Mature Faith- Illustrated by Abraham's Offering Up Isaac
“And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, 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 22:2.
I DO not intend to enter into this narrative in its bearing upon our Lord, although we have here one of the most famous types of the Only begotten, whom the Great Father offered up for the sins of his people. Peradventure that may be the subject this evening. But as I have, in the recollection of some of you, already given you three sermons upon the life of Abraham, illustrating his effectual calling, his justification, and his consecration to the Lord, we will now complete the series by dwelling upon the triumph of Abraham’s faith when his spiritual life had come to the highest point of maturity.
Opening your Bibles at this chapter, you will please to observe the time when God tried Abraham with the severest of his many ordeals. It was “after these things,” that is to say, after nine great trials, each of them most searching and remarkable. After he had passed through a great fight of affliction, and had through the process been strengthened and sanctified, he was called to endure a still sterner test. From which fact it is well to learn that God doth not put heavy burdens upon weak shoulders, and he doth not allot ordeals fit only for fullgrown men to those who are but babes. He educates our faith, testing it by trials which increase little by little in proportion as our faith has increased. He only expects us to do man’s work and to endure man’s afflictions, when we have passed through the childhood state, and have arrived at the stature of men in Christ Jesus. Expect then, beloved, your trials to multiply as you proceed towards heaven. Do not think that as you grow in grace the path will become smoother beneath your feet, and the heavens serener above your heads. On the contrary, reckon that as God gives you greater skill as a soldier, he will send you upon more arduous enterprises; and as he more fully fits your hark to brave the tempest and the storm, so will he send you out upon more boisterous seas, and upon longer voyages, that you may honour him, and still further increase in holy confidence. You would have thought that Abraham had now come to the land Beulah, that in his old age, after the birth of Isaac, and especially after the expulsion of Ishmael, he would have had a time of perfect rest. Let this warn us that we are never to reckon upon rest from tribulation this side the grave. No, the clarion still sounds the note of war. Ye may not yet sit down and bind the chaplet of victory about your brow; for you no garlands of laurel and songs of victory as yet; ye have still to wear the helmet and bear the sword, and watch, and pray, and fight, expecting that, perhaps, your last battle will be the worst, and that the fiercest charge of the foe may be reserved for the end of the day.
Having thus observed the time when God was pleased to try the great pattern of believers, we shall now look at the trial itself; we shall next see Abraham’s behaviour under it; and shall, in conclusion, spend a little time in noting the reward which came to him as the result of his endurance.
I. And first, THE TRIAL ITSELF.
Every syllable of the text is significant. If George Herbert were speaking of it, he would say the words are all a case of knives cutting at Abraham’s soul. There is scarce a single syllable of God’s address to him, in the opening of this trial, but seems intended to pierce the patriarch to the quick. Look. “Take now thy son.” What! a father slay his son! Was there nothing in Abraham’s tent that God would have but his son? He would cheerfully have given him hecatombs of bullocks, and flocks of sheep. All the silver and the gold he possessed he would have lavished from the bag with eager cheerfulness. Will nought content the Lord but Abraham’s son? If one must be offered of human kind, why not Eliezer of Damascus, the steward of his house? Must it be his son? How this tugs at the father’s heartstrings! His son, the offspring of his own loins, must be made a burnt offering? Will not God be content with any proof of his obedience but the surrender of the fruit of his body? The word only is made particularly emphatic by the fact that Ishmael had been exiled at the command of God. Very much to Abraham’s grief Hagar’s child had been driven out. “Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac so said Sarah; and God bade the patriarch regard the voice of his wife, so that now Isaac was his only son. If Isaac shall die, there is no other descendant left, and no probabilities of any other to succeed him; the light of Abraham will be quenched, and his name forgotten. Sarah is very old, he himself is old also, no infant’s cry will again gladden the tent; and Isaac is his only son, a lone star of the night, the only son, lamp of his father’s