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All he understood, and this he did understand perfectly well, was, that God had promised him a son by Sarah ; that from that son a great nation should descend ;' and that in his seed,' by that son, all the nations of the earth should be blessed. This was all God intended he should apprehend. This he did apprehend, and this he firmly believed, his reason not in the least presuming to interfere any farther, than fully to persuade him, that astonishing as, the promise appeared to be, God was able to perform it, and that he would certainly perform it he did most firmly believe, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness.'
On an infinitely more trying occasion, more shocking to his understanding, and more grating to his most tender affections, when God, after all the promises of a numerous posterity by his son Isaac, commanded him to slay that very son with his own hands; he neither doubted concerning the performance of those promises, nor disputed the justice of the command. He never thought of asking, how God's performance and his obedience could be reconciled. If his reason intermeddled at all with the inscrutable mystery, it was only to satisfy him, that God 'could raise up his son from the dead,' as St. Paul observes, and fulfil the promises in him after his resurrection. The hope of a resurrection was all the relief his faith could possibly afford itself on the bewildering occasion. Yet what sort of a relief was this? To believe that his son should come to life again! a thing most incredible in itself! that had never yet happened! that had not (for aught that appears) been ever yet promised ! or if promised, to be performed too late for the hope of posterity!
What now should our libertine Christian, our subtle artist at interpretations, have done, supposing him in Abraham's place? On his principles, he must at first have denied, that God had given him any such command, because truly he could have had no proof of this so strong, as he hath, that the eternal law of nature is indispensable even by the Deity himself; or that this palpable impossibility, Isaac shall immediately die, and yet Isaac shall have a numerous posterity, could ever be effected. No, he must say, God hath given me reason to judge in all things within the verge of my capacity, and my reason tells me, that if my son, now childless, is put to death, he never can have any issue, and therefore I must be excused, if I do not believe it is God who promises the issue, and yet commands the death. Such absurdities my reason cannot digest, nor could God ever require it should. Much less can I suppose, the just God should order me to imbrue my hands in the blood of my own innocent son. By the indispensable law, he hath impressed on my nature, he hath obliged me to cherish and preserve the life of my child. He cannot, therefore, bid me kill him. He cannot give law against law, nor by any revelation order me to violate that law which binds himself as well as me. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And can it be right to command any one to do that which is wrong? From all this, I conclude, that either I am deceived in fancying any one hath given me this cruel command, or, that thou who hast given it art the true God indeed.
But as God could easily refute this conclusion, and prove that he had a right to dispense with the laws imposed on his creatures, and that he himself had actually given the command, what then must the libertine Christian do? Will he obey ? No, his eternal law is not to be dispensed with. He must not even will the deed. All the relief he hath left, is to screw some other meaning out of the words, which, what it shall be, or how he will manage the matter, he only can tell, who hath often performed exploits as, extraordinary of the same kind; hath, for instance, demonstrated from Scripture, directly against the express words of Scripture, that there are more gods than one; and that we may pray to, and worship the creature, even as the Creator.
Should he, however, utterly disclaim all shifts of this kind, and declare, that did God appear to him, and actually give him the command in the same words he is said to have given it to Abraham, he would instantly believe and obey; we then ask him, does he not firmly believe the command was really given? If he does, what comes of the office he assigns to his reason, whereby, under pretence of only interpreting, he gives her authority to control and dictate to,
the word of God? Is the supremacy he invests her with, more justifiable in any case, for instance, in that of the Trinity, or the incarnation of Christ, than in this? If in this it is
perfectly absurd and impious, how can he maintain it in other doctrines, wherein his principles will be much less distressed forwant of it?
