By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,…
I. WE OFTEN TALK OF TRIALS. It may be questioned whether there ever was a trial of the kind at all equal to this. All ages, says Bishop Hall, have stood amazed at it; and still the mystery of the Divine mandate is not greater than the strength of Abraham's faith.
1. This command has reference to a son, an only son; and what is more, the son of Abraham's old age; and what is still more, for aught that appears, a dutiful, obedient son: one who must have been beloved for his unobtrusive excellences.
2. In addition to this you are to bear in mind that this son was the embodiment of a promise and covenant that Abraham held dearer than all earthly good, dearer than his own life. When you consider that that covenant had in it the germ of the covenant of grace, it is clear that he looked upon Isaac as, in some sort, an incarnate representation of salvation. His loss was enough to shake the very foundations of the father's faith.
3. We may remark that Abraham was commanded to perform this act with his own hand. It must not be entrusted to another. He must be the priest to immolate this innocent victim.
4. You are to observe further that it was a protracted trial. A three days' journey, with all its painful exercises of mind, must be interposed to try Abraham's faith and obedience.
5. You must notice the cruel nature of the sacrifice itself. There must be first the knife, and afterwards the fire. A father's hand carried them both.
6. Analyse the command itself, and you will see that it amplifies every circumstance calculated to harrow up the father's feelings. The very terms in which God makes known His will are expressly chosen to touch every fibre of his heart, and set his subsequent obedience in the strongest light.
7. Look at the scandal it would involve; scandal upon God, upon religion, and upon himself. Did none of these painful consequences suggest themselves to the patriarch's mind, and stagger his resolution? He may have thought of them, but they did not move him. He knows and believes that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and that it is his province only to obey.
II. Let us turn to glance at THE CONDUCT OF ABRAHAM UNDER THIS FEARFUL DISPENSATION.
1. We read of no remonstrances, no expostulations, no questionings, no doubts, no evasions, no appeal by prayers.
2. Observe his promptitude and diligence in the duty. He rose up early in the morning to begin the most doleful journey he ever performed. Who would not have thought that to be a little leisurely would have been a pardonable delay? What a strange haste is this on such a terrible errand!
3. Observe farther how steadfastly he keeps out of his way everything that might obstruct him in his purpose. We do not find that he informed Sarah whither he was going, or with what object. He would not expose his resolution to her natural tears and importunities. A little further on he is careful to dismiss even the young men that attended them, that he may be spared their entreaties, and perhaps reproaches, at least till it shall be too late to alter his resolution. What man but Abraham would have cleared his way so carefully of all lawful excuses and impediments. Who does not see his determination to seek no deliverance, but that which comes distinctly and directly from God.
4. Again, notice the terms in which he dismisses these attendants: "Abide ye here; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again unto you." Take this in connection with what the apostle tells us, and you will see the secret of his fortitude; it was his faith. He accounted that God was able to raise him up even from the dead. Still he trusts in the covenant.
5. Let us proceed a little further; there is one yet more piercing trial for the heart of the patriarch. Unsuspecting Isaac, bearing his heavy burden, like our blessed Redeemer carrying His own Cross, as yet little dreaming that he must soon meet a disclosure enough to scorch the father's lips to utter, as the son's ears to hear; Isaac, I say, pondering upon the intended sacrifice, begins to wonder where the victim is to be found, "We have the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb?" Oh, cutting stroke! Can Abraham bear this and yet dissemble? Does not suppressed nature assert itself yet, in a burst of uncontrollable emotion? Did neither eye, nor cheek, nor manner, betray the horrid secret? No; calm, collected, determined, he still conceals, and where he meant evasion, prophesies, "My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering."
6. How that disclosure was made at last, I know not; but it must have been made. How Abraham prevailed on his son to submit, I know not. No doubt, "Isaac helped to build the altar whereon he must be consumed." No doubt he considered that "the author was God; the actor, Abraham; the work, a sacrifice"; and "approved himself a son of Abraham" by a voluntary submission. Just when the stroke was about to descend, the voice was heard from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham, lay not thine hand upon the lad" &c. So easily, so quickly can the Lord turn sorrow into joy! "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
III. Let us now proceed to consider THE DESIGN OF THIS TRANSACTION, AND THE PRINCIPAL INSTRUCTION IT CONVEYS.
1. In the first place we may inquire whether it is not reasonable to suppose that God intended to give, by the sacrifice of Isaac, a shadow of the great redemption? To this question we reply by appealing, first, to the fulness of its signification considered in this view; secondly, to the general consent of Jewish expositors themselves; thirdly, and chiefly, to the strange and revolting nature of the command given to Abraham, which is hard to be vindicated, or even understood, on any other supposition. On these grounds we plead for a mystical interpretation of the subject. We invite you to contemplate in this shadow the sacrifice which God the Father made when He gave up His only beloved Son to death for your sakes; and the voluntary subjection of Christ, who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, that He might take away your sins. You may even behold in Isaac an image of your Saviour bearing His own Cross; and see him preparing to suffer almost upon that very hill which afterwards became the altar whence the greater victim sent up to heaven the virtue of His atonement, to plead for ever on behalf of a guilty world.
2. In this transaction a great example of faith and obedience is proposed for our consideration. Abraham exhibits a confidence in the Divine promises, which could not be shaken either by his reason or by his afflictions. There are such times of trial in the experience of every believer; and then it is seen who are the seed of Abraham. When God is trusted still amidst the wrecks of human hope; when His covenant is held fast, though Providence be wrapt in impenetrable mystery, and every earthly interest sacrificed on the altar of His service; I see revived the spirit of the patriarch, and recognise that filial resemblance which hinds up in his family the whole Church of God, in both dispensations, from his own age to the end of time.
3. We may observe that this narrative exemplifies the essential connection between faith and works.
4. "When reason fighteth against faith, is wisdom to quit that reason which would make us quit the promises." Reason is limited and fallible; and, therefore, it is bound to pay homage to Divine authority. May not this darling idol be the very Isaac which you are called upon to sacrifice? If you withhold it, when God commands, you cannot be blessed with faithful Abraham.
5. And finally, let all Christians remember, in times of tribulation, that God often reserves delivering mercy till their greatest extremity. Wait, believe, obey; in these three words lies the whole scope of piety. May they be realised in our experience and practice, for Christ's sake.
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,