old age. Nor is that all: “Thine only son, Isaac.” What a multitude of memories that word “ Isaac” awoke in Abraham’s mind. This was the child of promise, of a promise graciously given, of a promise the fulfilment of which was anxiously expected, but long, long, long delayed. Isaac, who had made his parents’ hearts to laugh, the child of the covenant, the child in whom the father’s hopes all centred, for he had been assured, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” What! after all must the gift of God be retracted? Mast the covenant of God be nullified, and the channel of the promised blessings be dried up for ever. Oh, trial of trials! “Thy son,” “thine only son,” “thine only son, Isaac.” Yet was it added, “ whom thou lovest” Must he be reminded of his love to his heir at the very time when he is to lose him? Oh, stern word, that seemeth to have no bowels of compassion in it! Was it not enough to take away the loved one, without at the same instant awakening the affections which were so rudely to be shocked?” Isaac was very rightly beloved of his father, for in addition to the ties of nature, and his being the gift of God’s grace, Isaac’s character was most lovely. His behaviour on the occasion of his sacrifice proves that in his spirit there was an abundance of humility, obedience, resignation, and gentleness, indeed of everything which can make up the beauty of holiness; and such a character was quite sure to have won the admiration of his father Abraham, whose spiritual eye was well qualified to discern the excellences which shone in his beloved son. Ah, why must Isaac die? and die, too, by his father’s hand! Oh, trial of trials! Contemplative imagination and sympathetic emotion can better depict the father’s grief than any words which it is in my power to use. I cast a veil where I cannot paint a picture.
But note, not only was this tender father to lose the best of sons, but he was to lose him in the direst way. He must be sacrificed — he must be sacrificed by the father himself. If the Lord had said, “Speak thou with Eliezer, and charge him to offer up thy son,” it would have softened the trial; but so far as Abraham could understand the command, it seemed to say, thou Abraham, thou must be the priest; thine own hand must grasp the sacrificial knife, and thou must stand there with breaking heart to drive the knife into the breast of thy son, and see him consumed, even to ashes upon the altar. All this appeared to him to be involved in God’s word, although the Lord meant not so, but meant to accept the will for the deed. Everything was designed to make the trial severe. The friend of God was tried in such a way as probably never fell to the lot of man before or since. In addition to the sacrifice, Abraham was commanded to go to a mountain which God would show him. It is easy on the spur of the moment, and under the influence of sacred impulse, hastily to perform an heroic deed of self-sacrifice but it is not so easy for men of passions, such as ours, to deliberate over the sacrifices demanded of us. But Abraham must have three days to chew this bitter pill, which was indeed hard enough merely to swallow, and all the more unpalatable when a man is made to learn in detail the wormwood and the gall: he must journey on with that dear son before his eyes all the day, listening to that voice so soon to be silent, and gazing into those bright eyes so soon to swim with tears, and to bedimmed in death; beholding in him his mother’s joy and his own delight, and all the while meditating upon that fatal stroke which, so far as he knew, God required of him. Oh, this laying siege to us by long and careful barricade is that which tries us; a sharp assault we might far better bear. To be burnt quick to death upon the blazing fagot is comparatively an easy martyrdom, but to hang in chains roasting at a slow fire, to have the heart hour by hour pressed as in a vice, this it is that trieth faith; and this it was that Abraham endured through three long days. Only faith, mighty faith, could have assisted him to look in the face the grim trial which now assailed him.
The patriarch was, no doubt, moved, and tried, and exercised not merely by the words which God pronounced in his hearing, but by natural and painful suggestions which, however readily they may have been disposed of, were, it would appear to us, certain to arise. He might have said, “I am called upon to perform an act which violates every instinct of my nature. I am to offer up my child! Horrible! Murderous! I am to burn my slaughtered child as a religious act — terrible, barbarous, detestable! I am myself to offer him upon the altar deliberately. How can I do it? How can God ask me to do that which tears up by the roots every one of the affections which he himself hath implanted, which runneth counter to the whole of my noblest humanity? How can I do this?”
