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Concerning God's Command to Abraham to offer up Isaac
his Son for a Sacrifice. Since this command of God to Abraham * has of late been greatly mistaken by some, who venture to reason about very ancient facts from very modern notions, and this without a due regard to either the customs, or opinions, or circum. stances of the times whereto those facts belong, or indeed to the true reasons of the facts themselves; since the mistakes about those customs, opinions, circumstances, and reasons, have of late so far prevailed that the very same action of Abraham's, which was so celebrated by St. Pault, St. James, the author to the Hebrews, Philo and Josephus 1, in tlie first century, and by innumerable others since, as an uncommon instance of signal virtue, of heroic faith in God, and piety towards hiin; nay,is in the sacred history ** highly commended by the divine Angel of the covenant, in the name of God himself, and promised to be plentifully rewarded; since this command, I say, is now at last in the eighteenth cenlury, become a stone of' stumbling and a rock of offence among us, and that sometimes to persons of otherwise good sense, and of a religious disposition of mind also, I shall endeavour to set this matter in its true, i. e. in its ancient and original light, for the satisfaction of the inquisitive. In order whereto we are to consider,
1. That till this very profane age, it has been, I think, universally allowed by all sober persons, who owned themselves the creatures of God, that the Creator has a just right over all his rational creatures, to produce their lives to what length he pleases; to cut them off when and by what instruments he pleases; to afflict them with what sickness he pleases ; and to remove thein from one state or place in this his great palace of the universe to another, as he pleases; and that all those rational creatures are bound in duty and interest to acquiesce under the divine disposal, and to resign themselves up to the good providence of God in all such his dispensations towards them. I do not mean to intimate, that God may, or ever does act in these cases after a mere arbitrary manner, or without sufficient reason, believing, according to the whole tenor of natural and revealed religion, that he huleth
* Gen. xxii. + Rom. iv. 16–25. Jam. ii. 21, 22. Heb. xi. 17, 18, 19.
# Phil. de Gygant. p. 294. I Jos. Antig. B. i. chap. xiii. ** Gen. xxii. 15-18.
nothing that he hath made* ; that whatsoever he does, how melancholy soever it may appear at first sight to us, is really intended for the good of his creatures, and at the upshot of things will fully appear so to be; but that still he is not obliged, nor does in general give his creatures an account of the particular reasons of such his dispensations towards them immediately, but usually tries and exercises their faith and patience, their resignation and obedience, in their present state of probation, and reserves those reasons to the last day, the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of Godt.
2. That the entire histories of the past ages, from the days of Adam till now, show that Almighty God has ever exercised his power over mankind, and that without giving them an immediate account of the reasons of such his conduct; and that withal, the best and wisest men of all ages, Heathens as well as Jews and Christians, Marcus Antonius as well as the patriarch Abrahain and St. Paul, have ever humbly submitted themselves to this conduct of the divine Providence, and always confessed that they were obliged to the undeserved goodness and mercy of God for every enjoyment, but could not demand any of them of his justice, no, not so much as the continuance of that life whereto those enjoyments do appertain. When God was pleased to sweep the wicked race of men away by a flood, the young innocent infants as well as the guilty old sinners; when he was pleased to shorten the lives of men after the flood, and still down. ward till the days of David and Solomon; when he was pleased to destroy impure Sodom and Gomorrha by fire and brimstone from heaven, and to extirpate the main body of the Amorites out of the land of Canaan, as soon as their iniquities were fullt, and in these instances included the young innocent infants together with the old hardened sinners; when God was pleased to send an angel, and by bim to destroy 185,000 Assyrians (the number attested to by Be. rosus the Chaldean, as well as by our own Bibles) in the days of Hezekiah, most of which seem to have had no other peculiar guilt upon them than that common to soldiers in war, of obeying, without reserve, their king Sennacherib, his generals and captains; and when, at the plague of Athens, London, Marseilles, &c. so many thousand righteous men and women, with innocent babes, were swept away on a sudden by a fatal contagion,—I do not remember that sober men have complained that God dealt unjustly with such his creatures, in those to us seemingly severe dispensations: nor are we certain when any such seemingly severe dispensations are really
* Wisd. xi. 14.
+ Rom. 1. 5.
Gen. xv. 16.
such, nor do we know but shortening the lives of men may sometimes be the greatest blessing to them, and prevent or put a stop to those courses of gross wickedness which might bring them to a greater misery in the world to come; nor is it fit for such poor, weak, and ignorant creatures as we are, in the present state, to call our Almighty, and All-wise, and All-good Creator and Benefactor to an account, upon any such occasions : since we cannot but acknowledge, that it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves* ; that we are nothing, and having nothing of ourselves, independent of him, but that all we are, all we have, and all we hope for, is derived from him, from his free and undeserved bounty, which therefore he may justly take from us in what way soever and whensoever he pleases : all wise and good men still saying in such cases with the pious Psalmist, xxxix. 9, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it;" and with patient Job, i. 21, ii. 10, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall not we receive evil? The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” If therefore this shortening or taking away the lives of men be no objection against any divine command for that purpose, it is full as strong against the present system of the world, against the conduct of divine providence in general, and against natural religion, which is founded on the justice of that providence, and is no way peculiar to revealed religion or to the fact of Abraham now before us. Nor in this case much different from what was soon after the days of Abraham thoroughly settled, after Job's and his friends debates, by the inspiration of Elihu, and the determination of God himself, where the divine providence was at length thoroughly cleared and justified before all the world, as it will be, no question, more generally cleared and justified at the final judgment.
