And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and
said unto him, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And he said, Take now
thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee
into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon
one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. - Genesis 22:1-2.
Few scenes in the whole compass of the Bible are more familiar than the
sacrifice of Isaac. We knew the charm of it when we were children, and
as we recur to it, time and again, amid the deepening experience of the
years, we find that the story has not lost the power and beauty that so
arrested us in bygone days. This indeed is one of the wonders of God's
Word, that we never leave it behind us as we travel. With all our
growth through activity and sorrow, it grows in richness of
interpretation. There are books which we very speedily outstrip; we
read them, and we lay them aside for a period, and then we come back to
them and find them thin and inadequate. But with all our growth, the
Bible seems to grow; coming back to it we do not find it empty; rather
with the increasing knowledge of the years, and the crosses and burdens
they inevitably bring, new depths of Divine help and wisdom open
themselves before us in God's Word. It is peculiarly so with such a
passage as this. We can never exhaust its spiritual significance. To
our childish ears it is a delightful story; it appeals as powerfully as
any fairy-tale; but gradually we come to see beneath the surface, and
to discern the mind of God within the picture, until at last we reach
the sweet assurance that underneath are the everlasting arms.
Looking at the whole chapter as we should at any merely human
composition, we must admit that for profound pathos, for tragic force
of description, it has never been surpassed. "Each time that we hear
it," says St. Augustine, "it thrills us afresh." Compare it even with
that exquisitely touching passage in the "Agamemnon" of Æschylus,
which describes in words of such wonderful beauty the anguish of the
father constrained to sacrifice his child, and it will not suffer by
the comparison. Listen to the brief dialogue: "My father, behold the
fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt-offering?" "My
son, God will provide himself the lamb for the burnt-offering." The
heart's deepest grief was never more eloquently portrayed. No sobs, no
tears, no words telling of the struggle within. The anguish lies too
deep for utterance. The sculptor, when he would express a grief that he
could not express, bowed and veiled the face of the mourner; and the
veiling of the agony here is in fact its most pathetic expression.1
[Note: J. J. S. Perowne.]
It is most important that this great text should be approached from the
right side. There is a moral difficulty in it - God's command to Abraham
to sacrifice his son - which arrests the attention so strongly that it
usually occupies the mind almost entirely. Accordingly the common title
is "the Sacrifice of Isaac." But the subject is the testing or proving
of faith; the sacrifice of Isaac being the special manner in which, for
Abraham, faith was tested. If we begin with the proving of faith we
shall come to the sacrifice of Isaac when we have understood the reason
for it. It will then fall into its proper place, and we shall be able
to see the moral difficulty in the light of an eternal truth.
The Proving of Faith
1. First of all, take the general statement that Faith needs to be
tried or proved. Ewald says: "That only is a spiritual and therefore
true and abiding blessing which we are able to make our own in the
strife and wrestling of a faithful spirit." That is to say, God's gifts
are not in the best sense our own till we have been taught by
experience that they continue to be His still. It may even be
questioned whether in the unthreatened secure enjoyment of a great joy,
there does not always mingle some dash of sin. It may be doubted
whether a hot trial does not always find its occasion in some moral
need of the tried soul. At all events, as Augustine reminds us, there
is no way to self-knowledge but through trial, through what he calls
"some kind of experimental and not merely verbal self-interrogation."
In other words, God's stern providence must step in to test the latent
capabilities of the soul. No scrutiny of our own, however honest, will
ascertain what is really in us. When He takes in hand to try us,
because He loves us, it is that He may discover, not to Himself who
sees all hearts, but to us and to our brethren, that which His grace
has planted deep within. Moreover, He designs, by lending to our
unfledged virtue scope and a call to exercise itself, to train its
strength of wing for bolder flights to follow.
False gold says to true gold every moment,
"Wherein, brother, am I less than you?"
True gold in reply but maketh comment,
"Wait, O brother, till the touch-stone come in view."1 [Note: Jalaluddin Rumi, in A Little Book of Eastern Wisdom , 11.]