Brethren and sisters, coming home to ourselves, and trying to make a personal application of this, we may be called by the word of God to acts of obedience which may seem to us to do violence to all our natural affections. Christians are sometimes commanded to come out from the world by decided acts, which provoke the hatred of those who are nearest and dearest. Now, if they love God, they will not love father nor mother, nor husband, nor brother, nor sister, in comparison with him; and though Christians will ever be among the tenderest hearted of men, they will count their allegiance to God to be such that they must give up all for his sake, and deny every natural affection sooner than violate the divine law. Perhaps, to-day you are suffering under an affliction which is grieving all the powers of your nature; the Lord has been pleased to take away from you one dearer than life, for whom you could have been well content to die. Oh, learn with Abraham, to kiss the rod; let not Isaac stand before God. Let Isaac be dear, but let Isaac die sooner than God should be distrusted. Bow thine head and say, “Take what thou wilt, my God; slay me, or take all I have, but I will still bless thy holy name.” This was a main part of Abraham’s trial, that it appeared to crush rudely all the tenderest outgrowths of the heart.
And it may have suggested itself to Abraham that he would in this way, by the slaughter of his son, be rendering all the promises of God futile. A very severe trial that, for in proportion as a man believes the promise and values it, will be his fear to do anything which might render it of no effect. Brethren, there are times with us when we are called to a course of action which looks as though it would jeopardise our highest hopes. A Christian man is sometimes bound by duty to perform an action which, to all appearance, will destroy his future usefulness. I have often heard men urge as a plea for remaining in a corrupt church, that they have obtained an influence in its midst, and by reason of their position, which they might lose if they followed their conscience and were true to God. They are bound to lose all their supposed influence and renounce their apparent vantage ground sooner than commit the least trespass upon their conscience; as much bound to do so as Abraham was bound to offer up Isaac, in whom all the promises of God were centred. It is neither your business nor mine to fulfil God’s promise, nor to do the least wrong to produce the greatest good. To do evil that good may come is false morality, and wicked policy. For us is duty, for God is the fulfilment of his own promise, and the preservation of our usefulness. Though he dash my reputation into shivers, and cast my usefulness to the four winds, yet if duty calleth me, I must not hesitate a single second, for in that hesitation I shall be disobedient to my God. At the behest of God Isaac must be offered, though the heavens fall, and faith must answer all politic suggestions by the assurance that what God ordains can never, in its ultimate issue, produce anything but good; obedience can never endanger blessings, for commands are never in real conflict with promises, for God can raise up Isaac and fulfil his own decree.
Further, Abraham may have been — one would think must have been — the subject of the thought that the death of Isaac was the destruction of all his comfort. The tent shall be darkened for Sarah, and the plain of Mamre barren as a wilderness for her lamenting heart. Alas! for the wretched parent who has lost the hope of his old age, and the stay of his decrepitude. The sun grows black at noon, and the moon is eclipsed in darkness if Isaac dies. Better that all calamities should have happened than this dear child be taken away! He must have felt thus, but it did not make him hesitate. Sometimes the course of duty may lie right over the dead body of our dearest comfort and our brightest hope. It may be our duty to do that which will involve a succession of sorrows all but endless. But you must do right come what may. If the Lord biddeth you, you must seek faith to do it, though from that moment never should another joy make glad your heart until you are fully compensated for the loss of all by entering into the joy of your Lord at the last.
It must also, I should think, have occurred to Abraham, though he did not let it weigh with him, that from that time forth he would make himself many enemies. Many would distrust his character, many would count him a perfect wretch: he would find wherever he went that he was shunned as a murderer of his own child. How should he bear to meet Sarah again? “Where is my son? Surely a bloody husband art thou to me,” would she say, with far greater truth than Zipporah to Moses. How could he meet his servants again? How could he bear their looks which would say to him, “You have slain your son! Imbrued your hands in the blood of your own offspring!” How could he face Abimelech and the Philistines? How would the wandering tribes which roamed about his tent all hear of this strange massacre, and shudder at the thought of the monster who defiled the earth on which he trod. And yet observe the holy carelessness of this godlike man as to what might be thought or said of him? What mattered it to him? Let them count him a devil: let a universal hiss consign him to the lowest hell of hatred and contempt: he recks not of it. God’s will must be done. God will take care of his servant’s character, or if he do not, his servant must suffer the consequences for his Lord’s sake. He must obey; no second course is open to him: he will not think of disobedience. He knows that God is right, and he must do God’s will, come what may.
