Page images
PDF
EPUB

"as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth.” Each was counted dead in the sight of men, yet each was raised again, and returned unto those he had left. Each was the heir of the promise by descent, and to each the promise has been fulfilled. The seed of each has been "multiplied as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore, and in their seed have all the nations of the earth been blessed." It is impossible to consider those resemblances, and not to perceive how strictly they correspond with each other. What then could be more proper or wise, than that God should choose that particular mode of trial for the Patriarch, which, whilst by its severity it proved to every succeeding generation the readiness and the fulness of his obedience and faith, would, at the same time, by its nature have a direct tendency to convince those who might live after the Messiah had appeared and suffered, that both the manner of his appearance and sufferings had been thus typified and foreseen. This prefiguration then of the sacrifice of Christ, which may be so distinctly and decidedly recognised in the offering up of Isaac to the Lord, and which could not have been unknown to the omniscience of him who gave the command, would seem, when added to the other considerations we have urged, to

account not only for the severity of the duty which was required from Abraham, but almost for every circumstance by which it was accompanied and marked. As a type of the Messiah, the command to offer Isaac was most fit to be selected.

Enough, I trust, has now been said to justify the ways of God to man, and to shew that this command was not unworthy of the holiness of God to give. But it still remains for us to justify the obedience of man to God. We have still to shew how Abraham, to whom some of the points upon which we have dwelt, must have been unknown, could yet perceive that the command was one which it was neither unworthy of his reason as a man to believe, nor of his tenderness as a father to obey. This, therefore, must be the subject of a following Lecture.

In the mean time, I would most earnestly exhort all, and especially those who are entering upon the investigations of moral philosophy, to be peculiarly jealous of the nature of those principles which they allow to become the fundamental principles of their acts or judgement. Virtue consists in obedience to the known will of God, and in nothing else. It may be right enough for those who have no revelation of

the divine will, to resort to those probable rules of right which reason propounds; and it is always our bounden duty to reject every pretended revelation which lays down such general precepts for the regulation of our conduct in life, as contradict the feelings of nature and of conscience. It is upon this ground that we fearlessly reject the Scriptures of the Mahometan, because whilst they are unsupported by any solid external proof, they are internally condemned by the evidence of a variety of ceremonial and moral precepts, whose immediate effect, if carried into universal practice, would be to destroy, instead of promoting the happiness of mankind. But where the truth and divinity of a religion, like that of the Gospel to which we bow, is sanctioned by almost every kind of testimony which imagination could desire, and where its statutes and its ordinances are altogether merciful and holy and right, we should never permit such a compact and solid body of external and internal proof, to be borne down by the difficulty we may experience in explaining the propriety of a particular command to some particular individual, which was never intended to be made a guide or an example to others. Here it will be right to remember man's weakness and ignorance; and here it will be right to reverence God's wisdom and power. But those who have

already embraced some invariable definition of right and wrong, can never be in a capacity to act thus. Whether their standard be laid in the general consequences of actions which they cannot always appreciate, or in the eternal fitness of things, which they seldom, if ever understand, or in some supposed natural obligations of morality antecedent to every consideration of a Deity and his will; by which ever of these philosophical rules they presume universally to judge of the operations and commands of God, it is more than possible that they may often judge foolishly and censure in vain. Doubtless the Almighty can never really violate one single principle which philosophy approves; but it is not unreasonable to allow, that there may be cases, especially in the brief histories of more ancient ages, where we may err in the application of the correctest principles. Above all, therefore, it becomes us, in the outset of life, to be cautious in the admission of such universal principles as, if once imbibed into the mind as the infallible criteria of things human and divine, may lead us to reject even our religion, and reprove even our God.

288

LECTURE XV.

GOD TEMPTING ABRAHAM,

AND ABRAHAM's OBEDIENCE AND FAITH

IN OFFERING ISAAC, CONSIDERED.

PART II.

HEB. II. 17, 18, 19.

By faith Abraham when he was tried, offered up

Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son,.... Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called : . . . . Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he re

ceived him in a figure." To contemplate things fairly, and to form a correct and unobjectionable opinion, especially when the morality of human actions is concerned, it is necessary to view the subject not merely according to its abstract qualities, but also in its actual relations. For as every general principle is susceptible of a variety of limitations, we know not in what manner, or to what extent, that particular principle which is involved in

« PreviousContinue »