2. Not only does Faith need to be tried but Faith needs to be tried all
through life. And trials do not become lighter as we go on. The text
says, "And it came to pass, after these things, that God did tempt
Abraham." What, no repose? No place of honourable quiet for the "friend
of God," full of years? No. There are harder and yet harder trials even
to the end. The last of Abraham's trials was the hardest of all to
bear. And this is the history of our existence. For the soldier engaged
in this world's warfare, there is an honourable asylum for his
declining years; but for the soldier of the Cross there is no rest
except the grave. Conquer, and fresh trials will be yours, followed by
fresh victories. Nay, even Abraham's last victory did not guarantee the
There is a deep truth contained in the fabled story of old, where a
mother, wishing to render her son invulnerable, plunged him into the
Styx, but forgot to dip his heel by which she held him. We are baptized
in the blood and fire of sorrow that temptation may make us
invulnerable; but let us remember that trials will assail us in our
most vulnerable part, be it the head, or heart, or heel. Let us
therefore give up the idea of any moment of our lives coming when we
may lay aside our armour and rest in perfect peace.2 [Note: F. W.
3. But there is usually in our life one trial, one crisis, to which
great issues are attached. As we pass along the path of life there may
come to us, in some form or other, the Divine command, to give up
something very dear, because God wills it. And we must learn to do it,
to do it cheerfully and willingly, as Abraham did, - to do it without
murmuring, with a calm confiding trust in our Father's Love and in His
Wisdom, that what He wills is surely good, what He orders must be for
This was not the first time that God had tried Abraham. He had tried
him all his life. He tried him when He commanded him to leave his
native land. He tried him in suffering him to wander as a stranger in
the land given him by promise. He tried him in the peril of Sarah in
Egypt and in the peril of Lot in Sodom. He tried him in causing him to
wait twenty-five long years before Isaac was born. He tried him
severely when He bade him thrust out his son Ishmael from his home. But
here it is said in marked phrase that God did try Abraham, because it
is the crucial instance of his life, the hardest trial, perhaps, of all
history.1 [Note: J. J. S. Perowne.]
If God speak to thee in the summer air,
The cool soft breath thou leanest forth to feel
Upon thy forehead; dost thou feel it God?
Nay, but the wind: and when heart speaks to heart,
And face to face, when friends meet happily,
And all is merry, God is also there; -
But thou perceivest but thy fellow's part;
And when out of the dewy garden green
Some liquid syllables of music strike
A sudden speechless rapture through thy frame,
Is it God's voice that moves thee? Nay, the bird's, -
Who sings to God, and all the world and thee.
But when the sharp strokes flesh and heart run through,
For thee, and not another; only known,
In all the universe, through sense of thine;
Not caught by eye or ear, not felt by touch,
Nor apprehended by the spirit's sight,
But only by the hidden, tortured nerves,
And all their incommunicable pain, -
God speaks Himself to us, as mothers speak
To their own babes, upon the tender flesh
With fond familiar touches close and dear; -
Because He cannot choose a softer way
To make us feel that He Himself is near,
And each apart His own Beloved and Known.2 [Note: Harriet Eleanor Hamilton King.]
4. God sends us no trial, however, whether great or small, without
first preparing us. He "will with the temptation also make a way of
escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1Co_10:13). Trials are,
therefore, God's vote of confidence in us. Many a trifling event is
sent to test us, ere a greater trial is permitted to break on our
heads. We are set to climb the lower peaks before being urged to the
loftiest summits with their virgin snows; are made to run with footmen
before contending with horses; are taught to wade in the shallows
before venturing into the swell of the ocean waves. So it is written:
"It came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham."