This, mark you, is one of the grandest points about the faith of the father of the faithful; and if you and I shall be called to exhibit it, may we never be found wanting, but brave calumny and reproach with cheerfulness, through the power of the Holy Ghost. How Luther’s lips must at first have trembled when he ventured to say that the Pope was Antichrist. Why, man, how canst thou dare to say such a thing? The millions bow down before him; he is the vicar of God on earth. Do they not worship our Lord God the Pope? “Yet is he Antichrist, and a very devil,” said Luther; and at first he must have felt his ears burn and his cheeks grow red, at such a piece of apparent wickedness. And when he found himself shunned by the ecclesiastics who once had courted Doctor Martin Luther’s company, and heard the common howl that went up, even from the refuse of mankind, that the monk was a drunkard , and, inasmuch as he chose to marry a nun, was filled with lust and sold to Satan, and I know not what beside; it must have been a grand thing when Luther could feel, “They may call me what they will, but I know that God has spoken unto my soul the great truth that man is to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by ceremonies which the Pope ordains, nor the indulgences which he grants; and if my name be consigned to the limbo of the infernal, yet still will I speak out the truth which I know, and in God’s name I will not hold my tongue.” We must be brought to this, to be willing to put aside the verdict of our times, and of all times past or future, and to stand alone, if need be, in the midst of a howling and infuriated world, to do honour to the command of God, which is the only necessity to us, which it is imperative to us to obey, even though it should bring shame or death itself.
Here, then, was Abraham’s faith made perfect, that, inasmuch as the outward circumstances were severe, and the suggestions arising out of the circumstances were peculiarly perplexing, he put aside both, and dared the ills of all, in order that he might without delay or demurrer fulfil his Master’s will to the full extent, firmly believing that no hurt would come of it, but that the rather he himself should be more blessed and God more glorified.
II. We shall now notice THE PATRIARCH UNDER THE TRIAL.
In Abraham’s bearing during this test everything is delightful. In trying to mention each detail, I fear that I may mar the effect of the whole. His obedience is a picture of all the virtues in one, blended in marvellous harmony. It is not so much in one point that the great patriarch excels as in the whole of his sacred deed. First notice the submission of Abraham under this temptation. His submission, I say, because you will observe that there is no record kept of any answer which Abraham gave to God, verbally, or in any other form. I suppose, therefore, that there was none. Strange and startling command, “Take thine only son, and offer him for a burnt sacrifice!” But Abraham does not argue the point. It is natural to expect that he should have said, “But, Lord, dost thou really intend it? Can a human sacrifice ever be acceptable to thee? I know it cannot. Thou art love and kindness: canst thou take delight, therefore, in the blood of my dear son? It cannot be.” But there is not a word of argument; not one solitary question that even looks like hesitation. “God is God,” he seems to say, and it is not for me to ask him why, or seek a reason for his bidding. He has said it: “I will do it.” There does not appear to have been a word of entreaty or prayer. Prayer against so dread a trial might not have been sinful; if the man had been a less man it might have been not only natural, but right for him to say, “O my God, spare my child! Put me on some other trial, but not on this, so strange, so mysterious. My Lord, for Sarah’s sake, and for thy promise sake, test me not so.” I say that such a prayer as that might not have been sinful from an ordinary man, it might have been, perhaps, even virtuous and commendable; but from this grand soul there is no such prayer. He does not ask to escape; he does not pray to be delivered when he once knows God’s will. Much less is there the semblance of murmuring. The man goes about the whole business as if he had been only ordered to sacrifice a lamb ordinarily taken from the flock. There is a coolness of deliberation about it which does not prove that he was a Stoic, but which does prove that he was gigantic in his faith. “Not staggering,” says the apostle; and that is just the word. You and I, if we had done right, would have done it in a staggering, hesitating manner; but he, not a nerve quivers, not a muscle is paralysed. He knows that God commands him, and