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The first contains God's promise to grant Abraham's request, when he rejoiced that he should see ; this, for reasons given above, was wisely omitted by the Historian : Within the second period was the delivery of the Command, with which Moses's account begins : And Abraham's Obedience, through which he saw Christ's day and was glad, includes the third.* Thus the Patriarch, we find, had a promise that his request should be granted ; and, in regard to that promise, an action is commanded, which, at that time, was a common mode of information ; Abraham therefore must needs know it was the very information so much requested, so graciously promised, and so impatiently expected. We conclude then, on the whole, that this Command being only the Grant of an earnest request, and known by Abraham, at the time of imposing, to be such Grant, he could not possibly have any doubt concerning the Author of it. He was solliciting the God of Heaven to reveal to him the Mystery of Man's Redemption, and he received the information, in a Command to offer Isaac ; a Revelation, that had the closest connection with, and was the fullest completion of, the whole series of the preceding Revelations.
2. For, (as we shall now shew, in answer to the second part of the objection) the Command could occasion no mistakes concerning the divine Attributes ; it being, as was said, only the conveyance of an information by action instead of words, in conformity to the common mode of converse in the more early times. This action therefore being mere scenery, had no MORAL IMPORT ; that is, it conveyed or implied none of those intentions in him who commanded it, and in him who obeyed the Command, which go along with actions that have a moral import.† Consequently the injunction and obedience, in an action which hath no such import, can no way affect the moral character of the persons concerned : and consequently, this Command could occasion no mistakes concerning the divine Attributes, with regard to God's delighting in human sacrifices. On the contrary, the very information conveyed by it, was the highest assurance to the person informed, of God's good-will towards man. Hence we see there was not the least occasion, when God remitted the offering of Isaac, that he should formally condemn human Sacrifices, to prevent Abraham or his family's falling into an opinion, that such Sacrifices were not displeasing to him, I any more than for the Prophet Ahijah, g when he
• See note CCC, at the end of this book. † See note DDD, at the end of this book. See note EEE, at the end of this book.
$ “And it came to pass at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the Prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way; and he had clad himself with a new garment, and they two were alone in the field. And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces, and he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces, for thus saith the Lord the God of Israel, Bebold I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee.” (1 Kings xi. 29–31.) The circumstance of the new garment was not insignificant: It was to denote the power of the kingdom at that time iu its full strength and lustre.
had rent Jeroboam's garment into twelve pieces to denote the ensuing division in the tribes of Israel, to deliver a moral precept against the sin of despoiling and insulting our neighbour: For the command having no moral import, as being only an information by action, where one thing stood for the representative of another, all the consequence that could be deduced from it was only this, that the Son of God should be offered up for the sins of mankind : therefore the conceptions they had of HUMAN SACRIFICES, after the command, must needs be just the same with those they had before; and therefore, instruction, concerning the execrable nature of this Rite, was not only needless, but altogether beside the question.
But this assertion that a SCENICAL REPRESENTATION HAS NO MORAL IMPORT, having been misunderstood by many, and misrepresented by more, (though nothing, as I then thought, could be clearer to men versed in moral matters) I shall beg leave to explain myself.—He who affirms that a scenical representation has no moral import, cannot possibly be understood to mean (if interpreted on the ordinary rules of Logic and Common sense) any thing else than that the representation or the feigned action has none of that specific morality which is in the real action. He can never be supposed to mean that such a representation could never, even by accident, give birth to a moral entity, of a different species; though it kept within, much less if it transgressed the bounds, of its scenical nature. Give me leave to explain this by an instance or two. The tragic scene we will suppose to exhibit a Pagan story, in which a lewd Sacrifice to Venus is represented. Now I say this scenical representation has no moral import. But do I mean by this, that there was no immorality of any kind in the scene? Far from it. I only mean that that specific immorality was absent, which would have existed there, had the action been real and not feigned; I mean idolatry. Again, another set of Tragedians represent the Conspiracy against Julius Cæsar in the Senate-house. This, I say, has no moral import: for neither could the followers of Cæsar's Cause call these fictitious Conspirators, enemies to their Country ; nor could the warmest lovers of liberty call them Patriots. But if in this representation, the Actors, instead of exhibiting an imaginary assassination, should commit a real one, on the body of the personated Cæsar, Who ever supposed that such a dramatic representation continued still to have no moral import? The men who committed the action dropped their personated, and assumed their real character, being instigated by interest, malice, or revenge ; and only waited a fit opportunity to perpetrate their designs under the cover of a drama. Here indeed, the parallel
The feigned Conspirators transgressed the bounds of a representation : while the real death of Isaac must be supposed to make part of the scenical representation, in the Command to Abraham. But it should have been considered, and was not, that I employed the principle of a feigned representation's having no moral import, to free the Command from the infidel objection that it was an enjoined sacrifice; not from the objection of its being an enjoined death, simply: For a human Sacrifice commanded was supposed to discredit Revelation, as giving too much countenance and encouragement to that horrid superstition ; whereas, with regard to a simple death commanded, to justify this, I was ready to confide in the common argument of Divines, taken from God's sovereign right over his creatures : Whose power could instantaneously repair the loss, or whose goodness would abundantly reward the act of obedience. Yet the fair and candid Dr. Rutherforth represents my position of a scenical representation's having no moral import, to be the same with saying, that though an action be ever so vile in itself, yet, if it be done to represent somewhat else, it loses its nature and becomes an indifferent one.—Had I the presumption to believe, that any thing I could say would better his heart or mend his head, I should recommend what hath been here said to his serious consideration.