The trial of faith is the greatest and heaviest of all trials. For
faith it is which must conquer in all trials. Therefore, if faith gives
way, then the smallest and most trifling temptations can overcome a
man. But when faith is sound and true, then all other temptations must
yield and be overcome.1 [Note: Luther, Watchwords for the Warfare of
5. And now, lastly, let us remember that our experience is that filial
obedience on our part has ever been followed by special tokens of God's
approval. We have something more than mere Hebrew redundancy of
language in the promise made to Abraham by the Almighty. Hear how that
promise reads. It reads like a river full to overflowing: "Because thou
hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply
thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the
seashore; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be
blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." Is there a more striking
realization of the promise, "I will open the Windows of heaven, and
pour out a blessing until there shall not be room enough to receive
it"? Have we not ourselves, in appropriate degrees, realized this same
overflowing and all-comforting blessing of God, in return for our
filial obedience? Have we ever given money to the poor without
repayment from the Lord? Have we ever given time to God's cause without
the sun and the moon standing still until we had finished the fight,
and made up for the loss? "Verily I say unto you, There is no man that
hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or
wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he
shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren,
and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions;
and in the world to come eternal life" (Mar_10:29-30). Exceeding great
and precious are the promises of God! He is able to do very exceeding
abundantly above all that we ask or think.
"Unless above himself he can erect himself, how mean a thing is man."
He that sets himself with his whole heart on this task, will find at
some stage or other of the work, that, like Abraham, he has to offer up
his first-born, his dearest possession, his "ruling love," - whatever
that may be. He must actually lift the knife, - not so much to prove his
sincerity to God as to himself; for no man who has not thus won
assurance of himself can advance surely. But he will find that he has
killed a ram, and that his first-born is safe, and exalted by this
offering to be the father of a great nation; and he will understand why
God called the place in which this sacrifice was offered "The Land of
Vision."1 [Note: Coventry Patmore.]
I stood and watched my ships go out,
Each, one by one, unmooring free,
What time the quiet harbour filled
With flood-tide from the sea.
The first that sailed, - her name was Joy;
She spread a smooth and ample sail,
And eastward strove, with bending spars,
Before the singing gale.
Another sailed, - her name was Hope;
No cargo in her hold she bore,
Thinking to find in western lands
Of merchandise a store.
The next that sailed, - her name was Love;
She showed a red flag at the mast, -
A flag as red as blood she showed,
And she sped south right fast.
The last that sailed, - her name was Faith;
Slowly she took her passage forth,
Tacked and lay to - at last she steered
A straight course for the north.
My gallant ships they sailed away
Over the shimmering summer sea;
I stood at watch for many a day,
But only one came back to me.
For Joy was caught by Pirate Pain;
Hope ran upon a hidden reef;
And Love took fire, and foundered fast
In 'whelming seas of grief.
Faith comes at last, storm-beat and torn;
She recompensed me all my loss,
For as a cargo safe she brought
A Crown, linked to a Cross!
The Proving of the Faith of Abraham
1. The word "tempt." - "God did tempt Abraham" (R.V. "prove"). A better
rendering might be, "God did put Abraham to the test." Satan tempts us
that he may bring out the evil that is in our hearts; God tries or
tests us that He may bring out all the good. In the fiery trial through
which the believer is called to pass, ingredients of evil which had
counteracted his true development drop away, shrivelled and consumed;
whilst latent qualities - produced by grace, but not yet brought into
exercise - are called to the front, receive due recognition, and acquire
a fixity of position and influence which nothing else could possibly
have given them. In the agony of sorrow we say words and assume
positions which otherwise we should never have dreamt of, but from
which we never again recede. Looking back, we wonder how we dared to do
as we did; and yet we are not sorry - because the memory of what we were
in that supreme hour is a precious legacy, and a platform from which we
take a wider view, and climb to the further heights which beckon us.
"Tempt" in Old English, like the Latan tentare, was a neutral word,
meaning to test or prove a person, to see whether he would act in a
particular way, or whether the character which he bore was well
established; in modern English, it has come to mean to entice a person
in order to do a particular thing, especially some thing that is wrong
or sinful. God "tests" or "proves" man, when He subjects him to a trial
to ascertain whether his faith or goodness is real; man is said to
"test" or "prove" God, when he acts as if doubting whether His word or
promise is true.1 [Note: S. R. Driver.]