with awful sternness, and yet with childlike simplicity, he sets about the sacrifice. The lesson I gather from this (and we may as well collect these lessons as we go, as gleaners who gather the ears as they walk down the furrows) — the lesson is this: when you know a duty, never pray to be excused, but go and do it in God’s name in the power of faith. If ever you clearly see your Master’s will, do not begin to argue it or wait for better opportunities, and so on; do it at once. I know not how much of joy and honour some of you may have missed by the evil habit of temporising with your consciences. It is a very terrible thing to begin to let conscience grow hard, for it soon sears as with a hot iron. It is like the freezing of a pond. The first film of ice is scarcely perceptible: keep the waters stirring, and you will prevent the ice from hardening it; but once let it film over and remain so, it thickens over the surface, and it thickens still, and at last it is so solid that a waggon might be drawn over the solid water. So with conscience, it films over gradually, and at last it becomes hard, unfeeling, and it can bear up with a weight of iniquity. Ah! it is not for us to delay obedience under the pretence of prayer, but to yield prompt service. I have been sometimes surprised and staggered with Christian people who have said in the matter of baptism, for instance, “I am persuaded that it is my duty as a believer to be baptised, but it has never been laid home to my conscience.” Never laid home to your conscience! You know that God commands , and yet you dare confess your conscience has become so base that you do not feel it your duty to obey! “Oh, but I have not felt that it is impressed on me.” Felt! And is feeling to be the treasure of your allegiance to God, the clipper and the cutter of God’s law? If you know it to be the right, I charge you on your fealty obey O sirs, this world has come to a sad pass because of the tricks men play with their consciences. This is the cause of all those unnatural senses that people give to texts and creeds; this is the secret reason why the religion of this land which claims to be Protestant, is becoming Popish to its very core, because evangelical men have sworn to a Popish catechism, and given it another sense; and instead of coming out of a corrupt church, have dallied with their consciences, and so by their practice have nullified their preaching and taught men to lie. Small wonder is it that traders rob and cheat when men professing godliness use words in senses which they can never bear to unsophisticated minds. If professing men were but jealous for the glory of God, and exact and precise in all their walkings before the Most High, they would have more of the honour, more of the blessedness of Abraham, and their influence upon the world would be more like salt, and less like the evil leaven which corrupts the mass.
But we must pass on to notice next Abraham’s prudence. Prudence, some of us heard this last week, may be a great virtue, but often becomes one of the meanest and most beggarly of vices. Prudence rightly considered is a notable handmaid to faith; and the prudence of Abraham was seen in this, that he did not consult Sarah as to what he was about to do. Naturally prudence, as we call it, would have said, “This is a strange command; you had better consult with the wise about it. You believe it comes from God, but you may be mistaken in your impression. At least, it is due to Sarah, having such an interest in her own child, to take her judgment in the case; moreover, there is that good man Eliezer, lie has often helped and guided you in a dilemma; you had better have a talk with him.” “Yes,” but Abraham probably thought, “these beloved ones may weaken me, but cannot strengthen my resolution or alter my duty;” and, therefore, like Paul, he did not consult with flesh and blood. After all, my brethren, what is the good of consulting when we know the Lord’s mind? If I go to the Bible and see very plainly there that such-and-such a thing is my duty, for me to consult with man as to whether I shall obey God or not is treason against the Majesty of heaven. It is vile for us to consult with men when we have the plain command of God. Fancy an inferior officer in an army, when ordered in the hour of battle to lead an attack, turning round to a fellow soldier to ask his opinion of the orders he has received from the commander-in-chief! Let the man be tried by court-martial, or shot down upon the field; he is utterly unloyal; it needs no overt act, the thought is mutiny, the words of enquiry a flat rebellion. When God commands we have nothing left but to obey; consultations with flesh and blood are sins of scarlet dye.
