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which obtrude themselves with some clamour, and are very hard to be answered. .
But let us not be discouraged. The subject will 'soon wear a better face: for if we view this transaction, with its motives, circumstances, issues, and prophetical signatures, (all of which must be taken into the account) we shall not only see the truth and justice of God acquitted, but shall understand the whole as an additional argument of the divine wisdom and mercy. In the prosecution of this enquiry, our first step must be to ask, with what design God commanded Abraham to offer up his son?
V. After the flood, the church and the true religion were continued in the family of Shem: for in the other sons of Noah, particularly in Ham, the same principles of infidelity which had corrupted the old world, began to work afresh in the new : so that at the expiration of the first century after the flood (if we take the naming of Peleg as a memorial of the transaction) a scheme of apostacy was set on foot at Babel, or, as the Greek version calls it, Babylon. That there was a change in religion at the time of the dispersion from Babel is highly probable on all accounts : and the Scripture seems to contain some evident marks of such an event. The denomination of the children of Heber, or Hebrews, as distinguishing the true believers from the Gentiles, and which took place at this time, is one mark of it. A second is the character we have of Babylon in the Revelation of St. John; for it could not properly be assumed to denote a mother of religious abominations in the
mystical sense,' unless itself had originally been such in the literal. A third, and a plainer mark than either of the foregoi ag, is the fact; that from this time we
cannot with certainty find any religion amongst the descendants of Ham and Japheth, but that of idolatry.
From the time of the dispersion at Babel, two parts of the world out of three were gone off to heathenism: and as falsehood is more alluring than truth, and generally more successful in its zeal, through the corruption it has to work upon, idolatry would soon gather many proselytes from the posterity of Heber. Such was the rapidity of its progress, that in less than three hundred years from the flood, the Progenitors of Abraham were infected with this growing evil, and are said to have served other Gods *.
The divine mercy therefore, having regard to the succeeding generations, judged it necessary to separate from the world some one individual of the children of Heber, for the preservation of the faith and the practice of true religion; both of which were now like to be extirpated by the prevailing influence of idolatry.
VI. Abraham was the person selected of God for this
purpose. He was called to be the father of the church of the Hebrews, and of that promised seed which was to bruise the head of the Serpent. But as faith and righteousness are the marks which have always distinguished the members of the church from the children of this world, it was expedient that the person, so called of God, should be eminent as an example of both to all his posterity. With this view divine providence was training him up, under the severe discipline of a long and solemn probation. For though he is able to search the heart, and read all the secrets of it, he requires nevertheless, that the inward state of the mind should always be made manifest
# Josh. xxiv. 2.
by some outward acts, for the perfecting of his saints, and for an example to those who come after. Abraham is supposed to have believed in the true God froin the beginning: and faith is an excellent virtue, without which no other virtue can stand, and upon which every other may be built. Yet the only acceptable faith, is that which worketh by love. Some men may think well; some may speak well; and others may both think and speak as their duty requires : yet they may easily fail when their thoughts and their words are to be reduced to action. This is the surest trial of their sincerity: and if the heart of man/may so far impose upon itself as to think its attainments higher than they are, some fact is necessary to convince it of its mistake, and thereby lead it forward to greater degrees of perfection.
VII. On this consideration, as well as on some others, it was necessary that the facts of Abraham's life should agree with the profession of his understanding: and indeed all professions are vain so long as they want this seal of perfection. Therefore he was commanded to get out from his country, and from i his kindred, and from his father's house, unto a land which God would shew unto him *. The land was not pointed out to him by name, that it might be an object of faith, not of knowledge. For they who are inclined to follow God no farther than their own knowledge will give them assurance about the way, neither know themselves, nor the nature of obedience, nor the majesty of that Being by whom they are called: and however great they may appear in their own estimation, they are too little for his purposes. The holy Patriarch was of another disposition. He
. Gen. xii. 1.
obeyed, und went out, not knowing whither he went *. His obedience being regulated by a principle of faith, he resigned himself up to the disposal of God, without knowing how he was to be disposed of. Reason and faith, though different in themselves, are by no means inconsistent; because it is every way fit and rational for any creature to give itself up absolutely to the direction of its Creator. Reason, without faith, will stand questioning; and unless it can first be satisfied, as to the ends and issues of things, and reconcile the means with its own preconceptions, it will refuse to be directed. But here to Abraham neither the end nor the means were fully opened. The command of God was proposed for his obedicnce; and he knowing it to be impossible for the will of a Being infinitely perfect to have any end but a good one in view, or to pursue by insufficient means, assented to the will of God, and followed it, without thinking it necessary for him to foresee the whole series of its operations. He was content, if it should so please God, to spend his whole life upon earth in a state of suspense and dependence, and to live upon expectation.
VIII. The land to which he was called, proved at length to be the land of Canaan;/a land promised to himself and to his seed after hin, when as yet he had no childt. Here he sojourned, as a passenger in a strange country. He had reached the expected land; yet found it no seat of enjoyment, but only a new station, from whence his faith might still look forward: for not long after his arrival, a famine f rendered it uninhabitable, and he was obliged to remove for a season into Egypt. The traveller, who is passing
Heb. xi, 8.
† Acts vii. 5.
Gen. xii. 10.
through an unknown road, may imagine that the summit of the next hill will present to his sight the end and object of his journey; but when he has reached it, he finds it succeeded by another, much more remote, and must wait with patience for a better prospect.
That Canaan itself was offered to Abraham only as a stage in the way of his pilgrimage, and that he accepted it in no other capacity, is clear from his manner of using it. He founded no city there; he built no towering capitol; he raised no fortifications: but builded an altar unto the Lord who had appeared unto him *, and dwelled in tabernacles t, or moveable tents; not assuming the form of the prince or the soldier, but of the shepherd and the pilgrim; of one who had no fixed habitation in this world, but was a stranger upon earth, waiting for an heavenly inheritance, a true Canaan, a land worth enjoying, with a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God I.
IX. The degenerate children of Abraham, with whom St. Stephen argued in his apology, were urged with the example of their great forefather; the nature of whose tenure was displayed so clearly, and insisted upon so eloquently from the words of their Law; that when they compared their own sordid sentiments with the holiness and sublimity of his profession, as the discourse of St. Stephen in a manner forced them to do, they were not able to endure the contrast. They had fixed their hearts
upon and nation, as they called it. Their country, their temple, and a deliverance from Roman tax-gatherers, were the important objects of their devotion. But
* Gen. xii. 7.
| Heb. xi. 9.
| Ibid. xi. 10.