2. The particular form of Abraham's trial. - The command given by God was
fitted as perhaps no other command could have been to purify Abraham's
faith. God had been training him from the first to live only by His
promise. He called him out of his own land, He promised him another
land, but Abraham lived a stranger in it, and was never able to call it
his own. He promised him a son in whom all the families of the earth
should be blessed, and for many long years Abraham had lived by that
promise, seeing no hope of its fulfilment. At last Isaac was born, and
he welcomed him as the child of promise. But years pass on. The child
has grown up before him and twined himself about his heart, till at
last he has almost forgotten the promise in the child of promise.
Isaac, it has been strikingly said, the precious latewon gift, is still
for Abraham too exclusively a merely natural blessing, a child like
other children, though born of the true mother, Abraham's son only
because he has been born to him and been brought up in his house.
Pangs, the pangs of a soul wrestling in faith, he has not felt for him
since his birth, and yet that is the only spiritual and therefore the
only really abiding blessing which we are able to make our own, through
the fightings and wrestlings of the believing heart. Therefore, now
that in Isaac the supreme blessing has been won, there must also take
place the supreme trial of Abraham's faith and obedience.
Abraham was in a special sense the creature of promise. His whole life
rested upon the promise; all his hopes centred in and were dependent
upon the promise; and the whole object of God's discipline and training
seemed to be to isolate him from all else, and to make him hang only on
the promise. The promise is all. Is God's promise enough for him? Can
he live by that? Can he trust to it with unhesitating reliance in spite
of all that seems contrary? Can he trust even when God's own word seems
to contradict it? This was the exact nature of Abraham's trial.2 [Note:
J. J. S. Perowne.]
3. Abraham's recognition of it. - How was Abraham able to recognize as
Divine a command to sacrifice his son? We could not so regard such a
command: an alleged command of God to sacrifice a child could not be
accepted as such; and if it were acted upon, the action would be
condemned as a violation of conscience by the whole Christian Church;
there had been, it would be said, some hallucination or delusion. The
reason is that we live in an age, and under a moral light, in which we
could not regard as Divine a command to violate not only our sense of
what was morally right, but even our natural instincts of love and
affection. It was possible for Abraham so to regard it, because he
lived under the mental and moral conditions of an age very different
from ours. He lived not only in an age when such sacrifices were
common, but also in an age in which the rights of the individual were
much less clearly recognized than they are now, when it was still a
common thing, for instance, for the family of a criminal to be punished
with him, and when also a father's power over his son was far more
absolute than it is now. The command would not therefore shock the
moral standard to which Abraham was accustomed, as it would shock ours.
It would not be out of harmony with what he might suppose could be
reasonably demanded by God.
The custom of human sacrifice was widely spread in the ancient world,
as it is still among savage or half-civilized tribes, the idea lying at
the bottom of it being that the surrender of something of the highest
value - and so especially of a relative or a child - to the deity, would
have extraordinary efficacy in averting his anger, or gaining his help.
The custom was thus practised among the Phœnicians and other neighbours
of Israel (cf. 2Ki_3:27; 2Ki_17:31); the Carthaginians, Greek writers
tell us, in times of grave national danger or calamity, would sacrifice
by the hundred the children of their noblest families. Under the later
kings, especially Ahaz and Manasseh, the custom found its way into
Judah, in spite of its being strenuously forbidden by legislators and
condemned by prophets. In view of this prevalence of the practice among
Israel's neighbours it is quite possible that Jehovah's claim to the
first-born in Israel (Exo_22:29; Exo_13:12-15, al.) stands in some
relation to it; Jehovah took the first-born, but gave it back to its
parents upon payment of a redemption price.1 [Note: S. R. Driver.]