Notice, further, Abraham’s alacrity. He rose up early in the morning. Oh, but the most of us would have taken a long sleep, or if we could not have slept, we would have lain till dinner time at least, tossing restlessly. “What, slay my son — my only son Isaac? The command does not specify the hour; there is no peremptory word as to the time of starting upon the awful journey. At least let us postpone it as long as we may, for the dear young man’s sake; let him live as long as possible.” But no. Delay was not in the patriarch’s mind. Is it not grand? The holy man rises early; he will let his God see that he can trust him, and that he will do his bidding without reluctance. O believers, always be prompt in doing what God commands you. Hesitate not. The very pith of your obedience will lie in your making haste and delaying not to keep the Lord’s commandment. He showed his alacrity, again, by the fact that he prepared the wood himself. It is expressly said that he “clave the wood.” He was a sheik and a mighty man in his camp, but he became a wood-splitter, thinking no work menial if done for God, and reckoning the work too sacred for other hands. With splitting heart he cleaves the wood. Wood for the burning of his heir! Wood for the sacrifice of his own dear child! Herein you see the alacrity of Abraham, and may it be ours to obey God with such a ready zeal, that in every little circumstance of our obedience it shall be seen that we are not unwilling slaves chained to the oar of duty, and flogged to service by the threatenings of the law, but loving children of a Father whom we count it our highest joy to serve, even though that service should involve the sacrifice of our dearest Isaacs.
Further, I must ask you to notice Abraham’s forethought. He did not desire to break down in his deeds. Having cleft the wood, he took with him the fire, and everything else necessary to consummate the work. Some people take no forethought about serving God, and then if a little hitch occurs, they cry out that it is a providential circumstance, and make an excuse of it for escaping the unpleasant task. Oh, how easy it is when you do not want to involve yourselves in trouble, to think that you see some reason for not doing so! “You know,” says one, “we must live.” “Ah,” says another, “why should I throw myself out of a situation merely because of a small point of conscience? And, indeed, there has just now happened a circumstance which almost compels me to act against my belief, at least for a time; indeed, providence clearly bids me remain as I am. I know the Bible says I ought to act differently, but still you know we must take circumstances into consideration, and, if they do not quite alter the commandments, they may, you know, be an excuse for postponing obedience.” Abraham the wise, thoughtful servant of God, takes care as far as possible to forestall all difficulties that might prevent his doing right. “No,” saith he, “there is no compromise for me, my duty is clear. Doth God command it? I will provide all that is needful for the fulfilment of his will. I want no excuse for drawing back, for draw back I will not, come what may.”
Observe, farther, Abraham’s perseverance. He continues three days in his journey, journeying towards the place where he was as much to sacrifice himself as to sacrifice his child. He bids his servants remain where they were, fearful perhaps lest they might be moved by pity to prevent the sacrifice. Now, you and I would have liked to provide ourselves with some friend who might have stepped in to prevent, and have taken the responsibility off our shoulders. But, no, the good man puts everything aside that may prevent him going to the end. Then he puts the wood on Isaac. Oh, what a load he placed on his own heart as he lay that burden on his dear son! He bare the fire himself in the censer at his side, but what a fire consumed his heart! How sharp was the trial when the son said artlessly, “My father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb?” Was there no tear for the patriarch to brush away? He made but a short reply. We have every reason to believe that other replies followed, which are not recorded, in which he explained to his son how the case stood, and what it was that God had commanded; for it is hard to suppose that Isaac would have blindly yielded, unless first an explanation had been given that such a command had come from the highest authority, and must be obeyed. Oh, the unhappiness of the father’s mind, but let me rather say the majesty of the father’s faith, that he puts down all his feelings, and though nature speaks, yet faith speaks louder still, and if the deep of his affliction calleth loud, yet the deeper faith in his God calleth louder still. Now see him! See the holy man as he gathers up the loose stones which lie upon Mount Moriah! See him take them, and with the assistance of his son, place them one upon another, till the altar has been built. Do you see him next lay the wood upon the altar in order? No signs of flurry or trepidation. See him bind his son with cords! Oh, what cords were those binding his poor, poor heart! He lays his son upon the altar as though he were a victim! Now he unsheaths the knife, and the deed is about to be done, but God is content; Abraham has truly sacrificed his son in his heart, and the command is fulfilled. Notice the obedience of this friend of God — it was no playing at giving up his son: it was really doing it. It was no talking about what he could do, and would do, perhaps, but his faith was practical and heroic. I call upon all believers to note this. We must not only love God so as to hope that we should be ready to give up all for him, but we must be literally and actually ready to do it. We must ask for more faith, that when the trial comes, we shall not be proved to have been mere wind-bag pretenders, mere wordy talkers, but true to God in very deed. “Ah,” said one the other night, “I thought I had great faith, but now I am racked with pain, I find I have scarcely any.” “Oh,” might some of us say, “my God, I thought I had faith in thee, but now it comes to the endurance of this affliction which thou puttest upon me, I am ready to kick against thee, and cannot say, ‘Thy will be done.’” Ah! how many professors love God until it comes to losing their pence and their pounds. They will obey God until it involves penury and poverty; they will be faithful to God till it comes to scoffing and shame, and then straightway they are offended, and thereby prove who is their God, for they turn away from the unseen and look for what they call the main chance, for the interest of time, and their own emolument, and their own pleasures. God is no God of theirs except to talk about. Let Christ’s commands be pleasing, and men will accept them: let them grind a little too severely, and men turn aside; for, after all, most professors serve their God up to a certain point, but no further, and so show that they love not God at all.
