Page images



Genesis xxii. 7, 8.

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his Father, and said, My Father : and he said, Here am I, my son : And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.

It is impossible to reflect without extreme astonishment on the marvellous and triumphant exercise of faith which was displayed on the occasion referred to in these words. We may frame to ourselves, indeed, some imperfect notion, —though the imagination conceives nothing that can come up to the bitterness of its reality,-of the hardness of that task to complete which the patriarch was compelled to make the sacrifice of all that was most dear on earth. We



somewhat, from painful experience, of the misery and anguish which must have been the portion of that aged parent, at the prospect even of the most ordinary decree of providence that should take from him the object of his tenderest regard, and rend asunder the sacred ties of paternal and of filial love. But there were circumstances connected with this trial of Abraham's faith which must have wrought up those feelings into an intensity of painfulness that it is impossible, perhaps, for us to understand. Isaac was the child of promise and of many prayers, the son of his old age, the favoured and the blessed of God. But it was more than the common attachment of a father that gave him so peculiar an interest in the patriarch's regard ; it was more than the sufferings of a bereaved and affectionate parent that he bad now undertaken to endure. With Isaac were associated, in a manner, all his religious as well as his worldly prospects, and the cherished hopes of happiness, temporal and eternal, that awaited the long line of his promised posterity. And if he loved to dwell on the future destinies of his offspring-countless as the sands on the sea shore-in which eventually all the nations of the earth should be blessed ;* or if, as we are told, with the eye of faith, he was able to look

• Genesis xxii. 17, 18.

forward even to the days of Christ and rejoice, * he knew that through Isaac alone all these privileges could be enjoyed, and that it was “in Isaac that his seed should be called.”+

But even while we justly wonder at the strong and unyielding constancy of the Patriarch's faith, and while we know it to be scarcely within the

range of possibility that a trial so extraordinary in all its circumstances should befal ourselves, it is impossible to reflect on the several incidents of this remarkable narrative without deriving from it much useful instruction. The whole history of Isaac's sacrifice affords a beautiful illustration of the precept afterwards inculcated by our Lord, which required that the true disciple should hate, that is, should love in an infinitely less degree, as compared with his law, even his father, and his mother, and his dearest relatives. I

It teaches us that the strongest natural affection is to be held in entire subservience to the love of God; and that from this principle alone the ties of social life derive a real permanence, and a truly exalted character. It tells us that the claims of our heavenly Father predominate over, (though they do not make nugatory, but rather quite the reverse,) the claims of earthly love on the sympathies of the heart; and that, * John viii. 56.

+ Hebrews xi. 18. Luke xiv. 26.


though the current of our feelings may seem, in some respects, thereby to be diverted and controlled, it is only that it may flow on eventually in a deeper and broader channel. And it teaches us, finally, that we also, like Abraham, must be ever ready to resign the most cherished possessions of this life at the call of God; that real faith requires full many a sacrifice of what is dearest to the natural man; and that we should ever be prepared with humility and thankfulness to confess that, whether “the Lord giveth," or whether “he taketh away,” still “ blessed is the name of the Lord.”

But at this solemn season of the Christian year,* when we are commemorating the appearance and incarnation of the Son of God, the simple narrative of Isaac's sacrifice assumes a higher and a loftier meaning. From the beautiful story of the Hebrew patriarch it rises into all the sublimity of prophecy and type, and points forward, through the long lapse of ages, to that still more wonderful sacrifice which is the Christian's only hope and only dependence. With good reason indeed was the hand of Abraham stayed ; the time for the full completion of man's propitiatory offering was not yet arrived; and the same mountain was yet to see a greater victim, at whose death the sun itself should veil its light, and the earth should tremble with reverential dread. A greater than Abraham was to make the free offering of his son, his only son whom he loved; and a greater than Isaac-the heir of the temporal promises-was to be given, through whom all the world might claim the inheritance of the heavenly Canaan. And as Isaac too bare the wood which was to burn for his own sacrifice, so his illustrious antitype was to ascend that selfsame mountain laden with the burthen of his own cross, and oppressed with the still greater burthen of the iniquities of the world. In this view of the question, therefore, the narrative assumes a more solemn and a deeper interest than as a mere passage in the biography of the Hebrew Patriarch. And there will be found in every part of the words of the text many useful materials for our consideration connected with the joyful occasion which we meet this day to celebrate. It shews us the great necessity and need which ever existed in the earth for the interference of a Redeemer on our behalf, and the incarnation of the Son of God. It illustrates the anxious and eager desire with which all the world waited and looked for such a miraculous interposition on the part of man.

* Christmas Day.

And it teaches us, by more than comparison, by designed and direct allusion, how

« PreviousContinue »