4. The moral difficulty which we feel would not exist for
Abraham. - Living in an age and a country where human sacrifice was
common and approved of, held generally to be the highest mark of
devotion, most sacred, most acceptable, it could have been no
stumbling-block to him. Now, on the other hand, faith would be shown in
refusing any such seeming Divine intimation, however vouched for by the
senses. We should regard it, and rightly regard it, as only an
hallucination. We should and ought to say, My eyes, my ears may deceive
me, a dream may seem like reality, bodily disorganization may cheat my
working mind, but that God should bid me slay my child is impossible.
No miracle even could attest such a command. If I heard such a voice,
if I saw such a miracle, I must only say, being in the full possession
of my intellect and my faculties, "I am the victim of some strange
hallucination. I believe in God's character as revealed by conscience,
as declared to me in Holy Scripture, and I must believe in it against
any outward seeming evidence, however strong." And to act in accordance
with such a belief would be the proof of our faith, a faith in the
unseen against the verdict of bodily sense.
Here we may learn the necessity which is laid upon us of obeying under
all circumstances the voice of conscience - of following the promptings
of that inner sense of duty, which we all have, if we will only heed
it, and which will urge us, from time to time, to do this or to do
that - not because it is pleasant, or because it is profitable, but
simply because it is right. This is, in fact, what makes a man - what
makes him essentially different from the brutes that perish - that he has
a conscience, a sense of right and wrong, an inward voice which bids
him do this and do that, simply because it is right for him to do it.
Many brute creatures are very strong and very clever; but to do what is
right and true and good belongs not to brutes, it belongs only to men.1
[Note: J. W. Colenso.]
The Use of the Proving of Abraham's Faith
i. Its Use to Abraham
The command to slay his son was not to Abraham that abrupt, startling,
unaccountable command which at first sight it appears. God was leading
him, as He leads us all, in the way of His providence. Abraham was
living among idolaters; he had been an idolater himself. He must often
have witnessed the cruel rites, the impure and debasing practices,
associated with idol worship. He may not have been free from temptation
to fall back into idolatry. On all the high places, by sacred rock, and
in sacred grove, fathers shed the blood of their sons and of their
daughters to the idols of Canaan, and the land was defiled with blood.
When he saw or heard of these awful sacrifices, do we suppose he could
see or hear of them unmoved? Do we think they stirred in him no
searchings of heart? The triumph of religious faith, however mistaken,
over natural affection must surely have moved him to serious and
painful reflection. Abraham was a man, as all his history shows, of the
tenderest affection - a man who loved his children with no common love.
He was also a man, as all his history shows, conspicuous for his faith
and obedience to God. Trusting in God, then, and loving Him with all
his heart, and feeling, too, that his child was dearer to him than life
itself, must he not have asked himself the question, forced upon him by
the scenes which he saw around him, "What if my love to God and my love
to my child should ever be brought into this painful conflict? Can I
give Him my son? Can I give Him, if He asks it, the child who has been
the light of my home, the music of my life, the stay and hope of my
falling years?" Such questions, we say, must have forced themselves
upon Abraham; and we may see in this temptation, this trial, God's
answer to such thoughts. God showed His servant what was in his heart;
He showed him that he could do all this, that he could do more than the
heathen did; for he yielded a sacrifice no less costly, and he yielded
it not out of fear, but in simple, unquestioning, childlike obedience.
In contrast with the heathen sacrifices, Abraham's sacrifice, as Philo
long ago argued, shines by its moral superiority. "It was not offered,"
he says, "from any selfish motive, under the compulsion of a tyrant, or
through fear of man, from desire of present glory or hope of future
renown. He did not offer his son to win a battle, or to avert a famine
or a pestilence, or to obtain some coveted gift of the gods. Nor did he
give up one child out of many. He was ready to sacrifice his only son,
his beloved son, the son of his old age, and he did this simply because
God commanded it. His sacrifice in itself went far beyond all heathen
sacrifices, as in its motives it infinitely surpassed them. He gave all
that he had, and he gave it not from fear, or from interest, but out of
love to God."1 [Note: J. J. S. Perowne.]