I have but very feebly brought out into the light the obedience of Abraham. I must not, however, leave the picture till I have mentioned what was at the bottom of it all. Paul tells us in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, that by faith Abraham offered up Isaac.” Now what was the faith that enabled Abraham to do this? Although many expositors think not, I adhere to the opinion that Abraham felt in his own mind that God could not lie, and God’s word could not fail, and therefore hoped to see Isaac raised from the dead. “Now,” he said to himself, “I have had an express promise that in Isaac shall be my seed; and if I be called to put him to death, that promise must still be kept, and peradventure God will raise him from the dead. Even if his body be consumed to ashes the Lord can yet restore my son to life.” We are told in the New Testament that he believed in God that he could raise him from the dead, from which he also received him in a figure. Some have said, “But this lessens the trial.” Granted, if you will, but it does not lessen the faith, and it is the faith which is most to be admired. He was sustained under the trial by the conviction that it was possible for God to raise his son from the dead, and so to fulfil his promise. But under that, and lower down, there was in Abraham’s heart the conviction that by some means, if not by that means, God would justify him in doing what he was to do; that it could never be wrong to do what God commanded him; that God could not command him to do a wrong thing, and that therefore doing it he could not possibly suffer the loss of the promise made in regard to Isaac. In some way or other, God would take care of him if he did but faithfully keep to God. And I think the more indistinct Abraham’s idea may have been of the way in which God could carry out the promise, the more glorious was the faith which still held to it that nothing could frustrate the promise, and that he would do his duty, come what might. Brethren beloved in the Lord, believe that all things work together for your good, and that if you are commanded by conscience and God’s word to do that which would beggar you or cast you into disrepute, it cannot be a real hurt to you; it must be all right. I have seen men cast out of work owing to their keeping the Lord’s day, or they have been for a little time out of a situation because they could not fall into the tricks of trade, and they have suffered awhile; but, alas! some of them have lost heart after a time, and yielded to the evil. O for the faith which never will, under any persuasion or compulsion, fly from the field. If men had strength enough to say, “If I die and rot I will not sin; if they cast me out to the carrion crow, yet still nothing shall make me violate my conscience, or do what God commands me not to do, or fail to do what God commands me to perform!” This is the faith of Abraham. Would God we had it! We should have a glorious race of Christians if such were the case.
III. I have left myself only a few minutes for the last point, which was, let us OBSERVE THE BLESSING WHICH CAME TO ABRAHAM THROUGH THE TRIAL OF HIS FAITH. The blessing was sevenfold.
First, the trial was withdrawn: Isaac was unharmed. The nearest way to be at the end of tribulation is to be resigned to it. God will not try thee when thou canst fully bear any trial. Give up all, and thou shalt keep all. Give up thine Isaac, and Isaac shall not need to be given up; but if thou wilt save thy life thou shalt lose it.