3. That till this profane age, it has also, I think, been universally allowed by all sober men, that a command of God, when sufficiently made known to be so, is abundant authority for the taking away the life of any person whomsoever. I doubt both ancient and modern princes, generals of armies, and judges, even those of the best reputation also, have ventured to take many men's lives away upon much less authority: nor indeed do the most sceptical of the moderns care to deny this authority directly; they rather take a method of objecting somewhat more plausible, though it amount to much the same: they say, that the apparent disagreement of any command to the moral attributes of God, such as this of the slaughter of an only child seems plainly to be, will be a greater evidence that such a command does not come from
* Psal. c. 3.
God than any pretended revelation can be that it does. But as to this matter, although divine revelations bave now so long ceased, that we are not well acquainted with the manner of conveying such revelations with certainty to men, and by consequence the apparent disagreement of a command with the moral attributes of God ought at present, generally, if not constantly, to deter men from acting upon such a pretended revelation, yet was there no such uncertainty in the days of the old prophets of God, or of Abraham, the friend of God", who are ever found to have had an entire certainty of those their revelations: and what evidently shows they were not deceived, is this, that the events and consequences of things afterward always corresponded, and secured them of the truth of such divine revelations. Thus the first miraculous voice from heavent, calling to Abraham not to execute this command, and the performance of those eminent promises made by the second voice#, on account of his obedience to that command, are demonstrations that Abraham's commission for what he did was truly divine, and are an entire justification of his conduct in this matter. The words of the first voice from heaven will come hereafter to be set down in a fitter place, but the glorious promises made to Abraham's obedience by the second voice must here be produced from verse 15, 16, 17, 18. “ And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiply. ing I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice." Every one of which promises have been eminently fulfilled; and, what is chietly remarkable, the last and principal of them, that “ in Abraham's SEED all the nations of the earth should be blessed,” was never promised till this time. It had been twice promised him, chap. xii. ver. 3, and xviii. 18, that “in himself should all the families of the earth be blessed," but that this blessing was to belong to future times, and to be bestowed by the means of one of his late posterity, the Messias, that great seed and son of Abraham, only was never revealed before, but on such an amazing instance of his faith and obedience as was this his readiness to offer up his only begotten son Isaac, was now first promised, and has been long ago performed, in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of
David, the son of Abraham*, which highly deserves our observation in this place: nor can we suppose that any thing else than clear conviction that this command came from God could induce so good a man, and so tender a father as Abraham was, to sacrifice his own beloved son, and to lose thereby all the comfort he received from him at present, and all the expectation he had of a numerous and happy posterity from him hereafter.
4. That long before the days of Abraham the dæmons or heathen gods had required and received human sacrifices, and particularly that of the offerer's own children, and this both before and after the deluge. This practice had been indeed so long left off in Egypt, and the custom of sacrificing animals there was confined to so few kinds in the days of Herodotus, that he would not believe they had ever offered human sacrifices at all: for he says t, “ That the fable, as if Hercules was sacrificed to Jupiter in Egypt, was feigned by the Greeks, who were entirely unacquainted with the nature of the Egyptians and their laws; for how should they sacrifice men, with whom it is unlawful to sacrifice any brute beast (boars, and bulls, and pure calves, and ganders, only excepted)?” However, it is evident from Sanchoniatlo, Manetho, Pausanias, Diodorus Siculus, Philo, Plutarch, and Porphyry, that such sacrifices were frequent both in Phenicia and Egypt, and that long before the days of Abraham, as Sir John Marsham and bishop Cumberland have fully proved; nay, that in other places (though not in Egypt), this cruel practice continued long after Abraham, and this till the very third, if not also to the fifth century of Christianity, before it was quite abolished. Take the words of the original authors in English, as most of them occur in their originals in Sir John Marsham's Chronicon, p. 76, 77, 78, 300—304.
“ CHRONUS offered up his only-begotten son, as a burntoffering to his father Ouranus, when there was a famine and a pestilence."
« SCHRONUS, whom the Phenicians name Israel [it should be Il], and who was after his death consecrated into the star Saturn, when he was king of the country, and had by a nyinph of that country, named Anobret, an only-begotten son, whom, on that account, they called Jeud (the Phenicians to this day calling an only begotten son by that name), he, in his dread of very great dangers that lay upon the country from war, adorned his son with royal apparel, and built an altar, and offered bim in sacrifice!" * Matth. i. 1.
+ Ap. Marsh, Chron. p. 303. # Philo. Bib. ex Sancho. p. 76. Pbilo. Bib. ex Sancho. p. 77.