The practical test of faith is obedience, and such obedience has to be
learned through suffering. But how rarely does it happen that any
bystander can guess what tragedies are being enacted in human bosoms! A
little excursion by the pious chief and his son for purposes of
devotion may have been too ordinary an incident to do more than gently
stir the monotony of their pastoral life. Yet few passages in
literature carry a deeper pathos than the words which tell how, in the
fresh dawn, the aged lord of that camp crept away on foot out of the
midst of his retainers' tents, while the cattle, marshalled with merry
call and tinkling bell, were going forth in long strings to their
several grazing-grounds, and all the landscape grew busy with cheerful
stir.2 [Note: J. O. Dykes.]
When one asked what was that service of God which pleased Him best,
Luther said, "To hear Christ, and be obedient to Him. This is the
highest and greatest service of God. Beside this, all is worth nothing.
For in heaven He has far better and more beautiful worship and service
than we can render. As it was said to Saul, ‘To obey is better than to
sacrifice.' As also soldiers say in time of war; obedience and keeping
to the articles of war - this is victory."
It is recorded of the Emperors of Russia and Austria and the King of
Prussia that they were one day discussing the relative unquestioning
obedience of their soldiers. Each claimed the palm, of course, for his
own soldiers. They agreed to test the matter at once. They were sitting
in a room on the second storey in a house, and they determined each to
call up a soldier, and to order him to leap out of the window. The
Prussian monarch first called his man. "Leap out of that window," he
said to him. "Your Majesty, it would kill me," was the reply; and he
was sent down. Then an Austrian soldier was called, and the emperor
ordered him to leap out of the window. "I will," said the man, "if your
Majesty really means it." He was sent down, and the Czar of Russia
called his man, and gave him the same order. Without a word the man
crossed himself, and started for the window to do it. Of course, he was
stopped ere he could leap out - but to all intents and purposes he did
make the leap; and whatever there was of agony of feeling connected
with that leap, he felt.3 [Note: A. C. Price.]
ii. Its Use to us
There are various lessons to be learned from it.
1. They that are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. - It was
designed to reveal to posterity the fitness of this man for the
unparalleled honour to which God had summoned him - the honour of
entering first into friendly alliance with Heaven, of receiving in the
name of the universal Church Heaven's promise of eternal blessing, and
of becoming to after ages the exemplar of that trust in God to which it
has pleased Him to attach His favour and forgiveness. The issue of that
probation was to justify the confidence reposed in Abraham by Abraham's
2. True sacrifice is the surrender of the will. - The sacrifice, though
commanded, was not exacted. Abraham's hand was stayed, before the fatal
act was completed. This showed, once for all, clearly and unmistakably,
that in contrast to what was imagined of the heathen deities worshipped
by Israel's neighbours, the God of Israel did not demand human
sacrifices of His worshippers. He demanded in reality only the
surrender of Abraham's will. Abraham, by his obedience, demonstrated
his readiness to part with what was dearest to him, and with something,
moreover, on which all his hopes for the future depended; thus his
character was "proved," the sincerity of his religion was established,
and his devotion to God confirmed and strengthened. It was the supreme
trial of his faith; and it triumphed. And so the narrative teaches two
great lessons. On the one hand, it teaches the value set by God upon
the surrender of self, and obedience; on the other, it demonstrates, by
a signal example, the moral superiority of Jehovah's religion over the
religions of Israel's neighbours.
We must take the history as a whole, the conclusion as well as the
commencement. The sacrifice of Isaac was commanded at first, and
forbidden at the end. Had it ended in Abraham's accomplishing the
sacrifice, I know not what could have been said; it would have left on
the page of Scripture a dark and painful blot. My reply to God's
seeming to require human sacrifice is the conclusion of this chapter.
God says, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad." This is the final decree.
