.
Thus far all agreed. That the trial of Abraham was difficult, beyond the difficulties to which men are subject in the ordinary temptations of life, is universally allowed. But from this point, the line of separation between the children of belief and the children of infidelity begins, and grows wider and wider at every step, as they proceed in the discussion of those principles, upon which the solution of the controversy must ultimately rest.
The children of belief and of Abraham, taking for an ensample the dependence of their forefather upon the simple and unadulterated word of God, believe upon the authority of Moses, that the Patriarch acted upon a sure and ascertained commandment from the Lord ; and therefore was justified in his awful deed. They rest, in the second place, upon the inspiration of St. Paul, for their information with regard to the motives by which the Patriarch was influenced to obedience, and the means by which he reconciled the seeming contrariety of the two declarations he had received; namely, that Isaac should be slain in sacrifice, and yet live to become the father of the promised seed. They hold it to be a faithful saying, that Abraham accounted God to be able to raise up his slain and offered son even from the dead: and thus do they think that they remove from his mind every apprehension of inconsistency between the commandment to sacrifice, and the promise to bless his son. Supported, lastly, by the united assertions of the Prophet and the Apostle, they maintain, that because Abraham believed the power, and submitted himself meekly to the recognised will of God, his obedience in that faith was rightly counted to him for righteousness in the eye of eternal mercy, though he was himself far, no doubt, from being perfect in personal righteousness, when weighed in the balance of impartial justice. For God, that chargeth even the angels with folly, must needs be supposed to have beheld enough of impurity and imperfection, even in the character of faithful Abraham, to have blotted him out for ever from the book of independent merit.
These are the arguments of them that believe. The children of unbelief, on the other hand, trusting to the conclusions of human reason, as drawn only from their own general principles of moral obligation and their own philosophical systems of religious faith, maintain, that all these reasonings are feeble and inconclusive. Of the tenderness of Abraham's heart, and of the piety of his intention, and of the struggle which there must have been in his mind between the sense of duty and desire, they express no positive or considerable degree of doubt. But they argue, that he ought to have allowed no mode of divine communication to prevail over his better feelings, and bring him to the commission of what they deem a manifest act of paternal cruelty. That in Abraham's conduct we have a powerful example of the triumph of what was supposed to be
the dictate of religious principle over the yearnings of nature and a parent's love, they admit. But they hold, at the same time, that the triumph was gained, rather by an easy credulity than a well-grounded belief; and that it is, consequently, an example rather of an holy weakness of understanding, than a reasonable strength of faith. No evidence, however clear, could, in their opinion, have justified any individual father upon earth in believing that a commandment to slay his own and his only son, proceeded from the pitiful father of all in Heaven; or that his obedience, in consequence of that belief, would be considered and received as an acceptable service. Upon these considerations they conclude, that such a commandment is altogether unfit to find a place amongst the recorded dispensations of God to man, and such obedience equally undeserving of those repeated commendations with which it has been loaded both by Prophets and Apostles. They would praise the Patriarch indeed themselves; but with allowance and with judgement: and because they think it alike incongruous for God to require, and man to perform, the rite of human sacrifice, they commend the motive, but condemn both the deed of Abraham, and the book of Genesis.
In these remarks we have the substance of
the whole objection against the credibility and propriety of the fact in its literal interpretation. The commandment to Abraham to offer Isaac his son is censured, as unworthy of the holiness of God to give; unworthy of the wisdom of Abraham, as a man, to believe; still more unworthy of his tenderness and duty, as a father, to obey; and most of all unworthy of being represented, as it is represented in Genesis, as the cause of that pre-eminent blessing, which God so solemnly pronounced upon the Patriarch.
1. If such indeed were a true representation of the case, I know not with what semblance of reason we could venture to recommend the writings of Moses or of St. Paul to the perusal and meditation of Christians. But why is the command to be considered unworthy of God to give? Who are they that thus presume to determine the limits within which the will of the Almighty must move; and what are the rules by which they pretend to judge of the propriety of his commands? They are men, mere mortal and fallible men, who engage in this fearful responsibility, and their only ground of argument is some seeming incongruity between the command and what they are pleased to term, the eternal and immutable fitness of things. They tell us that the obligations of morality are “founded in nature,” that they are