Secondly, Abraham had the expressed approval of God: “Now I know that thou fearest God.” The man whose conscience beareth witness with the Holy Ghost enjoys great peace, and that peace comes to him because under that trial he has proved himself a true and faithful servant. O brethren and sisters, if we cannot stand the trials of this life, what shall we do in the day of judgment? If in the common scales held in the hand of Providence we are found wanting, what shall we do before that great white throne, where every thought shall be brought into judgment before the Most High? How will you run with the horsemen at the last if you cannot run with the footmen now? If we are afraid of a little loss and a little scorn, what should we have done in the martyr days, when men counted not their lives dear to them that they might win Christ!
Abraham next had a clearer view of Christ than ever he had before — no small reward. “Abraham saw my day,” said Christ: “He saw it and was glad.” In himself ready to sacrifice his son, he had a representation of Jehovah, who spared not his own Son. In the ram slaughtered instead of Isaac, he had a representation of the great Substitute who died that men might live. More than that, to Abraham God’s name was more fully revealed that day. He called him Jehovah-Jireh, a step in advance of anything that he had known before. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” The more you can stand the test of trial, the better instructed shall you be in the things of God. There is light beyond if thou hast grace to press through the difficulty.
To Abraham that day the covenant was confirmed by oath. The Lord swore by himself. Brethren, you shall never get the grace of God so confirmed to you as when you have proved your fidelity to God by obeying him at all risks; you shall then find how true are the promises, how faithful is God to the covenant of grace. The quickest road to full assurance is perfect obedience. While assurance will help you to obey, obedience will help you to be assured: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”
Then it was that Abraham had also a fuller promise with regard to the seed. Out of ten promises which Abraham received, the first are mainly about the land, but the last are concerning his seed only. We get to love Christ more, to value him more, to see him, and to understand him better, the more we are consecrated to the Lord’s will.
And last of all, God pronounced over Abraham’s head a blessing, the like of which had never been given to man before; and what if I say that to no single individual in the whole lapse of time has there ever been given, distinctly and personally, such a blessing as was given to Abraham that day! First in trial, he is also first in blessing; first in faithfulness to his God, he becomes first in the sweet rewards which faithfulness is sure to obtain. Brethren and sisters, let us ask God to make us like Abraham, his true children, that we may gain such rewards as he obtained; may he help us to make a surrender this morning in our hearts of all that we have of the dearest objects of our affections. May we by faith take all to the altar to-day in our willingness to give all up, if so the Lord wills. This day may we feel the spirit of perfect faith, believing that God’s promises must be kept though circumstances of outward providence, and even our own inward feelings, should seem to belie the sure word of God. Let us labour to know the reality of life by faith. May we believe God in the same literal way in which we believe our friends — but only after a higher and surer sort; let us from this day so believe in God, that we shall never ask a question about consequences, whenever we have a conviction of duty. May we never pause to ask whether this shall make us rich or poor, honourable, or despised, whether this will bring us peace or bring us anguish, but onward, right onward, as though God had shot us from the eternal bow, let us go right on, in the full conviction that if there be temporary darkness, it must end in everlasting light. If there be present loss, it must end in eternal gain. Let us set to our seal that God is true, that the rewards are to the righteous, and true peace to the obedient, and that in the end it must be our highest gain to serve God though that service should, for the present, bring with it direful loss. O that there may be trained in this house a race of much enduring believers, who can endure hardness, but cannot endure sin.
May you, my brethren, obey your convictions as constantly as matter obeys the laws of gravitation, and never may you sell your birthright or the world’s wretched pottage. Could this house be filled with such men and women, London would shake beneath the tramp of our army, this whole state would perceive that a new power had arisen up in the land, truth and righteousness would exalt their horn on high, and then would deceitful trading, and greed for gold, and Jesuitical faltering with words, this coquetry with the Popish harlot, be put an end to once for all. O that the flag of truth and righteousness might be unfurled by a valiant band, for that banner shall wave in the day of the last triumph, when the bannerets of earth shall be rolled in blood. May our God thus bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear him. The Lord make us true men like Abraham, true because believing, and may he help us to sacrifice our all, if need be, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.