Thus human sacrifices were distinctly forbidden. He really required the
surrender of the father's will. He seemed to demand the sacrifice of
life.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]
Abraham never needed, himself, to be taught a second time that God does
not wish the offering of blood. No Hebrew parent, reading that story in
after years, and teaching it to his children, would ever think of
pleasing the God of Abraham by offering to Him his first-born son; it
became an abomination in Israel to cause children to pass through the
fire to Moloch, and the later prophets knew that God loves mercy rather
than sacrifice. Though the influence of surrounding idolatries may on
rare occasions have led Israel into the tragic sin of offering human
sacrifices, the Hebrew law and custom, and the whole providential
leading of the people from Abraham's day were against it; and they who
would sit in judgment upon this Divine procedure should not be suffered
to ignore the decisive fact that the God of Abraham is the God whose
course of moral education succeeded in destroying the fatal errors, and
saving the vital truth, of sacrifice; and that the beginning of this
great, beneficent, providential instruction in the true meaning of
sacrifice was the vivid historical object-lesson which God taught
Abraham of old, and which Israel has not forgotten to this day.1 [Note:
3. Give God the first place. - In that most cruel rite of human sacrifice
there is a truth providentially to be cared for, as well as a fearful
evil to be abolished. At the heart of it lies this idea, that he who
would be a friend of God must love nothing better than God, nor hold
back anything which God's service demands. This is the same everlasting
law which on the lips of our Lord Jesus found explicit and reiterated
utterance: "He that loveth father or mother, son or daughter, more than
me is not worthy of me." To disentangle this precious truth from the
false and hateful inference which had become involved with it, that the
literal slaying of a beloved child could constitute an act of worship
pleasing to the Deity, formed beyond question one design of the strange
command, "Take now thy son Isaac and offer him up."
Do you say that such an act could not be done now? That is all the more
reason why it should have been done; - why it should have been done when
it could be done; when the state of evidence admitted of it; when the
primitive standard of human rights gave the son to be the property of
the father, to be surrendered by him, upon a call, as his own treasure.
That idea - that very defective idea of the age - it was, which rendered
possible the very point of the act, the unsurpassable pang of it, the
self-inflicted martyrdom of human affection, the death of the son in
will, by the father's hand. That idea of the age, therefore, was used
to produce that special fruit which it was adapted to produce; the
particular great spiritual act of which it supplied the possibility,
and which was the splendid flower of this stock.1 [Note: J. B. Mozley,
Ruling Ideas in Early Ages, 60.]
To refuse sacrifice is to refuse the love that is one aspect of God's
being. Love lays down its life unceasingly, but so it transcends time,
and conquers death. It is the fulfilling of the law, but its necessity
is perfect freedom. And it dies to the finite self; but it has found
the universal self, and life eternal.2 [Note: May Kendall.]
4. Redemption is by blood. - Viewed as a part of the Divine teaching of
the world, we find in this history the wisdom of God. We find an answer
to that first and deepest of questions that the human heart can ask,
"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?" We do not find it indeed in
doctrine or even in words at all. But we do find it in fact. We find it
just in that mode of revelation which was best suited to the wants and
capacities of those to whom it was addressed. Precisely as we ourselves
teach children by pictures, whose meaning, however, they cannot
themselves fully understand, so God taught the childhood of the world.
Not till the great act had itself been accomplished on Calvary could
all its Interpretation be given. First came the picture, then, so to
speak, the comments on the picture in the mouth of prophets and holy
men of old. Then the great fact itself was exhibited; and then from the
hallowed lips of the Apostles of the Lord came the eloquent
interpretation of the fact. It is one truth throughout. Christ Jesus
came "to do the Father's will," and "to give his life a ransom for
many"; "by his obedience we are made righteous," "he hath redeemed us
by his blood" - what are words like these but the filling in, so to
speak, of the fainter lines of that ancient picture?
5. God spared not His own Son. - At this point the wonderful story begins
to burn inwardly with the fire of prophecy. It grows prophetic of the
transcendent sacrifice on the cross, not through ingenious
accommodation, or making the most of any accidental surface
resemblances, but because at its very core it was an inspiration of the
same self-subduing love that inspired and glorified the offering of
Golgotha. Abraham's best praise is found in this, that his act can be
described in those identical terms which were to be selected by the
noblest spokesman of the New Testament Church as the most fitting to
describe the supreme act of eternal love: "He spared not his own son."