3. And now we see the weakness of the third and last part of the Objection, which supposes this Command capable of affording a temp tation to transgress the fundamental principles of the Law of Nature : one of which obliges us to cherish and protect our Offspring; and another, not to injure our Neighbour. For as, by the Command, Abraham understood the nature of man's Redemption ; so, by the nature of that Redemption, he must know how the scenical representation was to end. Isaac, he saw, was made the person or representative of Christ dying for us : The Son of God, he knew, could not possibly lie under the dominion of the grave.
Hence he must needs conclude one of these two things, either that God would stop his hand when he came to give the sacrificing stroke: or that, if the Revelation of this mystery was to be represented throughout in action, that then his Son, sacrificed under the person of Christ, was, under the same person, soon to be restored to life : 'accounting (as he well might) that God was able to raise him up even from the dead, as the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews,* who seems to have been full of the idea here explained, assures us he did believe.
Now where was the temptation to violate any Principle of Morality in all this? The Law of Nature commands us to cherish and protect our offspring : Was that transgressed in giving a stroke whose hurt was presently to be repaired ? Surely no more than if the stroke had been in vision. The Law of Nature forbids all injury to our Fellowcreature : And was he injured, who, by being thus highly honoured,
• Heb. xi. 19.
in becoming the representative of the Son of God, was to share with his Father Abraham in the rewards of his obedience? But though, as we see, Abraham could have no struggles with himself, from any doubts that he might violate Morality in paying obedience to the Command ; yet did the merit of that obedience, where the natural feelings were so alarmed, deserve all the encomiums bestowed upon it in Holy Writ. For, in expressing his extreme readiness to obey, he declared a full confidence in the promises of God.
From hence we may deduce these two corollaries.
1. That the noble Author of the Characteristics hath shewn as much ignorance as malevolence, when he supposed that Abraham's shewing no extreme surprise on this trying Revelation was from the favourable notion he had of Human Sacrifices, 80 common amongst the inhabitants of Palestine and other neighbouring Nations.* see the reason, why Abraham, instead of being under any extreme surprise, was (as Jesus assures us) under an extreme joy, was because he understood the Command to be a communication of that Mystery in which he had so earnestly requested to participate ; and, consequently, that Isaac must needs, at length, come safe and unhurt from that scenical representation, in which he bore the principal part.
2. That Sir John Marsham's suspicion of Abraham's being struck by a superstitious imagination + is as groundless, as it is injurious to the holy Patriarch. Nay, the very examples he gives might have shewn him the folly of such insinuations : For, according to his inferences, Human Sacrifices were never offered but in cases of great distress : Now Abraham was at this time in a full state of peace, security, and affluence. Thus, we presume,
that this Command was a mere information by action : and that, when regarded in this view, all the objec. tions against God's giving it to Abraham are absolutely enervated and overthrown.
For thus stands the case. If the trial of Abraham's faith and obedience were the commanding a real sacrifice, then was Abraham an Agent, and not a bare Instrument; and then it might be pretended that God commanded an human agent to act against humanity. And his right over his Creatures cannot solve the difficulty, as it may when he employs a mere instrument to perform his Will upon them. But if the trial were only the commanding a scenical representation, the
• See note FFF, at the end of this book. †“ Ex istis satius est colligere hanc Abrahami tentationem non fuisse kekalvoupynuévny wpáčiv, actionem innovatam ; non recens excogitatam, sed ad pristinos Cunana orum mores designatam. Horrendi sacrificii usum apud Phænices frequentem indicat Porphyrius : • Phænices, inquit, in magnis periculis ex bello, fame, pestilentia, clarissimorum aliquem ad id suffragiis publicis delectum, sacrificabant Saturno. Et victimarum talium plena est Sanchoniathonis historia Phænicice scripta, quam Philo Biblius Græce interpretatus est libris octo.'”Canon. Chron. p 79.
command had no moral import; and consequently Abraham was not put upon any thing morally wrong; as is the offering up a human sacrifice.
I have transcribed into the notes, as I have gone along, some of the most considerable Objections my Adversaries have been able to oppose to this interpretation of the COMMAND TO ABRAHAM: which, I presume, when fairly considered, will be no light confirmation of it. But, as I have no notions to advance, not founded in a sincere desire to find out, and do honour to, Truth, I would by no means take advantage of an Adversary's weakness to recommend them to the public favour. I hold it not honest, therefore, to conceal the force of an Objection which I myself have to offer, by far more plausible than any that these learned Divines have urged against it. The objection is this, “ That it is difficult to conceive why a CIRCUMSTANCE of such importance to Revelation, which removes one of the strongest arguments against its truth, and at the same time manifests a REAL CONNEXION between the two Dispensations of it, should never be directly and minutely explained and insisted on by the Writers of the New Testament, though Abraham's Historian might have had his reasons for concealing it.” Now, to my own Objection, I suppose, I may have leave to reply, That many truths of great importance, for the support of Religion against Infidelity, were taught by Jesus to his Disciples (amongst which, I reckon this Interpretation to be one) which never came down, by their conveyance, to the Church. But being, by the assistance of God's Holy Spirit, discoverable by those who devote themselves to the study of the Scriptures with a pure mind, have, for the wise ends of Providence (many of which are inscrutable to us) been left for the industry of men to find out : that, as occasion required, every Age might supply new evidence of God's Truth, to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men : and in proportion as the Powers of Darkness prevailed, so might the Gospel-light break out again with fresh splendor to curb and repress them. In support of what is here said, I beg the Reader to reflect on what is told us by the Evangelist, of the conversation between Jesus (after his Resurrection) and the two Disciples journeying to Emmaus ; where their Master says unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the Prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses, and all the Prophets, HE EXPOUNDED UNTO THEM the things concerning himself.* Now, who can doubt but that many things were at this time revealed, which, had they been delivered down to Posterity, in Writing, would have greatly contributed to the improvement of Eusebius's Evangelical Demonstration? Yet hath Providence thought
• Luke xxiv. 25-27.