Is it at all so difficult, or so seemingly contrary to reason, to believe, that in God, who is infinitely more incomprehensible in his nature than in his promises or commands, there may be three persons, as it is to believe, that a man who is instantly to die childless, shall have a numerous issue; or that the sacrifice of an innocent son by the hands of his own father, can be most highly pleasing in the sight of infinite goodness ? Surely it is not. Yet we see the faith of Abraham, founded on the promises of God, and his obedience rendered against nature, are repeatedly approved of in the strongest terms by the Holy Ghost, in a case where reason is utterly lost, and where the natural law is directly violated; and why approved ? but because it was God who promised and can perform against all appearances of impossibility; and God who commanded, and ought to be obeyed against every tie of nature, if he requires it. Abraham believed that which to common sense is incredible; trusted in an event which mere reason pronounces impossible; performed an action, or willed it, which is naturally unlawful; and his faith was counted to him for righteousness,' because he believed in and obeyed God, which rendered his faith rational, and his obedience dutiful.
Attend to this, you who call yourself a Christian, and take the Bible for the rule both of your faith and practice, but ‘lean, nevertheless, to your own understanding, as often as that sacred book appears to oppose it. Instead of endeavouring to warp the Bible to your reason, submit your reason to the Bible, if you really believe it to be the word of God. Strain not for interpretations. Take plain assertions or declarations in their obvious sense.
Consider what you read as a revelation, made by God, who knows all things, to you who know but few things, and those perhaps imperfectly, that you may bring your mind to this short infallible conclusion, if God and I differ, I must be in the wrong. Prepare your ear and your understanding for him who made, and may be safely trusted with both.
* Hear, O heavens, and give ear, 0 earth, for the Lord hath spoken;' and what he hath spoken, who shall disbe
lieve or disobey ? ' Shall opinion dispute, shall prejudice contradict, shall passion oppose, or reason sit in judgment, on his words ? No, let us commune with our own hearts, and be still,' and know that he is God who speaks. 'Let all the earth keep silence before him.' He is truth itself, and great is his wisdom; and therefore he must be believed. His justice is infinite, his power boundless, and with him is terrible majesty ;' and therefore he must be obeyed. “Lo! he doth send forth his voice, and that a mighty voice,' in the holy Scriptures. At the sound of this voice, our ears have nothing to do, but to listen; nor our apprehensions, but to conceive his meaning; nor our reason, but to believe in the wisdom, truth, and goodness, of all he inculcates or commands. God is a sun' to all the world of spirits, and his word is the light of that sun to us. No previous opinions or prejudices must be suffered so much as to twinkle in the eyes of our judgment, when this sun of righteousness ariseth' upon our minds. No wild passions, nor inordinate affections, nor works of darkness, must presume to shew themselves in this light. No, when this sun ariseth, let these beasts of prey and violence lay themselves down in their dens,' till they are so tamed, that the child of God can lead them.
God promised, what reason, blind unpenetrating reason, deems impracticable; but Abraham believed, and so must we, or 'we tread not in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham.' God commanded, what nature deems unjust and cruel; but Abraham obeyed, and so must we, or our faith, if we have any, will not be imputed to us for righteousness.' Let us therefore believe, as he did; for after all the mysteriousness of some things which we ought to believe, nothing can be more truly rational. Let us also obey, as he did; for howsoever irksome this obedience may be to a corrupt and refractory nature, we have reason to know it is our highest wisdom for the present, and will prove our greatest happiness at the last. It is surely no great thing, after all, to submit our reason so miserably mistaken, and so shamefully erring, almost in every hour of our lives, to infinite unerring wisdom. Neither is it, if we rightly consider the matter, a very great thing to resign all we have, even the lives of our children, or our own, to that infinitely gracious Being, who hath given up his only-begotten and well-beloved Son, that we may escape the torments of hell, and inherit the glories of heaven. If any man, however, thinks this is too much for faith to believe, or for duty to perform, I must tell him now, and God will tell it him hereafter, that heaven is too good for him. Let us therefore believe, with all our understandings, what God declares, and obey, with all our hearts, what God commands; for thus to believe is true wisdom, though we can by no means account for the matter of our faith; and thus to obey is our most reasonable service, though it should bear never so hard on our corrupt affections.
But as there is no effectual faith, no acceptable obedience, but what proceeds from thy grace, O Fountain of all good; so we most earnestly beseech thee, to teach us both to believe and to do whatsoever shall be most pleasing in thy sight, through the merits of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
The grace of, &c.