With perfect justice, therefore, has the Christian Church delighted
since the beginning of her history to place the sacrifice of Isaac over
against the mysterious and adorable sacrifice of her Lord, as its most
splendid Old Testament prefiguration.
God's true children must climb their mount of sacrifice. When our own
hour shall have come, may we arise forthwith, cleave the wood for the
burnt-offering, and go unflinching up the path by which our Heavenly
Father shall lead us. So shall the mount of trial become the mount of
blessing. We shall have a wider horizon; we shall breathe a purer
atmosphere; we shall set our affection more entirely upon things above;
we shall walk more closely with God. And so when He asks something very
dear to us, let us think not only of Moriah, but of Calvary, where He
Himself gave infinitely more than He can ever ask of us.
The dearest offering He can crave
His portion in thy soul to prove,
What is it to the gift He gave,
The only Son of His dear love?
In the moral significance of this history the Jew and the Christian are
agreed. Even to the present day the Jew, though he has rejected the
true propitiation, sees in the binding of Isaac on the altar a
meritorious deed which still pleads on behalf of Israel with God. And
whilst the Christian Church prays to God for pardon and blessing on
account of the merits and death of Jesus Christ, the Jewish synagogue
beseeches Him to have compassion upon it for the sake of the binding of
How seemed it to the lad,
As down Moriah's slope they slowly went,
They who had glimpsed th' eternal plan of God?
Behind, the pressure of encircling cords,
The vision of a sacrificial knife,
And dying ashes upon altar stones.
Before, a life that nevermore might be
The glad, free life of sunny-hearted youth -
For he had looked into the face of death.
How seemed it to the lad,
When at the mountain's base they ran to meet
And welcome back the chieftain and his son?
Marked they upon his brow a graver shade?
Within his eyes a stronger, clearer light,
As panoplied with power beyond his own?
And said they, under breath, from man to man,
The while they passed along the homeward way,
"The prince has seen - has seen and talked with God"?
How seemed it to the lad,
When for his mother's greeting low he knelt,
And felt her welcoming kiss upon his cheek?
Oh, did she see, with tender mother sight,
A change had come? And think you that he told
The tale to her? Or did he hold it close,
Too sacred for the common speech of earth,
While dimly seeing through the mist of years,
In one great Sacrifice, the type fulfilled?
Aglionby (F. K.), The Better Choice, 10.
Banks (L. A.), Hidden Wells of Comfort, 130.
Brooks (Phillips), The More Abundant Life, 137.
Colenso (J. W.), Natal Sermons, i. 356.
Dykes (J. O.), Abraham the Friend of God, 243.
Hessey (J. A.), Moral Difficulties connected with the Bible, i. 83.
Horton (R. F.), Lyndhurst Road Pulpit, 103.
Matheson (G.), Times of Retirement, 184.
Maurice (F. D.), The Doctrine of Sacrifice, 33.
Meyer (F. B.), Abraham, 167.
Morrison (G. H.), The Footsteps of the Flock, 67.
Mozley (J. B.), Ruling Ideas in Early Ages, 31, 64.
Parker (J.), Adam, Noah, and Abraham, 169.
Parker (J.), Studies in Texts, iv. 188; vi. 181.
Perowne (J. J. S.), Sermons, 332.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, x. 193.
Robertson (F. W.), Notes on Genesis, 53.
Smyth (N.), Old Faiths in New Light, 48.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xv. Nos. 868, 869.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Contemporary Pulpit Library, i. 144.
Waddell (R.), Behold the Lamb of God, 28.
Christian World Pulpit, xiv. 228 (Hubbard).
Expositor, 1st Ser., i. 314 (Cox); 2nd Ser., i. 305 (Godwin).