By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,…
I. THE FIRMNESS AND STEADFASTNESS OF HIS FAITH will appear, if we consider what objections there were in the case, enough to shake a very strong faith. There were three great objections against this command, and such as might in reason make a wise and good man doubtful whether this command were from God.
1. The horrid nature of the thing commanded.
2. The grievous scandal that might seem almost unavoidably to follow upon it.
3. And the horrible consequence of it, which seemed to make the former promise of God to Abraham void.
II. We will consider THE CONSTANCY OF HIS RESOLUTION TO OBEY GOD, notwithstanding the harshness and difficulty of the thing. He was to offer up his son but once; but he sacrificed himself and his own will every moment for three days together. It must be a strong faith, and a mighty resolution, that could make him to hold out three days against the violent assaults of his own nature, and the" charming presence of his son, enough to melt his heart as often as he cast his eyes upon him; and yet nothing of all this made him to stagger in his duty, but "being strong in faith, he gave glory to God," by one of the most miraculous acts of obedience that ever was exacted from any of the sons of men.
III. I come to consider THE REASONABLENESS OF HIS FAITH, in that he was able to give satisfaction to himself in so intricate and perplexed a case. The constancy of Abraham's faith was not an obstinate persuasion but the result of the soberest consideration. As for the objections I have mentioned.
1. The horrid appearance of the thing, that a father should slay his innocent son. Why should Abraham scruple the doing this at the command of God, who, being the author of life, hath power over it, and may resume what He hath given, and take away the life of any of His creatures when He will, and make whom He pleaseth instruments in the execution of His command?
2. As to the scandal of it, that could be no great objection in those times, when the absolute power of parents over their children was in its full force, and they might put them to death without being accountable for it.
3. As to the objection from the horrible consequence of the thing commanded, that the slaying of Isaac seemed to overthrow the promise which God had made before to Abraham, that in Isaac his seed should be called; this seems to him to be the great difficulty, and here he makes use of reason to reconcile the seeming contradiction of this command of God to His former promise. So the text tells us that "he offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called; reasoning that God was able to raise him up from the dead."
IV. SOME OBSERVATIONS AND INFERENCES.
1. Human nature is capable of clear and full satisfaction concerning a Divine revelation. For if Abraham had not been fully and past all doubt assured that this was a command from God he would certainly have spared his son.
(1) God can work in the mind of a man a firm persuasion of the truth of what He reveals, and that such a revelation is from Him.
(2) God never offers anything to any man's belief, that plainly contradicts the natural and essential notions of his mind; because this would be for God to destroy His own workmanship, and to impose that upon the understanding of man which, whilst it remains what it is, it cannot possibly admit.
2. The great and necessary use of reason in matters of faith. For we see here that Abraham's reason was a mighty help to his faith. Here were two revelations made to Abraham, which seemed to clash with one another; and if Abraham's reason could not have reconciled the repugnancy of them, he could not possibly have believed them both to be from God; because this natural notion that "God cannot contradict Himself," every man does first and more firmly believe than any revelation whatsoever. I know there hath a very rude clamour been raised by some persons against the use of reason in matters of faith; but how very unreasonable this is will appear to any one that will but have patience to consider these following particulars:(1) The nature of Divine revelation; that it doth not endow men with new faculties, but propoundeth new objects to the faculties, which they had before. Reason is the faculty whereby revelation is to be discerned; for when God reveals anything to us, He reveals it to our understanding, and by that we are to judge of it.
(2) This will farther appear if we consider the nature of faith. Faith is an assent of the mind to something as revealed by God; now all assent must be grounded upon evidence; that is, no man can believe anything unless he have or thinks he hath some reason to do so.
(3) This will yet be more evident, if we consider the method that must of necessity be used to convince any man of the truth of religion. Suppose we had to deal with one that is a stranger and enemy to Christianity, what means are proper to be used to gain him over to it? The better way would be to satisfy this man's reason by proper arguments that the Scriptures are a Divine revelation, and that no other book in the world can with equal reason pretend to be so; and if this be a good way, then we do and must call in the assistance of reason for the proof of our religion.
(4) Let it be considered farther that the highest commendations that are given in Scripture to any one's faith, are given upon account of the reasonableness of it. Abraham's faith is famous, and made a pattern to all generations, because he reasoned himself into it notwithstanding the objections to the contrary, and he did not blindly break through these objections, and wink hard at them; but he looked them in the face, and gave himself reasonable satisfaction concerning them.
(5) None are reproved in Scripture for their unbelief, but where sufficient reason and evidence was offered to them.
(6) To show this yet more plainly, let us consider the great absurdity of declining the use of reason in matters of religion. There can be no greater prejudice to religion than to decline this trial. To say we have no reason for our religion is to say it is unreasonable.
3. God obligeth no man to believe plain and evident contradictions as matters of faith. Abraham could not reasonably have believed this second revelation to have been from God, if he had not found someway to reconcile it with the first.
4. The great cause of the defect of men's obedience is the weakness of their faith. Did we believe the commands of God in the gospel, and His promises and threatenings, as firmly as Abraham believed God in this case; what should we not be ready to do, or suffer, in obedience to Him?
5. We have great reason to submit to the ordinary strokes of God's providence upon ourselves, or near relations, or anything that is dear to us. Most of these are easy compared with Abraham's case; it requires a prodigious strength of faith to perform so miraculous an act of obedience.
6. We are utterly inexcusable if we disobey the easy precepts of the gospel.
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,